Evolution and Christianity: 2. Mike Aus on their incompatibility

I wanted to post this the other day as a response to the appearance of new homeschool textbooks on evolution that, while conveying modern evolutionary theory, also try to harmonize it with religion. (Many American children are homeschooled by religious parents who don’t want them exposed to godless science). My first post on this issue was here.

But those who claim that Christianity and evolution are compatible will have a hard time meeting the challenge of Mike Aus, a former pastor who stunned his Texas congregation by announcing, suddenly and publicly, that he was an atheist (see the video, from NBC’s Chris Hayes show, here). Aus was, as far as I know, one of the first public “successes” of Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola’s “Clergy Project,” a sort of electronic halfway house to help nonbelieving clerics leave their faith behind.

Aus, while never a creationist, has seen evangelical Christianity from the inside, and realizes that comporting evolution with that kind of faith is a losing proposition.  That is why, by the way, accommodationist organizations like BioLogos and the Templeton Foundation are ultimately doomed to failure. Christian opponents of evolution aren’t dumb, and are in fact forcing those organizations to move more and more toward fundamentalist Christianity while the creationists themselves never waver in their views.  That’s why, for example, BioLogos—and now Templeton—are tying themselves in knots trying to show how Adam and Eve, while not the literal progenitors of all modern humans, could nevertheless be seen as some kind of metaphor. BioLogos, in fact, refuses to take any stand on the historical existence of Adam and Eve.

It’s all very amusing to see how creationists manipulate the accommodationists—except for those at BioLogos who lost their jobs for taking a hard line on the nonexistence of Adam and Eve.

At any rate, Aus has a nice essay at the Richard Dawkins site on why accommodationism won’t work: “Conversion on Mount Improbable: How evolution challenges Christian dogma.” It’s a bit old (from last June), but not dated at all. And it shows the farce of textbooks that try to comport evolution with faith.

Here are the points of incompatibility as Aus sees them.

  • Adam and Eve  This is the big one, and all attempts to see it as a metaphor (since we know that the human population never bottlenecked at two individuals) are ludicrous on their face. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, what sense does Jesus make. I quote from Aus:

“Which core doctrines of Christianity does evolution challenge? Well, basically all of them. The doctrine of original sin is a prime example. If my rudimentary grasp of the science is accurate, then Darwin’s theory tells us that because new species only emerge extremely gradually, there really is no “first” prototype or model of any species at all—no “first” dog or “first” giraffe and certainly no “first” homo sapiens created instantaneously. The transition from predecessor hominid species was almost imperceptible. So, if there was no “first” human, there was clearly no original couple through whom the contagion of “sin” could be transmitted to the entire human race. The history of our species does not contain a “fall” into sin from a mythical, pristine sinless paradise that never existed.”

. . . The role of Christ as the Second Adam who came to save and perfect our fallen species is at the heart of the New Testament’s argument for Christ’s salvific significance. St. Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to the condemnation of all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to salvation and life for all.” (Romans 5:18) Over the centuries this typology of Christ as the Second Adam has been a central theme of Christian homiletics, hymnody and art. More liberal Christians might counter that, of course there was no Adam or Eve; when Paul described Christ as another Adam he was speaking metaphorically. But metaphorically of what? And Jesus died to become a metaphor? If so, how can a metaphor save humanity?”

I don’t see any way around this. BioLogos has had a gazillion posts trying to make metaphorical sense of Adam and Eve, but responses like the “federal headship model,” in which God simply designated two of the many early humans as “Official Original Sinners”, are simply laughable.  And remember that the Catholic Church’s official policy is one of “monogenism”: all human literally descended from Adam and Eve.  s Catholic Answers notes:

In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

I wonder how Catholic scientists like Kenneth Miller reconcile this dogma with their acceptance of human evolution. Do they simply deny the teachings of their church? If so, they are heretics.

  • Original Sin.  This add-on to scripture by early Church fathers is an ineluctable part of Catholicism and many Protestant churches.  It has always struck me as vile and ridiculous to think that all babies are born sinners because of something inherited from a nonexistent Adam and Eve. Insofar as we “sin” (i.e., behave badly), Aus sees that as simply part of our evolved human nature (and I see it as cultural as well):

“Really, without a doctrine of original sin there is not much left for the Christian program. If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . . Actually, what Christianity traditionally describes as “sin” appears to be a theological attempt to explain the tension all humans feel between selfish and altruistic proclivities. St. Paul memorably wrote about his own sense of inner turmoil: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:19-20) Science has now shown us that both selfish behavior and altruistic impulses are at least partially heritable traits.”

  • The soul.  Although with some effort I can find the concept of God coherent (unlike some of my readers), I can never make sense of the soul.  What is it? In what sense does it survive our body? Does it re-enter our body when we go to heaven or hell? How is it transmitted into a zygote? When did it enter the hominin lineage? Aus sees this as another area of incompatibility:

“Christianity and many other religions claim that human beings have a soul, comprised of neither matter nor energy, which survives the body’s death. This belief is vividly expressed in the popular Roman Catholic prayer to Our Lady of Fatima: “Save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven.” Religionists will often say that the possession of a soul is what distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Never mind, for a moment, the fact that nobody has ever actually identified the location of the soul; just looking at the concept through Darwinian lenses raises numerous problematic questions for the doctrine. If all humans have souls, does that include all members of the genus homo? What about homo erectus, homo habilis and other hominid species that are no longer with us? Did they have souls that needed saving as well. In 1996 Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical affirming the reality of evolution. But he also insisted that evolution does not explain everything about humanity and at some point in the process of human development God had infused humans with a soul. The Pope, however, did not share when, exactly, the soul insertion event happened.”

Souls are an essential aspect of theistic evolution—the one area in which God must have inserted miracles into the evolutionary process.  It is the soul that makes humans distinct from all other species—an official doctrine of Catholicism and a tenet of many Islamic “scientists”. Do we really think that Catholics are on “our side” with evolution if they insist that we differ in this respect from every other species? What is that but simply re-inserting teleology into evolution—a view that was expunged from the field after many years of argument and data? No, theistic evolutionists do not hold views compatible with science. They are not our allies.

I want to quote Aus’s last two paragraphs in full, because they are moving and full of win. One of his finest statements I’ve put in bold:

When I was working as a pastor I would often gloss over the clash between the scientific world view and the perspective of religion. I would say that the insights of science were no threat to faith because science and religion are “different ways of knowing” and are not in conflict because they are trying to answer different questions. Science focuses on “how” the world came to be, and religion addresses the question of “why” we are here. I was dead wrong. There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world. Religion, even “enlightened” liberal religion, is generally not interested in the facts on the ground. Religion is really not about “knowing” anything; it is about speculation not based on reality.

It took me a long time but when I finally came to appreciate the explanatory power of Darwin’s theory, I could no longer claim that it was irrelevant to religion. Evolution impacts everything. I have traded Mount Calvary for Mount Improbable, and life is now a far more interesting journey. And I also now understand why so many evangelical Christians are hostile to evolution. They too, know that evolution impacts everything, and as more and more people come to see the beauty and power of Darwin’s insights, they know that humanity will inevitably leave religion behind.

Those Christians who see evolution as a problem also are wedded to doctrines like the unique human soul and the existence of Adam and Eve. For them, no reconciliation is possible.

Mike Aus: he once was lost, but now he's found.

Mike Aus: he once was lost, but now he’s found.

183 Comments

  1. Somite
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    “There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world”

    Beautiful.

    • el_slapper
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      mmmh, that’s the kind of argument I’ve heard countless pastors & priests use. And those were NOT on the atheistic side.

      • microraptor
        Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        The difference is that the pastors and priests don’t have any evidence on their side.

  2. Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    http://defendyourpost.wordpress.com/

    Is this something you might be interested in? Something we are trying to get started.

  3. gbjames
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    sub

    • Gary Allan
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      what does “sub” mean? I have seen it a few times here, and am in the dark …

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        subscribe – so that you get an email when new comments are made in the thread, by ticking a box below your comment.

      • gluonspring
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        I like to think it means the commenter has spotted a submarine.

        • Marta
          Posted March 16, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

          Win!

        • microraptor
          Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

          Or they’re talking about their plans for lunch.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      By posting a comment you can sign up for email notifications of comments specifically to this article. AFAIK the feed for comments gives all comments, something you may not be interested in.

      Mike.

  4. Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Stories versus discoveries. I’d rather discover how the world works than spend the rest of my life remediating and repudiating a fictional owner’s manual.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      “Owner’s manual?”

      Hang on, I need to check that I’ve got my theological parachute lines straight …
      God created the universe. Out of nothing, or from the ejaculate of a turtle frotting a giant ash tree (I may be a bit hazy on the details of specific religions ; they get so confusingly similar when seen from the outside) ; there was no-one else around at the time, so he’s the owner ; right?
      So there’s a manual that he wrote for himself to read about the thing that she’d just created (sorry ; I forget the gender of the god). Right ; I’ve written manuals for things that I’ve built ; I can grok that.
      Where is this manual? It can’t be in DNA, because that doesn’t tell us much about how the universe 17 billion light years away works. Nor much about quantum mechanics (though QM does seem important to the way that some proteins work) or particle physics. So, where is the Owner’s Manual?
      Are you referring to the various holy books, which instruct the various created automata within the universe how to pray / feed / worship the creating ghod? But they’re not owner’s manuals ; they’re instruction books for the slaves that live on the logical equivalent of the plantation.
      So, are “holy books” owner’s manuals, or slave’s work instructions?

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        To attain enlightenment on such matters, you must first “unask” the question.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          Errr, “bus”?

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        A manual for rape, slavery, the sex trade, and murder needed to be written for the “stewards” of this fine planet by a beneficent manufacturing monopoly just in case the social machinery breaks down before the big freeze.

        Forgive my lack of clarity.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          Oh I see!
          The “Gor” series of bondage and humiliation soft-core porn books. Why didn’t you say so to start off with. Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba, and all that tediously repetitive shite?
          So that was all true, and not just a lucrative marketing ploy by a business-minded prolific author? wow, I’m going to have to take more drugs ; I’m having a job coping with this “reality”.

  5. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    There are philosophers who assert that some ‘ways of knowing’ produce knowledge that is ‘objective’ – by which they mean opinions that can be rationally justified. This is not the same meaning of ‘objective’ as used by scientists. It causes no end of needless confusion.

    I prefer Daniel Dennett’s view (from the Edge Special Event in 2009 about reconciling science and religion):

    We can continue to respect the good intentions of those who persist in professing belief in God, but we’ll be doing them a favor if we stop pretending that we respect the arguments they use to sustain these fantasies.

  6. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    It’s a bit old (from last June), but not dated at all.

    Sadly, though, no older than the most recent post to the Clergy Project. I had been hopeful that endeavor would take off, but it seems it hasn’t.

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      I think most of the posts to the Clergy Project are private and are not available in the public space. L

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        Yeah, but no announcements or anything?

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

          It is not intended to be a place that addresses you and me. The whole project is designed for privacy and success shouldn’t be measured in announcement-counts. (I’m not sure exactly how success could be measurable to us on the outside.)

        • Marella
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

          According to those who should know, it’s going very well. There are many clergy asking for help and they are all worked off their feet to keep up with demand.

  7. blatzicher
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Blair Lee— comment-reply@wordpress.com wrote:From: Why Evolution Is True <comment-reply@wordpress.com>To: blairlee@gotsky.comSubject: [New post] Evolution and Christianity: 2. Mike Aus on their incompatibilityDate: Fri, 15 Mar 2013 13:23:52 +0000
     
    I almost choked when I read this this morning. At first I thought you were talking about my textbook, REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2. Right below this in my in-box was my first piece of hate mail too. Then I realized you were not talking about RSO Biology 2. Here is my hate mail. The book hasn’t been out long. More is on the way I am sure. The funny thing is we have a Try It Before You Buy It function so people can check out parts of the text to see if the like it, similar to Amazon’s check inside feature. The author of the e-mail below obviously didn’t buy the book. The chapter we have up is the 2nd chapter in the evolution unit where this statement is made. Because in the first chapter in the evolution unit entitled A Story about Luck in the middle of the 2nd page, I write “Between 4.5 and 3.8 billion years ago, life arose out of a chemical stew made of atoms and molecules.” I spend the rest of this chapter discussing significant evolutionary event, i.e. the evolution of the eukaryotic cell, multicellularity, etc. Which I suspect is what the e-mail author means when she says I didn’t write about where these species originally evolved from.
     
    FYI here is the passage the statement is from:

    A scientific theory is a widely accepted explanation of something observed
    in science. Theories are based on experimentation, observation, and

    reasoning—the scientific method. Before something can be called a scientific

    theory, it must be tested many times by different researchers, who get results

    that are consistent with that theory.
    It is a FACT that evolution occurs. It is a FACT that the process

    of evolution is how all species that have ever lived came to be.

    There are THEORIES about how the process of evolution works.

    For example,

    It is a FACT that birds evolved about 150 million years ago.

    It is a THEORY that birds have descended from dinosaurs
     
    Blair Lee
     
    Not to be mean but I wonder what the the tons of evidence is that she is referring to?

     
    From: Becky Prewitt
    Subject: Re: Interested in curriculum
    Date: March 14, 2013 11:58:01 PM EDT
    To: Pandia Press
    Thanks, Kate, but I didn’t realize this material was from an evolutionary perspective not Creationism. Unbelievable how your Biology book says:

    “It is a FACT that the process of evolution is how all species that have ever lived came to be.”

    But where does the book tell the student what these species originally evolved from?

    How can it be a “fact.” It is wrong to call a theory a fact. Christians don’t call their belief “facts” even though there is tons of evidence, scientific evidence, just as evolutionists should not call their beliefs based lots of evidence (but not enough!) fact! It’s just so wrong. They are both theories, and personally it takes a lot more faith to believe there was some big bang and I evolved to be able to grow a person inside of my body.

    I can not believe schools are still teaching this as fact. It’s ridiculous, more ridiculous than a Creator.

    Becky

    whyevolutionistrue posted: “I wanted to post this the other day as a response to the appearance of new homeschool textbooks on evolution that, while conveying modern evolutionary theory, also try to harmonize it with religion. (Many American children are homeschooled by religious pa”

    • Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Both that evolution occurred and the way it occurred (natural selection) are scientific theories not “facts”. We can never be 100% certain that a scientific theory is a fact, since there are always other theories that can’t be disproved (such as that we were all created a minute ago etc.).

      In the light of that it seems somewhat confusing to separate evolution from the mechanism/s by which it occurred and call the first a “fact”. There really isn’t any difference in terminology.

      One should further note that the difference between a scientific theory and a scientific law is not one of degree of certainty, it’s just that often the term scientific theory is used to denote a synthesis of different but related sub theories, whereas a “law” tends to be used singularly, viz law of gravity, Hooke’s law etc.

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

          That site also appears to be a bit confused about the terminology and conflates “theory” with “hypothesis” (theories don’t of necessity start off as one of many competing hypotheses, that’s nonsense!).

          Of course, the term theory in everyday language can mean hypothesis so it’s not surprising when people get confused between that usage and it’s usage in science e.g. theory of relativity, theory of evolution etc.

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

            Carl Sagan says, “Evolution is a fact– not a theory” at 4:10 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvMoC1M-GYw

            My understanding is that evolution (change over time) is a fact– Natural Selection is the theory– the best explanation for the evolution we observe.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        It comes down to quibbling over philosophical notions, but I disagree with you here. That evolution occurs is a fact. The interrelated explanations we have devised to explain it, and make predictions regarding it, is a theory of evolution. Just as there is a phenomenon that we call gravity that is a fact, and our attempts to explain it and model it are theories of gravity. Simple and unambiguous.

        Degrees do matter. If we were to insist that anything worthy of being labeled a fact must have 0 possibility of being different than what we suppose, then we may as well just 86 the word fact, because there is nothing that would qualify. I don’t think it is necessary or desirable to do so. The word fact is no more ambiguous than any other word. And that evolution occurs is no more or less of a fact than that the earth orbits the sun.

        • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          The point is that Evolution is no more a “fact” than natural selection is. They are both well supported theories. Both of them are tantamount to being knowledge that we think is least likely to be altered by future discoveries. But we still have to distinguish empirical knowledge, which can never be 100% certain from logical truths, which follow from axioms, that’s why these things are scientific theories.

          And to be clear, I’m not particularly objecting to evolution being called a “fact” for general purpose usage (it as close as we can get), but to the distinction in the previous post that makes evolution a fact and natural selection “only a theory”. That isn’t the correct or indeed a useful distinction.

          • gr8hands
            Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            You are, of course, incorrect. You are terribly confused.

            • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              Think you left out the bit where you show your reasoning. This is a discussion not a forum for making insulting comments to people you don’t know.

          • Brygida Berse
            Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

            Roq Marish,

            Does it mean that you don’t accept any scientific observation as “factual” and consider the very notion of a “fact” useless in the context of empirical science?

            Of course, in science all truths are provisional, not to mention that we can never exclude the possibility that we all popped into existence two seconds ago together with our memories and apparent scientific discoveries – but this is not a very practical way of looking at reality. Hence we commonly refer to reproducible, well documented sets of observations as “scientific facts”. Those are different from scientific theories, which provide comprehensive models explaining large amounts of data in a given field.

            It has been very well documented that species have been changing over geologic time. It has also been established that all those species are genetically related. Together this means that the evolution of species is a scientific fact, just like the existence of gravity or the genetic code. The theory of evolution, in turn, provides an explanation of the mechanisms of evolution.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Both that evolution occurred and the way it occurred (natural selection) are scientific theories not “facts”. We can never be 100% certain that a scientific theory is a fact, since there are always other theories that can’t be disproved (such as that we were all created a minute ago etc.).

        I have to disagree with this.

        – The existence of a UCA is the best observed fact we have (Douglas Theobald gives it a ~ 10^2000 larger likelihood over having multiple CAs), and it embodies evolution by constraint of observation.

        – Statistical hypotheses testing makes observations and theories belong to the same class of testable data sets with testable constraints.

        In the same way that we can have conflicting observations but one wins out, we can have conflicting theories covering the same phenomena but one wins out. (Say, standard cosmology vs MOND.)

        In the same way that we can do different types of observations of a phenomena, we can have different theories of a phenomena. (Say, particle theory vs string theory.)

        We can never be 100 % certain that an observation is a fact, since there are always remaining uncertainty. The “Last Thursday” scenario on the other hand is not a theory, since it can’t be tested. Or if you maintain it is a theory, we can say the exact same thing about untestable “observations” during a Last Thursday, making the difference between theory and observation once again disappear.

        What is useful here is to accept the tool that statistical testing gives us and note if a fact, whether (I maintain) an observation or a theory, is tested “beyond reasonable doubt” (mutually agreeable test limits). The “100 % certainty” is an impossible demand on empirical matters, so it has nothing to do with actual knowledge. Let the religious keep it for their theology.

        • Kevin
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          I always find it fascinating that the religious decry science for not being 100% certain, and yet don’t denounced themselves for their complete certainty in the existence of fairies and invisible monsters who will send you to an undisclosed location for permanent torture unless you believe in them.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        I would also add the process perspective, since physics is based on processes. Evolution is a process, and its existence is an observable fact.

        The relation between theory and process, it seems to me, is that theories are pervasive observations of processes. Contrast that with Theobald’s observation, which doesn’t say much on the detail since the constraints (mostly speciation) are so generic.

        • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          Words can be used in many different ways according to context. If you wish to define “fact” as something we are pretty certain about, then that’s fine as long as you use it consistently that way and make it clear that that is what you are doing.

          What I’m objecting to in the previous post to mine above is the misleading labelling of evolution as a “fact” and natural selection as a “theory”. That is clearly an accomodationist strategy, which is intended to denigrate the theory of natural selection to a hypothesis and leave open the possibility of divine intervention in evolution, whereas natural selection should also be considered a “fact” if you are choosing to speak this way.

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            No, it’s not “clearly an accommodationist strategy”. Unless you think Larry Moran is an accommodationist?

            /@

            • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

              Sure, Dawkins has made the same point about evolution being a fact and a theory. But, natural selection is also a fact and a theory. The accomodationist bit is trying to relegate natural selection to just being an hypothesis, so that you can substitute some kind of divine intervention in there. Jeez read what I actually said don’t interpret what you think I meant :).

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

                Ouch! no need to get snippy. I did read what you said, but I was mentally “correcting” it. I don’t tend to think of natural selection as a theory in its own right; but rather as a part of the theory of evolution, a mechanism by which adaptations occur, but only one of the mechanisms by which evolution occurs.

                Neither do i consider natural selection to be a fact in the same way that evolution is a fact, because we can observe evolution (changes in form amongst a population over time) directly, whereas we can only infer natural selection.

                Even taking what you said exactly as you said it, I still disagree that it is “clearly an accommodationist strategy”. It is actually a useful distinction to make in arguments against theists (creationists, mostly) who point to disagreements among biologists about [the theory of] natural selection (or [the theory of] evolution in toto) as evidence against [the fact of] evolution.

                /@

              • Posted March 16, 2013 at 12:24 am | Permalink

                Scientists, at least reputable ones, don’t deny natural selection any more than they deny evolution. Natural selection is the only way that genes can be tested against the environment they inhabit and the evolution of complex forms could not have happened without it.

                It may be “useful” to demote the status of natural selection if you are trying to persuade theists that evolution occurred, so that they can substitute their divine creator, but that is what accomodationism consists of. Evolution and creationism are not compatible.

                As usual this discussion has turned into one about the meaning of words. All I can say on that score is that the word “fact” means an unalterable truth. Science just doesn’t need to make such claims. That all empirical knowledge is provisional is one of it’s strengths and one of the ways it is superior to religious dogma. Of course loosely speaking we do talk about scientific facts, but we should always be ready to explain that we are just referring to science that has been well tested.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

        Sorry to be late to the party, but it seems imperative here to reference Gould’s essay “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” available at http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html or as chapter 19 in his book “Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes”.

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

    I’ve heard the argument Aus is making before, but there are some significant issues with it.

    The largest of these issues, and one which a great many of the New Atheists fall into recurrently, is that it takes very fundamentalist doctrines – some of which are simply indefensible – and presents them as the norm for all Christianity. They acknowledge that there are “liberal Christians” who deviate from these doctrines, but they present these individuals as if they are simply backtracking because science has painted them into a corner. The perception is that these people are fighting a losing battle, and are simply giving up ground because they are discovering more and more that the tenets of their faith are irreconcilable.

    This perception is hardly an accurate one, however, for a very important reason: the fundamentalist doctrines that are being abandoned are fairly new developments in Christian theological history, and they are being abandoned in favor of a return to historically orthodox theology.

    For example, the literal Adam. Church fathers have long held portions of Genesis to be metaphor or typology, particularly the creation narrative but also the narrative of the fall. Adam (Hebrew for ‘humanity’) depicts the fundamental rebellion of humanity against the reign of God, which establishes the human predicament. Aus’s question “Did Jesus die for a metaphor?” grossly overlooks the purpose of that metaphor. Jesus died to address the issue of sin, which is what that metaphor depicts. We recognize clearly that describing Jesus as “the second Adam” is metaphor, identifying the first Adam as a metaphor for humanity is not an issue, and is well in line with historical Christian thought prior to the rise of fundamentalism.

    And as to the soul… this assumes, for some reason, that there is a categorical difference between human and animal when it comes to “the soul”. The Hebrew for soul, ‘nephesh’, simply means life. Scripture describes both creatures and men in paradise, and Biblical depictions of the restored order also maintain animals. Both the gospels and the epistles describe the atonement as working for all creation, not just humanity, because the impact of sin affected far more than just human relationships – it hit the entire created order.

    This isn’t an apologetic to try to make believers out of anyone who reads this, it is simply to point out that there isn’t a need to reconcile Biblical theology with science, because there isn’t a need for believers to divorce the two in the first place.

    • Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Sorry for the double post. Feel free to delete this one.

  9. Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I’ve heard the argument Aus is making before, but there are some significant issues with it.

    The largest of these issues, and one which a great many of the New Atheists fall into recurrently, is that it takes very fundamentalist doctrines – some of which are simply indefensible – and presents them as the norm for all Christianity. They acknowledge that there are “liberal Christians” who deviate from these doctrines, but they present these individuals as if they are simply backtracking because science has painted them into a corner. The perception is that these people are fighting a losing battle, and are simply giving up ground because they are discovering more and more that the tenets of their faith are irreconcilable.

    This perception is hardly an accurate one, however, for a very important reason: the fundamentalist doctrines that are being abandoned are fairly new developments in Christian theological history, and they are being abandoned in favor of a return to historically orthodox theology.

    For example, the literal Adam. Church fathers have long held portions of Genesis to be metaphor or typology, particularly the creation narrative but also the narrative of the fall. Adam (Hebrew for ‘humanity’) depicts the fundamental rebellion of humanity against the reign of God, which establishes the human predicament. Aus’s question “Did Jesus die for a metaphor?” grossly overlooks the purpose of that metaphor. Jesus died to address the issue of sin, which is what that metaphor depicts. We recognize clearly that describing Jesus as “the second Adam” is metaphor, identifying the first Adam as a metaphor for humanity is not an issue, and is well in line with historical Christian thought prior to the rise of fundamentalism.

    And as to the soul… this assumes, for some reason, that there is a categorical difference between human and animal when it comes to “the soul”. The Hebrew for soul, ‘nephesh’, simply means life. Scripture describes both creatures and men in paradise, and Biblical depictions of the restored order also maintain animals. Both the gospels and the epistles describe the atonement as working for all creation, not just humanity, because the impact of sin affected far more than just human relationships – it hit the entire created order.

    This isn’t an apologetic to try to make believers out of anyone who reads this, it is simply to point out that there isn’t a need to reconcile Biblical theology with science, because there isn’t a need for believers to divorce the two in the first place.

    • komponist1
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Atonement? Atonement for what?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      They acknowledge that there are “liberal Christians” who deviate from these doctrines, but they present these individuals as if they are simply backtracking because science has painted them into a corner. The perception is that these people are fighting a losing battle, and are simply giving up ground because they are discovering more and more that the tenets of their faith are irreconcilable.

      Well, yeah. It started in the 19th Century as a response to scientific findings. Literalism was a backlash against that response.

      the fundamentalist doctrines that are being abandoned are fairly new developments in Christian theological history, and they are being abandoned in favor of a return to historically orthodox theology.

      Citation needed.

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        When I refer to the abandonment of certain fundamentalist doctrines, I am referring principally to the abandonment of Biblical literalism. As you already noted, Biblical literalism came about as a result of a backlash against the rise of science (which finds its roots in Christianity, anyhow). The view was that if science is true, then we should be able to read the Bible as a scientific textbook. Thus, it began to be read hyper-literally. Scripture was never intended to be a scientific textbook, however, and we are beginning to see trends in Christian theology to abandon hyper-literalism and return to reading Scripture as it has been read historically.

        And, while I would have to dig to actually pull quotes, I point out that numerous Christian fathers affirm a metaphorical reading of many passages that are harped on literally today. Among these are Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley – just to drop some of the most influential names.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          a metaphorical reading of many passages

          If there are any non-trivial passages that aren’t metaphorical, the problem persists. And on what basis do your “fathers” distinguish between the literal and the metaphorical passages?

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

            Well, this is the entire point of interpretation. How do we read and understand a passage? The reasons for determining whether a passage should be read and understood literally or figuratively will vary depending on the passage. I was simply pointing out that returning to a metaphorical understanding is not a retreat to save face, it is a return to perspectives that were already in existence before modern science challenged a literal understanding.

            I don’t think it is in any way unfaithful to say, “Wow. If these scientific discoveries are correct, maybe I’ve been reading this thing wrong.” To then discover that there are other ways of reading it that are well in line with how prominent Christian thinkers have read and understood it throughout history is a laudable pursuit, not a tactical retreat.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

              Your answer that “this is the entire point of interpretation.” has a simpler and more honest formulation. “Well, we just make it up.”

              This, at core, is the problem with your argument. You have NO externally justifiable way to determine that you have picked the right passages to take metaphorically and which to take literally. You are just cherry picking on the basis of how nice some passage makes you feel or how embarrassed you are by another.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Not exactly. Biblical scholarship does have key means for interpretation, we call them hermeneutics.

                In determining a passage as literal or metaphorical, simply saying “I like this better as a metaphor” is not a justifiable methodology, although I have seen people use it. Biblical interpretation faces the same rigor as the interpretation for meaning of any other ancient body of literature.

                We look at the language. The rhetorical devices employed. The historical-cultural context. The genre. The intended audience and purpose for writing. The structure.

                It is valid to say “Genesis 1 bears all the hallmarks of a polemic, which was a genre well used in the ancient world, whose purpose was understood metaphorically, and therefore it would be faithful to the text to read it as metaphor.”

                The differences in interpretation come into play when one of those interpretive frameworks come into question. For example, if one person argues that Genesis 1 falls under the genre of historical record, and another argues that it is polemic, then the two are going to read it very differently. The question then becomes WHY it should be understood as history or WHY it should be understood as polemic. The basis should, hopefully, appeal to scholarly research.

                Linguistic studies are very different than physics. You can’t create an experiment for textual interpretation. What you can do is establish hermeneutics and argue for one interpretive framework over another.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

                Yes, exactly. All you’ve done is create an elaborate protocol to “interpret” bronze age myths. And given it a sophisticated name to mask credulous acceptance of utterly absurd claims.

                I know how linguistics works. It studies real systems of communication and makes best-reasonable conjectures about (for example) word relationships. It doesn’t make claims about people rising from the dead. It doesn’t make claims about miraculous virgin birth.

                You’re just making it up and want to be treated as if you aren’t. Sorry, no deal.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                You asked about interpretation. I told you. The method is not limited to scripture, it is the same thing you would apply to the epic of Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, or any other ancient work.

                The question of interpretation is asking “what does the text mean and how do we understand it?”

                The question of whether or not it is true comes after. You asked how we determine what passages are metaphor. I answered. It’s far more than “let’s just make stuff up”, and it is very different than “let’s just cherry pick on the basis of warm fuzzies.”

              • gbjames
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

                It is not “far more than just making it up” in NO meaningful sense. When you are talking about zombies and virgin births being real because my extensive hermeneutics and this old bronze age book sez so you ARE just making it up.

                I am not the least impressed that theologians can make up elaborate justifications for credulity. They have had millennia in which to perfect the art of self delusion.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

                Again, you asked about interpretation. I answered regarding methods of interpretation to ascertain the meaning of the text. Whether one believes the text to be true or not is a secondary question, and it is not what is being argued here.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                It is what is being argued here. The question is whether beliefs in zombies and virgin births are to be taken as metaphors or as real events. In order to make this judgement you trot out sophisticated theology and tell us that the process is just like doing linguistics.

                But it isn’t. And the only purpose for the exercise is to validate, as true, claims of bronze age myth-tellers. It is elaborate self delusion.

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

                @ T. E.

                Why does God’s Word need hermeneutics? Why couldn’t the Bible set out the truth clearly and lucidly? (Especially since some parts of the Bible are very precise; eg Leviticus.)

                If an interpretation needs to be revised in the light of scientific progress, that doesn’t say much for the reliability of hermeneutics…

                How many people lived their lives wrongly because of a wrong interpretation because the lived before the corrective scientific discovery? How many didn’t achieve salvation?

                It’s like writing a bomb-disposal manual that says, “First, cut the sinople* wire.”

                /@

                * As fans of Neil Gaiman will know, a word that means both red and green.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                *they lived

            • kennyrb
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

              It’s a two way street to generalize that modern atheists do not distinguish between liberal and evangelical/conservative American/fundamentalist hermeneutics. For those of us skeptics that have been around for awhile the key issue has to do with revelatory metrics. It’s the stuff in there that goes beyond literary and historical criticism. What methodology allows liberal Christianity to be more than an intellectual club? If your study of the Bible is not revelatory then what is the point and if it is such then how do you know?

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                that is a great question, Kenny. I’ll need to think about that for a bit.

                Can you clarify how you define “revelatory” so I understand exactly what you are asking?

              • kennyrb
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                If your study of the Bible is not revelatory then what is the point and if it is such then how do you know?

                that is a great question, Kenny. I’ll need to think about that for a bit.

                Can you clarify how you define “revelatory” so I understand exactly what you are asking?

                Revelatory things are things one learns about gods and/or the supernatural apart from metaphysical philosophy and/or the sciences broadly construed. It’s what seems to be what some liberals call ‘another way of knowing’.

            • aspidoscelis
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              “I was simply pointing out that returning to a metaphorical understanding is not a retreat to save face, it is a return to perspectives that were already in existence before modern science challenged a literal understanding.”

              These are entirely compatible descriptions of the situation. Calling it a “return” just sounds nicer than “retreat”.

              Either way, you’re describing a withdrawal in the face of superior opposition.

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

                A retreat, as i am using it, would mean changing positions because we have discovered that what we hold true to be indefensible.

                A return is simply re-affirming what we have held to be true from the beginning.

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

                Again, these are compatible.

                Suppose we have a group of Christians. Initially, all hold belief A. Subsequently, some adopt a new belief B. However, belief B is found to be indefensible, and abandoned in favor of belief A. This would be both retreat and re-affirmation of beliefs initially held to be true within the religion.

                I do not think this scenario is a realistic depiction of the history of Biblical literalism (either that it is novel, or that it is being abandoned because it is indefensible–instead, it seems to persist despite being indefensible), however, this is the basic scenario you have presented. Within this scenario, retreat and return are entirely compatible and differ only in perspective.

        • JBlilie
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          I’m seriously going to be ill if I hear this one again:

          “science (which finds its roots in Christianity, anyhow”

          Exactly how does science come from anything in Christian doctrine? And what exactly do you mean by “anyhow”?

          In most places where (western, European) science developed during the Renaissance and after, to not be a Christian was to risk your life in a very real way. So what option was there? And the schools were all owned by the church, again, what option was there? You were a Christian or your were dead (or at least inconsequential) and you couldn’t get a real education witholut being so.

          Galileo was maybe the first one to state the most basic priciple clearly and boldly (that evidence rules, not tradition, old books, or authorities). But the roots of science go back to ancient Greece.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

            Clearly Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, and Anaxagoras were Christians – centuries before the birth of Christ.

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

            I suppose I should have specified that “modern” science finds its origins in Christianity. Ie., The scientific method.

            Christianity demythologized the pagan world. The “gods” were no longer a part of creation, and we didn’t understand the sun to be a god, the moon to be a goddess, the sea and the weather to be embodiments of different deities. Instead, these were all creations established under one God who created the world to operate in an established order.

            The earliest scientists, philosophers, and astronomers of the Enlightenment saw the world as an orderly place because God created it that way. If it has order, then that order can be studied. By better understanding the creation, we better understand God. It was out of this philosophy that our modern concept of science was born.

            And, for the record, Galileo did not get into trouble because of his science. His science was rejected because his model didn’t work and he could provide no evidence for it. The Ptolemaic model was already being overturned in favor of the Tychonic, and when Galileo promoted the Copernican model, he did it by ridiculing those in power. It was his persistent drive to piss off the people in power (who had funded his research and bestowed innumerable honors upon him) that got him in trouble.

            http://ofdustandkings.com/rethinking-galileo/

            • gbjames
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

              Christianity demythologized the pagan world

              And that’s how we got eggs and bunnies for Easter!

              And St. Bridget!

              And Christmas trees!

              For Jeebus sake, give it a rest.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                Hate to point this out, but Christians don’t believe that eggs and trees are gods. Nor do we worship Eastre, Isis, or the Winter Solstice. The fact that Christianity has subsumed these holidays and stripped them of the deification of nature validates the point.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

                Perhaps. And by that reasoning, we atheists who put up trees and lay out eggs for kids to find in the spring are demonstrating that non-belief has subsumed christianity.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

                “stripped them of the deification of nature”.

                Claim in need of evidence. There is a historical debate whether these festivities were secular of infused with belief, but it seems to me last I checked the majority opinion is that most were secular.

                Some are known to be, for example here in Sweden we celebrate “Lucia” which started out at a secular dinner for amusement in the 19th century.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

              Pish posh. Regularities, ladder of descent et cetera was pre-abrahamic, it was why the christian sect adopted Aristotle. These “natural philosophers” had to work under the religious authority, so you can’t take them working under it as a circular “evidence” for its benevolence or usefulness.

              Newton was the inventor of generic theories based on observations (“the method”) and he was an heretic.

              So, no. Just … no.

              By the way, the Abrahamic religions _are_ paganism based, greek synchretic based as they are. It has 3 magic agents-in-one.

              It is another atrocious claim to separate out these sects as “special” or beneficiary for society (and science). They were not, we know they hindered progress because it resumed vigorously immediately as their authority waned.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

              The earliest scientists, philosophers, and astronomers of the Enlightenment saw the world as an orderly place because God created it that way. If it has order, then that order can be studied. By better understanding the creation, we better understand God. It was out of this philosophy that our modern concept of science was born.

              You know who else had that philosophy? Some polytheists in Greece in the 5th Century BC

              And, for the record, Galileo did not get into trouble because of his science. His science was rejected because his model didn’t work and he could provide no evidence for it.

              That’s just a bald-faced lie.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                Look it up. I also provided a link. The Pope funded his research, for crying out loud, and Galileo’s model failed because he was adamant that the planetary orbits were perfect circles. The model was fixed by Kepler, who was an open Copernican and never drew so much as a hint of wrath for it.

                Galileo’s book comparing the Ptolemaic worldview against the Copernican worldview was supported by the Pope, who was Galileo’s friend, who provided Galileo’s son with a pension, who heaped numerous honors upon Galileo, and who Galileo then turned around and ridiculed publicly in the very book the Pope was supporting. It was after this that the Pope became enraged, called the council, and exiled Galileo.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Kepler never drew a hint of wrath? His book, Epitome astronomiae Copernicianae, was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1621.

                Galileo wasn’t exiled, he was charged with heresy for advocating heliocentrism, found guilty of “vehemently suspect of heresy”, for having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe and that the Earth is not at its centre and moves. The sentence was imprisonment, not exile. This was commuted to house arrest.

                Link: http://web.archive.org/web/20070930013053/http://astro.wcupa.edu/mgagne/ess362/resources/finocchiaro.html#sentence

            • darrelle
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

              “Christianity demythologized the pagan world.

              Is that what you guys call it? That is . . . wow. So many adjectives come to mind I can’t decide which ones to use.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

                More like replaced one mythology with another.

            • aspidoscelis
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

              “I suppose I should have specified that I am arbitrarily excluding any scientific thought that predates Christianity.”

              Fixed that for you.

              It’s a bad sign when you’re advancing a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument… and have to resort to declaring by fiat that anything before the fact doesn’t count. Even if we let that BS slide, you’re still just left with a fallacy!

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I realized that after I posted it. The emphasis I was trying to point to was the enlightenment formulation of the scientific method, but I addressed that extremely poorly.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                Enlightenment scholars were heavily influenced by pre-Christian Greek philosophy (hence all the neo-classical architecture).

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

            It is aotricious, considering that the Dark Ages also had an impact on science, with the unthinking acceptance of authority in the Aristotelian guise. As we have seen, only some secular skeptics questioned this.

            The same happened under Islam, but there science died.

            Abrahamic sects vs science: 2-0, with one default win (killing the opponent).

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

              Gah. “Atrocious”.

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            This “Science originated in Christianity” is the same as saying “Geometry originated in Paganism” (Euclid et al), “Arithmetic and algebra originated in Brahmanical Hinduism” (Aryabhata, Bhaskara, Brahmagupta et al), and further that “Chemistry, Medicine and Algebra originated in Islam” (Ibn Sina, Al Khwarazmi et al). I doubt T E Hanna would be a vigorous proponent of those notions too.

        • abandonwoo
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          ‘the rise of science (which finds its roots in Christianity, anyhow)’

          This claim is as valid as saying that the rise of science finds its roots in mother’s milk.

          Scientific method dates at least from the time homo-anything began to experiment with different natural sources to develop a sustainable diet some 20 millennia back. Hell, it could also be argued that genetic information pre-dating homo informs human experimentation capacity, hence science.

          Ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations bordering the Levant region predate Christianity. Both they and others in the region were not strangers to science. This is equally true of other Euro-Asian cultures sans Christian influence, and in the America’s as well.

          Prior to the rise of Muslim fundamentalism ~ 1000 C.E., Islam was by a commanding margin the scientific center not only of its considerable holdings but also all of Christendom, where what scientific inquiry existed warily took place under the watchful and dogmatic eye of Church authority ever keenly on heresy patrol.

          The Church and Protestantism contributed to free thinking, it is true, during the eras of Renaissance and Enlightenment. They simultaneously engaged in severe suppression, too. Ask Bruno. Technological advances, primarily the printing press, contributed at least as much to the advance of science at the time as the relatively short-lived Church humanist movement/religious authority permissions-finacing.

          The claim that science has its ‘roots’ in Christanity is a risibly absurd canard that must be rebuked at every turn.

    • Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      “He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good”. In the words of the well know hymn.

      None of that makes any sense in the light of evolution and modern science. And it’s at the root of Christianity. There’s really no wiggle room here.

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        That depends.

        The issue is sin. If sin is something that is tied to one literal individual and then spread sexually to the all of humanity, then yes. It can’t be reconciled with science.

        However, this is not the only perspective on sin that is present in historical Christian theology, nor is it a necessary understanding. The Wesleyan and Arminian theological traditions, for example, reject this view of sin. I fall into this category.

        What is central to Christianity is the recognition of sin in the world. The interpretative explanations on how this came to be are varied and non-essential to the faith. Some perspectives, like the sexual transmission of sin, are irreconcilable without a sole human progenitor. Others, such as sin as a fundamental rebellion against God shared by all humanity in our pursuit of autonomy, or the Arminian view that children are born innocent and sin only enters the picture at such a time that they actually commit a sinful act, do not require a literal Adam at all.

        • H.H.
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          How about Jesus rising from the dead? Is that “essential” to Christianity?

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

            Certainly. I’d be very interested if you have scientific evidence that disproves that, aside from saying “people don’t rise from the dead”.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

              Jesus, it burns.

              I’d be very interested if you have evidence that disproves the claim that last night I swam six miles across a pool of fresh lava. And another six miles on the return trip. All after eating an elephant.

              Demonstrate that it didn’t happen.

            • Andrew B.
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

              I’ll provide that just as soon as you provide evidence that you aren’t a vampire.

            • Kevin
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

              Science tells us that miracles didn’t happen. No one and no thing — natural or “supernatural” — has ever defied the fundamental laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. Science tells us miracles are nonexistent.

              Not just the rising from the dead — the whole lot of them.

              Logic dictates that if you’re a god and you wish to demonstrate your godliness through miracles, then you do it in such a way as to be impossible to misinterpret.

              But what do we get from the bible?(And all other holy books featuring miracles.) Incredibly inept, stupid, and frankly primitive uses for “godlike” powers.

              A being that can alter the very chemical composition of a substance merely with a thought…changes water into wine at a party. What tomfoolery. What nonsense!!! You believe this? I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy.

              Plus, add to that the fact gods who prove themselves with miracles WANT to be known for their power. But what do they do? Do they create permanent miracles? Permanent and indelible signs that they exist? No. They create “the dog ate my homework” miracles.

              Consider:
              * Where’s the wine? Drunken.
              * Loaves and fishes? Eaten.
              * The healed sick? Dead.
              * Lazarus? Dead again (really, a god who can resurrect someone from the dead but only temporarily?)
              * The risen Jesus? Invisible in heaven.

              Right. Any rational person rejects such things as the fabrications they obviously are.

              Go peddle your fish somewhere else.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

              You’re asking for scientific evidence that people can’t rise from the dead?

              For starters, it’s never been observed under controlled conditions. The closest is resuscitation by CPR or more advanced medical means, for which the current record is 16 minutes without subsequent brain injury. I believe people have been revived after being “dead” longer than 16 minutes – but less than two days – and revived, but suffered brain damage.

            • H.H.
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

              Burden of proof. You’re doing it wrong.

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

              I would be very interested in any evidence you might be able to provide that supports such an event actually occurring. If your studies included the current state of academic biblical studies then you know that there is no historical evidence to support it. And you would also know that the consensus among academics is that the bible is not a historical document, so using it for evidence is out.

              Add that to the the fact that there is no verified evidence of any human being dying, coming back to life and then flying off into the sky, ever, and that everything we have discovered about the natural world (through science) clearly indicates that it is not possible, then why should anyone suppose that the christian resurrection actually occurred?

              Do you really accept that it is due to magic? That is your only option I suppose. But, shouldn’t you admit to yourself that the reason you believe is because you wish to, and not because of a rational assessment of the evidence?

            • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

              I’m not arguing against burden of proof, but the former statement was that science disproves Christianity, and then the resurrection was pointed to as an example. Ergo, science disproves the resurrection.

              To make the claim that science disproves the resurrection and then explain it by saying that it doesn’t PROVE the resurrection is ineffectual.

              • darrelle
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

                And that is good enough for you? On a matter of such monumental importance? I bet you wouldn’t cross a busy city street with nothing but such lousy “evidence” to go on.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

                Lol. I’m not saying that, but the initial statement was that science disproved the resurrection. I asked how. This entire discussion now of “what evidence do you have for belief” is a corollary and not what the initial discussion was about.

              • H.H.
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                There was no former statement that science “disproves” Christianity. Disproof was a standard you invoked, and only in this instance.

                Creationism is not “disproved” by science. Hypothetically, god could have created the world already as it is, pre-aged and with spontaneously generated creatures exhibiting all the features of evolved life. It’s an entirely untestable idea because such a pre-aged world would be indistinguishable from a world that actually aged over time. But the second hypothesis is stronger because it more parsimonious with the evidence and does not needlessly multiply entities.

                It is in that sense, then, that we say creationism is incompatible with science. And it is for those same reasons that Christ’s resurrection (and thus the essential “truth” of Christianity) is incompatible with science. Not because science has “disproved” it, but because it’s the poorer hypothesis.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                I’m not a creationist by any stretch, and most Biblical scholars are not creationists either.

                In the case of creationism, we can actually say that we have evidence that something else happened. In the case of the resurrection, however, we have an event which is important precisely BECAUSE it is an aberration from natural law, so saying “that is an aberration from natural law” doesn’t invalidate the claim.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                @ T. E.

                “the resurrection was pointed to as an example”

                Who made that claim? You’re the one that raised the issue: “if you have scientific evidence that disproves that…”

                Kevin said, “Science tells us that miracles didn’t happen.” But that’s not quite the same thing.

                Science shows that we have no evidence for such a thing, no hypothetical mechanism by which it might happen, no evidence for any indication that ever did happen. Everything we know about living and dying is agin’ it.

                Thus, it is wholly rational to conclude that such a thing cannot happen (pragmatically; precisely, a vanishingly small chance) and a more likely explanation of any record that it did happen is to suppose that the record is a fabrication.

                /@

              • H.H.
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                I’m not a creationist by any stretch, and most Biblical scholars are not creationists either.

                Right, I never suggested you were. I merely pointed out science cannot disprove it as a position. That should have been clear, I thought.

                In the case of creationism, we can actually say that we have evidence that something else happened. In the case of the resurrection, however, we have an event which is important precisely BECAUSE it is an aberration from natural law, so saying “that is an aberration from natural law” doesn’t invalidate the claim.

                Moment of creation. Moment of resurrection. Both have been variously alleged by Christians to be historical events. Either one would contradict everything that is understood about natural law. Miracles aren’t compatible with science, no matter how you try to spin it.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                Miracles aren’t compatible with scientific methodology, because they can’t be replicated. This is not to say that miracles could not happen, only that science would not be able to weigh in on it. We would have to look for evidence elsewhere.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                No. Miracles are useless descriptions of events not because the they are unique events (all events are unique in some sense). They are useless because they assert violations of laws of nature WITHOUT ANY REASON TO BELIEVE THEM TO HAVE HAPPENED. Sorry to shout, but the fact that old myths were written into a book several thousand years ago does NOT lend them a shred of credibility as descriptions of actual events.

                Besides, why in the hell do you think you picked the right ancient document to peruse for divine guidance? There are other ancient “sacred” texts. On what basis do you think you have the right one? How do you know that the ancient Mayans had it wrong?

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I find Biblical miracles to be believe precisely because we can locate them in the trajectory of ongoing, documented miracles in the name of Jesus and his kingdom throughout church history, up to and including the present.

                If you want a particularly thorough scholarly accounting of this, check out Craig Keener’s recent publication on miracles. Keener is a distinguished New Testament scholar, and the book has won all sorts of accolades and awards from the scholarly community. In it, he traces the documentation for miracle accounts throughout history, including the present.

                To dismiss miracles on the basis that they don’t align with scientific methodology is bias, not scholarship.

              • H.H.
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

                We would have to look for evidence elsewhere.

                Aus already exposed the sham of that quest:

                There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world. Religion, even “enlightened” liberal religion, is generally not interested in the facts on the ground. Religion is really not about “knowing” anything; it is about speculation not based on reality.

                Your words prove that he sees you more clearly than you see yourself.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                If your interpretation of that is correct, then he disproves his own hypothesis. He affirms already two “ways” of knowing: one by scientific inquiry, the other by study. If he did not affirm study or at least communication as a means of acquiring knowledge, the very act of writing an article for the purpose of education is meaningless. For that matter, education systems themselves are meaningless, because they use different approaches for communicating knowledge.

                For that matter, we have entirely different schools. We have ontology, which defines what we know, and we have epistemology, which defines how we go about knowing it. To identify the state of knowing to be the same as the means for acquiring knowledge is a gross category mistake. When Aus says the only way to knowing is knowing… he is nonsensical.

                Furthermore, we don’t even apply this in real life. This conversation is based on the application of reason, not experimentation. When we have court systems whose very purpose is to seek out the truth about events, they rely on reason and witness testimony in addition to science to ascertain the truth. To then truncate that in every other area of life by dismissing the application of reason or experience as viable means for ascertaining truth is fatally reductive.

              • H.H.
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

                “Trajectory” of miracles? LOL Let me go out on a limb and guess that their “trajectory” shows a distinct nosedive over time as our technological ability to record them increases.

                T.E., you are a hoot. The only thing you’ve proved today is that a person can believe whatever nonsense they set their mind to believe.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I would argue that the record of miracles has increased over time as our ability to record them has also increased.

                I’m not just pulling some random hack from the internet when I refer to Keener’s book. He is a celebrated scholar, and his book is celebrated and recognized among university professors and leading scholars, and has been the recipient of numerous scholarly accolades and awards. It is exceedingly well documented. You are free to dismiss it, which is what I would expect give an anti-supernatural bias anyhow, but it’s there if you decide to offer it a critical review.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

                ongoing, documented miracles

                There you go again. Making it up.

                I participated in a miracle last night when I swam that lake of lava. Why do you keep ignoring my miracle?

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                Ugh. I referred you to documentation. Take it or leave it, that’s up to you.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                “they rely on reason and witness testimony in addition to science”

                Well, witness testimony is certainly reliable! (What gorilla?!)

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted March 16, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

                I referred you to documentation

                Let me refer you to the Courtier’s Reply.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                A book full of unverified anecdotes is not documentation. I find it hard to swallow that you would seriously put forward Keener’s book as evidence that miracles have happened. It’s evidence that people tell stories about miracles happening, nothing more.

        • JBlilie
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          Of course “it depends”. Since you (and all religous people) claim the right to define your god and his characteristics and what your “holy” books mean: Obviously it depends. This is the difference between science and religion.

          In religion, there’s no way to determine who’s correct (amongst the enormous plethora of religious beliefs, past and present).

          In science, there is: You repeat the experiments, do double-blind studies, refine your instruments until the truth is converged upon.

          In religion, by contrast, opinions simply splinter ad infinitum. They never converge on anything a disinterested party would consider to be truth or even agreement! (With the possible exception of distrust and hate for non-co-religionists, that seems to be a pretty strong hallmark of religious thought).

          After a few millenia, one would expect religions, were they an “other way of knowing” (anything at all), to have converged on something. And you can’t claim the basic social rule: Don’t do bad things to your neighbors (formulated hwoever you like) because that is a constant, regardless of relgion or lack there of and makes no claims of anything supernatural. Observations of chimps (or nearest relatives) make it clear that group cooperation is evolved.

          You also fail to address the official doctrine of the largest group of Christians in the world the Catholic church! (I’m sure it depends, right?)

        • Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

          Evolution by natural selection is a deterministic process. There’s no room for a “rebellion against god”, since in the unlikey circumstance that their was a god he would have been the one responsible for setting up the initial conditions and laws in the first place. Not to mention that, in the light of science, it’s hard to see what relevance god crucifying himself in effigy on a cross has to anything at all. Such a power could solve the problem in any way it chose to do so.

          And, the whole story relies on making “Sin” into some objective reality, when in fact we just behave according to our genetics tempered by the experiences in our past.

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

            These are philosophical/theological questions. Not scientific. Wrestling through theodicy and atonement theory is a very different question than “is science and faith irreconcilable?”

            • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

              The point is to do with whether evolution by natural selection is compatible with Christian doctrine. And clearly if we evolved by natural selection (according to the modern synthesis), then there is no way that the concepts of sin, redemption or rebellions against god can make any sense at all. Whether you wish to call that a scientific issue or not doesn’t change that.

            • Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

              The “wrestling” that Christianity does with its philosophical questions demonstrates very well that it certainly different than science. Christianity, and pretty much any religion, has nothing to actually support its claims.

              Each sect that disagrees on some important part of Christianity and what its god “really” meant has the same problem; its claims are baseless opinion. None of you can show that you are any more right than the next, so there is very little reason to believe any of you.

              Now, compare that to can science and faith be reconciled? Well, one side has evidence that shows the other side is wrong in its claims. I’m not a biologist and won’t comment on the adam and even nonsense, but I do know that there was no magical flood.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                aka, one more Christian saying “My version is the only right one!” and “Oh that silly flood? That’s just a metaphor, but the one about a guy gathering a legion’s worth of people outside of a occupied city and no one noticing, walking on water, and raising from the dead, why heck, that’s all true!”

                Sorry, Mr. Hanna, each Christian has their magic decoder ring for creating their version of Christianity, deciding what parts are real and what parts are metaphor. All the silly inconvenient ones often get called metaphor.

              • komponist1
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

                This link is supposed to convince us of something?

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

                That link? What a load of P’s!

                /@

            • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

              Why is atonement theory not amenable to scientific investigation? What is sin? How does Jesus’s death atone for sins? What is the mechanism by which that works? Why is this the optimal way God could have dealt with atonement? Why did He wait “4,000 years” to implement this mechanism?

              /@

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                How would you test atonement theory?

                We can address all these question through the lens of philosophy, history, and logic, but I’d be very surprised if you could create a scientific experiment to test atonement theory.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                Here’s the issue with evidence, as science presents it in regards to the metaphysical.

                Science studies the world in connection with natural laws. This is why things have to be repeatable and demonstrable. They have to be subject to natural law. As an extension of this, science affirms that the only valid evidence is that which is empirically verifiable.

                Christianity posits the existence of a deity who created that natural law, and is therefore beyond it. He is not bound by natural law, and cannot be corralled into the limitations of experimentation.

                So science presents us with two options:

                1. Validate the existence of God in accordance with natural law. To do this, we have to prove that God can be explained naturalistically, and is therefore not God. To prove that God exists naturalistically is to invalidate the very notion that He is god.

                or…

                2. We can claim that God is not subject to natural law. In this case, we can assume that there is no naturalistic evidence for His existence, and thereby assume that God does not exist.

                Science creates a framework when pertaining to God which provides us with two options, both of which require us to assume the non-existence of God and thereby conclude that He does not exist on that basis.

                Theism suggests that, if God exists, we can only know Him if He chooses to reveal Himself. Christian contends that He has done and still does this. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the human population lay claim to some sort of religious experience lends particularly credibility to the metaphysical. The fact that we can logically infer the existence of a God on the basis of what we CAN study scientifically further assists that claim.

                Now, the moment I say that, I know that I am going to hear the tirade about how anecdotal evidence and philosophical inference does not constitute valid evidence, because they are not empirically verifiable. This brings right back to the assumptions noted at the beginning of this post.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

                Theism suggests that, if God exists, we can only know Him if He chooses to reveal Himself.

                Which is a con artist’s excuse.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                You won’t get a tirade from me. Just a loud hoot of laughter.

                “Christianity posits the existence of a deity…” and goes on to assert many things based on the made-up-positing. It is a house of cards build on comical, childish assumptions.

                Honestly, T.E., your Christian positing have no more reason to be taken seriously than that swim I took last night in a lake of lava.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

                Why do you think scientific inquiry is different from history, logic, and philosophy? Science combines elements of all of those (given that history is at least based on evidence; I guess historic interpretations would also be falsifiable in light of new evidence, much as scientific hypotheses are). It is extremely naïve to characterise science as being restricted to what is known through experiment. (New evidence can come from new observations, without specific experimentation.)

                How would I test atonement theory? Well, I’d start with an atonement hypothesis, and see about trying to falsify that. Are there any pre-resurrection Jewish sinners in heaven? Difficult to test, but that seems like a reasonable prediction. So, demonstrate that there are none and we’re making progress.

                Your longer answer contains multiple logical fallacies, false dilemma being the most obvious one.

                Whether or not science cannot test the supernatural, and if “supernatural” is a coherent and meaningful idea, have been discussed at length elsewhere on this website. The consensus view here is that if the supernatural intereacts with the natural there will be evidence of that in the natural world, which is certainly amenable to scientific investigation.

                You say that we can only know God if He chooses to reveal Himself to us. OK, so how does he do that? We are certainly part of the natural world and, in your terms, bound by natural law. So, to reveal Himself to us, God must use a natural mechanism, and therefore, something that is amenable to scientific investigation.

                Now, elsewhere on this website, discussing the Higgs boson, Tjorbörn noted that the mechanisms available to God are limited to the known three-five fundamental forces (electroweak [electromagnetism {electricty, magnetism} plus weak nuclear], strong nuclear and gravity), up to rather high energy levels (ie, there could be another force, but it’d fry our brains, in the same way that cellphones don’t). So, which of these does God use? Whichever it is, scientific instruments can (in principle) discover these divine communications. But we have no evidence for them.

                The ”fact” that the overwhelming majority of the human population lay claim to some sort of religious experience needs substantial evidence. that a majority self-identify as belonging to a religion is clear from census data, but we know (from polls in the UK, at least) that that cannot be taken to imply that the majority have strong religious convictions, let alone any kind of “religious experience”. (And we’d need to be very careful to distinguish “religious experience” from any other experience – social, pschtropic, &c. – that give rise to similar psychological states and feelings.)

                Even if your claimed statistic were true, it lends not one iota of credibility to the metaphysical, when the “religious experience” can more parsimoniously be explained in terms of sociology, psychology and neurochemistry. Yes, you might logically infer the existence of God, but, frankly, God lacks the explanatory power of the naturalistic explanation. That is, it is deprecated on philosophical grounds, before we even need to start looking for evidence.

                So, no, you’re not going to get such a response from me. But it is extremely disingenuous of you to characterise such a response as a “tirade”. Rude, in fact.

                /@

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                *pls forgive typos, all clear in context, I think

              • Vaal
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

                T. E. Hanna,

                You are taking the standard tact of restricting what can be known by science, and placing your God outside the circle for safety. This misses the fundamental, philosophical point we keep making.

                Science isn’t some set of arbitrary rules, something that only makes sense when you are wearing a white lab coat.
                Rather, science is our most rigorous approach to understanding REALITY, whatever it may be. The justifications for the scientific approach derive from the most fundamental epistemological considerations, given what we seem to experience, which include: the detecting of cause and effect, and the problem of variables.

                Let’s say A or B seem to be able to cause an effect “C.” That means the next time you encounter “C,” you can’t just declare “I know cause A must be present, since I’m seeing the effect C.” You need to do more than that: you need to have some method of having ruled out B as being the cause of C in this case. Not having a method of doing so would make you epistemologically irresponsible – without having good justification for only going with A.

                Notice that we need say NOTHING of the “material,” “natural” or “supernatural” realms to see this as a problem. If you are in some “spiritual realm” (whatever the hell that would be made of) the same applies. If both Angel A and Angel B can cause a feeling of bliss when they are nearby, the next time you feel such bliss it would be irresponsible to simply declare that “it must be Angel A causing my bliss” WITHOUT some good method of ruling out Angel B as the cause of this sensation.

                Right? These are simply the most basic issues of making sense of our experience, of justifying assigning cause and effect, of dealing with variable explanations and causes. And it happens that we find ourselves in a massive stew of experience – cause and effect variables at every turn, the influences of our biases confounding our inferences, you name it. Science is our rigorous response, the one in which we take our biases and all the variables of experience as seriously as possible in justifying our conclusions. It’s not for nothing that it has been such an astoundingly powerful force for understanding and predicting our reality.

                If someone says “I know X” we are rightly going to ask “How do you know X? Give us the method you use to weed out bias and control for other variables.”

                When we ask this for religious claims, what we get are really, really bad answers: basically religious beliefs inevitably rest on poor methodology, clearly awash in bias, cause and effect and variables being very poorly addressed, with the religious saying “But don’t judge this on scientific grounds…this is religious knowledge!”

                No. You are either epistemologically responsible or you are not. Separating “religious knowledge” doesn’t wash. Even if this God-beyond-science existed (and there are countless such logical possibilities) the methods used by the religious to claim knowledge of this entity
                are epistemologically reckless and don’t deserve the term “knowledge” or “justified.”

                Vaal

              • Vaal
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

                BTW T.E. Hanna,

                An example to dial in the scale of just how reckless it would be to believe the ancient claims of Jesus’ resurrection:

                Look at the extreme caution science takes in adjudicating claims. The length scientists go to in controlling for bias are there because of the incredible corrupting power of our biases. And the concepts of controlling variables, repetition of experiments, repeatability of results by other parties, etc, are all there because human experience shows we need to be THAT cautious, THAT skeptical in our methods.

                Look at the extraordinary lengths we had to go to just to start tentatively declaring we found a single particle already predicted by our best physical theories…let alone declaring anything startlingly new in physics. Remember a while back when some physicists reported recording neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light?
                This was NOW, not some distant past. They worked in one of the world’s largest physics laboratories, the best equipment available. And yet…when it came to affirming a claim that would violate what we thought we knew about the speed of light, even the scientists discoverers themselves knew to be skeptical, and that such a claim needed further adjudication. Turned out to be a mistake.

                Should scientists NOT proceed with this rigor, this caution? Surely you would agree with scientists that such rigor and skepticism is justified.

                Imagine if the scientists saying they had detected neutrinos traveling faster than light declared “Oh, ok, this isn’t a scientific claim…we call the knowledge we have uncovered to be called ‘religion,’ so don’t judge our results scientifically.”

                Would simply slapping this new name on their “discovery” suddenly make it deserve some new respect “Oh, in THAT case, yes, you really HAVE delivered knowledge of these phenomena.” ??

                Of course not. Poor methodology by another name is still poor methodology, not knowledge.

                Recognizing the problems in navigating human bias and cause and effect, it takes on average something near 8 years merely to affirm that a drug produces some statistically mild effect on blood pressure.

                And yet you and your fellow Christians think it reasonable to go believing the claims that someone RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD! Based on the claims in a book by ancient desert tribes!

                If you can not see the vast gulf there, the incompatibility of both affirming the epistemological rigor for nudging our knowledge about reality forward scientifically, while dropping that epistemological bar so low as to let Resurrection from the dead hop over into your belief about the world (let alone DOGMATIZE it into a world view)…I don’t know who can help you.

                Vaal

                (PS, that goes for any claims about “God working in the life of any particular Christian” or all the various miracle claims that do not rise to scientific level of justification. And if they had…they’d have been accepted scientifically).

              • Posted March 16, 2013 at 1:40 am | Permalink

                (And I just woke up realising I had misspelled Torbjörn’s name. Sorry, friend.)

                (While I’m here: Nice exposition, Vaal!)

                /@

        • Kevin
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          Sorry, but that’s patent nonsense.

          There is no such thing as “sin”. Defined as “an offense against god”.

          Cuz there’s no god. No god = no sin.

          Get it?

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            yep, very serious words about obvious nonsense to anyone not indoctrinated

    • gr8hands
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      T.E. Hanna, your Hebrew “translations” are inaccurate. Woefully so. And your statements about what the “church fathers have long held” is historically inaccurate.

      I would say your post is an example of bearing false witness.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Even if the church fathers did hold those views – did they hold them publicly, and preach them to the laity?

        If not, then your argument falls apart.

        • Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

          Yes, of course they did. Otherwise, we would have records of their stances.

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

            EDIT: “Otherwise, we would NOT have records of their stances.”

            We do have these stances recorded in their teachings, however, so obviously their perspectives were public.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

              Were those teachings shared just with other theologians, or were they preached to the laity from the pulpit?

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

                They were preached and the written records were teachings directed to laity.

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

        Then by all means, correct me. I referred to specific church fathers above, and lets examine the Hebrew.

        Adam.
        The “Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew And English Lexicon” defines ‘adam’ as “man or mankind”

        The Koehler ad Baumgartner “Hebrew And Aramaic Lexicon Of The Old Testament” defines ‘adam’ as “people, man, mankind, or individual man”

        Nephesh.
        The “Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew And English Lexicon” defines ‘nephesh’ as “soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, passion”. It can also be translated as “throat” when the context indicates referring to a location on the body.

        The Koehler ad Baumgartner “Hebrew And Aramaic Lexicon Of The Old Testament” unpacks this even further, stating that the basic meaning is a “windpipe opened for breathing, throat, neck” which can be gives way to “desire, breath, (breath of the) soul, life, self”

        These lexicons are the standard in Biblical scholarship, so this isn’t some random hack I pulled off the internet. These are the resources I was required to use in my graduate work, in pulling from actual scholarly sources.

        So… no. I would disagree that my portrayal was inaccurate.

    • H.H.
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      The largest of these issues, and one which a great many of the New Atheists fall into recurrently, is that it takes very fundamentalist doctrines – some of which are simply indefensible – and presents them as the norm for all Christianity.

      That’s because these doctrines are the norm for all Christianity.

      This perception is hardly an accurate one, however, for a very important reason: the fundamentalist doctrines that are being abandoned are fairly new developments in Christian theological history, and they are being abandoned in favor of a return to historically orthodox theology.

      Oh? I did not realize this. Can you list the major Christian denominations which specifically eschew these traditional doctrines for your interpretations, such as the entirely metaphorical nature of Original Sin and the redefining of soul to simple mean the biological fact of being alive?

      I’d like to see the numbers of how many Christians are “abandoning” the positions you say they are.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      [Myth figure] died to address the issue of [religious notion]

      Which was Aus point. There is no issue under the claim that the myth is a metaphor.

      More generally, the problem of deciding between metaphor and actual claims such as yours above means that these “liberal” sects have a consistency problem added onto the knowledge problem. (“How do you know this?”)

      That is not a concern of outsiders, obviously, but it is easier to analyse sects that accept their own texts for the claims they make. They make the most sense, and those claims are the ones most interesting to look at.

    • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      “Jesus died to address the issue of sin”

      So, how did that work again? By what mechanism? What does it mean to “address” the “issue of sin”?

      If the soul is just nephesh, life, what is it exactly that survives death and leaves the physical, organic body to ascend to heaven (or descend to hell)? How is “self” preserved?

      /@

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        I’m not negating dualism, I’m suggesting that the soul is that which gives the body life. Ergo, animals also have souls. So, the idea that man had to evolve to a certain state before acquiring a soul is unnecessary. Even pre-evolved forms would have souls, in this understanding.

        • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          But you’re reinventing vitalism. Which is soundly debunked.

          In any case, you’ve hardly answers my questions about sin and heaven…

          /@

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

            *answered

          • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            If by vitalism you mean the belief that we can treat the physical body by invoking medical treatments upon the soul, then yes, it has been soundly dismissed.

            However, if by vitalism you mean the idea that there is a metaphysical aspect to our makeup, I would disagree.

            And regarding sin, atonement theory, what I mean by “addressing the issue of sin” and, now, the concept of heaven, you are essentially asking me to synthesize the entirety of Christian theology into a solitary post and to do so with some element of explanatory power.

            I have some articles I have written that have touched on these topics and, if I can find them, I will link you to them. But to attempt to write out a treatise of that magnitude in a comment box is a bit much.

            I’m not trying to be dismissive, that’s just a lot to try to plug into a box.

            • Posted March 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

              Nothing so specific; by “vitalism” I mean anything that “gives the body life” beyond “simple” chemistry. See, eg, Addy Pross, What Is Life? I don’t see the need to appeal to anything else, metaphysical or otherwise, that distinguishes living things from non-living things.

              I’d appreciate that.

              /@

              • abandonwoo
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

                A non-Christian review of the Craig Keene book recommended by T.E. Hannah is @ uncrediblehallq.net. It sounds to me like it contains exactly what it would have to be filled with: anecdotal 2nd, 5th, 8th hand accounts of the fantasical same-old magic from those three best years of supposed-Jeebus life. A lengthy review, and the author manages somehow to avoid snark.

                The review states that besides the standard fare, there’s a heavy emphasis on recounts of limb regeneration from darkest Africa in the last couple of decades. Takes place in remote areas with a plethora of missionaries on hand to witness all these hacked-off arms and legs sprouting back to good-as-new; unfortunately too primitive for newspeople or YouTube uploads, though, don’t you know. There has been no shortage of these since the Reagan era, but for evangelicals they never get old. The stories in the book sound like yawners, but the comments section at the end of the review are a good read.

                Review of Craig Keener’s Miracles
                Posted by Chris Hallquist on January 5, 2012 Leave a comment (41)Go to comments

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

              Okay, Mr. Hanna, you have posted about 25 comments on this thread and I think that’s enough. You have given no convincing evidence for your religious beliefs, and I will allow you one more post in which you lay out the reasons why you think that your religious is true (and other religions are false, if you think that).

              If you don’t do that, bye bye.

              • Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

                That’s fair, and I apologize for hijacking the thread. My intent was never to actually lay out an argument for why Christianity is true, it was simply to point out why science and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. The responses branched into all sorts of different territories, and it got carried away from there. I don’t think at any point I was actually attempting to provide evidence for why I believe Christianity is true, simply to point out why I don’t have to reject Christianity because I also affirm science. I don’t believe the two are necessarily in contradiction.

                Fact is, I enjoy your blog. I have been subscribed to it for some time and, while I don’t always agree with it, I find the thoughts behind it interesting. I won’t post on this article again, and – as I already made mention – I apologize if my vigor was disrespectful.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

                You did hijack the thread and my question still stands. You are defending the tenets of Christianity, not just showing compatibility. So I ask you one more time: what evidence do you find so convincing for Christianity, and why do you think that faith is the right one and not, say, Islam or Mormonism?

                If you don’t answer, don’t bother posting here again. Those are the rules for posters on this site that defend the truth of religion.

              • Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:12 am | Permalink

                At least T. E. was more polite and thoughtful than many religious types that land here. No less deluded, but less obnoxious.

                /@

    • Posted March 16, 2013 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Mr Hanna, Why is this fable more convincing to you than the Nasadiya Sukta, for example? Why do you think you chose the right mythology?

      • Posted March 16, 2013 at 4:40 am | Permalink

        And also the dual question: why do you think that the mythology that the devout Vedantist chose is the wrong one? Bear in mind that he probably has as many “documented miracles” to count in his favor as you, probably more.

  10. Roux Brownwell
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Thanks for putting this up–I had copied that phrase (No such thing as ‘other ways of knowing’, just knowing or not knowing) but could not remember where I saw it. I also copied down this one at the same time:
    “I would rather have questions that have no answers yet, than answers which cannot be questioned, ever.”

  11. MAUCH
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    So all Pope Pius XII needs to do is command to his flock that polygenism should be denied because it is incompatible with the realed teachings of the church and the problem disappears. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if science could put forth an encyclical stating that creationism is incompatable with the teachings of Darwin and it too would disappear. Science doesn’t have that luxury because they don’t deal in revealed teachings but rather material evidence. People have to make an effort to accept the facts put before them and unfortunately for science, it is so much easier to embrace delusion.

  12. Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    “I want to quote Aus’s last two paragraphs in full, because they are moving and full of win.”

    Full of wit?

    @#8: As others have indicated, you need to back this up. It is a common defense of liberal theology, but AFAIK historically inaccurate.

    • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      No, “full of win” is correct. It one of these hip Internet phrases that young cats like Jerry indulge in…

      /@

  13. Uncle Ebeneezer
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Good for him. That video from the news illustrates one of the more important points about atheism that I had never really tought about until recently reading it in Greta Christina’s “Why Are Atheists So Angry?” The news report shows a Methodist preacher suggesting that priests who lose their faith need to “move on” and “not try to drag people along with him.” And this illustrates the one of the biggest biases against atheism the is so pervasive in our society. If you believe in God and think your belief is right, you are justified, encouraged and in some cases commanded to make your case to others and try to convince them. If you are an atheist, trying to convince people is just plain wrong. Keep your views to yourself. While even the faithful will admit to annoyance at visits from people of other faiths trying to convince them to convert, they ultimately give them a pass because their hearts are in the right place, they just have a different flavor of the almighty etc., whereas if an atheist does the exact same thing, it is because they are MILLITANT!

    • darrelle
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Well, that kind of follows from the basic nature of their religion. Someone who persuades others to leave the faith is doing worse than killing. They are leading people to an eternity of pain suffering and hellfire.

      • Uncle Ebeneezer
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Sure, it is an expected attitude from the very devout. But what is more irritating is that you see this attitude and double-standard towards atheism often coming from the accomodationists and agnostics (people who don’t believe in sin), not to mention the MSM.

  14. JBlilie
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Well done, Mr. Aus!

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    The Catholic Answers promulgates the confusion between evolution of physical systems and the biological process of evolution. Humbug.

    Christianity and many other religions claim that human beings have a soul, comprised of neither matter nor energy, which survives the body’s death.

    If the religious soul has no energy it can’t store experiences and isn’t analogous to the mind. Interactions with the environments in a non-static way necessitates energy flows going to or from the environment.

    The only remaining function would be something like the center of mass of a body, which is part of an effective theory of classical massive bodies and their trajectories. Two problems:

    – Without an effective theory of the soul (which is often assumed to work like the mind, but see above), it isn’t a meaningful claim.

    – When a body dies such properties necessarily changes as the body breaks down and disappear.

    I have now made much soul search in this question, but must conclude: Soul Catlick can not haz soul.

  16. Kurt Helf
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I’ve admired Ken Miller since I first saw his redoubtable debating skills against creationists on the old William F. Buckley show “Crossfire”. We all know about his excellent testimony at the Dover trial, too. But Jerry’s question “I wonder how Catholic scientists like Kenneth Miller reconcile this dogma with their acceptance of human evolution. Do they simply deny the teachings of their church? If so, they are heretics.” really bothers me and, as long as he remains silent on the question, in my opinion, tarnishes him.

    • Jerry Schwarz
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      A google search for “Ken Miller Catholicism” turned up as second entry http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Science-Religion/2005/07/Darwin-Design-And-The-Catholic-Faith.aspx

      The heart of his argument seems to be this sentence: “… according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence.” [Editor’s note: Miller defines “contingent” as “apparently random or unpredictable, like the roll of dice.”]

      I’m an atheist and I don’t understand the theology, but the way I read this is that the history of life is the result of an apparently random process that is compatible with Catholicism. Is that heretical as Jerry Coyne claims? I don’t know. It’s an argument between him and the church and I don’t really care.

      I note “for the record” that I have a background in computer science and I understand that whether there is a difference between an apparently random and a truly random process is a subtle one. But for purposes of understanding Miller’s theology I don’t think it matters.

  17. Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I am an ordained Presbyterian minister who spent 40 years in major universities teaching ‘the scientific study of religion in human culture.

    My undergraduate training in paleontology convinced me of the validity of evolutionary theory. I have also studied extensively sociology, anthropology, and psychology. I earned an ‘ivy-league’ PhD

    I have been active in organized religion since childhood and read and taught New Testament Greek and OT Hebrew from about the time of my 20th birthday. I earned an ‘ivy-league’ PhD

    ……………………………………………………….

    I suggest the following definitions:

    THEOLOGY:: a division of philosophy. Therefore: postulating theories of “truth” but making no claim to “fact”. Not synonymous with “religion”.

    Often –but not necessarily–anthropomorphic. [“theos” is a Greek word for an anthropomorphic supernatural being]

    RELIGION: An organized or loose collection of behaviors, symbols, concepts, and traditions developed by a culture often as a form of ‘magic’ (primitive science). developed over time for the purpose of controlling one’s environment.

    SCIENCE: The collection and organization of sense-perceptible data (called “facts”). Therefore, not concerned with truth.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      If it’s not concerned with “facts”, it’s not concerned with “truth”.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Your definition of science is faulty. It amounts to “PHILATELY: The collection of stamps with no consideration as to how they came to be printed”. Which may be true for stamp collecting but not so good for science, which IS concerned with whether statements about the universe are true or not.

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely. Science is the process by which we develop the best EXPLANATIONS of the facts, by which we approach THE TRUTH asymptotically (establishing specific truths along the way).

        /@

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Wouldn’t it make more sense to classify theology as a subset of literary criticism?

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      ‘THEOLOGY:: a division of philosophy. Therefore: postulating theories of “truth” but making no claim to “fact”. Not synonymous with “religion”.’

      This is quite unkind to philosophy.

      Theology is fundamentally apologetic. It provides post-hoc rationalizations for predetermined conclusions. This is no more a defensible method of inquiry in philosophy than it is in science. Indeed, it is not a method of inquiry at all.

      Suggesting that truth and fact can be neatly separated into non-overlapping realms is also absurd.

  18. Mary Canada
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m happy for Mike. Thanks for sharing his story.

  19. abandonwoo
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Theology: Any notion humanly conceived is equal to factual evidence universally accepted. Therefore no claim is preposterous beyond belief — absolutely nothing may by definition be excluded from the belief claim set. Belief is equivalent to knowing, and claims are evidence.

  20. lkr
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that, while we’ve had an excess of the Hanna gallop, we’ve had no one take up Jerry’s conjecture that Miller and other Catholic scientists are heretics the moment they deny an “Adam”….

    • komponist1
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Maybe that’s because there’s no debate on that subject.

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        I think we can take is as given that whatever belief one Christian holds will be considered heretical by at least one other Christian.

        So, yes, denying a historical Adam is heretical. 🙂

  21. Sastra
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Mr. T.E. Hanna had written:

    Christianity posits the existence of a deity who created that natural law, and is therefore beyond it. He is not bound by natural law, and cannot be corralled into the limitations of experimentation.

    This is a primary defense of theism in general: special pleading based on the claim that the supernatural (divine) is not bound by natural law and cannot therefore be objectively investigated. But as has been pointed out several times above, this special category of ontology — and its special category of epistemology — cannot be justified simply through blithely defining it into existence and then defying all challenges and challengers.

    The truth is that the “God” may be supernatural — but the believers who “posit” its existence are not. And people who believe in God (even the sophisticated theologians) do so by inferring its existence as the best explanation for their experiences and observation in the natural world — and they do this through the use of their own very human and very natural reason. Science tries to minimize our biases in how we study reality: it makes no distinction upfront between natural and supernatural.

    This is the aspect of the gnu atheism which drives the apologists crazy: we refuse to accept the rules of their game … and we explain WHY we refuse to accept the rules of their game. Our objection is very simple and reasonable and it is grounded in an examination of the nature of the claim.

    “God” is a hypothesis based on empirical experience. If it is to be taken seriously and consistently then it needs to be approached this way. It should not be treated as if it were a moral commitment, a preference, a value, a hope, or any of the other dishonest category errors which lower the standards of the extraordinary claim to that of the unlimited standards of personal desire. It’s not just that you can’t demand special treatment for the claim: you can’t demand special treatment for the claimant.

    If those who “posit the existence of a deity who created natural law and is therefore beyond it” are WRONG in that “positing” — then how would they learn that? How could they learn that? They have granted the power of an unlimited God which is not bound to the cross-checks and cautions of human reason not just to God — but to themselves. They become infallible gods by creating one and trying to disappear.

    Arrogance on stilts. We see you.

    As for making the Christian story scientifically harmonious, I suspect there is not one single aspect of the entire narrative would could not be helpfully massaged into being a poetic or mythical re-wording of secular humanism. After that, jump back and insist that it’s more than that. Then go back to a metaphor for something which makes sense. Then wax eloquent with a bunch of transcendental verbiage which talks about God’s incomprehensibility and how humble this recognition makes you. Rinse and repeat.

    Easy peasy.

  22. microraptor
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the huge furball involving evidence for miracles above: The problem is that the evidence is so open to interpretation. Some people see a burn pattern on a piece of toast that looks vaguely like the popular depictions of Jesus or Mary as evidence of their divinity. I see it as evidence that I might need a new toaster.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] were taken from Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True (You can read his most recent piece on the incompatibility of science and religion.) and PZ Meyers at Pharyngula. I’ve been reading both of them for years and I cannot find the […]

  2. […] Evolution and Christianity: 2. Mike Aus on their incompatibility […]

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