Monday, October 15, 2007

Backpedaling for Jesus

The Catholic Church is finally learning which side of empirical facts to bet its theology on. It took the Church 350 years to formally withdraw its condemnation of Galileo. It hasn't waited that long to weigh in on Charles Darwin. In 1996 Pope John Paul II assented to the truth of the Theory of Evolution - sort of.

In a widely noticed message on evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, sent on October 22, 1996, John Paul II noted that, while there are several theories of evolution, the fact of the evolution of the human body from lower forms of life is “more than a hypothesis.” But human life, he insisted, was separated from all that is less than human by an “ontological difference.” The spiritual soul, said the pope, does not simply emerge from the forces of living matter nor is it a mere epiphenomenon of matter. Faith enables us to affirm that the human soul is immediately created by God.

The pope was interpreted in some circles as having accepted the neo-Darwinian view that evolution is sufficiently explained by random mutations and natural selection (or “survival of the fittest”) without any kind of governing purpose or finality. Seeking to offset this misreading, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, published on July 7, 2005, an op-ed in the New York Times, in which he quoted a series of pronouncements of John Paul II to the contrary. For example, the pope declared at a General Audience of July 19, 1985: “The evolution of human beings, of which science seeks to determine the stages and discern the mechanism, presents an internal finality which arouses admiration. This finality, which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator.” In this connection, the pope said that to ascribe human evolution to sheer chance would be an abdication of human intelligence.

Cardinal Schönborn was also able to cite Pope Benedict XVI, who stated in his inauguration Mass as pope on April 24, 2005: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

Cardinal Schönborn’s article was interpreted by many readers as a rejection of evolution. Some letters to the editor accused him of favoring a retrograde form of creationism and of contradicting John Paul II. They seemed unable to grasp the fact that he was speaking the language of classical philosophy and was not opting for any particular scientific position. His critique was directed against those neo-Darwinists who pronounced on philosophical and theological questions by the methods of natural science.


When it comes to science the Church is like Lucille Ball in a skit from one of her early shows where she disguises herself as a dancer in one of her husband Rickie's night club shows. Not knowing the choreography, she tries to fit in with the other dancers, but she's always a step behind. But she's hopeful that noone will pick up on her missteps.

After stating that the Church is in agreement with the TofE, Cardinal Dulles goes on to point out all the ways that it falls short:

Theistic evolutionism, like classical Darwinism, refrains from asserting any divine intervention in the process of evolution. It concedes that the emergence of living bodies, including the human, can be accounted for on the empirical level by random mutations and survival of the fittest.

But theistic evolutionism rejects the atheistic conclusions of Dawkins and his cohorts. The physical sciences, it maintains, are not the sole acceptable source of truth and certitude. Science has a real though limited competence. It can tell us a great deal about the processes that can be observed or controlled by the senses and by instruments, but it has no way of answering deeper questions involving reality as a whole. Far from being able to replace religion, it cannot begin to tell us what brought the world into existence, nor why the world exists, nor what our ultimate destiny is, nor how we should act in order to be the kind of persons we ought to be


If religion was a source of truth and certitude, the world wouldn't be divided amongst 5 or so major religions and many times more sects. All religion can add to what science tells us about what brought the world into existence are myths, legends and folktales. Which are fine as far as they go, but they bring no certainty. The reason that the Church has had to backpedal so furiously in the wake of the scientific revolution is that it has imagined that its spinners of legends and folktales were in the certainty business.

In tune with this school of thought, the English mathematical physicist John Polkinghorne holds that Darwinism is incapable of explaining why multicellular plants and animals arise when single cellular organisms seem to cope with the environment quite successfully. There must be in the universe a thrust toward higher and more-complex forms. The Georgetown professor John F. Haught, in a recent defense of the same point of view, notes that natural science achieves exact results by restricting itself to measurable phenomena, ignoring deeper questions about meaning and purpose. By its method, it filters out subjectivity, feeling, and striving, all of which are essential to a full theory of cognition. Materialistic Darwinism is incapable of explaining why the universe gives rise to subjectivity, feeling, and striving.


And neither can religion. All religion can say is that subjectivity, feeling and striving come from "spirit", or "soul", which is like saying that light comes from "shiny stuff". It's just giving a name to the phenomenon in question without an explanation.

But the backpedaling from Darwinism continues:

Several centuries ago, a group of philosophers known as Deists held the theory that God had created the universe and ceased at that point to have any further influence. Most Christians firmly disagreed, holding that God continues to act in history. In the course of centuries, he gave revelations to his prophets; he worked miracles; he sent his own Son to become a man; he raised Jesus from the dead. If God is so active in the supernatural order, producing effects that are publicly observable, it is difficult to rule out on principle all interventions in the process of evolution. Why should God be capable of creating the world from nothing but incapable of acting within the world he has made? The tendency today is to say that creation was not complete at the origins of the universe but continues as the universe develops in complexity.

Phillip E. Johnson, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement, has accused the Christian Darwinists of falling into an updated Deism, exiling God “to the shadowy realm before the Big Bang,” where he “must do nothing that might cause trouble between theists and scientific naturalists.”


It's not that God is incapable of acting within the world he has made, its just that the best, most successful explanations for how the world as recorded by experience works are posited on the assumption that He doesn't. Why should scientists make any room for the divine assist in their theories when they get their best results by leaving it out? Johnson thinks he's arguing with the arrogance of scientists, but he's really arguing with the success of the materialist assumption.

Atheistic scientists often write as though the only valid manner of reasoning is that current in modern science: to make precise observations and measurements of phenomena, to frame hypotheses to account for the evidence, and to confirm or disconfirm the hypotheses by experiments. I find it hard to imagine anyone coming to belief in God by this route.


Who said that the purpose of science is to facilitate a belief in God? But Cardinal Dulles unwittingly admits to the incompatibility of science and religious faith here. He's essentially saying here that the scientific method won't provide any evidence upon which to base a belief in God. So much for reason buttressing faith!

It is true, of course, that the beauty and order of nature has often moved people to believe in God as creator. The eternal power and majesty of God, says St. Paul, is manifest to all from the things God has made. To the people of Lystra, Paul proclaimed that God has never left himself without witness, “for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Christian philosophers have fashioned rigorous proofs based on these spontaneous insights. But these deductive proofs do not rely upon modern scientific method.


St Paul also said that Christ is a stumbling block to the Greeks, and the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. Paul was no fan of deductive proofs.

"Justin Barrett, an evolutionary psychologist now at Oxford, is also a practicing Christian. He believes that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God crafted human beings to be in loving relationship with him and with one another."

Whatever happened to Man's fallen nature, and the natural depravity of man? I'm no Calvinist, but it doesn't take one to say that if God crafted human beings to be in loving relationships with one another, then He has a quality control problem.

Cardinal Dulles rambles on, but the Church's defensiveness with regard to science isn't hard to detect. What starts out as a discussion of Darwin's theory of Evolution, a theory we are told that the Church accepts, turns into a self-conscious apologetic for why the Church is still needed to protect the world from Godless atheism. But the longer that the world gets along with Godless atheism without destroying itself, the less compelling the Church's warning becomes.

77 Comments:

Blogger David said...

You know, guys, if you're really going to sell this 2000 year holy war on science, you're probably going to need to come up with a second example.

October 17, 2007 1:57 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

That is why I prefer to use "rational inquiry" instead of "science". In essence, they both refer to the same process (after all, when I am trying to diagnose why the heat in my car nearly disappears when the engine is at idle, or determining whether free trade is better than autarchy, I am applying the scientific method), inevitably the latter term forms a very distinct impression, when it should be far more general.

Has The Church conducted a 2,000 year war on science, strictly defined? No. But there is more than just Darwin. Galileo and Kepler come to mind; Kepler's book describing the heliocentric nature of the solar system, which he did not publish until he was on his deathbed, remained on the Index until the 1830s.

Even so, there could hardly be anything called a holy war on science; certainly not in comparison to truly awful things, like heretics.

Taken more broadly, though, the Church has had a real problem with rational inquiry. I'll bet a great many books descended from The Enlightenment ended up on Index Librorum Prohibitorum. It is hard to argue that this broader war of dogma and reason had no effect; those living in Spain, Quebec, and Ireland, particularly outside the major cities, probably had no opportunity to avail themselves of those works on the index.

Even when the index itself was abolished, the motivation behind it remained:

This Congregation for Doctrine of Faith (...) says that its index keeps its moral value (...) in the sense that it is asking to the conscience of the faithful (...) to be on guard against the written materials that can put the faith and good conduct in danger".

Also, I think it is worth noting that the first mention of a holy war against science, at least in this thread, was in your comment.

More to the point, it seems pretty obvious that The Church has on some fair number of occasions pitted dogma against rational inquiry, and has had to climb down every time. Its current approach, that The Bible is inspired, but not dictated, essentially eliminates (except for the odd badly reasoned op ed piece) the conflict between rational inquiry and faith.

It is a lesson that a few evangelical sects in the US could learn to their benefit, and Islam could learn to the rest of the world's great relief.

October 17, 2007 9:17 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I couldn't help but notice:

The spiritual soul, said the pope, does not simply emerge from the forces of living matter nor is it a mere epiphenomenon of matter. Faith enables us to affirm that the human soul is immediately created by God.

What that last sentence really means is Faith enables us to affirm that [fill in the blank].

October 17, 2007 9:27 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Why phrase it so negatively?

The holy war on science is just the assertion of the church's duty to guide and instruct, with the naturally evolving concomitant duty to suppress (I originally wrote 'kill,' but that might be inflammatory) anyone who disagrees.

And look how many patents they've got!

October 17, 2007 11:06 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Once again, the Duckians attempt a reasoned criticism of God and religion, but quickly descend to parodying an old-style Unionist from Belfast fulminating about The Scarlet Woman of Rome.

If religion was a source of truth and certitude, the world wouldn't be divided amongst 5 or so major religions and many times more sects.

Yes, and if democracy truly was the best form of government, everybody would vote for the same party. You lapsed Catholics still haven't got over the shock of the Reformation, have you? Duck, do you fanatize about being an advisor to the Founders on whether or not to include freedom of religion?

October 18, 2007 2:01 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Getting back to the post, the interesting comment is Johnson's, who is no fool and a terrific cross-examiner of Darwinists, but who seems a little off here. It is ironic in a way that the IDers and Dawkins & Co are such bitter adversaries, because their mentors got along fine. If Darwin were to come back (Hey, wouldn't that be something!?), he might have a sharp word with his defenders because he was a great admirer of Paley and acknowledged a lifelong debt to him. The kind of thinking we now associate with ID was very welcome in scientific circles.

Have you ever wondered why, if all those Christians believed in Heaven, no one ever tried to figure out the mileage from here to there? Well, it is possible someone tried, but if they did I would bet a lot that whoever did lived in the 18th century, the era of Deism, Paley's watchmaker and that chap who calculated that Creation occurred in 4004 B.C. These were the natural theologians and what excited the scientists about them was not the question of how much God was in there tweaking this or that, but that they were on board with science that the material world we observe around us is all there is and that the full story in contained in it.

Paley & co had lots of opposition from churchmen in tune with an older tradition, one the modern mind has a very hard time even accessing, religious or not. They may have been conservative toadies, but they could see the dead end where this would lead. If we take medieval man as the symbol of the age of faith (very simplistic), he was perfectly comfortable with the notion that there are different realms of time and space and although there are connections between them, we just see one clearly. That was pretty much the way everybody in history saw it. The Enlightenment and scientific revolution didn't kill off God or religion, but they sure have done a number on metaphysics, not by proving or disproving anything, but by shifting the general mindset to the here and now. So ingrained is this limited perspective in our thinking today that when the modern scientists says fairies and ghosts don't exist, he thinks he is making a scientific statement based on eveidence, when all he is really doing is saying the material, objective world is all there is, hardly a scientific proposition. This also explains why great-grandma's certainty that they did exist wasn't shaken a whit by the fact that nobody she knew had ever seem them.

Of all the religions, Chrsitianity and especially Catholicism tried hardest to build a concrete cosmology out of the spiritual realm, which is why it is so easy to mock today. You can be terrified of Islam or bored silly by Judaism, but it is Catholicism that earns scorn with all the talk of saints and Hell and orders of angels, etc. As the early Protestants noticed, none of this is in scripture, but the Church was converting pagans and had to speak in their terms. Wispy Deism wasn't going to cut it in the world of Odin and Thor. The reaction against this cosmology was a big part of the Reformation, which held that, although that realm certaunly exists, we can't possible know the details and each individual must explore it for himself, a position that seems to offend the Duckians mightily.

Anyway, pretty much all religious thinking implies a belief in other realms, but with no end of differences about their natures. Talking about it is a huge problem for modern Western religion, but it is there. Do you really imagine all those ordinary folks supporting the IDers at Dover held firm views on the developement of bacterial flagellum?

Now, I rather assume Duckian thinking has no room for metaphysics, but the funny thing is you can't get away from it and you guys are so full of bile about Christianity that you are astoundingly sanguine about some of the emerging post-Christian versions. Obviously radical environmentalism or "deep ecology" is a pagan resurgence, as is Wicca. Even in Darwin's day, a suprising number of Victorians who lost their Christian faith and "could no longer believe in the thiry-nine articles", plunged headlong into spiritualism (e.g. Arnold, Churchill). You are quite right that unguided belief in metaphysics and the spiritual realm can be dangerous, a strong point for Catholicism, but you are very naive to believe there is nothing to choose among all the versions. Dream all you want about the apocalyptic trimph of science and rationalism, but don't complain to David or me when your kids start talking about some kind of modern Valhalla. Please realize how pitifully empty and inadequate most of the rest of the world sees your creed and be careful what you wish for.

October 18, 2007 3:44 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

A couple of supplementaries:

A) In studing the different metaphysical bases of the major faiths, it is well to remember that in their formative stages, Catholicism was converting (and therefore addressing) pagans, Islam was converting Christians, Protestants were converting Catholics and Judaism was trying to mind its own business and deal with spiritual matters intramurally. For reasons that continue to befuddle me, you Duckians seem adamant that the theological divergences that resulted say something profound about the objective nature of the Eternal. Indeed, so fixated are you with this that you jump right over the irritating fact that they all believe in God and the Commandments.

B)With respect to modern paganism and expanded metaphysical re-emergences, it isn't just that folks "skip over" the Enlightenment and materialism. They actually use it to ground their beliefs. I've already mentioned environmentalism, which purports to start with science but no longer cares much what science says, but another example is modern psychology and the self-help zeitgeist, which is well on its way to converting Freud into voodooism. Ever study the abuse industry closely? Talk about alternative realities!

We used to argue about the inspirations for Nazism and Communism. Certainly it cannot be said that materialism or scientific inquiry necessarily caused either, but it can be said that both had their intellectual genesis in a combination of the decline of "Thou Shalt Not" religious authority and the science of their times. However much that science has been discredited, it really isn't much of a useful defence to a Holocaust or designed famine to all join hands and shout: "Hey, no first-order evidence!"

C)The point I made about how modern minds, religious or not, have difficulty transcending the material in intellectual discourse is particulalry acute for Christianity because of its traditional concrete cosmology. Many Protestant theologians have tackled and tried to remedy this, but they never seem to get far in updating it in a way that grabs people and avoids an outright descent into relativism. Judaism and Islam seem to have far less of a problem, which is why even the most orthodox among them are untroubled by evolution. This also explains why Dawkins's and Hitchen's juvenile criticisms of faith seem so commonsensical to so many modern Westerners and why David is largely right that their atheism, and that of the Duckians, is a Christian heresy.

October 18, 2007 5:20 AM  
Blogger erp said...

"Judaism and Islam seem to have far less of a problem,.. ."

Could that be because they don't have a central authority that needs to protect its turf like Catholicism and the major Protestant denominations have.

October 18, 2007 7:31 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't think so, although that could explain why resistance went on for so long in some cases. I think it has to do with the detailed cosmology as I said, but also with how the Church had to try and explain how so much of the spiritual world directly manifested itself in Christ's life in the material one. Abraham and Mohammed may have witnessed miracles, but they didn't perform them.

I can't find the link anymore, but I was quite astounded to find the proposition that Genesis is the history of human consciousness and soul, and not of physical creation which long pre-dated that, in the writings of a 12th century observant rabbi. However, Christianity was never all that blinkered. St Augustine was positing natural physical development unaided by the Divine in the fifth century, and also warning against miraculous explanations for nature. He knew his paganism.

October 18, 2007 8:17 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Archbishop Ussher was 17th c., and it is interesting that you think of him as 'enlightened.'

Counting begats is pure scholasticism. By the time he wrote, there were people around him who were busily testing such sorts of 'knowledge,' but Ussher was completely premodern.

While I know more about Catholicism and therefore detest it more, I don't think it is exclusively or even unusually devoted to a heirarchy of entities. Hinduism comes to mind in this case.

You may be right about Judaism and evolution, but not about Islam. See Taner Edis, 'An Illusion of Harmony' for an update on a weird convergence of Islam, intelligent design and antisemitism. (My review is at Amazon and was also, with somewhat different emphasis, in Skeptical Inquirer.)

Also, I don't get why we rationalists and materialists are responsible for 'East Maui woo-woos,' which is local version of what you are talking about.

True, some of them adopt a coloration of scientism, but just as many reject any concept of investigation.

For $3,000 or $4,000, you can spend a weekend in a sweat lodge and learn how to intuit.

In my view, all of these people are atavistic and are still completely in the realm of religion. Claiming insights into psychology through QM is not an offshoot of physics. These people know nothing whatever about QM, just as Archbishop Ussher was -- despite his fantasies -- wholly innocent of physiology.

October 18, 2007 10:46 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Could this
be what you're looking for? When I started reading this book in the middle seventies, I was really stunned. It seemed to explain a lot, but by the time I got to the end, I wasn't as sure. There was supposed to be a second volume which hasn’t materialized.

October 18, 2007 11:08 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

Is today your birthday? No matter, it must have been sometime and I missed it. As a belated present, please accept my acknowledgment of full theological responsibility for the East Maui woo-woos. Have a good one, big guy.

I didn't say Islam was on the cutting edge of modernity. I just meant that they don't seem to get thrown by what goes on in biology labs. Cartoon pages, yes, but not biology labs.

October 18, 2007 12:15 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Last week, with Cowboy Bill cake and all.

I'd guess that 90% of Muslims haven't ever heard of Darwin, but I think you're wrong about the Muslim intelligentsia.

They have more urgent problems, by far, than evolution, but the pronouncements that occasionally come out of their top universities don't indicate the slightest comfort with the idea.

At bottom, no evolutionary theory -- of biology or politics or theology or anything -- is going to be compatible with Islam, which is perfectly (according to its own zeitgeist) static.

This should be obvious, if you'll think about what marched with darwinism and enraged the same people in the 19th c. (and today, among the more sophisticated) -- Higher Criticism.

October 18, 2007 6:14 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Once again, the Duckians attempt a reasoned criticism of God and religion, but quickly descend to parodying an old-style Unionist from Belfast fulminating about The Scarlet Woman of Rome.

I am pretty sure you didn't read the same post I did. I don't recall God entering the discussion at all (in fact, just like David's plopping "war on science" onto the table, the very first mention of God in this thread is your post), and if Duck did any fulminating, I'd appreciate it if you pointed it out, as it must have gone right over my head.

"If religion was a source of truth and certitude, the world wouldn't be divided amongst 5 or so major religions and many times more sects."

Yes, and if democracy truly was the best form of government, everybody would vote for the same party.


Wow, is that ever a non sequitur. All religions make many claims that absolute truth exists, and they each possess it. Democracy is nothing like that: it is nothing more than a process to choose between competing truth claims.

So ingrained is this limited perspective in our thinking today that when the modern scientists says fairies and ghosts don't exist, he thinks he is making a scientific statement based on evidence, when all he is really doing is saying the material, objective world is all there is, hardly a scientific proposition.

This is just dead wrong. When a scientist (or anyone partial to rational inquiry) says fairies and ghosts do not exist, this is the statement they are making: since there is no more reason to conclude fairies and ghosts exist than that they don't, they are completely superfluous. Excluding superfluous entities is very much a scientific proposition; revisit Occam's razor, if required.

What's more, you completely ignore a very powerful means to prove a proposition. Beyond deduction and induction, there is contradiction. In this case, the best way to prove the existence of fairies, ghosts, et al, is to assert they do not exist, then look for something that contradicts the assertion.

The theist insistence that rational inquiry is inherently atheistic should have long since been consigned to the ash-heap. I suspect the real reason it is still stinking the place up is that rational inquiry is really anti-theistic, which is a very different thing altogether.

The reaction against this cosmology was a big part of the Reformation, which held that, although that realm certaunly exists, we can't possible know the details and each individual must explore it for himself, a position that seems to offend the Duckians mightily.

No. It. Is. Not. Speaking only for this Dunnoist (aka Duckian), the theist position that offends is the presumption of possessing truth in the face of all pervasive uncertainty. Even assuming some supernatural realm, capable of interfering with the natural realm, exists, there is absolutely no way to get from there to, say, insisting homosexuality is ipso facto abominable on account of God said so.

You are quite right that unguided belief in metaphysics and the spiritual realm can be dangerous, a strong point for Catholicism, but you are very naive to believe there is nothing to choose among all the versions.

I would be very naive if I believed that, but I don't, and I'll bet none of the other Dunnoists do, either.

Riddle me this: Presuming Islam contains supremacist truth claims that are devoid of supporting evidence, how does one go about challenging those claims without challenging every religious revelatory truth claim?

For reasons that continue to befuddle me, you Duckians seem adamant that the theological divergences that resulted say something profound about the objective nature of the Eternal.

Huh?

To set the record straight, we Dunnoists (if I may be so bold) are adamant that theological divergences say everything about theology, and nothing whatsoever about the objective nature of the eternal, whatever it might be. Theology is a human construct, and is just as deserving of critical inspection and, where required, ridicule as every other human construct.

... the decline of "Thou Shalt Not" religious authority and the science of their times. However much that science has been discredited, it really isn't much of a useful defence to a Holocaust or designed famine to all join hands and shout: "Hey, no first-order evidence!"

Well, actually, it is. I have seen it persuasively argued (sorry, no time for a link) that if you were to combine atheists, agnostics, and those who do not subscribe to any faith tradition into one group, you would have the third largest religious belief grouping in the world, and one that is growing much faster than all the rest.

Presumably, then, the decline of "Thou shalt not" should be accelerating precipitously.

It is not. Except for Caliphantasism, there is no longer any ideology with anything more than a nano-scale market share antagonistic to "thou shalt not" thinking.

Caliphantasism is, of course, the contra-factual you have ignored.

which is why even the most orthodox among them are untroubled by evolution.

google "evolution islam". And while you are at it, ponder why Islam is so hostile to rational inquiry under whatever guise it is pursued.

This also explains why Dawkins's and Hitchen's juvenile criticisms of faith seem so commonsensical to so many modern Westerners and why David is largely right that their atheism, and that of the Duckians, is a Christian heresy.

"... juvenile criticisms", absent some substantiation, is an ad hominem attack.

Listen to this Hitchens debate at Georgetown university and tell me which part of Hitchens' argument qualifies as juvenile? (While you are at it, you might wonder why McGrath's (sp?) responses are so pathetic.)

While I find David to be right about a lot of things (he has changed my mind a number of times), in this respect he has missed the boat. It is the very same one that theists single mindedly watch sail into the sunset.

Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris are not making an atheist, but rather an anti-theist argument. The entire gist of, say, Hitchen's argument could just as easily be aimed at Buddhism as at Islam, or Judaism.

Oops. I got that wrong. There is no "could" about it, since he uses it on just about any religion you could mention. I don't see how David read "The End of Faith" or "God is Not Great" without taking that on board.

It is not a Christian heresy. It is the insistence on subjecting religious claims to the same scrutiny we subject all other claims. Distilled to its essence, all religion boils down to Faith enables us to affirm that [fill in the blank].

It is not a Christian heresy to question the antecedent. It is heresy to everyone who insists upon it.

October 18, 2007 7:07 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

OK. The case for materialism is that there is no material evidence of a non-material realm. Got it.

BTW, are you under the impression that the religious use theology to diagnose why the heat it their cars dissipates when the engine idles?

October 19, 2007 4:54 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: The card that is palmed in the Dunnoist position is the idea that "I don't know if god exists, and thus I should act, in every way, as if he doesn't." Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say.

October 19, 2007 5:55 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'the religious use theology to diagnose why the heat it their cars dissipates when the engine idles?'

Yes, that is what it boils down to.

And if you pray hard enough, you can save the heat for reuse elsewhere.

October 19, 2007 10:25 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

OK. The case for materialism is that there is no material evidence of a non-material realm. Got it.

Well, that and one other thing: any statement about the non-material realm contains exactly as much explanatory content as its exact opposite.

Since any set of statements containing a contradiction may be used to demonstrate anything whatsoever, no matter how absurd, then such belief is, at best, an empty exercise.

The card that is palmed in the Dunnoist position is the idea that "I don't know if god exists, and thus I should act, in every way, as if he doesn't." Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say.

The hole that theists keep tumbling headlong into is that G-d != religion.

By the way, what is "thus" doing in that statement? Since the dunnoist claims that no one knows anything at all about G-d, how could I possibly act as if he doesn't exist? In other words, say I acknowledge G-d exists, but grant nothing else (which is where theist position ends up after even cursory examination), how would act any differently?

There is no card, just a willingness to use dunno where dunno is required.

Theists instead, having tumbled, fall directly upon Faith enables us to affirm that [fill in the blank].

October 19, 2007 1:29 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Now, I rather assume Duckian thinking has no room for metaphysics, but the funny thing is you can't get away from it and you guys are so full of bile about Christianity that you are astoundingly sanguine about some of the emerging post-Christian versions.

Not bile, amused sarcasm. But I don't think that the Church's metaphysical problem was that it had to appeal to polytheistic Germanic pagans. It's problems were adopted from a different set of pagans, the Greeks. Its hard to say whether Christianity adopted Greek philosophy, or Greek philosophy adopted Christian theology, but the biggest philosophical divide within Christianity was the one that played out between the legacies of two Greeks that predated Christ, Plato and Aristotle.

The Scientific Revolution is the legacy of Aristotle. Catholic metaphysics, with its emphasis on the correspondence between eternal truths, or forms as comprehended by the mind, and the physical realities of existence, is the legacy of Plato. When Pope Benedict talked about the correspondence of faith and reason, he was speaking of Platonic reason in particular. The problem with Platonic reasoning is that it is solely a mental exercise, and takes as truths ideas which seem reasonable to the mind without regard to whether they are confirmed by empirical evidence. It is a reasoning based on what seems to be common sense, but empirical science has often showed common sense to be erroneous.

It was Platonic reasoning that led philosophers to the conclusions that the Earth was the center of the universe, and that the celestial spheres were perfectly smooth and round. But the mind, working from its own inherent notions of how things are, has been proven wrong time and again through the ages by empirical science. Thus the Church, so heavily invested in Platonic philosophy, has had to backpedal time and again in the wake of science's progress.

I wrote on this topic awhile ago here and here.

October 19, 2007 7:58 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

The card that is palmed in the Dunnoist position is the idea that "I don't know if god exists, and thus I should act, in every way, as if he doesn't." Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say.

Without knowing anything about God, how is one supposed to guess at the proper way of acting as if he does? Your statement makes the assumption that it should be obvious to everyone what the proper way to act as if God exists is.

There are limitless potential propositions of which it can be said that absence of evidence to their truthfulness is not evidence of absence. How does one decide how to arrange one's life in response to these propositions? Isn't it wiser to comport oneself in relation to propositions for which there is evidence, like the needs of daily life, rather than arrange one's life around hypothetical propositions?

October 19, 2007 8:10 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Along these lines, I'm currently reading this book: The Closing of the Western Mind. I hope to give a book report next week.

October 19, 2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger David said...

And, thus, you act as if there is no god. I'm not sure why you're fighting me on this, but I'd be glad to hear about ways in which you act because you dunno whether there is a god that are different from the ways that you would act if you knew, for certain, that god doesn't exist.

October 19, 2007 9:51 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'OK. The case for materialism is that there is no material evidence of a non-material realm. Got it.'

Actually, you don't have it.

The best evidence for materialism is, somewhat surprisingly, immaterial.

The difference is predictability.

A materialistic world -- at least the one we live in -- turns out to be radically predictable. An immaterial world -- we don't know any by experience, but the one that is posited is radically unpredictable.

If we systematically go through events looking for unpredictable ones, and we never find any, then the probability that the world is wholly material grows and the probability that any part of it is immaterial diminishes.

At some point, the error bar becomes too big to care about in relation to the claimed effect, like those Rhyne experiments at Duke that are supposed to prove unpredictability but the variance from predictability is so small that it can be detected only by a ridiculously sensitive statistical test.

October 20, 2007 12:03 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

And, thus, you act as if there is no god. I'm not sure why you're fighting me on this, but I'd be glad to hear about ways in which you act because you dunno whether there is a god that are different from the ways that you would act if you knew, for certain, that god doesn't exist.

There you go with the misplaced "thus" again.

I'm fighting you on this, because you are walking the knife edge between non sequitur and non sense.

What you or anyone else knows about god is the null set.

Oddly, a nullity is an extremely difficult concept to get ones arms around, starting with the fact one can't get one's arms around a nullity.

Because our knowledge of god is a nullity, the assertion that one is either acting as if god exists, or otherwise, is completely, totally, meaningless.

Posing that assertion the way you did indicates you, along with so many others, are worshiping the word alone.

Replace "god" with "horgleslumpf", and repeat your assertion to yourself.

Doesn't mean a darn thing, does it?

October 20, 2007 4:07 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Good links, those, especially the first. Too bad we haven't made any progress since. We're not getting any better with age.

It's hard to know whether you Duckians hate Christianity or Plato more. But, ok, let's allow that the Plato/Aristotle divide is a good partial starting point for Western intellectual and religious history. I say partial because you also have to throw in Judaism--Jerusalem was as important a fount as Athens. And let's also remember that is a very general and somewhat arbitrary divide and there have been any number of philosophical perms and coms of what those two launched--not to mention in the realities of everyday life. One of the problems with the DD is our tendency to argue as if Dawkins and Pascal are the only points of reference for Western thought.

I agree that notions of the Divine and religion are indeed wrapped up in notions of the ideal, although the two aren't synonomous. But before I take that any further, I have a question for you guys. Do you see any downside at all to the retreat from idealism into raw materialism? Is there any injustice, cruelty, regression, unhealthy dislocation, decline, oppression or whatever that you attribute to a belief in anti-idealistic atheistic materialism, or are we platonists responsible for all the bad stuff?

Warning: I can think of one occasion for you and one for Harry where you two suddenly became raving platonists. Not Skipper, though. His faith is pure and he sees no existential challenge he can't work out with his slide rule.

October 20, 2007 4:26 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Peter, I was surprised that in your last comment, you refer to "you Duckians."

Are you, then, not one yourself? I was of the opinion that all the PJA were nicknamed Duckians.

Please explain.

October 20, 2007 5:33 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Do you think I would want to be associated with these heathens? C'mon erp, I have a reputation to worry about.

October 20, 2007 6:46 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

erp

Duckians are the atheist/agnostic members of the PJA, namely me, Skipper and Harry, and of course Brit, who has gone on to better things. When I invited Oroborous to become a member of the DD I thought he shared Duckian views, since he seemed to be on the materialist side of so many debates on Brothers Judd, but it turned out that he was more of a religious persuasion, though of a decidedly unconventional kind.

But even among Duckians there are disagreements, so Peter is often off the mark when he ascribes one of our arguments to the whole contingent.

October 20, 2007 6:58 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I agree that notions of the Divine and religion are indeed wrapped up in notions of the ideal, although the two aren't synonomous. But before I take that any further, I have a question for you guys. Do you see any downside at all to the retreat from idealism into raw materialism?

Don't confuse metaphysical idealism with moral/aspirational idealism. The rejection of the former does not lead to the abandonment of the latter. Indeed, the religious rap against materialism is that it leads to too much emphasis on the here and now, and engenders overly idealistic commitments to utopian programs, so it is odd that you ask that question.

Is there any injustice, cruelty, regression, unhealthy dislocation, decline, oppression or whatever that you attribute to a belief in anti-idealistic atheistic materialism, or are we platonists responsible for all the bad stuff?

No, I blame all bad stuff on people, not ideas. I'm no glassy eyed Dawkins acolyte, in that I don't see atheism as the salvation of mankind, nor religion as the universal bane of justice and progress. I expect secularism to grow and become a major counterweight to religion in the future, but I do not see religion disappearing from the face of the Earth, neither am I wishing for it to. I'm wishing for more of the world's societies to shift to foundations that can accomodate both trends.

But civilizations built by people will always be problematic. My previously linked article here regarding Plato's long shadow also explains why I don't see ideas as the main causal determinants of the success/failure of people or of civilizations. It is hard to neatly separate ideas and their consequences, as I think in many ways ideas are the consequences, or the manifestations, of more deeply entrenched activities in the human psyche. Call me a quasi-Freudian, but I do believe that the deeper, irrational layers of the psyche are more influential in shaping men and societies than the products of the cerebral cortex. Plato's ideal of the philosopher king, someone who can rise above the demands of the body and the senses to see truth in a pure light and rationally guide society is a dangerous delusion. Reason does have influence in the decisions that men make, but it is more like the influence of a bull-rider trying to stay on the back of the bull. Man is not so much a rational animal as a rationalizing animal.

Is that idealistic enough for you?

October 20, 2007 7:38 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter

You have a reputation? Congratulations! When did this happen?

October 20, 2007 8:06 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Duckians/Materialists: Duck, Skipper, Harry
Un-Duckians/Soulists: Peter, David & Oro

October 20, 2007 9:24 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

And, thus, you act as if there is no god. I'm not sure why you're fighting me on this, but I'd be glad to hear about ways in which you act because you dunno whether there is a god that are different from the ways that you would act if you knew, for certain, that god doesn't exist.

I really don't think I'm acting any differently than I would as a believer, at least on the important things. The Judeo-Christian faith is based on the idea that all morals and wisdom start with the fear of God. I disagree. Men struggle with morals because it is in their nature to do so. I struggle with my conscience constantly, and this is something that did not change as I lost my faith in God. The reason that I struggle to do the right thing by others, despite my flawed ability to do so consistently, is because I care about how other people judge me, not because I care of how God will judge me. I care especially about how my family thinks of me. I don't want my parents to ever have to be disappointed in what kind of son they raised. Even though I know my life is not permanent, I care about what kind of legacy I will leave behind. My legacy is my judgment. So whether I have an eternal soul whose fate is tied to my actions on earth or not, my life will have a judgment, and I care very much what that judgment will be. In the end it is all that anyone really has.

October 20, 2007 10:42 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: And thus you are Christian in every way that matters to me.

Skipper: I didn't say that god commanded any particular way to act, I said that you act no differently than you would act if there was no god.

Harry: The small things are predictable, the important never fail to amaze.

October 20, 2007 5:33 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

And thus you are Christian in every way that matters to me.

Yes, and a Protestant one too. Duck, that was moving, but I am confused. To avoid the personal, let's take you as the archetype of the "righteous non-believer". As you folks never tire of insisting, non-believers can and do lead moral lives. Fine, but why is this so difficult and complicated for you? Whither the angst? You have the Golden Rule and a few baseline injunctions about not hurting people. Otherwise, your creed is personal freedom and choice. Also, not judging others and respecting their freedom. I rather suspect you have little difficulty in marking the lives of your colleagues, or even of your family, as pass or fail without too much fussiness about the details. Yet here you are confessing to a day-to-day lifelong turmoil about ultimate judgment that would impress Calvin. Who is judging you, and more importantly who is entitled and qualified to? Your parents? Duck, they had parents too.

Be very careful, friend. Christianity without belief is an arid and lonely road.

October 21, 2007 4:04 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey skipper wrote (to David): "What you or anyone else knows about god is the null set."

From your writing on this subject in general, it does seem to me that you've reduced the possibility of god to a null set. That would make you an atheist, not a dunnoist. And that might be why David writes that you act as if god doesn't exist.

The distinction between your perspective and mine is that while I don't believe in god, I haven't reduced the possibility of god to the null set.

October 21, 2007 5:10 AM  
Blogger David said...

As a nice example of unpredictability, I bet there are any number of Democrats surprised that Katrina resulted in the first round election of a Republican as governor of Louisiana.

October 21, 2007 6:12 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm not into not judging people. For me, it's more like preferring to let individuals (and societies) misgovern themselves, up to the point where instead of being self-destructive they start bothering others.

I'd be a libertaraian, except I don't dislike taxes.

I had a post yesterday that somehow disappeared that began 'Don't undersell the residue of German influence. I know it's unfashionable to refer back to folkmoots and all that, but read the statute books. There's a lot that didn't come from Greece or Israel.'

Ah, well, the discussion has passed that by.

As for arid Christianity, I am in the midst of 'Gravediggers of France' by Pertinax, and the most arid religion would be preferable to the Christianity the French imposed on themselves in the '30s and '40s.

If Christianity doesn't encourage you to be moral, even if it is satisfying to the emotions, what good is it?

Such morality as could be found in France in those days came out of Freemasons' lodges and, perhaps, synagogues.

The Sacre Coeur was a monument not to religion but to revenge.

As for Democrats' not being able to predict the outcome of a hurricane in New Orleans, I can well believe that. Less self-interested people, though, might have cautioned them that political corruption sometimes leads to retribution.

October 21, 2007 11:14 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

From your writing on this subject in general, it does seem to me that you've reduced the possibility of god to a null set. That would make you an atheist, not a dunnoist. And that might be why David writes that you act as if god doesn't exist.

You missed the key word: know.

No one knows anything about G-d. No one knows even knows what G-d calls itself, never mind G-d's plan, desires, ad infinitum. No one knows if G-d exists now, or ever existed.

The set consisting of man's knowledge of G-d is the null set.

Therefore, when David writes that I act as if G-d does not exist, that statement means nothing more, or less, than if he was to turn it on his head and say I acted as if G-d exists. In other words, it means nothing at all. (Or, I suppose it might mean something if David means that the way I act is unaffected by God's existence; but I don't think that is what he means. It is hard to say, though, because his assertion changes from one instance to the next.)

To reiterate: I do not believe that G-d is the null set. There is a set of objective facts regarding G-d -- that set cannot be null, although it might have as few as one element: G-d does not exist, or many more elements if G-d does exist. What I am claiming is that mankind's knowledge of that set is null.

That makes me a dunnoist, not an atheist.

Peter:

Fine, but why is this so difficult and complicated for you? Whither the angst?

The angst comes from those claiming sole possession of objective morality, without bothering to define objective, morality, or acknowledge how their presumed basis is self-contradicting.

October 21, 2007 12:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You mean we're responible for Duck's secular angst too? The list never ends, doesn't it?

Over two hundred years of enlightened rational thinking and over a hundred of universal public education, yet still so much to do.

Bret:

You'll have to take Skipper's word that he is a dunnoist. Ask him why he is such a defiant one and whether he thinks all those smug, know-it-all atheists should put a sock in it and stop preaching in the public square.

October 21, 2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

You mean like Harris, Hitchens, or Dawkins?

They are anti-theists, not atheists.

If you attended their arguments, you would note that they have very little to say about G-d, other than to note there is nothing we can say about G-d.

October 21, 2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Right, and I'm not really a believer. I'm just an anti-dunnoist.

BTW, here is the latest from one of your your atheist--sorry, anti-theist--heros. Check out the sixth paragraph.

October 22, 2007 2:26 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ah, another member of the PC police goes after that line.

What is so objectionable about it?

A Jewish, or more precisely a Zionist, pressure group has been extraordinarily successful in maintaining US policy in their favor for three generations now.

They are -- as Jews -- numerically small, although my father, a Roman Catholic, was a convinced Zionist, too.

They had to overcome a large, well-financed anti-Jewish pressure group.

Possibly they did it by presenting a sound case. Why would an advocate, of all people, find that reprehensible?

In a way, people who object to Dawkins' entirely unobjectionable remark are buying into the 'Jews control the world' mindset. 'See, he believes it, too!' although it is not obvious that he does.

As for missionizing atheism, it has always struck me as a bit odd, but if people can beat the drums for synchronized swimming, I don't see why you would expect anything else.

At any event, religious sneering at atheist missionizing is, to put it mildly, annoying to those of us who have struggled to remain polite in the face of exceedingly obnoxious religious missionaries.

October 22, 2007 11:24 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

I saw the story and para in question.

Your point escapes me.

October 22, 2007 2:33 PM  
Blogger David said...

In an interview with the Guardian, he said: "When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told - religious Jews anyway - than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place."

Of course this is antisemitic. Jews "monopolise" American foreign policy? Which Jews? Why is the only interesting thing about them that they're Jewish? Which people see that? If those people were pointed out individually, would we defer to their opinion? Why should be assume that the foreign policy in question wasn't in the best interests of the United States? Why this focus on Jews exercising their rights of free speech and petition? Why are Jews sufficiently "other" that our political activism is considered different in kind from everyone else's?

Any argument that suggests, without evidence, that Jews are other, that we are insular, that we are clannish, that we subvert the greater community to serve our own interests, is inherently antisemitic.

The real tip-off, though, is that for people who don't simply accept Jewish monopolization of foreign policy on faith, the argument is silly. Jews opposed the Iraq War. The US is much closer to Saudi Arabia than any Jewish monopolization of foreign policy would allow. The very senior foreign policy officers are only rarely Jewish and the State Department is largely Arabist. Both the Bushs and the Clintons are fairly reliably reported to be casually antisemitic.

I don't mean to suggest that Jews aren't influential, but that we are no more than another successful ethnic group in American politics and, probably because of the strategic importance of the middle east, somewhat less successful than the Irish and Cubans in controlling American policy in the areas we care about.

October 23, 2007 3:34 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I agree with David. Dawkins comments hearken back to the paranoid conspiracy theories pointing to a worldwide Jewish cabal operating the levers of power behind the scenes.

Dawkins is a major embarrassment to athiests in my opinion. By calling for children to be freed from the religious influence of their parents, he's pretty much declaring war on religious freedom as its practiced here in the US. And like some other atheist evangelists, he equates atheism with his own political and social agenda, as if the only reason to support the war in Iraq or oppose abortion or stem cell research is because of religious ignorance.

October 23, 2007 6:55 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Also, not judging others and respecting their freedom. I rather suspect you have little difficulty in marking the lives of your colleagues, or even of your family, as pass or fail without too much fussiness about the details.

Whoever said I don't judge others? I don't buy into the non-judgmental mantra. Society can't function unless we judge each other. But pass/fail won't do as a scoring mechanism. We need a curve.

Yet here you are confessing to a day-to-day lifelong turmoil about ultimate judgment that would impress Calvin. Who is judging you, and more importantly who is entitled and qualified to? Your parents? Duck, they had parents too.

I assume that everyone with a conscience undergoes like turmoil. I didn't think I was confessing to anything unusual here.

As far as who is entitled to judge me, I's say everyone. My fellow humans are the only ones entitled to judge me, because their fates are tied up with mine. What I do directly or indirectly affects their lives for better or worse. God (if he exists) is eternal and unchanging, my sins have no impact on Him. It is impossible to pick His pocket or break His leg.

Ironically, my concept of sin and judgment has a very Christian precedent in Matthew 25:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'


But as a Catholic I was taught to recite the Act of Contrition, which turns Matthew 25 on its head:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee.
And I detest all my sins because of dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell,
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life, Amen


No emphasis on the "least of these " there. If I punch you in the nose, I sin against you, but the Act of Contrition doesn't take you into account at all. All it accounts for is God and my fear of punishment. Since you aren't all good, you're not deserving of all my love, apparently.

October 23, 2007 7:33 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

No, I blame all bad stuff on people, not ideas.

Perhaps we should step back and address the question of the importance of ideas to political and social action. I'm certainly taken aback to see this written by the blogmeister of a site that features endless accounts of all the terrible things religion and religious people have done and are doing as a result of their beliefs. We all know decent ordinary folks, religious or not, can be quite resistant to the blandishments of both priests and scientists, and thank God for that, but to therefore assert the intellectual zeitgeist has no influence on popular opinion and that common sense and an easy-going tolerance is guaranteed to prevail is just wrong and very, very dangerous. Have you taken a hard look at what is going on on American campus's today and what the legacy of the 60's has left behind there?

We aren't talking about the individual quiet doubter of 1900 or the inquiring free-thinker of 1750 or even the American lapsed Catholic from the 50's with many a tale of the psychological terrors inflicted by Brother Michael and Sister Mary Theresa. We are talking about the angry evangelical atheism of 2007, one that is centered in the anti-American and increasingly anti-Semitic postmodern left. It isn't about asserting a feedom to stay out of church, it is about destroying churches. Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Pinker, Harris, etc. are the poster boys and if you think their political ruminations are completely incidental to what they claim to observe in their labs or learned from their Trotsky, you are blinkered. It preaches an aggressive and very intolerant secular universalism and a mocking of the entire philosophical history of the West, and its strategy is to disenfranchise its opponents intellectually. Its inspiration is not the Anglo-American spirit of bottom-up empirical inquiry, but rather the top-down ideological precepts of the French Revolution. And it is making progress.

The pass you guys (except Duck) give Dawkins amazes me. He is the master of faux-English reserve and deference. Note how in the article that he professes to be squeamish about preaching to Americans, like some ultra-polite English gentleman. Sure, just like he was in 2004 when he spearheaded the open letter campaign against Bush. That any decent person could even read his crap about protecting children from their parents' beliefs without throwing up is a sign of how decoupled so many have from their history, intellectual and otherwise. Yet "Hmm, good point, Richard, although a little over the top perhaps." seems to be the common response. Dawkins is no fool and he knows there is much opposition to him in the serious scientific community, even the non-believing side. Like most demagogues, he doesn't care.

The reason why this militant atheism is showing anti-semitic tendencies has nothing to do with scripture or blood libels or whatever. Nor with Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. As with Marxism, it starts by insisting it is free from religious prejudice but then turns on Judaism because it cannot bear any group that asserts a right to be left alone and be different. Skipper's tirades against circumcision under the guise of (highly selective)objective science are a good illustration of how this can happen among people who see themselves without a prejudiced bone in their bodies. Did you read the disgusting bile Dawkins wrote about the Amish? Do you think he is just expressing a private opinion he has no interest in seeing acted upon?

If you want to defend atheism, God bless you, but please stop with the none-too-courageous talk about how today's atheism is just a scientific hypothesis and has nothing whatesoever to do with what is going on around us. The religious got over that exculpatory nonsense a long time ago.

Since you aren't all good, you're not deserving of all my love, apparently.

Guilty as charged. Although, as you don't like sin much, how about we recall David's assertion that your non-belief is a Christian heresy and come up with a secular equivalent? What about: Since you are Canadian, you're not deserving of all my love, apparently. Your creed accepts this as part of the American condition, of course, but what tickles me the most is that you are supposed to keep trying to oversome it. :-)

October 24, 2007 3:37 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

The pass you guys (except Duck) give Dawkins amazes me.

I didn't give Dawkins any pass at all; I just couldn't (and can't) figure out what the heck the infamous para 6 of that article has to do with either the post or this thread.

I would no more tar Catholicism with Father Caughlin's tirades than you should tar anti-theism with Dawkins. However, it is completely fair to tar Catholicism with asserting the inherited guilt of deicide. If you can find something even remotely similar in the annals of anti-theism, I'd love to hear it.

That any decent person could even read his crap about protecting children from their parents' beliefs without throwing up ...

Please don't take this as giving Dawkins a pass, but elsewhere he has clearly acknowledged although such a thing is nowhere near the realm of possibility, he is really trying to point out that children are not born Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc., and perhaps the world would be better off if we left it to kids to make that decision for themselves when they become old enough.

I have always taken it as a complete hypothetical, but even if it is, the distinction is far too subtle. He should have left it on the cutting room floor, instead of appearing as Lenin reincarnate.

Skipper's tirades against circumcision under the guise of (highly selective)objective science are a good illustration of how this can happen among people who see themselves without a prejudiced bone in their bodies.

Dammit Peter. When you are going to make a charge such as this, it really is best to marshall some sort of evidence.

Your comment fails the reasonability test on two levels. First, selective evidence (even if it is) is not necessarily wrong evidence. Second, even if it turns out to be wrong that simply makes my conclusion wrong, not an example of being unable to bear any group that asserts its right to be left alone.

October 24, 2007 12:44 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Your comment fails the reasonability test on two levels.

Ah, but it passes the third test--the one where Skipper defines it as barbaric on rational grounds and therefore concludes it must be stopped.

October 24, 2007 5:01 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Gee, do you really think that Jewish (as well as non-Jewish) influence in the Zionist direction has not increased since 1939?

The Cuban example is not quite on point, as Cuban exile influence outside Florida is pretty hard to detect.

The Irish example works the other way: The United States did not ally with the Irish in 1916, nor did it sit out the European war in 1942-5, nor did Irish influence ever weaken the 'special relationship.'

So what, exactly, influential Irish policy do you think you have seen operating in Washington?

October 24, 2007 11:46 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I guess. Man, I sure am grateful for that influential Canuck lobby we have working for us down there. I'd hate to think where we would be without them.

Crafty fellows, considering their numbers.

October 25, 2007 2:58 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Unfortunately, your third test has nothing to do with what you said, either explicitly or implicitly.

Besides, where do I say it must be stopped?

Do some fact checking, then we can discuss your "reasonability" test.

October 25, 2007 9:56 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Dawkins's educational proposal is nothing more than the flip side of the Jesuit idea that if they can get their hands on children, they will entrap them for life.

Neither shows respect for the autonomy of the individual, and both would be susceptible of great mischief. Thing is, one has been tried extensively and we have seen the mischief; the other has not been tried (in any western state) and so no real damage has been done.

(You have, by the way, not seen me praising Dawkins on either science or religion, have you?)

Anyhow, if there is a genuine threat to education in the service of the overall social contract, it isn't coming from Dawkins but from Bush and his attempt to destroy the public school system.

As Leon Lederman said, when you come down to it, high school is almost the only universal experience that Americans share.

I have had more to say about how important that turns out to be, in a real, hot and dangerous political controversy, in my review of Jason Sokol's 'There Goes my Everything' (which is at Amazon).

Forget Dawkins. If you want your grandchildren to live in a stable and Liberal (19th c. sense) society, do everything you can to suppress vouchers and home schools.

October 25, 2007 12:01 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "If you want your grandchildren to live in a stable and Liberal (19th c. sense) society, do everything you can to suppress vouchers and home schools."

That seems like quite a leap in logic to me. The effect of vouchers and home schooling on public schools imply unstable society in the future? I don't see that at all.

October 25, 2007 3:14 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I think that the current public school system is the number one threat to a Liberal (19th C. sense) and stable society in America.

One is left wondering how the 19th C. was so Liberal when it pre-dates the public school system on which it apparently now depends.

October 25, 2007 5:07 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Liberalism was, by far, a minority value in the 19th c. The Liberal consensus (which has only a slender relationship to present-day liberalism) was created, in large part, by the common schools, as they were so trenchantly named in the old days.

Where there were not common schools, national and Liberal feeling was weaker. I oughta know. My great grandfather was the first superintendant of education in South Carolina, and he was a Confederate and no Liberal. (His son, my grandfather, attended school for one year.)

erp, please read my review of Sokol. You know something of the South. How came it that Southerners in the '50s and '60s valued their common schools more than Jim Crow?

It is a profound question, when you remember that the common schools had not existed in most parts of the South until the latest part of the 19th c.

October 25, 2007 5:51 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I find it telling that you consider the commonality the good part of the school system, rather than any content. It must be a mystery to you why the common school system of, say, the USSR didn't produce a Liberal society.

October 26, 2007 6:58 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, I don't follow your last statement directed at me.

I was born and went to school in NYC and lived in Connecticut and Vermont before retiring here to the paradise of the central Atlantic coast of Florida, so my knowledge of the south of the 50’s and 60’s is limited to what I read in the papers.

That said, I wonder if most southerners privately thought the Jim Crow laws unfair and didn’t believe Negros were inferior, but they were too intimidated to speak out.

October 26, 2007 8:16 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

SH, the common element in the curriculum was 19th c. Liberalism.

Therefore, you get Liberals.

If you had a common element of antidemocratic, aristocratic, anticapitalism, you'd get antidemocratic, anticapitalist end products.

This isn't speculation. That's what happened in France and Italy.

The Catholic schools I went to were ultramontanist in theological outlook, which is, of course, antidemocratic. But having been established late in the country's history, they were otherwise democratic and Liberal.

No wonder a clever lad like myself spent 14 years wondering why nothing the teachers said was internally consistent.

I vividly remember my 2nd-grade reader today:'This Is Our Valley,' which told the story of how a go-getting young priest came into the valley and organized the families to form a Rural Electric Co-op and bring electricity to the homes and farms.

Pius XII, if he had read it, would have put it on the Index Prohibitorum.

In the 19th c., American Catholic schools were not so democratic, not by a long shot.

The struggle of the 'Americanists' in the church was bitter in the 1890s, and the Americanists seemed to have lost when O'Connell of Boston was made cardinal in '11, the Americanists seemed to have lost.

But the Liberal movement that grew in the common schools helped the defeated Americanist bishops, because their congregations were infected with American, not Italian, political values. When Pius X died, the Americanists recovered.

It's an interesting story to compare the liberalism of American Irish with the continued conservatism of Irish Irish, for example.

Schools made the difference.

The temporary eclipse of the Americanists has been told in several books by Douglas Slawson, including 'Ambition and Arrogance,' which I recommend highly.

October 26, 2007 11:10 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'I wonder if most southerners privately thought the Jim Crow laws unfair and didn’t believe Negroes were inferior, but they were too intimidated to speak out'

Few whites did not think Negroes inferior, but they did feel uncomfortable about the unfairness.

On at least two grounds:

1. Some had served around black soldiers in the war, and camaraderie means a lot.

2. The poor whites had as good reason to resent rich whites as the blacks did, and so were willing to work toward common political agendas despite concepts of racial inequality.

But all southerners had suddenly (in social time) come to cherish their common schools, (grandparents who couldn't read were proud of grandchildren who could) and when the national government changed the rules and the segregationist elites threatened a choice between continued segregation and schools, they chose schools.

Really, it is an amazing development and one that has been entirely missed by historians and sociologists, so far as my reading goes.

This may be because historians and sociologists come from a milieu where schools are a given.

They were not a given in my South, and there was a large literature and a powerful folk tradition 'agin schoolin'.

October 26, 2007 11:20 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Eager;

You're not keeping your story straight. You write about how the curriculum of the schools was so critical to the result, then conclude "Schools made the difference", discarding the very thesis you just spend multiple paragraphs developing for a completely unjustified leap of logic. Are you in favor of common schools or a Liberal curriculum?

October 26, 2007 4:59 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Both.

I thought I had made it clear that common schools with an illiberal curriculum lead to bad political results, as in France or Italy.

October 26, 2007 8:29 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Jeepers Harry, we're back to defining our terms. By illiberal curriculum do you mean religious schools?

October 27, 2007 3:36 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, of course.

Whether madrassas, Jesuit schools, seg academies, many (not all) American Christian schools, many home school curricula.

My model for America would be Tennessee Temple Schools, K-college in my home town. Totally obscurantist.

October 27, 2007 11:56 AM  
Blogger erp said...

More details pls.

October 27, 2007 12:59 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I think it is a commonplace of American historiography that it was schools, and a curriculum that eventually became largely homogenized, that had a big part in welding together a national consciousness.

Of course, there were other agencies, like Fourth of July stump speeches, but the particularism that as late as 1861 had men like R.E. Lee thinking of themselves more as Virginians than as Americans; and the ignorance of different parts of the country (very obvious to a Southerner when he leaves home, even now) must have been counteracted by some agency.

The first was Webster's Blue-backed Speller. Spelling became a touchstone of Americanism, which is weird, but there you have it. Edward Eggleston's 'The Hoosier Schoolmaster,' a bestseller in its day, depicted how a good speller got the gal.

Presumably no other society ever took spelling so seriously.

Then there were McGuffie's readers, Fiske's histories, a whole series of common experiences that young Americans were exposed to in the common schools.

Those groups that avoided the common schools (like Catholics) assimilated more slowly.

But there was, naturally, a countervailing pressure, from elitists who wanted their children to have English public school educations (whence the Philips and similar academies), and the separatist religious sects who didn't want to be contaminated.

Until recently, the power of the common school idea was overwhelmingly successful against these centripetal tendencies, so much so that a century ago Mencken observed that it was becoming difficult to find anyone who wanted to fight to the death over the doctrine of infant damnation.

Such things don't just happen, they are caused.

Now you have all sorts of divisive tendencies, from the left and the right, such as antidarwinism, Aztlan, Ebonics, Bennett's phony moralism etc.

Piled on top is the little government prejudice of the neoconservatives who want to dismantle the common schools in the name of private endeavor.

Without common schools, the country will fly apart.

October 28, 2007 1:35 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Without common schools, the country will fly apart.

Why? You are plumbing the depths of social conservatism now, Harry. I could insert the draft, a common morality, a common literary heritage or even a common religious heritage into that phrase and be quickly accused of battling the American experiment, yet common schools are suddenly your sine qua non of a cohesive society as much as feudal bonds were to a European aristocrat. You must want young minds formed in a certain pre-defined way.

I know where you are coming from because such thinking is in conservative bones. I often wonder whether the completely absurd choice we now have among several hundred equally crappy TV stations leaves our youth or even adults more atomistic and alienated than during my youth when everyone watched the same shows and went to the same neighbourhood schools to talk about them. When I express such misgivings, I can always count on a gaggle of Duckians to tell me choice is good, good, good. They never tell me why, it just is apparently. So why are schools different?

However, I think the more difficult question facing you is why do you assume Catholic education is forever locked in the ultramontane period and why do you think the public schools of 2007 bear any resemblance to their 19th century counterparts? For complicated historical reasons there is a publically-funded Catholic school board in Ontario. I can assure you lots of non-Catholics, including immigrants and non-believers, try hard to get their kids in for reasons of academic standards, safety, discipline and morality--nothing to do with understanding the Trinity. Nobody seems to be fleeing the other way. If you really want a broad-based, open-minded liberal education today, you will do much better at one of the network of small Catholic undergraduate colleges that dot the nation and are true beacons of intellectual light and inquiry than anything the modern Ivy League can give you.

My goodness, Harry, the Conference of Catholic Bishops runs a film review service on the Internet, which is very useful for naive little Protestant boys like me who have cocky 13 year olds and wives who dash out of the theatre at the first sight of blood. It tells me all I need to know about a film in order to exercise choice in any meaningful sense. So far it has yet to tell me not to see anything or that I'll be damned for eternity if I do.

C'mon man, you are not with the programme, as my kids would say. This is what happens when you take the ultramontane period or the corruption of the late Middle Ages and mark them as the "true" Catholicism just lying in wait for a chance to enslave us all. Ain't happening. I've been arguing with you guys long enough to know you will dismiss every scintilla of beauty, intellectual inquiry, moral progress and humanity the Catholic Church ever produced--and there were many--as aberations. If you are so big on compulsory public education, the least you could do is take a look at the reality of what is going on in too many public schools without automatically and unthinkingly telling everyone they are better than the putative horrors of some wispy past. But if you do, try to arrange a police escort so you can navigate the halls safely and not be late for your sex education class.

October 28, 2007 4:13 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Eager;

I think you'll have to chose between common schools and a liberal curriculum, as the latter is no longer taught in the former and I see no chance that will change anytime in the next generation or two.

October 28, 2007 8:31 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

However, I think the more difficult question facing you is why do you assume Catholic education is forever locked in the ultramontane period and why do you think the public schools of 2007 bear any resemblance to their 19th century counterparts?

I won't speak for Harry, but the fact that the Church was once such a obscurantist and reactionary organization makes it hard to take anything they have to say now seriously. It's fine that now they seem to be reconciled to secularism in the sense that they can run schools for non-Catholics who have no intention of becoming Catholics, but that is a reality that they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into due to the competition from secular public schools and the loss of their coveted privileged status in the Quebec education system.

I support school choice and home schooling on principle, as I'm wary of the damage that state monopolized education, subject to political interest groups, can do to the social fabric, but I have a lot of sympathy for Harry's viewpoint. We also have to worry about the dangers of self-Balkanization.

October 28, 2007 10:48 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, the church did not give up ultramontanism without a fight. I have argued (in my review of Slawson) that the American church was forced into by a general political movement of American Catholics (as, for example, evidenced by their scorn for church doctrine on, say, divorce).

The current and previous popes would like to reverse the trend.

And it didn't give up a long time ago. My education was ultramontane, and, yes, I was threatened with hellfire for attending bad movies.

The depth of Po-Mo leftism in the common schools is exaggerated by clever enemies of the common school movement. Next May, take the time to go to the graduation exercises at your local public high school. Listen to the class song they vote for, watch their behavior.

You won't need a Blackwater escort, either.

You want me to say a good word for the glories of Christianity? OK. I had an architecture history prof who pointed out that Chartres cathedral had been built by a society with a population about the same as that of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., in 1967.

October 28, 2007 1:12 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Actually, I get most of my ideas about Po-Mo in the common schools from watching the schools my children attend, reading the text books / handouts they get, and talking to other parents with children in the school. What's the next step in disabusing of false notions promulgated by the common school opponents?

October 28, 2007 4:31 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Well, if Harry's right about us flying apart without the common schools holding us together, I guess that means we have a choice of being a 2nd-rate tight knit nation of poorly ejucaded peeple, or a better educated nation that falls apart. Not good.

I pulled my older child out of the public system because she wasn't being taught much. The younger one will follow in a couple of years.

October 28, 2007 5:37 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, by more details, I meant about the Tennessee Temple Schools you mention.

The common schools were important pre-e, i.e., television, the internet. Now every kid in the world is on the same page. My French granddaughter living in Toulouse sounds and looks just like any other kid at the mall.

All you guys with kids in school -- either home school or private school 'em.

Bret, pls get your daughter out of the public schools ASAP.

October 28, 2007 6:31 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

erp,
Don't worry, the younger daughter's in good hands for now (she's only in 2nd grade). We'll move her to private school at middle school.

October 28, 2007 7:59 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Tennessee Temple Schools ('Jesus Tech' to the depraved public school students) are a typical although unusually ambitious Christian fundie alternative to real education.

Biology R not us at Jesus Tech.

Critical textual analysis. Uh uh.

They have a website, though I haven't looked at it for a few years.

It's the school arm of a largish cult of backward Chattanoogans.

October 29, 2007 9:05 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, then this statement is facetious? "My model for America would be Tennessee Temple Schools ...".

I am totally losing any ability to differentiate irony from plain old fashioned nonsense.

October 30, 2007 5:43 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ah, that was ambiguous, wasn't it?

I meant that Tennessee Temple Schools are my model for the American version of the general phenomenon of the exclusivist, backward, antimodern 'school.'

As, in Pakistan, the Red Mosque would be the best-known model (to us anyhow), or in Germany the Bavarian schools of teh '20s would be the model of how to ruin a generation of young people.

(The Bavarian schools are a good example of my point. Although after the 1918 Revolution the Catholics lost their official control over education, notoriously they continued to staff what were supposed to be common, republican schools. But when any republican teachers tried to teach modernism, they were run out of town. The schools were prolific producers of small Nazis.)

October 30, 2007 8:46 AM  

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