Sophisticated theologian argues that theology uses science to find truths about God

Nancey Murphy is a well-known theologian and philosopher of religion who is a Professor of Christian Philosophy at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. She’s also an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, was on the board of advisers of the Templeton Foundation, and has written and edited numerous books, one of which (Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, edited with W.S. Brown and H.N. Malony), won the Templeton Award for best book in theology and science.

I had read some Murphy before, as one of her specialties is the relationship between science and faith, but decided to read more on the advice of John Loftus, who sent me a list of books that, he said, were influential in Christian thought about the science-religion conflict. I’ve just finished her 1990 book, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning (Cornell University Press, Ithaca).  As with all of the books by Sophisticated Theologians™ that I’ve read, it’s deeply flawed.

Murphy’s thesis, buried in prolix discussions of the philosophy of science and the works of philosophers like Imre Lakatos and theologians like George Tyrrell, is that theology is in fact a science that has scientific methods for finding out the truth about God.

What are those methods? This is the book’s huge flaw: they are what Murphy calls ” communal discernment”: if a religious community (not individual religious people) discerns something about God as a whole, and incorporates that into their faith, then they have the right to claim that that group belief is true.  A few quotes:

p. 152: “So far we have found agreement that Christians are able, because of the indwelling of the Holy spirit, to recognize what is or is not a genuine work of the Holy Spirit, whether it be a matter of teaching or of practice.”

p. 157: “So long as reasonable precautions have been taken to distinguish between gifts and their counterfeits, a positive judgment entitles members to say of the events that they are acts or words of God.” [JAC: the "gifts" include healing, speaking in tongues, and making prophecies]. . . In the preceding sections we have seen that on the basis of the practice of communal discernment, participants in a wide assortment of Christian communities select certain observable events in ordinary church life and designate them as acts (or words) of God. Furthermore, they believe they are entitled to say they know that they are acts of God. . . “

p. 194: “For the theologian the existence of God is presupposed (as is the existence of matter for the physicist, or of persons for the psychologist).”

p. 198: “The present work contributes to the third, “interactionist,” position in that it sets out to show plainly that (potentially at least) theology is methodologically indistinguishable from the sciences.”

What kind of religious “truths” does the scientific method of communal discernment uncover? Here’s one that, says Murphy, was uncovered by Catholic modernists in the early 1900s:

 “Genuine Catholicism is the true faith and reconcilable with modern thought.” (p. 92)  

You might find it amusing (on the other hand, probably not) to work your way through Murphy’s prose to see how this “fact” is supported.  The “reconcilable with modern thought” part is a no-brainer: we all know that any religion or religious dogma, can be reconciled with modern thought through judicious word-chopping and logic-parsing. That’s what theologians are paid to do. It’s harder, though, to prove that Catholicism is the “true faith”! I’ll leave it to you to read Murphy’s mental gyrations that lead to that “truth.”

And that brings us to Murphy’s big problem. Communal discernment may provide a superficial parallel to the scientific practice of replication, but it’s superficial indeed. Rational scientists of all ethnicities and nationalities converge on the same set of truths: water is H2O, the universe is expanding, evolution occurred.  But different religious communities, even within Christianity, do not converge on the same set of truths. Lutherans, for example, accept both evolution and women as priests if they’re from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but reject evolution and women priests if they’re from the Missouri Synod of Lutherans. Many Christians believe that salvation comes only from accepting Jesus as savior, while Muslims think that such a belief damns you to hell. And so on and so on. . .  There is no way that different ‘faith communities’ will converge at any truth about God (even whether there’s only one god or many) through “communal discernment.” And that makes religious “truth” community-specific, unlike science.

And of course religious “truth” established by discernment varies over time as well. Once Mormons decided, communally and on scriptural grounds, that blacks could not be members of the priesthood.  Now the “truth”, prompted by a “revelation,” has reversed itself.

In the end, “communal discernment” is only a combination of individual revelation and the validation of that revelation by other church members because it sounds good. And that’s no way to find out what’s true about the universe.

Just to show one ludicrous example of Murphy’s “communal discernment” at work, here is her discussion about how this method might allow Christians to decide the “truth” that God is in fact female (pp. 167-168):

To see how a novel yet replicable fact might be found to support a theological research program, we turn to the writings of Jesuit theologian Donald Gelpi.  In his Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit Gelpi shows that there is precedent for employing feminine images to represent the Spirit and recommends using feminine pronouns to refer to “her.” He also provides a complex theological rationale for the appropriateness of this new linguistic practice. If Gelpi’s historical and constructive work is sound, then his theory predicts that prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit as “she” will become an accepted practice.  An important concern, of course, is the force of ‘accepted practice.’ If it were simply imposed on worshipers for the sake of a theological theory, it would be useless as evidence for that theory. It would be a significant fact for theology only if it passed the test of discernment of a number of worshiping communities. If it were widely accepted as evidently in accord with the promptings of the Holy Spirit (herself), then that judgment would provide important information about the very nature of God and it would indeed be a new fact, established by means of a replicable procedure . . .

The discernment process that establishes the appropriateness of such worship is a replicable process. Just as scientists can repeat experiments to check low-level generalizations, so too can Christian communities repeat the judgment process that leads to the conclusion that such worship of the Spirit is in accord with the will of God. Not every attempt at discernment produces clear results, of course, but neither does every attempt to replicate an experiment, especially in the human sciences. Therefore I conclude that theological facts of this sort are often or ordinarily replicable and thus do not differ from scientific facts in this regard.

I have to say that, as a scientist, I laughed out loud when I read this. How presumptuous to think that such a process can lead to learning any truths about the universe! If that were the case, then any community of faith subject to mass delusions, like Scientologists, Mormons, or the doomed group at Jonestown, could claim truth. Ergo, Xenu put souls in volcanoes and Moroni gave golden plates to Joseph Smith. According to Murphy, those must be indisputable facts.

It astounds me that this stuff is taken seriously by anyone. But such is the desire of the faithful to not only claim that their faith is true—and true in a way that goes beyond individual revelation or as a “basic belief” of someone like Alvin Plantinga—but also to claim that it is true in a scientifically demonstrable way. Theologians, for all their palaver that science and religion are separate magisteria, are all too eager to assume the authority of science if they can.

Nancey Murphy

Nancey Murphy

107 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Very sufistkatd!

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      You misspelt sophistimicated.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        Yer rite! Dam!

        • Fastlane
          Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          hait wen dat hapnz.

          • marycanada FCD
            Posted February 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            +1

  2. Alex Shuffell
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Have you read any theology that can’t be translated to work in favour of a different prophet or god?

    Theology appears to be so vague as to be meaningless to anyone who doesn’t accept it as an attempt to rationalise their already existing faith.

    • eric
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Well, notice she says Christian communities. Presumably other communities don’t have this magic power. Well, unless a Christian community medidates on the question and decides that they do.

      Gah, its like someone combined regular ideas of revelation with crowdsourcing. Methinks the author might be too enamored with InTrade if she starts proposing that’s how God communicates.

  3. Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Un-be-lieve-able. “communal discernment” is her answer? Otherwise known as Groupthink.

    I believe Monty Python illustrated this sophisticated theology using gourds and shoes to great effect.

  4. keithapm
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I used to read stuff like that back when I considered myself something of a Christian. Even then I didn’t find it very convincing. It really is all very silly.

  5. truthspeaker
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Wow.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      You took the words …. err …. word …. right out of my mouth.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      And if not wow, then definitely woo.

      • marycanada FCD
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        +1

  6. Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised the word “objective” didn’t get in there somewhere just to really confound us…

  7. TJR
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I see she’s in Pasadena, so maybe she should nip over to Caltech and give a seminar on this stuff to the Physics department there.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Yeah, maybe if they could just agree on stuff, we wouldn’t need to spend all that money on accelerators and particle baths at the bottom of mines.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Stop using big words like “stuff”. It confuses the masses.

  8. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    What is the difference between “communal discernment” and mob rule?

    There is a well-known experiment in psychology where two lines of different lengths are presented to a subject. Several confederates of the experimenter each say that the lines are the same length, after which the subject is asked his/her opinion. Overwhelmingly, despite visual evidence to the contrary, most subjects will agree with the confederates. L

    • Stan Pak
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      It is simple. In case of “communal discernment” is finalized with identification of dissidents. The “mob rule” concludes with lynching dissidents. :-)

  9. Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    There is no way that different ‘faith communities’ will converge at any truth about God.

    But maybe… just maybe… EVERYBODY is right — with all of our subjective experiences and interpretations converging up in hebben where we shall all meet in one big hands-across-the-water hebbenly cluster-frug, where earthly rationality and logical contradictions carry no weight whatsoever, because God (in her sublime, ineffable manner) can do anything. I bet you didn’t think of that.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      “hebbenly cluster-frug” I simply must borrow that!

    • @eightyc
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      lol.

      Well for sure everyone can be right at all times when ppl are just making shit up! haha

  10. Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Are there actually any Theologians who can communicate clearly? And I mean that as a genuine question, because I’m no expert in the field. I’ve only ever read bits here and there. But it all seems wrapped up in this impenetrable veil of obscurity and verbal sleight of hand. Do any of them write without such obfuscatory and florid language?

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Or am I simply too stupid to understand it?

    • gbjames
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      This is a very good point. I do not think there are. Nor could there be. Theology is the expert study of nothing. There is no way to make such a thing intelligible. And no way to communicate mush clearly.

      • darrelle
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Mush is just the word. An oft used exclamation of mine when trying to make my way through any theology, and much philosophy is, “Christ! reading this is like trying to push my head through mush!” It is so tiring. Like what trying to swim through oatmeal must feel like.

    • Stephen P
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Are there any theologians who want to communicate clearly? Presumably no, because if they did they’d be out of a job.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      If science is the art of revealing truth, then theology is the art of concealing it.

  11. ForCarl
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    The “indwelling of the Holy Spirit”? Yeah, let’s build an argument for religion being propped up by science by first declaring that people are possessed by a ghost.

  12. theusernamejoewastaken
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Wow. Now granted she might have fooled me when I was a profoundly mal-educated teenager in science (Young Earth Creationist type Christisn school), but even the most basic understanding of the scientific method would prevent this absolutely ridiculous adolescent rationalization to take foothold in ones mind.

    Like Rixeton said, she used a thousand words to describe “groupthink”. I can’t help but think she is a female version of the sophomoric Josh McDowell and actually knows she’s full of it but also knows equally adolescent but factually and woefully scientifically ignorant faithful will not have the knowledge to recognize what she described is nothing at all even remotely close to how the scientific method works. At most, she’s describing peer review, only minus the controlled experiment being reviewed.

    Sometimes I wish it *would* cease to amaze me when something so simple as the scientific method eludes the vast majority of people around me near and far. Life would be so much more bearable.

  13. Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Oh look, our Sophisticated Theologian(tm) is wearing pagan jewelry. How nice!

    I do love this part “So long as reasonable precautions have been taken to distinguish between gifts and their counterfeits, a positive judgment entitles members to say of the events that they are acts or words of God.”

    So, what are these “reasonable precautions”? This seems like the usual attempt by each sect of Christainity to claim that they and only they have the “real” version, and of course, they never can seem to provide the evidence that would show this and show how their fellow Christians are wrong.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      I daresay that the “reasonable precautions” are the same ones taken by Catholic priests when they try to tell who is really possessed by a demon and who has some other problem. It can also come in handy separating “fake” psychics from the real deal.

      • Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        so, pretty much any Christian claiming these magical powers would fail as long as the user of such “precautions” didn’t personally want them to succeed in their claim.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I’d say that the history of science since the Renaissance has been the process of refuting “communal discernment”.

    But again we have another path to truth to confuse the faithful. As is often the case, “The Simpsons” said it best:

    Hello. I’m Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies. And in the end, isn’t that the real truth? The answer is: No.

    ["The Springfield Files", Episode 3G01]

  15. Sastra
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I’ve read good descriptions of science which emphasize the significance of its communal aspect. My own handy quick definition is that science is “the search for consensus of informed opinion among experts who have committed themselves to using methods which have evolved over time to eliminate subjective bias as much as possible.” And I’ll grant that a superficial reading of that would support Murphy’s interpretation of theology as scientific.

    But as Jerry points out, she’s ignoring the size and scope of the scientific community. It doesn’t consist of different cultures and peoples following their own ways and coming up with agreements among themselves. It’s universal. You include the world. ALL the skeptics have to be persuaded because we’re not interested in the private knowledge of special little groups. Scientific consensus is aimed at the public knowledge we can share as human beings.

    Which means that a scientific approach to theology would first have to aim at convincing atheists that God exists by applying the scientific method to the God hypothesis. We’re part of the community because we are human. First things first. Demonstrate that there’s something to study. Apply science to “God.”

    Sophisticated theologians are overwhelmingly averse to doing that. No, atheists are not part of the community so they don’t get a say. It’s a faith, silly! God is metaphysical, not empirical. You have to believe in God first … and then you play around with looking for evidence and tests.

    That is what Skepdoc Harriet Hall calls “Tooth Fairy Science” — collecting a lot of facts (“how much does she leave for molars?”) about something which hasn’t actually been established. It’s how pseudoscience defends its legitimacy with talk about Western science and allopathic medicine. It’s also what Feynman called Cargo Cult Science.

    It certainly isn’t science itself. It sounds to me like Murphy is simply making the case for religions being able to define what they believe in and shift along with the changing times as the majority of believers change their minds. So?

    Duh. That’s only controversial to those naive people who sincerely believe that what their church preached 500 years ago is exactly the same as what their church preaches today. Liberalizing one’s theology isn’t making it more scientific. You have to have a very deep misunderstanding of science to make that case.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Speaking of Cargo Cult Science, HAPPY JOHN FRUM DAY!

      He is coming back!

    • Persto
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Sastra,

      “Liberalizing one’s theology isn’t making it more scientific. You have to have a very deep misunderstanding of science to make that case.”

      I disagree. Just kidding lol!

      You are completely right. In George Eliot’s phrase, they “have found out a way of explaining the Biblical text so that it no longer, in their opinion, appears to be in contradiction with the discoveries of science.”

      In my estimation, there is nothing more intellectually disgusting and violently deceptive than saying the bible possesses scientific facts. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.

      Regards

  16. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Based on communal discernment, I have determined that hoop snakes, mermaids, drop-bears and the Loch Ness monster exist.

    Of course, you might just say Je n’ai pas besoin de cettes hypothèses-là

    • darrelle
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Anything on temperate rain forest tree lobsters?

  17. Myron
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    As for “religious epistemology”, I recommend ch. 6 (Theology in the Know) and particularly ch. 6.4 (The Religious Community) in the following book:

    * Shook, John R. The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

  18. MAUCH
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    How in the world does she see a parallel between scientific and theological consensus? When scientists came to the consensus that evolution was a well supported theory they did so because they acknowledged that the empirical evidence collected through years of research validated it. When theologans came to a consensus that the son of god was sacrificed on the cross for our sins they did so because they could fill a house of worship with a bunch of people who would believe this claim without evidence.

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      And give them money. Don’t forget the money. L

      • Gordon
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        That does seem to be the one piece of “communal discerment” common to all religions and sub-branches thereof. But one swallow does not make a spring.

  19. Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Therefore I conclude that theological facts of this sort are often or ordinarily replicable and thus do not differ from scientific facts in this regard.

    It is indeed baffling that anyone who applies a moment’s thought to this would think it valid; the Christian community considers it a ‘fact’ that Jesus was resurrected for our sins; the Muslim community think it’s a ‘fact’ that he was not.

    By Murphy’s definition of scientific fact, the pantheon of scientific facts includes both that Jesus was and was not resurrected for our sins, so it includes contradictions. Alternatively, there are separate sets of scientific facts per each committed group belief, and they are all relatively ‘true’.

    Although perhaps that is the core of her contention, as it so often is with theists. One is justified to believe such a fact only when one commits to a particular theism. And so the special pleading goes on.

    • AndrewD
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Jesus was and was not resurrected

      So Jesus is a quantum saviour!

      • JBlilie
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        That is so life-transformative that you were able to slip “quantum” in there (just like Deepak Chopra)! ;)

        • Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

          Schroedinger’s Savior! With quantum tunneling nails!

    • SLC
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the Muslim position on the Crucifixion and Resurrection is that the man who was crucified on Calvery was not Yeshua of Nazareth but Judas Iscariot. Thus, Yeshua wasn’t executed and thus there was no need of a resurrection. They’re a little unclear as to what happened to Yeshua, with a few claiming that he hied himself off to Damascus, possibly accompanied by Mary Magdalene, upon the strong suggestion of Pontius Pilate.

  20. matt
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    “I have to say that, as a scientist, I laughed out loud when I read this.”

    ditto. it’s very hard to read any of this stuff with a straight face. this is madness.

  21. Brygida Berse
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I like this communal discernment method. It looks certainly quicker and cheaper than painstaikingly detailed observations and costly experiments, followed by lots of math and statistics. Let’s apply it to other areas of human endeavor, like medicine or engineering.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, she’s kind of sadly touching in a way. It is as if she watches or reads about scientific debates and sees the scientists talking about stuff and showing slides with little squiggles and graphs and tables written on them and, like a young child, fails to realize that the squiggles and pictures and numbers might actually be related to the experiments and observations. Like a child watching something completely beyond her ken, Ms. Murphy seems to think “science” is about importsnt people who come up with important ideas the importsnce of which is all decided by vote that settles, once and for all, whose idea best and most important. (’cause their graphs and squiggles and pictures are the just so neat!)

  22. Sastra
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen a very similar argument made by New Agey types claiming that a consensus of mystics is just like a consensus of scientists. When people who meditate or go into trances all have similar experiences of their consciousness flying out of their bodies or all have similar insights of we-are-all-one or everything-is-thought, then this needs to be treated like data in a replicated experiment. We can and should include mystical experiences into our scientific model of reality and thus change it from its current materialist bias.

    Science and religion are coming together!

    This is a very popular approach: treat revelation as if it were like any other repeatable experience. It’s unscientific not to!

    Where they go wrong of course is that the alternative explanations of the experiences are not suitably entertained. Just because it felt “as if” you discovered that Consciousness permeates the universe when you went into a trance (or took drugs) does not mean that it must be true. There are other possibilities and they don’t require re-writing everything we thought we knew about physics.

    Although this apparently astonishes many, the person having an experience is not always the only or even the best person to know what actually happened. Scientists know this. They are not going to throw out their concern over our tendency to misinterpret because the result of doing so is just really, really cool. On the contrary. Such a conclusion calls for increased vigilance.

  23. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    All of this presupposes some sort of “epistemological privilege” of the Christian community rooted in what Plantinga calls “sensus divinitas”, which is simply not how science works.

    Such privilege is worse if combined with a notion that one must believe these speculative notions (arising from a privileged “sensus divinitas”) in order to be on the good side of God and/or a belief in theocracy as opposed to democracy (probably not Murphey’s viewpoint- if she’s in a congregationalist denomination, she probably supports secular democracy.)

    Everyone has the right to interpret their life-stories and personal experiences along religious lines, but no one has earned the right to understand secret messages or special revelation from supernatural beings as scientific knowledge, or knowledge which
    must be adhered to in order to be acceptable to either society or god(s).

    When speaking well of religion, Albert Einstein had an understanding of religion that is so rarified that it is far removed from what most folks mean by religion, mainly a cultivation of moral sentiments through meditative reflection. I’m OK with this, but arrogant pretensions to knowledge in religion has to go.

  24. Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    What a wonderfully inane argument Murphy has managed to come up with. So you start with the idea that the “holy spirit” is female, then if you follow a certain replicable procedure, that involves checking if others might think so too, but in no way relates to evidence, you can say that this “holy spirit” being female is a fact!?

    Presumably, before deciding if she was female, first you’d need to conjure the holy spirit into existence in some way, as I’m sure non existent beings don’t have a sexual orientation. And given this fact of her femininity (or at least femaleness), perhaps it would be blasphemous to enquire as to whether the father and the spirit have a sexual relationship or why the father saw the need to have an affair with the virgin Mary. Maybe the whole raison d’etre of humanity was that the father wanted some variety in his sex life?

    And is the holy spirit “perfectly” beautiful, “that which no greater beauty can be perceived”… The imagination boggles.

    • lkr
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      And, by the way, can this be done in time for the election of the new Pope[ss], or will it require creation of an entirely new College of Cardinal[ette]s?

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Holy shit; now you’ve gone and denied the existence of the Holy Spirit. Other posters came close, but you done gone and did it. Enjoy your eternal weenie roast.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        Horrors!

      • cornbread_r2
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        too funny

      • Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Not sure whether denying the holy spirit or saying that she is female would constitute the greater blasphemy in the eyes of most religions… well I think it would be the female bit actually.

        • Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

          You got a good point there.

          I’ll bring the marshmallows.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      What does it even mean to say the Holy Spirit is female, when s/he/it has neither chromosomes nor hormones nor genitals nor, presumably PMT? This implies some kind of unproved essential “fe/male nature”.

      To give Murphy her due, she only refers to “employing feminine images to represent the Spirit and … using feminine pronouns to refer to “her.”

      But how is any of this different from referring to a ship as “she”?

    • R J Langley
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Wasn’t it the Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary? Can we, therefore, infer that the Holy Spirit is a pre-op female transexual?

      • Posted February 16, 2013 at 2:22 am | Permalink

        Nah, she use a turkey baster full of God’s jizzum.

        /@

    • R J Langley
      Posted February 16, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      I thought it was the Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary. But we’ve now established scientifically that the Holy Spirit is female…

      Is the Holy Spirit actually a pre-op trans woman?

      • R J Langley
        Posted February 16, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Just realised I already left that comment last night while drunk, ha.

  25. Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Murphy equates the scientific and painstaking procedure of duplicating search results with the sloppy, unthinking religious style of creating ritual/dogma, that is, the repetitive performing of a popular action/acceptancing of non-evidential beliefs as to form mere, crude habits. The goal is not to find knowledge based on a method that is proven to work, but to compete greedily in a race to grab memetic real estate in the followers’ minds.

    She makes brainwashing sound downright democratic.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      meant ‘accepting’

      • Larry Gay
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Are there actual students listening to what this woman has to say? Oh dear me.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      +1

  26. Desnes Diev
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    “For the theologian the existence of God is presupposed (as is the existence of matter for the physicist, or of persons for the psychologist).”

    Did she presuppose matter or other people to write her book (on a computer), have it printed (on paper), and read (by readers)? It’s clearly a very fallacious parallel.

    A big difference between God and a wall or a neighbor is that even if you do not believe in the wall or your neighbor, they do not disappear. By contrast God appears only if you have faith, very deep faith.

    “[Dieu] c’est l’infini mis à la portée des caniches et j’ai ma dignité moi.” (Inspired from LF Céline’s “Voyage au bout de la nuit”)

    Desnes Diev

    • Sastra
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Was the existence of matter really ‘presupposed’ for the physicists? Is there nothing then that would or could possibly change their minds so that they might conclude oh, for example, that matter is energy? Guess not.

      And persons are not inviolable presuppositions if we can imagine what would have to happen for us to figure out that what we thought were people were really robots, or hallucinations, or, or, or. Science adapts.

      A theologian who adapts their understanding of God to comport with the discovery that God is but an idea in the mind is no longer a theologian. That is, they are no longer a theologian if they express that view clearly to themselves or others. If they can figure out a way to lay a bunch of obscure verbiage over their atheistic insight so that it becomes lost in a fuzzy goo of praise for faith, then they may just become sophisticated indeed.

      • Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Presupposed *and* confirmed by; she forgot the latter.

  27. raven
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I will say a few nice words about Nancey Murphy.

    1. She once called creationism and intelligent design “nonsense” or something similar.

    2. Philip Johnson, the founder of the modern Intelligent Design veneer for creationism, promptly tried to get her fired from Fuller Theological Seminary.

    In the last decade or so, quite a few xian thinkers have been fired from seminaries and bible colleges for accepting reality. IIRC, one was just fired from Calvin college.

    Xians do not play well with each other. In times past, Nancey Murphy might have been burnt at the stake.

    • raven
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      The fundie churches are huge fans of Stalin and Orwell’s 1984.

      They have thoughtcrimes, purges, and some of them have Gulags. If it wasn’t for our laws, they would still be burning heretics at the stake.

      More irony from the ID creationist crowd « Playing Chess with Pigeons
      pigeonchess. com/2008/03/…/ more-irony-from-the-id-creationist-cro…

      Mar 30, 2008 – Nancey Murphy, a religious scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary in … get her fired because she expressed the view that intelligent design was not … legal theorist Phillip Johnson, called a trustee at the seminary and

    • truthspeaker
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      If a community of Christians reached a consensus that God wanted someone burned at the stake, we can conclude that they have discerned that God did in fact want that person burned at the stake.

      • raven
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Almost right.

        They don’t worry about a consensus.

        All it takes is a guy with authority, some thugs, a Bic lighter, a stack of firewood, and a heretic.

        Hitchens. Xians lost their best defense when they stopped burning people alive on stacks of firewood.

      • eric
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        I was thinking of the same example. Then I thought to myself: I would bet a whole lot of cash that any (historical or current) ‘Christian communal truth’ that she finds personally offensive will not coincidentally be found to be a ‘not genuine’ one. Anyone want to bet me otherwise?

        So it goes with revelation. “Revelation works for everyone! You just tell me what you think was revealed to you, and I’ll tell you whether that was really a revelation or not.”

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Yes, I understand that she did all that: I watched the video in which she explained this stuff. But I am not addressing her anticreationism rather, I’m going after her view that science and theology use identical methods to determine truth.

    • raven
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      John Schneider was Expelled from Calvin for accepting reality and evolution.

      I don’t know much about this case, but it happens a lot in fundie cults.

      He is fortunate to be living in our secualr democracy. They couldn’t just send him to Siberia to work in a slave labor camp.

      This same article says the biology department is keeping their heads down. They should, an SDA U. in California fired most of their biology department.

      insidehighered. com:

      Readers of The Banner, the publication of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, reacted instantly to the news in January that two religion professors at Calvin College had written scholarly papers suggesting that evidence of genetics and evolution raised questions about the traditional, literal reading of Genesis about creation, the story of Adam and Eve, and the fall of humanity out of an initial idyllic state.

      and

      A joint statement from (John) Schneider and the college says that the parties mutually agreed that Schneider should leave Calvin because of tensions raised by his scholarship and a desire that these tensions not create “harm and distraction.” While the statement praises Schneider’s commitment to the college, it also says that his “recent and proposed scholarly work addressing issues in genetic science and Christian theology, as they relate to human origin, have engendered legitimate concerns within the college community and its constituencies.”

    • Posted February 16, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      The other nice thing I can say about her is that this book was an attempt to paint dualism as an unsophisticated (which it is) notion — to unify mind and body. Too bad it’s an incoherent fool’s errand, as long as there’s “God”, “Holy Spirit”,and afterlives in the mix.

  28. Christopher
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I want to read this book :)

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Go to a library – I’m sure that a major reason for a lot of this nonsense is book sales.

      • marycanada FCD
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        Best suggestion. Have to hit them in the pocketbook.

  29. derekw
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Murphy seems to throw out authoritative revelation as a standard bearer (the foundation of many faiths.) Fuller is a more liberal seminary but still her supposed view seems very unorthodox. Interestingly Murphy is a supporter of evolution and critic of ID see http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/03/expelled-the-un.html and is featured in a new DVD ‘From the Dust’ from BioLogos. I have it but haven’t watched it yet.

  30. Sam Salerno
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Okay. So if me and all of my Atheist buddies(which is a lot these days), decide to sgree that there are fairies in the garden, then there are, indeed, fairies in the garden. Nice.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were fairies in the garden, who could cast a spell and everything would be OK again. “Happy those early days when I shined in my angel infancy”.

  31. Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    It reminds me of the medical question, What do you call alternative medicine that works?

    Answer: Medicine

    If such “stuff” can be quantified with math and statistics then it becomes valid science. The social sciences struggle with this as well… And Murphy seems to be trying to group theology into a social science.

    • JBlilie
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes, there is only:

      (1) medicine
      (2) things that either (a) haven’t been demonstrated (by valid scientific methods) to be safe and effective or (b) that have been demonstrated to NOT be safe and effective.

      Homeopathy falls into category (2)(b)

  32. neil
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Murphy’s views reflect a common misunderstanding about the scientific method. It is not consensus or agreement that makes it powerful, so much the method for *determining* whether a claim is true, even if there is a mistaken consensus opinion that it is true.

  33. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    “John Loftus, who sent me a list of books that, he said, were influential in Christian thought about the science-religion conflict”

    Dr. C.: Would you be willing to share that list?

    Thanks!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      I couldn’t do that without John’s permission. I think you can contact him via his website at Skeptic Ink.

  34. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    It would be a significant fact for theology only if it passed the test of discernment of a number of worshiping communities. If it were widely accepted as evidently in accord with the promptings of the Holy Spirit (herself), then that judgment would provide important information about the very nature of God and it would indeed be a new fact, established by means of a replicable procedure …

    Where do they cook this shit up? No wonder you laughed out loud! Has she never had Philosophy 101?

    News Flash!: Theologian “discerns” that Argumentum ad Populum is a source of scientific evidence!

    Goodness, what inanity! I do believe there is one bit of evidence here: Evidence that theology has no quality control system, full-stop.

  35. Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Can we try this communal discernment to solve the problem of evil?

  36. Vaal
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Nothing to add except that the take-downs on this thread of Murphy’s position have been great.

    Vaal

  37. ForCarl
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Frederick Clarkson posted an article trying to link science and religion on the topic of evolution. He used the National Academy of Sciences statements to bolster the argument.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/02/07/1185345/-Its-Evolution-Weekend#comments

  38. Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I just checked Amazon. 4.1 stars. 6 of 9 reviewers gave it 5 stars. So I change my mind; this book is a masterpiece.

    Reading it is liberating, exciting, and affirming of the unity of faith and reason, religion and science, piety and devotion to learning. — Meredith B. Handspicker

    The arguement is well focused from beginning to end and each contributor genuinely interacted with the others. — Wesley Dunbar

    These are seminary professors and Christian scholars who have done their homework… }enochsroad}

    aha, but here we have dissenter “A Customer” who gave it one star. (boo-hiss)

    This book is a clear example of the materialist or pantheist apostasy that is growing in liberal theology. I would recommend instead reading Moreland’s Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, or tougher books like Swinburne’s Evolution of the Soul or Taliaferro’s Consciousness and the Mind of God. All these books defend a Christian view that will be a beter alternative for Christian theologians.

    So who is one to believe? Perhaps there’s some middle ground there somewhere to be had…

  39. Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    “Many Christians believe that salvation comes only from accepting Jesus as savior, while Muslims think that such a belief damns you to hell”

    Slight nitpick: Muslims believe that if you think Jesus is god then you will go to hell.

    In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then hath the least power against God, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every – one that is on the earth? For to God belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For God hath power over all things.”[Qur'an 5:17]

    And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.[Surah 5:116]

    Another point of departure with Christians: Muslims think that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, which is surely to place Muslims in the Christian hell.

    And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger — they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them [Quran 4:155 - 159]

    • SLC
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      As I stated above, the Muslim belief is that Judas Iscariot was the man who was crucified on Calvary.

  40. Mel
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    SOL: swearing out loud!

  41. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    Likewise, the financial community of Bernie Madoff investors would be similarly comforted to know that they can collectively proclaim themselves to be solvent. That and $1.99 will get you a cup of coffee.

  42. Ken Phelps
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Reading Murphy’s bizarre ideas took me back to about 1972 when my Christian college education found me taking an intro semantics course at the same time as religion and philosophy. Thus ended my career as a Christian and my interest in philosophy. The essence of theology now, as then, seems to revolve around the drawing of maps to prove the existence of territories. It’s just sad sometimes listening to legions of Craig wannabees imagining that they can create reality by backing language into a corner.

    What possessed the SDA church to offer a course in semantics at one of its colleges I will never understand, but I am appreciative of the miscalculation.


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