Pharyngula

All chance, no purpose

That friend to the Discovery Institute and creationist advisor to the Vatican, Cardinal Schönborn, has a new book out, titled Chance or Purpose?. I haven’t read it, but Michael Behe has, and Zeno finds a particularly delicious Behe blurb:

Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose, and scientists who do so are outside of their authority. In Chance or Purpose? Cardinal Schöborn shows that the data of biology, when properly examined by reason and philosophy, strongly point to a purposeful world.

Why should science be incapable of addressing the questions of an ultimate purpose? I hear this all the time: science can’t give us meaning, science can’t explain love, science can’t do this or that. It’s usually said by some clueless git who has his own ideological axe to grind, and wants everyone to line up in support of his or her own dictated decrees about the truth, which are usually obtained by revelation (i.e., whim) or dogma, and which are challenged by a process that actually tries to examine reality in search of a truth. And those ideologies, such as Catholicism, have no legitimate claim for better understanding than any other traditional nonsense.

I say otherwise. We have no other, better tool. If we’re going to discover an ultimate purpose, it will be through the process of studying our universe — through science. The only thing these putative other ways of knowing affect our reach is by impeding us.

As Zeno notes, Behe’s quote is beautifully self-contradicting. He starts by declaring that science can’t tell us anything about our purpose, and then he goes on to immediately declare that the data of biology lead to an understanding of purpose. Behe is an incredibly muddled thinker — he’s got the background that values science, but at the same time he’s bogged down in these peculiar presuppositions that make a mess of his brain.

The data of biology do not point to purpose, but to a history of accidents shaped by short-term utility to replicators. Schönborn is unqualified to assess it — he’s a blithering theologian — and both Schönborn and Behe are blinded to the overwhelming dominance of chance in our biology by their ideological predispositions.

Comments

  1. #1 ConcernedJoe
    December 31, 2007

    Purpose implies intelligence with method and means to design and cause specific actions that in turn cause specific desired results. My point is that one has to accept that there was and/or is an “intelligent designer” with SUPER powers to direct universes to some specific and intended end game. Conversely, take away purpose and you take away god’s “raison d’etre”.

    It frightens them so that science does not see any need for, or evidence of, design. Why wouldn’t god leave a trademark at least? If we are so important to this god why wouldn’t it in a real way reveal itself? The Wizard of Oz?

  2. #2 negentropyeater
    December 31, 2007

    “If we’re going to discover an ultimate purpose, it will be through the process of studying our universe — through science.”

    Absolutely.

    “The data of biology do not point to purpose, but to a history of accidents shaped by short-term utility to replicators.”

    Too fast.

  3. #3 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose, and scientists who do so are outside of their authority. In Chance or Purpose? Cardinal Schöborn shows that the data of biology, when properly examined by reason and philosophy, strongly point to a purposeful world.

    Whoa, nothing like rigging the game! People with “Cardinal” titles are somehow authorized to examine the data of biology with reason and philosophy but scientists aren’t even allowed to speak on the matter.

  4. #4 DaveX
    December 31, 2007

    Can the workings of the universe accurately be described as “chance,” though? I’m not supporting design or purpose– I’m just wondering if chance is the correct word here. To me, that seems to negate the many interesting laws and tendencies of natural behavior. It seems to me that given a set of natural laws, all universal actions of any kind would be rigidly fixed, even without a “god” etc..

  5. #5 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    He starts by declaring that science can’t tell us anything about our purpose

    No, no, he declares that scientists can’t.

    and then he goes on to immediately declare that the data of biology lead to an understanding of purpose

    Sure, when interpreted by an authorized theologian. Who could have guessed what conclusion such a person would reach?

  6. #6 Molly, NYC
    December 31, 2007

    While it’s true that science doesn’t offer definitive answers to abstract questions, theologians often miss the fact that neither does religion.

    However, the answers that science does offer are solid, backed-up, factual, real–which can be genuinely comforting when you look outside of science and see wide support for unsubstantiated assumptions, pulled one after another, directly from some theologian’s, or politician’s, or other public figure’s ass.

  7. #7 heddle
    December 31, 2007

    As Zeno notes, Behe’s quote is beautifully self-contradicting.

    No, Behe’s statement on purpose and evidence is not inherently self-contradicting, beautifully or otherwise. In fact it is trivially self-consistent, unless you simply beg the question. For if the universe was designed by a transcendent being (God) and if God left evidence of his handiwork, and if in the future science completely discovers and explores all that evidence and eventually agrees that it points to a universe designed-for-life (purpose,) then we would be in exactly the scenario Behe describes: data, properly examined by reason, would point to a purposeful world. And science would have nothing to say about the purpose beyond the cold scientific fact that the purpose was life. This is the “weak” form of ID, the religio-apologetic form, and it is not demonstrably wrong, it is only demonstrably not science.
    The only way you can make Behe’s statement self-contradicting is, as I said, to beg the question (as you more or less do in your last paragraph), and assert that science will never reach the point where it concludes that the evidence points to design You can argue that it is a fantasy scenario, and that it is wrong, but you cannot legitimately claim that it is inherently self-contradicting.

  8. #8 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    hi truth machine, for clarification re: “No, no, he declares that scientists can’t.” isn’t this what he said “Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose” ? and wouln’t that be in line with PZ’s statement of inconsistency. Just asking.

    Sorry, I’m under the weather and haven’t had enough sleep. Pretend I never wrote that.

  9. #9 Andrés
    December 31, 2007

    I thought the Catholics accepted evolution? Or has darth pope overturned that? If he has then I think Catholics are back to being even more nutty than the evangelicals.

    I live in a country where about 80% of the population is Catholic (nominally, at least), and yet many think the pope is a crotchety old man. I he were to declare that creationism is the Truth, I don’t think anyone here but a nutty minority would follow suit.

  10. #10 Peter McGrath
    December 31, 2007

    Pope Shakin’ Stevens the first did say that evolution was more than just a theory. Pope Rotweiler the XVIth has now made statements casting doubt upon same.

    And in other Dark Ages news, her has just launched a recruitment drive for exorcists:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=5WB043VEJ0SZ1QFIQMGSFFOAVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2007/12/29/wexor129.xml

  11. #11 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 31, 2007

    It seems to me that given a set of natural laws, all universal actions of any kind would be rigidly fixed, even without a “god” etc..

    Processes that are described by such laws are path dependent, contingent on history, whether they are fully deterministic or not. Deterministic chaos is a prime example. And as for chaos that doesn’t mean that the processes are sensitive only to initial conditions, but to other factors as well.

    As a fully deterministic example, take gravitation. Drop marbles on a knife edge, and you will find that you will have to use statistical distributions to describe the paths taken, for example which side the marble drops on. [If it is a concern that it isn't a pure gravitational force problem, equivalently fling a mass on a trajectory through the small Lagrangian gravity balance volume between two large masses and observe the different paths.]

    Evolution as the process of life is of course also path dependent, more clearly so as statistics are required to describe populations, hereditary, the mechanisms of variation, selection, et cetera, even if AFAIU some such as selection can be more or less deterministic on their effect on the distributions. TR Gregory has an article on Evolution as fact, theory, and path that describes this.

  12. #12 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 31, 2007

    @ heddle:

    then we would be in exactly the scenario Behe describes: data, properly examined by reason, would point to a purposeful world.

    You make the same gap argument that John Pieret and Dave S made over at Laelap the other day (and which I have now answered). I see two problems with that.

    First and foremost, there is already a very small and diminishing gap in most sciences. Evolution is known to be path dependent and the data confirms this. So by your own claim, the data point to a purposeless world. (A purposeless designer is ruled out both by religion and by parsimony during testing.)

    Second, all gap arguments are falsifiable. A religious claim on evolution would be that humans, or possibly human equivalent intelligences, were a forced outcome. This will probably be testable in the future. One of the leaders of the exoplanet hunt has claimed that lifebearing planets will be detectable in a few decades. Whether we will detect technological civilizations on a small percentage of these by some means (say SETI, or detection of pollution perhaps) isn’t really critical as we have the one required example to model a likelihood.

    The way to bet of course is that the likelihood for human equivalent intelligences is small, which would nicely answer Fermi’s question. (“Where are they?”) Whether the ETI search is more or less independent of evolution, it is in any case an already quantifiable piece of data pointing to the falsehood of the religious claim.

    I have to ask the same question as I did at Laelap and still haven’t got an answer to; isn’t gap arguments considered to be too risky by theologians to entertain nowadays?

  13. #13 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 31, 2007

    @ heddle:

    then we would be in exactly the scenario Behe describes: data, properly examined by reason, would point to a purposeful world.

    You make the same gap argument that John Pieret and Dave S made over at Laelap the other day (and which I have now answered). I see two problems with that.

    First and foremost, there is already a very small and diminishing gap in most sciences. Evolution is known to be path dependent and the data confirms this. So by your own claim, the data point to a purposeless world. (A purposeless designer is ruled out both by religion and by parsimony during testing.)

    Second, all gap arguments are falsifiable. A religious claim on evolution would be that humans, or possibly human equivalent intelligences, were a forced outcome. This will probably be testable in the future. One of the leaders of the exoplanet hunt has claimed that lifebearing planets will be detectable in a few decades. Whether we will detect technological civilizations on a small percentage of these by some means (say SETI, or detection of pollution perhaps) isn’t really critical as we have the one required example to model a likelihood.

    The way to bet of course is that the likelihood for human equivalent intelligences is small, which would nicely answer Fermi’s question. (“Where are they?”) Whether the ETI search is more or less independent of evolution, it is in any case an already quantifiable piece of data pointing to the falsehood of the religious claim.

    I have to ask the same question as I did at Laelap and still haven’t got an answer to; isn’t gap arguments considered to be too risky by theologians to entertain nowadays?

  14. #14 ConcernedJoe
    December 31, 2007

    Truth machine – thanks for clarification I though I missed something you gleened. Have a good one

    general comment: love it that we are the higher purpose implementators (always implicit if not emplicit in Xian god view) .. love the arrogance and the pride (aren’t they sins?)

    My thinking: if the world were covered in cold ocean water wouldn’t you rather be a whale or something else — you know like some other organism far superior for living in cold ocean water than you?

    Atheist are humble I’d say — it is the godiots that are raging self-loving, self superior feeling in their warped philosophy.

  15. #15 CalGeorge
    December 31, 2007

    Behe Rule #1:

    Speaking outside one’s authority is forbidden.

    Okay. The Cardinal, being an authority on nothing, is hereby ordered to shut the fuck up.

    Actually, I think I’ve got what it takes to be an authority on God:

    God is good. He will save you. Don’t worry about a silly thing called death. There’s a heaven. Count on it. [Insert Bible verse here.] So, please, feel less ungood. Let us pray. Mumble mumble mumble. On a side note, before you go, please give me money. Thank you, thank you. [Lots of smiling. Cue organ.] Go in peace.

    Wooooooo! Authority! Wooooooo! Where’s my point hat? Send me a book deal. I’m ready. Wooooooo!

  16. #16 John Marley
    December 31, 2007

    While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.
    - Bertrand Russell

    I would add that, as science progresses, even questions like “what is love?” are open to examination.

    If there’s anyone out there who thinks that “takes all the ‘Mystery’ out of it,” I say that I’ll take wonder over mystery any day. And reccommend that you read “Unweaving the Rainbow” by Richard Dawkins.

  17. #17 Schooner
    December 31, 2007

    “I say otherwise. We have no other, better tool. If we’re going to discover an ultimate purpose, it will be through the process of studying our universe — through science.”

    Full speed ahead then. Any thought of purpose or meaning that does not consider well-established scientific data in its premises is not at all likely to be true.

    Problem is, it’s difficult to test purpose or meaning in a laboratory under the supervision of the scientific method. Thus, when purpose is discussed, scientists, philosophers, theologians, and the man on the street are all in the same fix. Notice the subtle turn here: “The data of biology do not point to purpose, but to a history of accidents shaped by short-term utility to replicators.”

    This statement may be perfectly true, false, or otherwise, but once one switches from data to what the data points to, s/he has entered into the philosophic realm–a realm not easily subjected to rigorous scientific testing.

    Thankfully, the laws of logic and thought are the same for scientist, theologian, and philosopher alike.

  18. #18 CapitalistImperialistPig
    December 31, 2007

    …an inordinated fondness for beetles

  19. #19 Glen Davidson
    December 31, 2007

    Cardinal Schöborn shows that the data of biology, when properly examined by reason and philosophy, strongly point to a purposeful world.

    The trouble with this statement is that biology is already studied in light of both reason and philosophy, often quite properly. Hence the claim about “method” is redundant.

    And no, biology especially does not point to a purposeful world. At least the “fine-tuning” argument in cosmology brings up legitimate issues, if no legitimate answers. There is no “fine-tuning problem” in biology at all.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  20. #20 Richard Harris
    December 31, 2007

    truth machine, you say, “He starts by declaring that science can’t tell us anything about our purpose – No, no, he declares that scientists can’t, and then he goes on to immediately declare that the data of biology lead to an understanding of purpose.”

    Behe actually writes, “In Chance or Purpose? Cardinal Schöborn shows that the data of biology, when properly examined by reason and philosophy, strongly point to a purposeful world.”

    Considering your sobriquet, that’s glaringly disingenuous of you. Behe does not claim for theology an understanding of purpose, but rather, a suggestion of the existence of purpose.

    That makes him somewhat less of a crazy than you suggest.

  21. #21 Glen Davidson
    December 31, 2007

    Why should science be incapable of addressing the questions of an ultimate purpose? I hear this all the time: science can’t give us meaning, science can’t explain love, science can’t do this or that.

    First off, it wouldn’t be impossible that a question could be addressed properly without science, a question that science itself could not address (as is done in the courts in some cases, and in much scholarship).

    But secondly, there is nothing that suggests that science could not address ultimate questions (love probably is not one of these, however, since it seems mostly to be a means to an end, sucessful reproduction). It’s the old fallacy that IDists and creationists fall into, the fact that we don’t find purpose or “ultimate meaning” via science is supposed to mean that science cannot address either one. No, science doesn’t find design, purpose, or ultimate meaning, which at least implies that these do not exist (or at least that these are no more than human interpretations of phenomena).

    In fact there is much reason to suppose that if some god who purportedly is the ultimate meaning made this universe, that we would be able to discern this, possibly outside of science, more likely via science. Not, of course, if this “ultimate meaning” were simply an experiment to see what happens when sensitive intelligent beings are frequently tortured and destroyed most cruelly in a universe dominated by chance and accident, but if the “ultimate meaning” were something like “major religions” tell us (peace, harmony, love, and happiness to all) we ought to be able to use science to inform us that the universe conforms to such a meaning. And since the universe does not at all conform to the proclaimed “ultimate meaning,” I think we should consider the evidence to be against those claims.

    No, sorry, philosophy and science when followed according to our best intellectual standards do not find any “ultimate meaning” in the universe, and it is not because these are incapable of finding meaning, emotion, love, and purpose where these exist (“ultimate” anything is questionable as to meaning, let alone to discovery). Science incorporates the best of our investigative abilities (including philosophy and reason, of course) for matters not already constructed and decided by humans, and as such it should be considered to be our best tool for finding purpose or design beyond human/animal purposes and designs. Since it does not find meaning and purpose in the universe besides those that have non-teleologically evolved, our best conclusion at the moment is that meaning and purpose do not exist outside of evolved animal existence.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  22. #22 LeeG
    December 31, 2007

    Behe is an incredibly muddled thinker — he’s got the background that values science, but at the same time he’s bogged down in these peculiar presuppositions that make a mess of his brain.

    A creationist doing science is like a parrot reciting Shakespeare – no matter how well he does it, he will never really understand the message…

  23. #23 Ex-drone
    December 31, 2007

    Behe writes:

    Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose, and scientists who do so are outside of their authority.

    So discussion of purpose is a matter of authority? What is the chain of commad of that authority? Priest, bishop, cardinal, pope?

  24. #24 El Cid
    December 31, 2007

    Again, it seems our leading theologians want God to require our faith and at the same time He is leaving all sorts of evidence around that the Universe was his creation, and not a natural phenomenon.

    So which is it?

    Did God wish to prove his existence to us and thus make faith inapplicable, and for some reason is only capable of doing so in tiny, indirect ways (instead of, say, flaming letters hanging around in some nearby nebula)?

    Or was God simply unable to create the Universe without leaving all sorts of evidence of His Divine Intervention, thus implying that God is either weak or stupid?

    If creationists aspire to either (a) evidence of divine intervention in the cosmos, or (b) an attempt to rule out any non-divine form of cosmic or life creation, then it must be 1 or 2.

    EITHER God is lying about desiring our faith and leaving evidence of His magic around,

    OR God is stupid or incapable of creating the Universe or us without leaving evidence of His intervention.

    So which is it?

    Is God undermining faith, or is He stupid or weak?

  25. #25 Sastra, OM
    December 31, 2007

    Theistic evolution and creationism do an interesting little dance together as God both hides behind Nature and then pokes His head out long enough to show everyone He is not Nature after all, and then back again. People get confused because it is confusing.

    It’s the same dance Faith plays with Reason. It’s unreasonable to be an atheist, but belief in God is based on Faith, which it is unreasonable not to have, because everyone needs to throw out reason for perfectly rational reasons — but only in rigidly designated areas defined by God, and discerned by the select few who pass the ESP test.

    As hyperdeath astutely points out in #7,

    Religious apologists like this have two gods.

    So do religious believers. Nature is a miracle: violations of nature are miracles. If you want to have it both ways then your gods are dancing with each other.

    What if we all finally recognized God, and found its “purpose” disappointing — it turns out to have nothing to do with us? Would God still count as “God?” Or would we look to see what the hell the purpose of the universe being made by an uncaring God was?

  26. #26 Lee Graham
    December 31, 2007

    re #37
    Very well put, Sastra!

  27. #27 Sastra, OM
    December 31, 2007

    Stop the presses! Michael Behe Retracts!

    “Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose, and scientists who do so are outside of their authority. Therefore, as a scientist, I am henceforth going to shut up about finding scientific indications that there is an ultimate purpose to the universe. My deepest apologies to all concerned. I’ve no idea what the hell I’ve been thinking all these years. Mums the word from now on, you bet, and I’m off to church.”

  28. #28 heddle
    December 31, 2007

    Re: Torbjörn Larsson, OM #19

    I did not follow the discussion at Laelap, so you’ll have to provide a link, if you want. But is seems that you are arguing the Behe is wrong–and he may well be. That is not the point. I said he did not contradict himself, and he didn’t. It seems to me that (as far as you can tell from this blurb) all Behe is saying, extrapolating a bit, is that (1) he affirms methodological naturalism and that (2) MN might lead to a design conclusion and (3) if that happens, that’s all science will have to say on the matter. PZ, if I read correctly, is affirming philosophical naturalism–which is fine–but it doesn’t render Behe’s position self-contradictory. Other than that–well if I understand you I tend to agree. If by gap-risk you mean theologians should not point to scientific gaps as some sort of proof of God, then of course I would agree.

    El Cid #35,

    Again, it seems our leading theologians want God to require our faith and at the same time He is leaving all sorts of evidence around that the Universe was his creation, and not a natural phenomenon.
    So which is it?

    “Blind faith” is not a Christian virtue. Romans 1:20 does not say: because of creation, all men are without excuse, but woe to the weak-minded who take me up on the offer look at creation for evidence.” Or, to give another of many examples, Gideon demands multiple displays of physical proof before he will obey God, and yet Gideon ends up in the faith “hall of fame” (Hebrews 11.) You are making the mistake of assuming that Christianity calls for blind faith, and therefore should steadfastly avoid tainting itself by seeking evidence in creation. But on the contrary Romans 1:20 is properly seen as a call for Christians to fear-not evidence that is acquired through their senses–that is, through science. Apart from being unbiblical, it would simply make no sense if creation was merely a trap to see if we will keep our faith in spite of what we see. No, our faith is strengthened because of what we see–even if every little gap is plugged.

  29. #29 CalGeorge
    December 31, 2007

    No, our faith is strengthened because of what we see–even if every little gap is plugged.

    An excellent example of the bullshit religious people excel at.

    No evidence. Evidence. Yup, everything strengthens my faith. It’s all good.

    Sounds like you are on autopilot.

    Faith is just another word for avoiding the cognitive dissonance that would explode your idiotic belief system.

    Wouldn’t want to go down that road. Safer to live in the fantasy world you’ve constructed for yourself.

  30. #30 Glen Davidson
    December 31, 2007

    One of the excuses for claiming that science “cannot speak of ultimate purpose” is that it deals largely in proximate causes. So the idea is that science doesn’t tell you why the world exists, but how it all works.

    The only proper analogy for this, however, is how forensics investigations and courtroom procedures operate. How do we find out what happened, and the purposes behind the alleged crime? Only by the methods of science, and the closely related criminal investigations, both of which determine intent and purpose by investigating proximate causes to discover the “ultimate” causes and purposes behind the crime. That is all humans are able to legitimately do to determine purpose, with all appeals to “ultimate causes” and “ultimate meanings” which are “beyond the evidence and science” only causing injustice and not catching the culprits.

    If Behe and Shoenborn actually had some way of getting to the “ultimate meaning” other than by following chains of cause and effect, that would be most welcome knowledge (as a philosophy prof noted, wouldn’t it really be great if we could gain absolute truth simply by reading a book?). However, since their own “ultimate meanings” and “ultimate causes” happen to explain nothing about the form and function of life, or of any incident on earth, I am not about to believe that some grand “revelation” is responsible for these supposed “ultimates”. Indeed, since we can tolerably well explain the evolution of religion, and the development of religious views in humans, I’m afraid that even their attitudes about science and “God” are already best explained by science itself (along with related scholarship, such as histories of ideas and of philosophy).

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  31. #31 Rick T.
    December 31, 2007

    El Cid,

    I like your point which reminded me to this cartoon, http://russellsteapot.com/comics/2007/omni-impotence.html

    ennui and Sastra,
    I agree completely. Is a slave’s purpose in sync with the slave holder? No. Do animals living in a zoo (if they could) identify with the purpose of the zookeepers? No.
    Why would we think that our purpose would be in line with God’s should he exist?
    Worship God for eternity? No thanks. That’s not the purpose I choose for myself.

  32. #32 June
    December 31, 2007

    The good cardinal may be less of a DI friend than the DI suspects. He does not take Genesis literally and writes things like: “It is nonsense to maintain that the world is only six thousand years old. An attempt to prove such a notion scientifically means provoking … the mockery of unbelievers.”

  33. #33 John Pieret
    December 31, 2007

    Torbjörn:

    I have to ask the same question as I did at Laelap and still haven’t got an answer to; isn’t gap arguments considered to be too risky by theologians to entertain nowadays?

    I didn’t know you had returned to the thread over there. I’ve responded in Laelap’s quieter confines (heddle, it is here). But the short answer is: not when the gap is really between empiricism and other philosophies.

  34. #34 Sastra, OM
    December 31, 2007

    Schooner #42 wrote:

    “Nature is a miracle: violations of nature are miracles.
    I recognize the weight of the problem, but it appears you are equivocating with the word miracle, Sastra.

    I think the equivocation is built into the concept. The fact that using the word in either sense makes sense may indicate where some of the fat might be settling.

    No, our faith is strengthened because of what we see–even if every little gap is plugged.

    When used in this religious sense, “faith” is a commitment to spin.

    Faith is another one of those religious words with alternate meanings which get equivocated with. Hope, trust, confidence, and assumptions can all be abandoned without abandoning a prior agreement not to do so. This commitment can’t be to God if the commitment is to believing in God in the first place. It’s a promise you make to you, out of reverence.

  35. #35 Kagehi
    December 31, 2007

    Hmm. The difference between ID and science, with respect to finding “purpose” is a) they are babbling about purpose in the sense of what we are supposed to *do*, not what we *are*, and the other can be explained thus:

    Science: Years ago scientists dug up a tomb with parts of a chariot in it. They spent years trying to reconstruct it, but where stumped at one little half moon like part, with a hook on one end and a loop on the other, in the remains. Some time later someone noticed a carving, or something, and noticed that the axle had a kind of indent on it, which ran around its circumference. Ah, ha! You put the half moon bit against the axle, then tie a bit of pelt between the loop and the hook, and that holds the wheel on.

    ID: Q: “Does this look designed too you?” A: “Well, gosh, I don’t know, its complex, so probably.” Q: “What’s its purpose do you think?” A: “Don’t be silly. The purpose of everything is to end up with us, so we will kiss gods ass!”

    See, the later is much simpler and hardly takes any time at all, unlike those silly scientists, who spend years trying to figure out the mundane purpose of some sad little bit of bronze, while completely failing to answer all those entirely man made “purposes”, which only exist in our heads, and that the religious find so important… Who cares after all how someone made a wheel stay one a now defunct chariot, or how some ancient people brewed beer, or how *anything* works? Its not like knowing stuff will win you brownie points with they imaginary friend. lol

  36. #36 El Cid
    December 31, 2007

    This weekend she informed me that scientists had tested the bread and wine used in mass and found that they contained the DNA of a 33-year-old man.

    You could probably end this discussion real quick-like by pointing out that there are a variety of rather nasty ways a ’33 year old man’ could contribute his DNA to communion wine or bread.

  37. #37 Moses
    December 31, 2007

    “Blind faith” is not a Christian virtue.

    Posted by: heddle | December 31, 2007 12:31 PM

    You’ve seen nothing of the events portrayed in the Bible and you accept them without challenge. Further there is absolutely NO historical evidence, beyond the forged Josephus mention, of Jesus or any of the events that surrounded him, besides the four (sometimes conflicting) Gospels and a bit of other fluff from the Bible.

    That’s the very practice of blind faith. Everything you believe comes from self-referential stories.

    What’s worse, is there is plenty of outside evidence to indicate it’s complete bullshit. Let’s just look at Christmas, today. Forget all the rest of the errors, problems and rip-offs of other mythologies. The whole Christmas story is a total rip-off of Mithras and the Winter Solstice celebration and Jesus is just a Jewish (Essene) version of Mithras with a bit of Krishna, Osiris & Dionysus thrown in for good measure. If you’d have ever studied these dying-God mythologies, with an open mind and willingness to accept the hard evidence, you’d see that.

    So, yes, you have BLIND FAITH, even if you think you don’t. Your only references come from your faith. Which, since they’re internal, do not present any outside, second-source confirmation. Hence, blind.

    Yet you will, sans evidence, profess them as truth and go off on your “fine tuning” arguments every time you get a chance. No matter how many times you get you bloodied when the fallacies are swatted across your nose like a rolled-up newspaper to a bad dog.

  38. #38 El Cid
    December 31, 2007

    …it would simply make no sense if creation was merely a trap to see if we will keep our faith in spite of what we see. No, our faith is strengthened because of what we see–even if every little gap is plugged…

    Actually, it would make perfect “sense” for creation to be a trap for keeping your faith, although that isn’t what I discussed. It would just not be a “sense” that you liked.

    Again:

    Is God aiming to leave evidence in His Universe such that its creation can only be explained through His Magical Intervention?

    If so, then God’s existence and power then becomes part of the scientific Universe, and dependent not upon human faith but upon the evidence He left behind for the thinking beings He created.

    Or you might be trying to suggest that some degree of evidence of God’s Magical Role in creating the cosmos or life is acceptable, but not too much evidence.

    So it was not a priority for God to create the Universe in such a manner that no evidence of Magical Intervention remains, nor was it a priority for Him to create it in such a way that too much evidence remained.

    Thus we come to the theological variant of the Goldilocks Universe — God must leave some evidence behind that the Universe wasn’t arrived at naturally so that Christians may find some evidence to bolster their Faith, but he must not leave too much evidence such that Faith is not needed at all.

  39. #39 negentropyeater
    December 31, 2007

    The problem is that most people don’t understand that one will not find the truth by assuming the truth beforehand.

  40. #40 heddle
    December 31, 2007

    Moses, #57
    I have studied (not exhaustively) the parallels between Jesus and god-myths–and the parallels are not striking–unless your source of materials are web pages devoted to exaggerating the alleged parallels. There was a great recent discussion of this on evolutionblog:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2007/12/haught_on_science_and_faith.php

    between Rick T., who was making claims of parallelism, and non-Christian (I am pretty sure; 99% confidence) J. J. Ramsey who argued that the supposed parallelism is greatly exaggerated. I think if you follow that discussion it is quite clear who came out on top in that debate.

    Let’s just look at Christmas, today. Forget all the rest of the errors, problems and rip-offs of other mythologies. The whole Christmas story is a total rip-off of Mithras and the Winter Solstice celebration

    What is truly amazing is how often this gets trotted out as if Christians don’t know it. Every Christian I know knows that the Christmas celebration was co-opted from pagans. I suspect that part of the reason this is common knowledge among Christians is that at their church, just like every church I’ve attended, there is typically a Christmas-time sermon devoted, at least in part, to this very fact–if only to encourage the congregation not to get caught up in the secular aspects of the celebrartion. Yet people like you, Moses, act as if you are revealing something that Christians don’t know–and will be shocked, absolutely shocked to discover.

    Further there is absolutely NO historical evidence, beyond the forged Josephus mention

    That is partially true but like all such things (see Mithras comment above) the convenient extreme position is accepted uncritically. The truth is the references in Josephus to the resurrection are considered by virtually all scholars, including Christian scholars, to be a misguided redaction. There is much less unanimity, however, on the question of the authenticity of the simple reference in Josephus to a rabbi named Jesus.

    No matter how many times you get you bloodied when the fallacies are swatted across your nose like a rolled-up newspaper to a bad dog.

    If that happens so frequently, as you alleged, then it should be easy for you to provide a couple links where, indisputably, a reasonable person (as opposed to a mindless backslapper)would say that I couldn’t hold my own and got bloodied.

  41. #41 Steve LaBonne
    December 31, 2007

    Despite this, teleological language is routinely employed by practicing scientists to characterize their work or interests, especially in casual conversation. This raises particular problems in biology.

    When you catch somebody doing this, just report them to Larry Moran. He’ll set them straight. ;)

  42. #42 stogoe
    December 31, 2007

    I haven’t checked the new Mr Deity site for some time. I bet there’s a new one (or more) waiting for me after work. Yum!

  43. #43 Scott Hatfield, OM
    December 31, 2007

    Steve LeBonne:

    RE: #65

    Without a doubt! If Prof. Moran were a hockey player, he’d be an ‘enforcer’….:)

    (Though I have to wonder whether or not Moran, a Gould enthusiast, would cast as critical eye on some of the latter’s writings. I’ve often thought that some of the just criticism of the vagueries of theologians uttered here could be applied, with some modification, to some of the more obsfucatory passages of Gouldiana. As E.O. Wilson once remarked, Gould was like a squid. When anyone tried to pin him down, he would vanish in a cloud of ink.)

  44. #44 heddle
    December 31, 2007

    Carlie,

    I can assure you that at least 90% of them most assuredly do NOT know the origin of the Christmas celebration, or know anything about ancient mythology, or have any clue that there are a dozen other myths that are exactly like their special little Jesus.

    No, you cannot assure me of this. While I don’t know many current SBC baptists, I know some, and the ones I know, including two presently enrolled in a SBC seminary (in fact, WaD’s old employer) most decidedly do know the roots of Christmas.

    No, you simply want to believe that most Christians are inbred bumpkins who know nothing and will be shocked and awed should the dirty little secret of Christmas’s origins be revealed. Because aguing against a caricature is sho’ ’nuff easier than scholarship.

    I hope that you are underestimating the percentage that do not have a clue that “there are a dozen other myths that are exactly like their special little Jesus.” I hope it is 100%, because the claim is false. You should not believe everything you read on the internet just because it is convenient. That’s no way to go through life.

  45. #45 Ken Cope
    December 31, 2007

    I hope that you are underestimating the percentage that do not have a clue that “there are a dozen other myths that are exactly like their special little Jesus.” I hope it is 100%, because the claim is false.

    Heddle gets to claim this one, because of the mistake Carlie made in using one qualifier too many. No one myth is “exactly” like Jesus, because the Jesus myth is a pastiche of several others.

    And there’s no way I’d got through life like heddle.

  46. #46 Foggg
    December 31, 2007

    heddle says:

    …if in the future science completely discovers and explores all that evidence [of God's handiwork] and eventually agrees that it points to a universe designed-for-life (purpose,) then we would be in exactly the scenario Behe describes: data, properly examined by reason, would point to a purposeful world.

    And science would have nothing to say about the purpose beyond the cold scientific fact that the purpose was life.

    You assume the first sentence’s robust inference is possible without contracting the second sentence. You’re going to have to explain exactly how this would work.
    You have to know by now that this move (call it The Unelaborated Purpose Inference) is the core claim/strategy of the entire ID project. You could help them immensely if you were capable of fleshing this.

  47. #47 Rick T.
    December 31, 2007

    heddle says,

    “a great recent discussion between Rick T., who was making claims of parallelism, and non-Christian (I am pretty sure; 99% confidence) J. J. Ramsey who argued that the supposed parallelism is greatly exaggerated.”

    I suppose J.J. was arguing that the claims of parallelism are exaggerated although it seemed to me that he could not accept any proposed proponent of parallelism as being trustworthy. Other than that he offered no point of view as to why there could be similarities between the religions.
    My point was that there are too many similarities and scholars who do find Christianity to have borrowed from paganism to be smugly dismissed.
    Pagan myths show changes over time but so does the Jesus myth. His personal story was evidently not known by Paul, the earliest Christian author in the NT. Mark wrote nothing of the virgin birth and resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The later gospels included those but the prophesy predicting the virgin birth was mistranslated from Isaiah and the words “young women” were changed to “virgin”.
    I wonder if J.J. would find the biblical sources unreliable as he does Joseph Campbell. Also, parallelism can’t be explained away by saying pagans borrowed from Christianity. heddle, this discussion is like a stereo-gram, if you look at it just right you can see my point of view comes out on top. But curiously, a small percentage of people can’t see stereo-grams the way most do.

  48. #48 John Phillips, FCD
    December 31, 2007

    Heddle, actually I know a whole raft of xians from different cults and few, even the ‘leaders’, know how much xianity, like many religions before it, co-opted other religious myths or their holidays as their own. We don’t bring this up so much because we ‘want to believe that most Christians are inbred bumpkins who know nothing and will be shocked and awed should the dirty little secret of Christmas’s origins be revealed’ but simply as an example of how little the average xian knows about his religion and its history. You also forget that many of us atheists were, however nominally, xian ourselves at one time and generally have a better knowledge about it and the holy babble than most of those who still claim to be believers. After all, many of us only came to our atheism after fully investigating whether, among other issues, a belief in god or gods was rational or not and that the investigation wasn’t limited to only the cult of xianity. Though of course, you would probably argue that we obviously weren’t the right type of xians to give up our belief ‘so easily’.

  49. #49 DLC
    December 31, 2007

    What, you mean there isn’t any purpose to it all ?
    That Life, the Universe and Everything is just a random number ?
    Gee. I’ll have to go be depressed now.
    Or maybe I’ll just get on with my life and enjoy those moments I can while I can. Maybe I’ll just go on and not worry about the 42 things some theist thinks are important.

  50. #50 Carlie
    December 31, 2007

    All right, heddle, congratulations, you have managed to make me more outraged than anything on the internet ever has, and I will most definitely be yelling a lot now, with copious use of profanity.

    Because aguing against a caricature is sho’ ’nuff easier than scholarship.
    You should not believe everything you read on the internet just because it is convenient.

    How dare you. How FUCKING DARE YOU. You know absolutely nothing about me or the people I know. I know you’ve been around this blog for awhile; I don’t expect you to follow the particulars of every commenter on here, but I’ve made no secret of my past or who I am, and have mentioned it several times. If you were to search through the archives for my comments, you’d find out that I know a decent amount about Christians. I haven’t just read about Southern Baptists on the internet, I don’t just know a few, as you do, I was fucking raised as one. And not just go to church on Sunday Baptist, either. I grew up in the heart of the Bible belt, in a place where my grandfather helped build the church I spent every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evenings in, where I spent more than my share of Saturday mornings going out for to visit recalcitrant members, where my second cousin eventually became the pastor. I was baptized at age 7, re-baptized at 11 because that’s when I was really “saved” and felt terribly guilty that I had asked for it at 7 when I “knew what I was doing in my head, but not in my heart”. I sang in the choir. I was the substitute accompanist, and when I was older the substitute church secretary. I spent all of my high school socializing time with the church youth group, doing activities and mission trips and retreats. In college I spent every fucking damned minute of my free time with the Baptist Student Union, leading Bible studies, planning and executing spring break service trips, singing in a traveling gospel group. Most of my college friends are now either pastors, youth directors, or in the mission field. One is a curriculum writer for a Chicago nondeonminational mega-church, one is the children’s director for a Missouri mega-church, one is the head of Russian immigrant outreach at a Kansas City church. The college friends I spent this Thanksgiving with are Tentmaker church planters. I spent several years after college as a Children’s Church director, Sunday School teacher, church board member, and Vacation Bible School coordinator. You know that woman in Jesus Camp? I was her.

    So DO NOT FUCKING TELL ME I DON’T KNOW REAL CHRISTIANS OR WHAT THEY BELIEVE. I taught many dozens of Christians what they believe, from Illinois to Missouri to Ohio to New York. I chose the curricula. I can tell you the differences in approach and theology between Lifeway and Group materials, the distinctions between using the Discovering God series and the 40 Days series, the pros and cons of taking teens to Young Life versus Glorietta versus WorldChangers for summer trips. I know more about Christians, particularly Southern Baptists, than you ever could. So when I say a great number of Southern Baptists aren’t taught and don’t know the origins of their mythology, you can fucking believe that I know what I’m talking about. In fact, a good three-quarters of them don’t even know why there’s a Southern Baptist convention separate from the northern. They don’t even know the origin of their own denomination, much less the origins of their holidays. Hell, a decent number of them don’t even know what’s in the Baptist Faith and Message, or what kind of autonomy and latitude each church has and in which doctrinal points. Know what? I do. I even know enough to guess that if you do know Baptists who are more liberal in their theology, they are either not deep enough into it to know “what” to believe, or are over the age of 35 or so, because it was a little less than 20 years ago that the right-wingers started taking over the Convention from the moderates.

    Wow, I don’t think I have ever used as many capital letters, html tags, and the word “fucking” in all of my comments here combined. But the short version is heddle, shut the fuck up.

  51. #51 PZ Myers
    December 31, 2007

    People, this is Heddle you’re arguing with — he’s one of those demented fuckwits, with a theology so bizarre you shouldn’t even try to comprehend it lest it induce brain damage (case in point: Heddle). Ignore him.

  52. #52 thalarctos
    December 31, 2007

    Well, my post crossed Carlie’s last one, so I only have a couple of things to add.

    Just based on the sample size alone, Carlie’s conclusions were a lot more credible than Heddle’s were, and the longitudinal information she provided in the last post only added to that credibility.

    Additionally, Mr. thalarctos was raised in some Campbellite fundamentalist tradition rather than SBC, but he too has observed over many years how much the members of the denomination he was raised in do *not* know about the history of their church or its scriptures.

    All right, heddle, congratulations, you have managed to make me more outraged than anything on the internet ever has

    Carlie, in the couple of years I’ve been reading Pharyngula, you’ve consistently been a source of wise, kind, knowledgeable, and funny commentary, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who’s observed that. Please don’t let a tone-deaf golem like Heddle give you an aneurysm; he’s simply not worth it.

  53. #53 Zeno
    December 31, 2007

    As long as we’re letting it all hang out: I was not only raised as a Roman Catholic and put in time as an altar boy, I even taught catechism to a group of 8th graders getting ready for confirmation. Thus I’ve been both on the giving and receiving ends of religious instruction. The Catholics I knew were not aware that major religious holidays like Christmas and Easter were borrowed wholesale from pagan antecedents. Most of them thought Christmas trees were invented by the shepherds or wise men to decorate the stable in which Jesus was born. (Yes, they really thought the wise men showed up in Bethlehem in time for Christ’s birth.) I’m not talking about all Catholics, of course, but it was certainly most of those of my acquaintance, including my family members.

    If you want to keep your faith for a long time, it’s best if you leave it largely unexamined. Much safer that way. And certainly the mainstream religion in America today: unexamined Christianity.

  54. #54 PZ Myers
    December 31, 2007

    If you want some real fun with good ol’ American Christians, ask them to recite the Nicene creed for you. You’ll find pastors and Sunday school teachers who can do it, but the majority will just look at you and say “whut?” Then for even more fun, you can recite it to them and lecture them on what they believe.

    Tulse:
    I don’t know what the ultimate purpose is, if there is one (and personally, I don’t think there is). But if there is one, the only way we’ll find out about it is observation and experiment — by science. I’m pretty darn sure that some snake-handling weirdo having a prophecy come to him in a vision is not the way to find out, nor is it going to come from some dusty old theological pedant studying ancient Hebrew scrolls.

  55. #55 Carlie
    December 31, 2007

    There will be a large handful of American Christians of a certain age who could do it after a fashion, but only if you ask them to sing Rich Mullens’ song “Apostle’s Creed” for you, and a lot of them won’t have any idea of the connection it has with the history of their faith.

  56. #56 windy
    December 31, 2007

    Thank you, thalarctos, and sorry for continuing it, PZ. I took awhile typing and missed your reminder not to engage. There are few things that reduce me to a ball of blind fury, but heddle hit one of them.

    Don’t be sorry, a good rant that’s also informative is a rare sight :)

  57. #57 Ken Cope
    December 31, 2007

    t is not a complimentary admission to imply that that you or your readers couldn’t understand it.

    heddle, you lying sack of crap. That’s not what PZ said; even you can’t be so far gone that you can’t imagine we can’t read. You do more work advertising for the relative sanity of atheism by sliming in here so often spewing bile and dementia that I’m beginning to suspect you’re just a parody intended to move even more people away from what you’re peddling.

    I’ve got yer dead and resurrected god motif right here, pal. If you had a shred of decency, you’d piss off after apologizing, but of course, you don’t.

  58. #58 Carlie
    December 31, 2007

    Well folks, arguing against crude stereotypes isn’t measuring up to the lofty standards you have set for yourselves.

    And again: stop saying that I’m making Christians into crude stereotypes. I know many of them intimately. I have most all of my DNA in common with a lot of them. I do not consider or treat them as stereotypes. You are the one stereotyping, thinking that just because you and your buddies are cosmopolitan enough to have read the Epic of Gilgamesh and noticed its similarities to the Bible that…

    Oh, my FSM. I’ve figured it out. heddle hasn’t developed a Theory of Mind yet. If he knows it, everybody else must know it too. His statements make so much more sense now, putting them in the context of the social interactivity abilities of a three-year old person. Or a four-year old chimp.

  59. #59 Monado
    January 1, 2008

    I think that some people are arguing with undefined terms. While many Christians know that the exact official date of Christmas was chosen to correspond to pagan celebrations, far fewer know that the biography of Jesus is made up in large part from standard elements of the hero myth (descendant of royal blood, king tries to kill him because of a prophesy, flees to foreign land, confounds elders while still a child, executed in a high place, becomes a God or comes back to life, etc.)

  60. #60 Ken Cope
    January 1, 2008

    I have studied (not exhaustively) the parallels between Jesus and god-myths–and the parallels are not striking

    Only a witless fucktard like heddle could submit such an asinine remark.

    Where, oh where is the zombie corpse of Joseph Campbell, lurking behind the sandwich board for The Sorrow and the Pity to tell heddle he knows nothing of his work, then rip heddle’s screaming skull apart–only to find no brain to feed upon.

    Poor zombie Joseph Campbell.

  61. #61 Monado
    January 1, 2008

    Here’s the Nicene Creed. It has been too many years since I recited it every Sunday for me to remember all the words, but I remember large chunks of it.

  62. #62 Rick T.
    January 1, 2008

    You tell ‘em Monado,
    There is a lot to account for if you’re heddle.

    Buy the way you ignorant slut and you reading-comprehension-impaired bastard (I couldn’t resist joining the chorus) I didn’t say proof positive about anything. I think that your view has died the death of a thousand cuts because there is so much evidence of Christian influence by pagan religion that proof positive on one single issue is not necessary to maintain my view. Anyway, I’m no scholar and I have all the evidence I need.
    You should identify with me seeing how you have even less need for evidence for your contrived Calvinist predestination horse shit.
    Happy new year.
    Oh, and one more thing. If we are all predestined to be lost or saved, why the hell would you’re trolling behavior be of any consequence on this blog. We’re already lost. Go hang out with your fellow saved goobers please. Make it a new years resolution for our sakes.

  63. #63 Zeno
    January 1, 2008

    Gee, Carlie, you’re confusing me with those fancy Latin abbreviations. How is a poor dumb ex-Catholic math teacher like me supposed to understand “QED”? I’ll have to ask one of those brilliant and super-informed Catholics that heddle hangs out with.

  64. #64 Monado
    January 1, 2008

    Shades of Cain and Abel from the Sumerian religion: “The Dispute between Emesh and Enten”

    Enlil creates the herdsman deity Enten and the agricultural deity Emesh. He settles a dispute between Emesh and Enten over who should be recognized as ‘farmer of the gods’, declaring Enten’s claim to be stronger. (Kramer 1961 p. 49-51).

    –from Sumer FAQ
    (I popped over there to find out who was the original baby in the rushes–it wasn’t Moses.)

  65. #65 Carlie
    January 1, 2008

    Sorry Zeno, I forgot that Catholics generally don’t know Latin.
    Ok, I couldn’t even keep a straight face typing that. :)

  66. #66 ConcernedJoe
    January 1, 2008

    My dear heddle – with all due respect .. don’t you see that the mere fact that you have DIFFERENCES – be it more pronounced with SBC than with RC – is the point.. that the Truth you think you know is man-made and no more Truth than any blokes opinion.

    Rational people know there is no Truth (but there is a truth machine :-)) … science seeks truth (accepting what seems to work – never believing that whatever works is Truth – always trying to falsify if appropriate ). But you are lucky .. I am to tired explain.

    And BTW – why don’t you believe in the Hindu myths .. I mean like if you were born and raised in the back woods of India I suspect you’s consider that the Truth — no?

  67. #67 heddle
    January 1, 2008

    ConcernedJoe,

    My dear heddle – with all due respect .. don’t you see that the mere fact that you have DIFFERENCES – be it more pronounced with SBC than with RC – is the point.. that the Truth you think you know is man-made and no more Truth than any blokes opinion.

    So the questions were designed to point out that there are substantive doctrinal differences among Christians? Is this another one of those things (like the pagan origins of the Christmas holiday) that we three-rows-of-buckteeth bumpkins don’t know about, but the elite commenters on Pharyngula do?

  68. #68 PZ Myers
    January 1, 2008

    PLEASE STOP ENGAGING HEDDLE.

    We’ve been through this before. The man is an absolute dogmatist committed to a bizarre theology, and these discussions always end up going on and on, with no one on the side of reason able to recognize how insane his beliefs are, so they keep trying to wrestle with them. You can’t. There’s no reason there.

    If you must babble with a lunatic, please do so on his blog.

  69. #69 Carlie
    January 1, 2008

    heddle,
    Ok, now this is going somewhere interesting. Let’s take your proposition that most doctrinal differences are minor compared to salvation itself. Fair enough. Strip it down to the essence, since that was the whole idea of Protestantism before it got all mucked up with complexity. How do you ensure that you will go to Heaven when you die? That’s the major issue. The two major distinctions are faith versus works. Do you have to be a good person and do good things, or just believe the right things hard and deep and pure enough? On the one hand, by grace are you saved through faith, and that not from yourselves, it is a gift of God. On the other hand, there’s the parable of the vineyard where the one servant who doesn’t do enough work is banished, and the fact that works are pretty well emphasized through the whole New Testament. Those are two fundamentally different ways of going to Heaven, and most denominations take one way or the other.

    But let’s even brush those under the rug, and take the view that real faith reveals itself in works, so one is the evidence of the other, and if you have one you will have both. The good vine brings forth fruit, and the bad vine withers in the field and produces no fruit, and so on. So the works will just naturally follow. What does faith mean, then? When do you have it? How do you know you have enough? Walk into certain evangelical churches and ask about the “once saved, always saved” dilemma and you might see blood drawn faster than you can imagine. Am I going to Heaven? I did everything “right”. I believed with my whole heart that Jesus was the son of God and raised from the dead to cover all of our sins, and accepted that sacrifice and him as the lord and savior of my life. Then again, later I became an atheist. So what’s going on with my salvation? You’ll find just as many churches and Christians who believe that it’s a one-off declaration that covers my butt for eternity, so long as I was sincere when I did it, as you will find churches and Christians who say that it’s a dynamic process and that if you ever falter or renounce your beliefs, game over. And both of them have scripture to back them up on it. Does faith have to be continuous, or can it be discrete?

    And what about all those little tracts about salvation and what, exactly, you have to have faith in? I heard a pastor say something last year that really struck me (this was long after my deconversion). He said “Salvation is a very easy thing to understand, but if you read the Bible by yourself you might not get it.” And I thought, hm. Isn’t that kind of the most important main point of the Bible, without which the rest of it is entirely meaningless? Wouldn’t that be the kind of thing that God would be really clear on, even if nothing else? Shouldn’t there be one big “HERE’S HOW TO GO TO HEAVEN” chapter that lays it all out? And I started thinking about all of the tracts I passed out over the years, all of the verses I memorized, all of the step by step let’s take you through God’s Message of Salvation tutorials. The ABCs of salvation, the classic little blue booklet, the “let me ask you two simple questions” tracts. Every one of them is a set of verses, each taken from a different place. Even the Romans Road tract, so named because all of the verses come from the book of Romans, has all of the verses from different chapters, (and the fact that someone managed to find all appropriate verses for salvation in one book was feat enough to name the message after it, which kind of makes the point again). And it hit me. Quote mines. They’re all quote mines. Random sentences cobbled together from disparate parts of a book that was created by committee in the first place. No wonder there’s so much confusion on it.

    So even in the most basic, important, single doctrinal issue, there is enough schism just within Christianity, heck, just within Protestantism, to make the different views mutually exclusive. That’s a big part of the frustration with people who claim to be “right” about God.

  70. #70 Carlie
    January 1, 2008

    Oh, sorry again PZ. I couldn’t help it. Last word, I promise.

  71. #71 GDwarf
    January 1, 2008

    Heddle,

    First off, I find your request for a novel argument against religion to be odd. Why would we need new ones? The old ones work perfectly well. (I still haven’t seen a refutation to the problem of evil that didn’t remove God’s omnipotence.)

    As for what Christians believe, churches obviously don’t do surveys on this kind of thing, so at best we can use anecdotes. It’s far from perfect, but when it’s all you’ve got you may as well use it.

    In my case I taught Sunday School for a year and helped run a church summer camp for 3. At my church I’d say probably half of the church-goers know that the Wisemen didn’t show up on Christmas eve, while maybe 25% know the actual origin of the holiday.

    Is this conclusive proof of ignorance? No. But then, it doesn’t have to be. We’re showing that, contrary to your claim, not every Christian knows everything about every aspect of their faith. Most of the ones I know just remember what they were told in Sunday School, and don’t bother learning anything more. Why should they? After all, their Sunday School teachers wouldn’t lie to them, and the myths are much easier to remember if you keep them simple and don’t start adding in complications that are recorded in the bible.

    In addition, I’d argue (admittedly, with nothing more than anecdotal proof) that practically no Christians know that Christmas was originally Yule. It isn’t something that gets brought up in sermons or Sunday school. Nor is it something mentioned in the Bible. So they have no reason to ever find this out unless they do some research into the holiday, which not many of the ones I know do.

  72. #72 Ken Cope
    January 1, 2008

    Sorry PZ, consider that my last response to heddle. It’s like punching at vacuum.

  73. #73 heddle
    January 1, 2008

    You should all listen to PZ and stop engaging me, this is his blog. But since I am not engaging myself, I’ll continue. First of all I want to address PZ’s rather indefensible comment:

    The man is an absolute dogmatist committed to a bizarre theology

    But in fact there is nothing bizarre about it–it is rather boilerplate. After all, all Calvinism (to use that term) is based on two simple precepts:

    1) That in man’s fallen state, he is unable to do anything to contribute to his own salvation and

    2) God will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy.

    That’s it. Point 1 may be wrong; the majority (American Evangelical) Christian position is that in man’s fallen state he is in dire straits, but he still has some vestigial goodness from which he can choose God.

    That, in a nutshell, is the difference. I don’t see how one view could be described as bizarre and not the other–so either PZ is saying all Christian theology is bizarre, in which case it is hardly worth mentioning and definitely not worth singling out Calvinism, or that the two points above are “especially bizarre,” which in my opinion is indefensible–unless the meaning of bizarre is much weaker than I thought. In short, he doesn’t have a clue.

    John Phillips, FCD

    And again, whether you like it or not, the majority of xians I meet, both on a personal level and on the web, really don’t know the history of their religion and that includes not knowing that xianity is a hodge podge of other religions.

    To this and other comments in the same vein–you are moving the goalposts. Of course I would not say they are aware that xianity is a hodge podge of other religions because, that is simply not true. Christianity is not a hodgepodge of other religions. Once again, what I have stated is that most Christians, like most educated people everywhere, know that the Christmas celebration has pagan roots. That’s the claim I have made.

    Carlie,

    Those are two fundamentally different ways of going to Heaven, and most denominations take one way or the other.

    Actually, that is not quite accurate. I know of no major denomination that teaches salvation by works. They all claim to teach salvation by faith. Now, one denomination might accuse another of teaching salvation by works, but I know of no major Protestant denomination that has it as a doctrinal position, and certainly the RCC would claim that it does not teach salvation by works.

    What does faith mean, then? When do you have it? How do you know you have enough?

    I can only speak for myself here–you have faith (as a gift) when (or logically, after) you are regenerated. That is, faith is given following regeneration. Many Christians, of course, believe the reverse: that faith precedes regeneration. Calvinism teaches you are reborn and then you believe; Arminianism teaches you believe and then you are reborn.

    You’ll find just as many churches and Christians who believe that it’s a one-off declaration that covers my butt for eternity, so long as I was sincere when I did it,

    Again, I would say sincerity has nothing or little to do with it. The bible has several instances (Matt 7) showing that people with sincere faith are not necessarily saved. And James tells us that even the demons believe. As for your salvation–that only thing that is certain in my mind is that if you were saved then you still are. The promise of eternal life is just that–if it can be revoked then you really didn’t have eternal life in the first place and God has been made a liar. John 3:16, while rarely used for the purpose, is a strong verse supporting eternal security.

    As for the Roman’s Road type tracts, then by now you will know that I disagree with them. They contain the “sincerely enough” clause. If I was of the belief that I had to be “sincere enough” in anything it would sure keep me up at night. To me, that would be bad news, not good news. As for assurance of salvation–that is too much to squeeze into these comments.

  74. #74 Rick T.
    January 1, 2008

    Rick T.
    I said to heddle,

    “Oh, and one more thing. If we are all predestined to be lost or saved, why the hell would you’re trolling behavior be of any consequence on this blog. We’re already lost.”
    heddle said,
    “Wow, you must be the first person to use this construct: If we are all predestined… then why bother to…. Augustine and Calvin must never have considered such a rebuttal. This is indeed the blog with the most intelligent commentary.”
    I didn’t ask Augustine and Calvin. I asked YOU. Why are YOU wasting your time on those who have made their decision. Could it be you are tempted to deconvert? Hang around in the guise of converting the lost but really subconsciously longing to give over to reason. That has to be it. No real Christian would waste time beating a dead horse instead of searching for the lost sheep if he really believed like you say you do.
    Sorry PZ, I thought I’d make one last try and use my psychology degree for something to see if it works.

  75. #75 Schooner
    January 1, 2008

    The historicity of Jesus, mystery religions, parallel myths, the origin of Christmas, etc. These tired objections possess as much ligitimacy as Rosie Ruiz in a marathon.

    To the trained theologian, these assertions are as worn out and as easily dispensed with as creationist claims trained biogists field here on a daily basis. How many times have we heard that the “Epic of Gilgamesh” or a similar text creates some horrid difficulty? Nearly as often as the contention that the Cambrian Explosion disproves evolution.

    Simply put, if there were a cataclysmic flood in antiquity, wouldn’t we demand that several myths abound recounting the event? If there were a Garden of Eden, wouldn’t we expect myths to flourish around it?

    Similarly, the principle holds for mystery and parallel religions. The problem for a belief holder, whatever the belief may be, is not the existence of similar concurrent thought forms, archetypes, of precursors, but the lack thereof. If something is a true account of the way things are, we should expect to see it arise within several thought-forms.

    Without characterizing evolution as a belief, we can note the identical principle at work: would it not be odd if humans did not have an uncanny notion that history moves forward, that things are progressing? It would be odd indeed if evolution is a true account of the world we live in that people by and large sensed that the world, or things in it, were not progressing. Evolution is constantly noted as being a theory that accounts for knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. Again, would it not be odd if truths posited by evolution did not resurface within physics, math, or geology?

    Therefore, the problem is never “there exist parallel accounts of something I hold to be true.” The problem is “there are not.”

    Regarding the historicity challenge posted in response 57, this is simply ignorance on the scale of “the world is flat.” It’s not 1875 anymore…

  76. #76 Foggg
    January 1, 2008

    I’m going to violate PZ’s request, since this is about PZ’s OP and not the finer points of myth&theology…

    heddle says:
    you can certainly imagine scenarios–the absurd/proverbial “made by God” written in a hundred languages including LOLcat on the side of the top quark.

    Your claim was this “would have nothing to say beyond the cold scientific fact that the purpose was life.”
    Instead, this scenario would not merely lead to the overwhelming inferences for the existence of a creator who understands and predicted certain human languages and that humans of those time periods were significant to this creator, but that the creator desired to communicate this to humans (if/when they had the tech to read quarks).
    This intended/purposed human-creator relationship goes far beyond “nothing except the purpose is life”, so for this scenario, PZ’s claim of contradiction was right and your’s of non-contradiction was wrong.

  77. #77 Ichthyic
    January 1, 2008

    …my point being not that we shouldn’t expect something that is an accurate conclusion to be independently derivable, but that independent derivation isn’t, in and of itself, sufficient.

  78. #78 Tulse
    January 1, 2008

    So it would be a problem if we didn’t see several dying and resurrection god men preceding Jesus. So, are these god men real, like Jesus, which would make him redundant and not so special, or are they mythological like Jesus?

    Exactly, Rick T. If the events of the Bible are real, then we shouldn’t expect to see similar accounts in other myths, any more than we should expect to see myths in other cultures about a tall man who wears stovepipe hats and frees slaves before being assassinated.

  79. #79 El Cid
    January 1, 2008

    Why is it simply impossible for so many faithful to imagine a God capable of creating a Universe, or life for that matter, without leaving the slightest bit of evidence for His role?

    They imagine that God can do all sorts of other impossible things — why not this? Why must God have to have this specific weakness?

  80. #80 Monado
    January 2, 2008

    Thanks, Zeno (#48). I have to be careful what I say because the Other GRandparentS have custody and they can be very touchy. I once once ordered out of their house for saying, “Let’s go home” instead of “Let’s go to my house” because her only home is their home. And naturally I’m not supposed to say anything that will disturb her religious beliefs or talk about what THEY believe. E.g., saying that if she’d given up pizza for Lent it was up to her if she maintained that at our house. That earned us a letter of reprimand. But apparently they can talk about ME – as the starter to our conversation was, “If you’re not a Christian, what ARE you?”

    I like the idea of asking her to come up with sources, though.

  81. #81 Monado
    January 2, 2008

    PZ, isn’t that just another version of “Don’t try to wrestle a pig: you get covered in mud, you can’t throw it, and the pig enjoys it”?

  82. #82 Rick T.
    January 2, 2008

    “But didn’t the nations of the earth arise from this one small group? To be consistent with Carlie’s premise, yes. Thus, multiple myths are exactly what we would predict under such circumstances. The same holds for the Garden of Eden objection as set forth by Carlie: if all arose from Adam & Eve, we would predict their descendants to carry an Edenic myth forward.

    Time for remedial logic, Rick :)”

    My special remedial logic works this way. If there are flood myths and Eden myths which PREDATE the Biblical events then I can assume that they were independent of and not derived from the Bible. That means they couldn’t have been referring to the Biblical flood or the Garden of Eden.
    My logic tells me that (1) the Bible MAY have borrowed from earlier tales or (2)arose independently or (3) that the flood actually happened.
    The first case is probable. The second is possible but not likely and the third has been disproved by scientific methods at least on a world wide level within the time frame creationists give for the event which makes the story a myth not a fact.
    That’s how my logic works.

  83. #83 windy
    January 2, 2008

    If the events of the Bible are real, then we shouldn’t expect to see similar accounts in other myths, any more than we should expect to see myths in other cultures about a tall man who wears stovepipe hats and frees slaves before being assassinated.

    You could imagine the John Frum cultists or similar having a spinoff Lincoln cult. Not very problematic until they start claiming that their Stovepipe-hat-man is the one true Stovepipe-hat-man, preceded the historical Lincoln, and that he invented stovepipe hats and the concept of freeing slaves. (Hey, it worked for the Christians.)

  84. #84 El Cid
    January 2, 2008

    You could imagine the John Frum cultists or similar having a spinoff Lincoln cult. Not very problematic until they start claiming that their Stovepipe-hat-man is the one true Stovepipe-hat-man, preceded the historical Lincoln, and that he invented stovepipe hats and the concept of freeing slaves. (Hey, it worked for the Christians.)
    Posted by: windy

    Yes, but then they would have to divide into debates on what he really meant by freeing the slaves, with plenty of people concluding that although it was the right thing to do to free those particular slaves, it was not a commandment against slavery in general.

  85. #85 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 2, 2008

    Without characterizing evolution as a belief, we can note the identical principle at work: would it not be odd if humans did not have an uncanny notion that history moves forward, that things are progressing?

    You are confusing evolution with progress. Evolution is not progress. Evolution goes in whatever direction the enviroment happens to favor at the moment.

    Incidentally, progress in human history was not generally noted before the 19th century, when it was turned into an ideology (Marx’s “historical inevitabilities” and all that jazz).

    Evolution is constantly noted as being a theory that accounts for knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. Again, would it not be odd if truths posited by evolution did not resurface within physics, math, or geology?

    To the contrary. By definition, evolution requires entities that reproduce and inherit. There aren’t many such entities. Living beings are; languages are; universes might be according to Lee Smolin. That, AFAIK, is it. Rocks don’t evolve, stars don’t evolve, numbers don’t evolve…

    Besides, I wouldn’t use the word “truths”. The theory of evolution is science. It is falsifiable, but not provable; it is about reality, not about truth. Truth is for philosophers, if anyone.

  86. #86 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 2, 2008

    Without characterizing evolution as a belief, we can note the identical principle at work: would it not be odd if humans did not have an uncanny notion that history moves forward, that things are progressing?

    You are confusing evolution with progress. Evolution is not progress. Evolution goes in whatever direction the enviroment happens to favor at the moment.

    Incidentally, progress in human history was not generally noted before the 19th century, when it was turned into an ideology (Marx’s “historical inevitabilities” and all that jazz).

    Evolution is constantly noted as being a theory that accounts for knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. Again, would it not be odd if truths posited by evolution did not resurface within physics, math, or geology?

    To the contrary. By definition, evolution requires entities that reproduce and inherit. There aren’t many such entities. Living beings are; languages are; universes might be according to Lee Smolin. That, AFAIK, is it. Rocks don’t evolve, stars don’t evolve, numbers don’t evolve…

    Besides, I wouldn’t use the word “truths”. The theory of evolution is science. It is falsifiable, but not provable; it is about reality, not about truth. Truth is for philosophers, if anyone.

  87. #87 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 2, 2008

    There will be a large handful of American Christians of a certain age who could do it after a fashion, but only if you ask them to sing Rich Mullens’ song “Apostle’s Creed” for you, and a lot of them won’t have any idea of the connection it has with the history of their faith.

    That’s not the same. The Nicene Creed is much longer than the Apostle’s Creed (because it mentions a lot of things that various heretics had contested).

    and certainly the RCC would claim that it does not teach salvation by works.

    The RCC teaches that both are required (which is what Luther explicitely argued against: “sola fides”). Works are emphasized in several places in the NT, and there are various other verses that, while emphasizing the importance of faith generally, also emphasize it isn’t the whole story, most famously 1 Corinthians 13:2.

    You are probably right, though, that there’s no denomination that teaches salvation by works alone. Even though this view, too, is in the NT, e.g. John 5:29.

    I can only speak for myself here–you have faith (as a gift) when (or logically, after) you are regenerated. That is, faith is given following regeneration. Many Christians, of course, believe the reverse: that faith precedes regeneration. Calvinism teaches you are reborn and then you believe; Arminianism teaches you believe and then you are reborn.

    So instead of salvation through faith, it’s faith through salvation?

  88. #88 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 2, 2008

    There will be a large handful of American Christians of a certain age who could do it after a fashion, but only if you ask them to sing Rich Mullens’ song “Apostle’s Creed” for you, and a lot of them won’t have any idea of the connection it has with the history of their faith.

    That’s not the same. The Nicene Creed is much longer than the Apostle’s Creed (because it mentions a lot of things that various heretics had contested).

    and certainly the RCC would claim that it does not teach salvation by works.

    The RCC teaches that both are required (which is what Luther explicitely argued against: “sola fides”). Works are emphasized in several places in the NT, and there are various other verses that, while emphasizing the importance of faith generally, also emphasize it isn’t the whole story, most famously 1 Corinthians 13:2.

    You are probably right, though, that there’s no denomination that teaches salvation by works alone. Even though this view, too, is in the NT, e.g. John 5:29.

    I can only speak for myself here–you have faith (as a gift) when (or logically, after) you are regenerated. That is, faith is given following regeneration. Many Christians, of course, believe the reverse: that faith precedes regeneration. Calvinism teaches you are reborn and then you believe; Arminianism teaches you believe and then you are reborn.

    So instead of salvation through faith, it’s faith through salvation?

  89. #89 Schooner
    January 2, 2008

    #158-nice post.

    “You are confusing evolution with progress. Evolution is not progress. Evolution goes in whatever direction the environment happens to favor at the moment.”

    Yeah, I was sloppy. It’s obvious, now that you mention it. Thanks for the correction. The analogy to history was a particularly bad choice, but it’s the analogy that was bad and not necessarily the argument. Substitute change, or whatever makes sense to you and see if it works better.

    “Incidentally, progress in human history was not generally noted before the 19th century, when it was turned into an ideology (Marx’s “historical inevitabilities” and all that jazz).”

    No reason to quibble about this, although we could note in passing that Marx borrowed from Hegel, the Enlightenment and the Renaissance both reflected on the middle and dark ages, Hume and Kant postulated a progressive shift in Philosophy, the Magna Carta, Mohammedans thought they were the last improvement on Monotheism, the Christians realized a progressive revelation from Judaism, Euclidian geometry, Greek civilization posturing itself above the barbarous others, and the general tenor of ancient nation states arising from tribal clans–even Gilgamesh, which among others started this discussion, features a theme regarding the Sumerian advance from uncivilized nature. Mostly western, of course and non-monolithic, but the general trend seems to be progressive with those within each tradition considering themselves an advance on previous ages or concurrent cultures, whether they are or not in the final analysis from our perspective.
    I suppose that was a minor quibble, after all.

    “Evolution is constantly noted as being a theory that accounts for knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. Again, would it not be odd if truths posited by evolution did not resurface within physics, math, or geology?”

    “To the contrary. By definition, evolution requires entities that reproduce and inherit. There aren’t many such entities. Living beings are; languages are; universes might be according to Lee Smolin. That, AFAIK, is it. Rocks don’t evolve, stars don’t evolve, numbers don’t evolve…”

    OK, I acknowledge my weak definitions yet again; however, the theory in actual practice appears to claim more than just living entities, i.e., natural selection. For example, it is normative for the theory to postulate large stretches of time (from our perspective). This view resurfaces in geology and astronomy. It would be odd if it did not.

    “Besides, I wouldn’t use the word “truths”. The theory of evolution is science. It is falsifiable, but not provable; it is about reality, not about truth. Truth is for philosophers, if anyone.”

    Very perceptive on your part. No quarrel with substituting reality for truth in this instance.

  90. #90 ~C4Chaos
    January 6, 2008

    “If we’re going to discover an ultimate purpose, it will be through the process of studying our universe — through science.”

    i agree. but your view would be limited only by your definition of “science.” does your science include soft sciences or just the hard sciences? what are your views on “mysticism” as a form of soft science? (e.g. as Sam Harris proposes Contemplative Science)

    but for the record, i agree with your critique of Behe.

    ~C

  91. #91 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 25, 2008

    FWIW, catching up on old threads:

    @ heddle:

    I did not follow the discussion at Laelap, so you’ll have to provide a link, if you want.

    It was just a heads up to those other commentators, sorry. I repeated the argument here.

    The difference between PM and MN can be described as “the sum of gaps”, which is why it is a gap argument. You didn’t really explain why yours (or Behe’s) argument leads from MN to design – do you say that IDC is a tested science? But that is an unwarranted assumption. And as the appearance of design in biology is already explained by evolution, and the finetuning argument is a fallacy of probability, what remains?

    @ John:

    I will answer over there.