Fox News op-ed: The things atheists like really point to God

Here’s another series of insupportable arguments for theism, this time in the Fox News op-ed section. The piece has the provocative title of “Could zombies, jazz artists, and scientists all point to God?“, and it’s by Rick Stedman, whose answer is “YES!” His website describes him like this:

[Rick Stedman] is a collector of classic-rock vinyl LPs, bookaholic, author, philosopher, pastor, and devoted husband and father. He founded and for two decades led Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, California. He has graduate degrees in theology, philosophy, and ministry, and for relaxation likes to tinker in his garage, read, listen to music, and hang out with his wife and best friend, Amy.

He also wrote this book, which is Amazon’s #1 new release in Christian Apologetics (click screenshot to go to the Amazon site):

Amazon’s summary of the book, below, suggests that it’s a full-length treatment of the argument Stedman makes in his Fox piece:

We’ve all had doubts about God’s existence—or we know people who have. What if we could uncover evidence of the reality of God that would bolster our faith or plant seeds of belief in the hearts of skeptics?

This 31-day intellectual journey reveals hints of the divine all around us—in what we believe, what we love, what we have, and what we know. Discover how sports, superheroes, science, and dozens of other topics point to unexpected clues of God’s existence.

This carefully reasoned yet whimsical approach to a perplexing topic paves the way for meaningful dialogue between those who believe in God and those who are skeptical.

No species of books is more likely to include a success than one “proving” the existence of God or Heaven (a possible exception are books about rich men who practice acceptably light bondage during sex).

But I digress. The story that Stedman tells at Fox is that an atheist whose wife was becoming a Christian asked her husband to speak to Stedman, hoping that the pastor could convince her husband join her in delusion.  Stedman, who flaunts his expertise in religious discourse (“Oh pleeease,” I moaned inwardly, “he thinks he has me pegged. He has no clue that I studied Ph.D.-level philosophy at a secular university, or that I’ve talked with many, many skeptics over the years. Plus, I’m a pastor, so I should be better at this whole patience thing by now, so get a grip and listen…”), sighs and begins to convince the nonbeliever. He has three arguments, two of which are familiar. The indented bits are Stedman’s:

1.) You can’t prove that the scientific method reveals truth from the method itself (or presumably from a priori philosophical considerations):

Over the years I’ve simply learned to find common ground with skeptics and atheists, and prompt them to think deeply about the things they value.

So I began with science. “I’m glad you love science and always seek to follow the scientific method. I love science too. But I’ve noticed that there are some things the scientific method just can’t prove.”

“Like what?”

“Well, there are many, but this is a big one: you can’t prove the scientific method by the scientific method.”

Silence. Again—awkward.

Actually, I’m surprised that anyone still uses this argument, but it’s quite common. And it’s easily refuted. Yes, there’s no way to prove a priori that the scientific method “works” (i.e., presumably finds out what’s true about the cosmos). But so what? It’s an approach to finding out what’s true that’s been honed over several centuries, and IT WORKS! Presumably Pastor Stedman takes antibiotics or other drugs when he’s ill, flies in planes, uses the Internet or GPS devices, and accepts the truth of evolution and black holes. I’m sure he thinks that a molecule of regular water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atoms.  These were all worked out by a method that Stedman says can’t be justified.  In fact, when you’re faced with an empirical puzzle, the best way to solve it is through science. (Actually, the observation that science works refutes Stedman’s claim that “you can’t prove the scientific method by the scientific method.” The fact that the scientific method works shows that it is indeed efficacious at finding truth.)

There are two more responses that atheists should know (if you have others, put them in the comments). The first is that the same argument holds for religious belief, but holds even more strongly, because religion has NO track record of finding out truths about the cosmos. We know this because there are thousands of religions, each making different claims about reality and god, and there’s no way to find out which, if any, is true. At least science has a way of testing its claims, and that’s why we rely on science rather than faith to find out what’s true. Revelation and dogma are no way of arriving at truth. If they were, there would be only one religion, and we could just ask God which drugs would be good for which diseases.

Finally, it surprises me that the absence of an a priori philosophical justification for using the scientific method is somehow taken as evidence for the presence of God. How does that work? It’s not even a god-of-the-gaps argument; it’s just dumb.

2.) Many famous scientists were religious, and science arose from Christianity.

So I [Stedman] asked, “Who are your all-time favorite scientists?”

“Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein,” he responded.

“Me too. Incredible geniuses, every one. And, by the way, all of them believed in God. Especially Newton, who wrote more pages on biblical studies than he did on science.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“It’s true,” I said, “Also, did you know that the scientific method developed only in western civilization because it was based on Christian principles?”

“That’s not true.”

“Well, I have graduate degrees in philosophy and theology, and there are some fabulous books by science historians that verify this—one just published recently from Oxford. Would you be interested in reading it with me, and discussing chapters over lunch?”

“I would love that!” He exclaimed, “And so will my wife!” We both laughed.

In the years that followed, he and I read dozens of books together. And he became a close friend—and, in time, a fellow believer.

Well that shut the damn atheist up (and changed his mind!). Sadly, the only reason that famous scientists of the distant past were religious was because everyone was religious. If you took this tack, you’d have to claim that everything devised by humans in the West before the 18th century is evidence for God: the printing press, steam engines, telescopes, slide rules, barometers, adding machines, and so on. And of course a lot of bad people were religious, too, and a lot of harm was done from “Christian principles” (the Inquisition with its torture devices, the Crusades, the religious wars of Europe, and so on). If good stuff is to be laid at the door of God, so is bad stuff. By the way, nobody pays any attention to Newton’s religious writings any more, and what religion did enter his science (e.g., his claim that God must keep the planetary orbits stable) made that science worse.

Einstein, of course, was a secular Jew, who asserted repeatedly that he didn’t accept a personal or theistic God. My best guess is that he was a pantheist who saw “religion” as “the awe before the laws of physics.”

As for science being based on Christian principles, I don’t really accept that. One can argue that some religious institutions supported science, like medieval universities, but religion hampered free inquiry and suppressed science as well. I suspect that had Christianity not been invented, we’d be farther ahead now in science than we are.

And science isn’t really a western invention; it was employed, for instance, by the ancient Greeks, who certainly weren’t Christian. Science as a going concern and as a profession did develop in Europe, but there are other reasons for that as well, including commerce, communication, and the Enlightenment.

Finally, in what respect does the fact that many scientists (and all their countrymen) were religious give evidence for God’s existence?

3.) Many secular pursuits and avocations of atheists really testify to God’s existence. This is perhaps Stedman’s most bizarre argument—one that seems to be a major theme of his book—but I don’t understand it at all. Read and weep:

Since then I’ve had numerous encounters with other skeptics and have always found that we share much in common. We love music, whether classic rock or jazz; we enjoy movies and books, from sci-fi to zombies; and we like sports or museums. Plus, we strongly oppose sex trafficking here and around the world, we despise people who are cruel to animals, and we think Hitler was evil and deserved to be defeated.

But the biggest surprise of all was when I looked deeper into these diverse likes and dislikes, and I found that each of them, in their own unique but definite way, pointed to God. That is, each made more sense in a theistic worldview than in an atheistic one.

I’ve learned that God is indeed real, but he hides in our deepest likes and loathings, ready to reveal himself to us in the very parts of life that we care most about.

I call this The Argument from Charlie Parker. (You could equally well call it the Argument from Hitler.) All these secular pursuits point to God? How, exactly? Pastor Stedman doesn’t answer this burning question. I guess you’ll have to read his book to find out how sci-fi and museums point to God, but I’ll leave that pursuit to someone with a stronger stomach.

h/t: Laura

84 Comments

  1. Pliny the in Between
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Honestly, I find any reason for believing in gods surprising.

    • VeM
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      People like explanations, it doesn’t matter if they are wrong or right, once they seem even remotely plausible, people like them.

      Since the beginning religion in some form or another has provided this. However as time progressed, people, intelligent people, observant people, started noticing crack in religion’s explanations; and religious organisations silenced them, killed them, imprisoned them.

      But those observations, those cracks in the foundation were just one of many steps that grew into the modern scientific method.

      When ancient man noticed eating a particular shrub made him less tired, he took note. When a certain rock was a particular shape it was easy to break open nuts and grind grain, he took notice.

      Small and humble beginnings, but versatile and self correcting, the scientific method has proven itself and become better and better.

      Over time as we use science to gain a correct understanding of the world around us, religion will hold less and less of a grip on us, and suffice only to provide mental adhesion for the weak minded and ignorant.

  2. Les Faby
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I really appreciate your fair summaries of what the guy said, as well as the links as references.

  3. Historian
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    “I’ve learned that God is indeed real, but he hides in our deepest likes and loathings, ready to reveal himself to us in the very parts of life that we care most about.”

    Why is the Christian god always hiding? Why to find him does he drop helter-skelter little clues like bread crumbs that takes theologians to interpret? Why in a world of immense suffering does it take theologians to explain how all this pain is actually proof of God’s love for all of us? Supposedly God spoke to Old Testament prophets. Shouldn’t we all pray to him to get over his shyness and once again speak to us directly? Fox News would be the ideal platform. They might even preempt Sean Hannity for him.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Ye of little faith! God works in mysterious ways(like breadcrumbs), don’t you know.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Hey, Fox news already preempted a couple of guys but it was for sexual harassment, not g*d. But I’m sure they did it for Christian reasons.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      “Just listen to that still, small voice.”

      Speak up, omnipotent creator of the universe!

      • Richard
        Posted July 10, 2017 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        “He said ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers'”.

        “What’s so special about the cheese-makers?”

        “It’s not meant to be taken literally, my dear. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products”.

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I am inclined to take the line that science and Christian theology have a common ancestor with one not descending from the other (like modern apes and humans).

    They both have a lot of roots in pagan Greek philosophy, which tended to see the wisdom of God reflected in the design of the natural world, re Philo’s Logos, Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, Plato’s One, etc. This kind of thinking was probably an influence on Newton et al.

    But there is nothing distinctively Christian in science. Nothing in science depends on believing the Nicene Creed’s assertions about the Trinity, or other metaphysical claims.

    =-=

    Stedman’s final argument is essentially the Kantian one that the very concepts of morality and aesthetic beauty implicitly presuppose the existence of God. (This is known as the transcendental argument.) Well, there may be something to it, but Kantians were wrong in saying quantum physics must be false, because thinking presupposes more conventional notions of causality.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      I’ve read that the most valuable aspect of Christianity when it came to the growth of science was Christianity’s ability to get out of the way. Theologians in Europe were arguing about the important distinction between the things of God, and the things of the world. This allows one to study empirical evidence and draw conclusions about nature without constant reference to holy scripture or sacred revelations for critical information.

      When the secular and mystical are, on the other hand, considered to be one big consistent, continuous mush (or the secular is a worthless, lower illusion) then there’s no way scientific thinking can arise. The best you get is impressive technology with no curiosity concerning causes.

      • Posted July 10, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        One part of Galileo’s genius (or luck) was the ability to play the merchant classes against the aristocracy and (to a lesser extent) the church.

        I.e., it took effort to get Christianity out of the way.

        As mentioned before: I’m not at all convinced that Galileo himself was a Christian, either.

  5. Mike McCants
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    apologetics – the art of apologizing for one’s denial of reality.

  6. Scote
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    “But the biggest surprise of all was when I looked deeper into these diverse likes and dislikes, and I found that each of them, in their own unique but definite way, pointed to God. ” – Rick Stedman

    This is one of the oddest “argument by assertion” fallacies I’ve seen stated by a mainstream theist. It seems more delusional that the usual “Just look out your window!!” argument for god based on awe or complexity, much more like the arguments that genuinely crazy people I’ve met make for conspiracy theories, and how when you know as much as they do everything they see points towards the satellites controlling our brains, or whatnot.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Yep. The “argument that works because you already believe the premise” approach.

      • jeffery
        Posted July 10, 2017 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        It is, indeed, just a version of the, “argument by assertion” fallacy; one tailored to those fancying themselves “deep thinkers” who feel that the, “Who, then, made all of this?” version is not esoteric and mystical-sounding enough for them.

  7. Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I see Stedman has at least two graduate degrees in absolutely nothing, presumably these are from the university of woo.

  8. Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Atheists like music, hate sex trafficking, and are glad Hitler was defeated. Ergo, God.

    How can one argue with logic like that?

    • rickflick
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      The Pope protects pedophiles. Ergo not God.

    • Posted July 9, 2017 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Succinct.

  9. Leigh
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Hubris — wonder if Stedman knows the definition.

    Also wonder if Stedman would be as willing to talk to real, as opposed to imagined atheists.
    The conversations he reports have a hollow ring which makes me doubt their veracity.

    …and no, science is not based on Christian principles…

    • rickflick
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      In Stedman’s dictionary, hubris means any way to make money selling books about nonsense.

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I thought it was atheists who were supposed to be the arrogant ones. Once again, it’s a theist who proves the opposite is true.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      Bingo.

    • Posted July 9, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Well that’s just not possible. Doubting god is the most arrogant thing one could ever do. Ever.

  11. Eduardo
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    “I’ve had numerous encounters with other skeptics and have always found that we share much in common. We love music, whether classic rock or jazz; we enjoy movies and books, from sci-fi to zombies; and we like sports or museums. Plus, we strongly oppose sex trafficking here and around the world, we despise people who are cruel to animals, and we think Hitler was evil”.
    Damn it. He’s got a great point. Then I guess as of now I hate music, movies, books, sports, and museums, and I like sex trafficking and Hitler so I can be a real atheist. Oh, I have a Christian neighbor that likes pizza. I guess I hate that too.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Steadman’ argument from pizza:

      “The world is my pizza [ergo God].”

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted July 9, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Steadman’s.

    • Posted July 9, 2017 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      +1

      Theists are *such* binary thinkers.

  12. Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I think a book called “Why Religions are Wrong” is in order, going through all, one by one. The title shows that this about “what is” and uses the leverage of falsification, which works even better than dealing with what is true. Sections:

    I Origin: Definitions, frameworks, and why religion cannot be onto something, shows circumstances how they arose, what functions it had and has and more. None of this is suitable to establish knowledge, only tradition. I.e. how Israelites worshipped a local deity “El”, how the idea evolved etc. Showing that there was, in fact no skyhook that suddenly revealed anything. Comparative religion, mythology etc. participation of believers in a “make-belief” storyworld.

    II Science: why science works, and reliable evidence that conflicts with religious claims, i.e. evolution, cosmology, neurology, prehistory (other hominids) etc. a section for debunking, but with a focus on established knowledge, and how religious claims are utterly absurd if true (e.g. God waiting tenthousand years watching humans die, before “revealing” himself in an half-arsed way, allknowing this would sow schism, discord and death).

    III Principles & Contradictions: in this section, logical claims and principles are discussed, showing that a God cannot be at once perfect, good, all knowing, with the results we see. This sections takes believers by their word, and shows an eclectic number of the many absurd contradictions, and the problem that it is not possible, in principle, to resolve them. It also shoots down sophisticated theology as an endeavour that cannot resolve any such problems. Also includes the Hitchens “religion poisons everything” aspects, where there are (I think) some he didn’t discuss. For the example, a Christian cannot never be a good person. “Good behaviour” is merely the word for “divinely desired behaviour” which the believer does in exchange for appreciation of their deity, which is itself a means to secure a place in the afterlife. Nonbelievers can do good as an end in itself.

    IV History: religion through history, Jesus Myth, and the myth of the Christian West. Spoiling the belief that religion makes people moral or that it was instrumental for science or humanism, juxtaposed e.g. with history of China (invented moral systems, scientific inventions etc), and world history.

    V Metaphors & Referents: How does one Christian know he worships the same God as the next Christian? How can you “know” of referents you cannot point at? What are metaphors, associations, and their role in cognition, and what do they have to do with meaning, and truth and such? This would also destroy Jordan Peterson style of religious belief.

    Five sections seen enough for such a tome, but it could end with the note that people believe in ridiculous things all the time. The mind does not work that way that everything is thought through, and without contradictions. Views and assessments may not even be fixed, but fluctuate over time, even deep down on a categorical level (base-level, prototypes seem stable, but the fuzzy landscape in between seems to be redrawn all the time).

    My reason for posting fictitious sections of a fictitious book is to illustrate once that religious belief is to be rejected not because of one or two reasons: E V E R Y T H I N G speaks against it — something that is always lost when debunking their points one-by-one as they come.

  13. Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Newton was a theist, but the idea that we who appreciate his mathematics and physics must therefore take his theism seriously is just weird. Are we required to take his faith in alchemism seriously, too?

    He spent decades of his life trying to produce gold; he also thought that by studying the Book of Revelations he could predict the day of earth’s destruction, in much the same way his study of the movement of planets had led him to the theory of gravitation.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that occurred to me, too. Stedman brings up Newton’s extensive writing on religion without mentioning at all the dog’s breakfast of crackpottery it was. It’s not as if Newton’s work on religion is read today by anyone except Newton enthusiasts. Nor would any of his efforts in that direction merit publication in any modern forum, or give rise to new lines of thought. It’s embarrassing stuff which is only excusable because it was written in a particular time period by an obsessive.

      • Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        And Newton also thought gravity was the work of God — a very finnicky God who runs about after everyone smashing vases and pushing babies out of prams.

      • Posted July 10, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        It isn’t *all* crackpottery. Newton was one of the first to realize (if only to himself) the difficulties in assuming the Trinity is in the text – for this reason alone, he is a minor figure in biblical criticism we should recognize. Made him (to himself, again) a heretic.

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Wasn’t it Baskin-Robbins that had 31 flavors (of ice cream, if you don’t recognize the tradename)? And now we have 31 surprising reasons. Sounds like proof of concept to me!

    • darrelle
      Posted July 10, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      I was wondering when someone was going to bring up the Baskin-Robbins Cosmological Argument.

  15. Posted July 9, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    If anyone tries to tell you that Christianity is responsible for laying the intellectual foundation for science, refer them to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_Librorum_Prohibitorum

    • Posted July 9, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Indeed.

      Science is all about censorship, donchaknow.

    • Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Or ask him why almost to a man the greats of the SR were heretics – you’ll have to read recent biographies in many cases. There are too many hagiographies of Descartes and Galileo which make them to be Catholics. This is absurd. (Both were likely deists.)

  16. Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I am somewhat puzzled that on an evolution website no explanation of religion as an evolutionary construct has gained any serious consideration, I have posted on this possibility before.

    So what evidence is there that religion is adaptive? Well, look at ISIS and how shockingly successful it’s recruitment success has been. Brain washing and fundamentalist religious indoctrination of the young, bright and educated seems depressingly effective. If there is a “god spot” in the brain (call it what you will) which overrides intelligence and normal survival instincts, how devastatingly effective would this be in times of war? The use of human soldiers in adopting the strategies of ants and termites in providing dedicated fighting machines, caring little for their own survival, would be devestatingly successful. The hymenoptera now comprise about 10% of the planet’s biomass. (Yes I know their strategy developed by having non-breeding worker ants acting almost like mobile limbs of the queen).

    Now, as to the charge of invoking group theory, this thesis is usually dismissed as failing by “defection from below” where the cowardly foot soldiers survive and the brave are snuffed out, bodily and genetically. However,adding culture, language and ruthless intelligence to this mix, what happens then? It is possible that cowards are identifiable and ruthlessly punished, similar to the war machine tactics that existed under Ancient Rome, then this becomes a game changer. Where is religion in all this? It could be as an additional spur to bravery and a strong disincentive to desert. They would believe that an unseen but all-seeing god would tally all actions on the battlefield and dispense reward and inescapable punishment in the hereafter.

    When the battle is over, the bravest survivors would get the girls, the shirkers would get their dues and evolution would do what evolution does. Those with the deepest belief would probably be the most effective fighters in this warring strategy.

    It could even be argued that religions themselves could undergo some form of meme driven evolution. To be successful a religion must strenuously avoid any evidence of untruth or non-performance of reward. Thus, from first principles, promises must be delayed until the afterlife and be the most glorious and everlasting imaginable. All threats of punishment would deliver agonising torture without end, never mind how trivial the offence. All tenets must be strictly non-verifiable so that every fortune would be evidence for divinity, every misfortune evidence for the devil etc. etc.

    It must be admitted that human beings are infinitely nuanced in their cultures and show great variances in behaviour patterns, so no one explanation can give the whole story. All I would say is that when otherwise intelligent people stubbornly hold on to the most ridiculous and unprovable beliefs, look for an explanation in our evolutionary past. I will leave the final word to Seneca.

    “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”

    • Historian
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Wikiquote asserts that the Seneca quote is in dispute:

      ——————————-

      Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.

      As quoted in What Great Men Think About Religion (1945) by Ira D. Cardiff, p. 342. No original source for this has been found in the works of Seneca, or published translations. It is likely that the quote originates with Edward Gibbon who wrote:
      The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. — Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

      Elbert Hubbard would claim in 1904 (Little Journeys: To the homes of great philosophers: Seneca) that Gibbon was “making a free translation from Seneca”.

      https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Seneca_the_Younger

      ——————————–

      However, whether Seneca said it or not, it is a great summation of the role of religion in society.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes and no.

      Yes: Jerry has, if memory serves, published many iterations of evolution as a possible evolutionary product.

      No: The possible reasons for religion are many, even within evolution and within adaptation [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_origin_of_religions ; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology_of_religion ]. And adaptation and especially group theory are not likely explanations (low prior respectively zero known posterior). The null hypothesis is drift and the mammalian baseline gene drift is 95 % of positions.

      • Posted July 10, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        REPLY

        “No: The possible reasons for religion are many, even within evolution and within adaptation [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_origin_of_religions ; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology_of_religion

        Thanks for suggesting these very interesting articles.

        It’s almost a lifetime ago that I studied Baysian theories which I guess “(low prior respectively zero known posterior)” relate. My mental hard drive has been wiped clean and some bastard has installed Windows 10. Consequently I can’t be arsed to look up the study books. Also I think it wise to stay away from anything which seems to relate to the works of the heretic David Sloan Wilson.

        Having said all that, the articles do admit to the possibility of a very ancient genesis to religion.

        “When humans first became religious remains unknown, but there is credible evidence of religious behavior from the Middle Paleolithic era (300–500 thousand years ago)[citation needed] and possibly earlier.”

        Also I would just like to end with another of my contemplations which has just hatched. It relates to the historical evidence of religion being a successful and aggressive evolutionary force.

        Missionaries were stupendously successful at spreading religious belief in far off lands. This enabled a small group of cultural invaders to completely capture the minds and loyalty of such inhabitants. These were wars without blood (sometimes) and illustrated a really successful evolutionary strategy (if the missionaries could avoid ending up in the stew pot). It did, however, require a propensity for religiosity to pre exist. Obviously the tactic could be, and still is, capable of being turned against the initial “cultural aggressor” and the whole Middle East etc. bears witness to this.

        It’s just a pity that the West is culturally incapable of using such tactics against ISIS in retaliation. Any chance of sending in the Pastafarian army?

        Note: I did try to send this a little while ago but couldn’t see it on this web site.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      I think the general consensus is that every aspect of religion piggybacks on, or exaggerates, traits and tendencies which are prior and more general — though I agree that there seems to be a natural human tendency towards dualism, animism, and magical thinking. Perhaps the problem is distinguishing between biological and cultural evolution. The sort of religious warfare you’re talking about may be too recent in our past to assume a genetic selection.

      • Posted July 10, 2017 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        “The sort of religious warfare you’re talking about may be too recent in our past to assume a genetic selection.”

        When you say this are you assuming that just because written history does not record any religion prior to a few thousand years ago, are you saying that this indicates that non existed beforehand? There is a possibility that it did exist even prior to the evolutionary development of speech. How so? Surely a form of sign language existed first and speech became incorporated in this and then speech took over. (Except in Italy of course).

        With language came curious children and the alpha male wannabe had to answer, not honestly by confessing that he didn’t know anything, but was shamed into making up stories and, hey presto, religion. Q.E.D.

        • Sastra
          Posted July 10, 2017 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          My understanding is that powerful, dominant, all-controlling religions rose in tandem with larger city-states, which in turn were a product of the rise of agriculture — all relatively recent.

          I agree, religions almost certainly existed long before this in hunter gatherer societies and tribes, but anthropologists believe they involved mostly animism and ancestor worship and lacked the selective elements which grew up later.

          But it’s an interesting question. I think I’m drawing from Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel)and Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature.)

          • Posted July 10, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

            “The sort of religious warfare you’re talking about may be too recent in our past to assume a genetic selection.”

            See my reply to Torbjörn Larsson above and from the link, this comment.

            “Robin Dunbar argues that the critical event in the evolution of the neocortex took place at the speciation of archaic homo sapiens about 500,000 years ago. His study indicates that only after the speciation event is the neocortex large enough to process complex social phenomena such as language and religion. The study is based on a regression analysis of neocortex size plotted against a number of social behaviors of living and extinct hominids”

            If the whole evolution of speech involved the development of a complex vocal system, brains capable of processing abstract ideas and philosophies etc., how difficult would it be to develop religion within the evolving brain structures – given an equal time span, more or less? All that needs to happen is to tweak the pre-existing propensity to form groups, tribes and cultures.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 10, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        “. . . — though I agree that there seems to be a natural human tendency towards dualism, animism, and magical thinking.”

        Yes, and the often mentioned hypothesis for why that may be, that we evolved to readily attribute agency to things even though it results in many false positives because it conferred a survival advantage, seems quite plausible to me.

        I don’t think that behavioral trait is unique to humans, or even primates either. For example, the Argument From Cats. Or at least my cat. She thinks every puff of wind, rustle of leaves and odd noise is either something that might eat her or something that she might eat.

  17. poltiser
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    There is a great book “Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic” by Matthew Stewart – dear pastor should read before publishing his elaborate manifesto…
    Roots of American system of free thinking has very much well thought foundations…
    Nature God – how naturalists disguised their naturalism – after Anaximander, Epicure, Lucretius and Spinosa… to avoid the fate of Giordano Bruno, Vanini or Łyszczyński…

    Thank you for a nice summary…

  18. Phil Rounds
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Newton also believed in alchemy and just about drove himself daft trying to transmute elements….How did that work out?
    Galileo was ostracized by the Catholic church for expressing the correct notion that the Earth orbits the sun.
    The Christian religion fought Darwin’s theory of evolution…and still contests it.

    This statement is perhaps most laughable;
    “Well, I have graduate degrees in philosophy and theology…”
    Which qualifies him for what? Indoctrinating the weak minded?

    There is exactly zero evidence for the existence of any god(s). One time i asked a Jehovah’s Witness to prove there was a god without using the bible. His proof? A tree.

    • Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Transmuting chemical species is not crazy or a crank idea until approximately Mendeleev or so, except in so far (maybe Dalton or so) that was known to be at least difficult. Faraday, for example, thought he had witnessed one.

  19. Andrew F
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    As for the efficacy of the scientific method – just as a sword cannot cut itself, it is nevertheless very effective in achieving its intended purpose.

    To say that science arose from Christianity is, as D. Dennett would say `a top down argument`, in that Christianity arose from human thought (permutations of the brain’s neural connectome) and not from Christianity (God) itself, just as science arose from human thought when Christianity was found lacking as a method of inquiry and discovery.

    Why are all things good about human endeavor and experience “proof” of God? Time to own up to our humanity.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      I like the sword analogy.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Galileo, Kepler, Newton (heretic) and Einstein were all heretics, which falls back on Jerry’s observation in the first point. If this was proof of religion, they would all be pre-catholic christians.

    [Kepler is an interesting case. He was an astrologer at the time where no one took astrology as an alternative religious magic. And while he was deeply religious and inserted religion into his work like Newton did, Kepler had theological problems. He was excommunicated by Lutherans and his mother accused and judged for “witchcraft” [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Kepler ].]

    you can’t prove the scientific method by the scientific method

    I find that a very dumb argument. You cannot prove *anything* by its own devices, except possibly consistency of impoverished logic. By the time you add on ad hoc axioms in mathematics to the point that you can start do arithmetic, it must be accepted as simple and agreeable enough axioms to be reasonably sure the resulting tool works as intended.

    If anything I think the observation made as an argument is self defeating. It shows that common sense or philosophical/theological “proof” is useless at best and misleading at worst, and that you need scientific testing to acquire knowledge.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes. You can’t show that reason is reasonable unless you first accept it. Nor can you demand that reason be reasonable beforehand unless you’re already accepting what you’re pretending to question.

  21. Mark R.
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Surprisingly stupid! I’ve already read enough of Stedman’s gibberish, but I am mildly curious as to how Superheroes point to god (referring to the book’s subtitle). Thor?

    • Sastra
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m going to guess that instead of doing what an objective person would do — realize that a plethora of mythical powerful magical heroes suggests that the Ultimate powerful magical hero, “God,” is also a myth — Stedman makes it go backwards. It’s just EXTRAORDINARY and EXTREMELY UNLIKELY that mythical powerful magic heroes would appeal to us. There must be an ultimate one which is real.

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 9, 2017 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

        I used to play D&D as a lad and the most powerful gods (seemingly) were the Cthulu Lovecraft creations. The “books” described these gods as invincible and huge and such that Lovecraft, an atheist, was creating a sort of pagan grandiose of what a powerful god-thing-figure is.

        Anyway, I liked your distillation of the subtitle and agree. Haven’t we all imagined a human with super-human powers? In current times, it’s almost impossible to not. By age 2 or 3 most infants probably recognize Spider-Man.

  22. Posted July 9, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    This is a bit of a sidetrack, but I am confused by why so many people think the ancient Greeks had science. I definitely agree that science owes much more to the Greeks than to Christianity, but I feel like the ancient Greeks were still a significant distance from having science.

    Personally, I think they had some of the precursor components of science. Greek natural philosophy was a major stepping stone leading to science, but it just seems like it was missing some key ingredients. It was still closer to philosophy than to science. They didn’t have scientific communities yet and I don’t think you can have science without scientific communities that give primacy to empirical evidence and evaluate what goes into the accepted body of knowledge and what is rejected.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      No, you’re right. But there were early Greek philosophical approaches which were precursors to science. They were rooted in reasoning from observation, as opposed to accepting mystical certainties.

    • Posted July 9, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Armand LeRoi (in Aristotle’s Lagoon) argues that Aristotle’s biology was systematic enough to count as a science. People far more more knowledgeable than me have found it well argued. (I found it a quite enchanting book.)

      I’d note his attitude & approach to nature — investigating animals in a systematic way, carefully recording and classifying the data in a manner intended to derive knowledge from connections between the data. (This is a huge contrast to the Christian ‘bestiaries’ of the middle ages, where animals are anthropomorphized into symbols for moral teachings etc.)

      Also Aristotle’s 4 “Causes” (i.e. modes of inquiry/ investigative questions) that he used as the basis for biological inquiries line up very nicely with the main branches of biology today
      1. Material cause (what is it made of) -> anatomy & biochemistry
      2. Efficient Cause (what caused it to come into being) -> developmental biology
      3. Formal Cause (what is its Bauplan or design, clearly inherited somehow) -> genetics
      4. Final Cause (what is its ultimate purpose) -> evolutionary biology

      Aristotle came up with different answers to today, but was clearly asking very similar questions.

      • Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        I too have read LeRoi’s book. It is very good.

        IMO also Democritus’ atomism also counts. Epicurus’ is a sad case because he’s an antirealist, sort of. (A sort of motivational one.)

  23. bric
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Roger Bacon wrote in 1620 that there were three world-changing inventions: printing, gun-powder and the compass, curiously all the products of Chinese invention and investigation. I wonder if the Pastor has read very deeply in Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China (27 volumes to date): an awful lot of science and really not much Christianity.

    • bric
      Posted July 9, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      P S Needham was a committed Christian, though like Newton an unconventional one.

  24. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    No species of books is is more likely to include a success than one “proving” the existence of God or Heaven (a possible exception are books about rich men who practice acceptably light bondage during sex).

    How about a book about how rich guys having acceptably light bondage sex proves Heaven? Hurry, have your people contact Random House. I’m talkin’ market synergy here, mega-best-seller potential.

  25. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Science “grew out of” Christianity only in the sense that Christianity had a monopoly on early European universities, and presented the only systematized method for accumulating knowledge.

    As soon as that accumulated knowledge began to contradict Scripture, Christianity became an impediment to learning about the natural world.

  26. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Re Stedman’s point #3: So if the skeptics Stedman met disliked classic rock and jazz, and movies and books, and sports and museums, that would disprove God’s existence? Or would he then claim that such dislike proves that only those who have accepted the Lord are capable of aesthetic enlightenment?

    I suspect he would change his tune faster than you can say “the law of noncontradiction.”

  27. ploubere
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I am presented with the claptrap that christianity invented science, I point out that christians had more than a millenium, from their legitimization by Constantine up to the Renaissance, to advance human knowledge and accomplished almost nothing. Progress thereafter was only made by those who questioned canonical dogma, and they were usually branded heretics.
    All scientific progress was made under Enlightenment values, not christian ones, which actually were a drag on progress (and still are).

    Christians also like to promote the myth that Rome fell because of a societal descent into debauchery and immorality. Again, I point out that the decline happened after christianity became the state religion. Not necessarily causation, but it certainly didn’t stop it.

  28. Sastra
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    That is, each made more sense in a theistic worldview than in an atheistic one.

    Oh look, it’s the Atheism-Entails -Being-a-Heartless-Mindless-Robot Argument.

    Again.

    Gee, we never see THAT one coming. Gets us every time.

  29. stuartcoyle
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    The argument from Charlie Parker. I like that. I somehow can’t imagine a god that likes bebop. I thought the tritone was the devil’s interval, and Charlie used it all over the place.

  30. Wayne Robinson
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    AC Grayling in ‘the Age of Genius’ notes that science developed in the Western world because of the Thirty Year War, which destroyed the ability of the Catholic Church to impede scientific progress for all time.

    Protestant church leaders were just as bigoted and intolerant of scientific progress, but they were divided and didn’t have the absolute power of Catholic popes.

    Mark Miodownik in ‘Stuff Matters’ argues that it was the Western world’s possession of glass that allowed the development of science. China had some glass, but it was minor and peripheral (it had very fine porcelain).

    Without glass you can’t make lenses for telescopes and microscopes, or glass beakers and test tubes (you can’t study chemical reactions if you can’t see them happening clearly). So glass was responsible for the development of astronomy, microbiology and chemistry.

  31. Nobody Special
    Posted July 9, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I think it would be fair to say that every argument for the existence of god(s) that I’ve heard all boil down to what I’d term ‘the argument from the missing link’. No, not that missing link, I’m referring to the link that is always missing from between the premise of the argument and the conclusion ‘therefore, God’. Why not ‘therefore, free ice cream for all’ or ‘therefore, invisible hippogators that smell of myopia and taste like fun’?

  32. Posted July 9, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, No. 3 is just the Argument from Sunsets.

  33. prinzler
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    “The Argument from Charlie Parker.”

    Or, in the original latin, “argumentum ad bebopus.”

  34. Xuuths
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Wow, multiple graduate degrees, yet so ignorant. Guess he never heard of the building of the pyramids — on any continent — which had nothing to do with christianity, and yet were clearly the result of science in action. Guess he never heard of China or Phoenicia and their science/astronomy looooooong before christianity.

  35. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    “Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein,”… “all of them believed in God.”

    Oh gods, not that same old shit.

    Galileo and Kepler may have believed in more-or-less the same God (though not necessarily agreeing with the Word of God According to the Church). Newton’s God was distinctly weird (and would not have been accepted by Galileo, Kepler or the Catholic Church. People got burned for less heretical views). And Einstein stated flat out he did not believe in the conventional religious God.

    If this turkey Stedman knows so much theology he must already know that perfectly well. Which means he’s just Lying for Jesus. Prat.

    cr

    • Posted July 11, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Kepler and Galileo *did not* believe in the same god. Kepler was basically a Pythagorean with neo-sun worship, though paid a few lip service remarks to Christianity. Galileo was a deist – see Wooton’s biography.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 11, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        Okay. I was a bit hazy about Kepler and Galileo’s beliefs, thanks for correcting me.

        (It actually reinforces the point I was trying to make – which is that of all these ‘scientists who believed in god’ as Stedman claims, even the ones who *did* believe in a god, didn’t necessarily believe in the *same* god.)

        And Stedman almost certainly knows that.

        cr

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          Indeed (re: reinforcement). In fact, the greats of the scientific revolution not only were almost to a man heretics, they were also very diverse in their views about such things.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

            I’d hazard a guess that the mentality needed to establish a scientific breakthrough was also likely to predispose its possessor to unconventional views on religion too.

            cr

  36. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    “I’ve learned that God is indeed real, but he hides in our deepest likes and loathings”

    Then all I can say (contemplating my deepest likes and loathings) is, the bastard is even more seriously weird, twisted and irrational than anybody ever suspected. 😉

    cr

  37. Lee
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    The fact that arguments like Stedman’s are the best the theologians have to offer is itself evidence against God. If they had better arguments, otherwise smart people like Stedman would have used them by now, presumably. But logical fallacies aimed at the unsophisticated and incurious are all they have left, and that is precisely what the “They Ain’t Got Nuthin'” hypothesis would predict.

    I guess I owe them a certain debt of gratitude. I haven’t and wouldn’t have had time to look under ever rock and in every nook and cranny, but they have done so for me and shown, in as close to proof by induction as is possible, that there is no There there.


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