Lame compatibilism from the NYT’s resident Anglican priest

November 8, 2021 • 9:15 am

How many times must I “unpack” the anodyne columns of Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren before the New York Times realizes what kind of nonsense they’ve unleashed on their readers?  Today’s column, though, isn’t all that anodyne, for it floats an idea I’ve gone after for years: the idea that science and religion are not only compatible, but are in the same business: finding truth! I wrote a whole book about this deeply flawed thesis, and am grumpy at having to critique Warren’s views when she could have read my book. She didn’t.

But in fact, in trying to push her thesis, she inadvertently refutes it. Time after time she cites examples of religious belief being in conflict with science. But she pronounces that those conflicts are not real conflicts. It’s as if she describes the Vietnam war as “not a real war” because it wasn’t formally declared by Congress.

Read by clicking below on the screenshot:

You almost have to go line by line through the piece, but I’ll spare you that. Her quotes are indented:

I have never had much interest in faith versus science debates. They simply did not resonate with me. I believe God created the world, but I never felt the need to nail down the details or method of creation. I went to a fairly conservative evangelical seminary (founded by Billy Graham himself), and even there, I was taught that Genesis 1 was more like a hymn or a poem than a science textbook. I have long been influenced by early church theologians like Augustine of Hippo, who understood the biblical creation account as primarily making theological claims instead of offering a precise explanation of cosmological origins.

She begins her piece with a statement not of fact, but of faith: “God created the world.” How does she know that? Well, let’s just say she feels it in her bones or read it in the Bible. What’s worse is the familiar claim that Augustine of Hippo read Genesis as pure metaphor. That’s not true/ As I wrote in Faith Versus Fact, Augustine, like many of the church fathers, read Genesis metaphorically as well as literally (pp 57-59). It’s true that Augustine kept debating whether the seven days of creation were literal or figurative, but he never doubted the creation of plants and animals de novo, Paradise and Adam and Eve, and the Fall.  Here’s a passage from my book in which I quote from The Works of St. Augustine, volume 13:

The narrative indeed in these books [Scripture] is not cast in the figurative kind of language you find in the Song of Songs, but quite simply tells of things that happened, as in the books of the Kingdoms and others like them. But there are things being said with which ordinary human life has made us quite familiar, and so it is not difficult, indeed, it is the obvious thing to do, to take them first in the literal sense and then chisel out from them what future realities the actual events described may figuratively stand for.

It looks as if Warren not only hasn’t read my book, but isn’t well up on the works of Augustine!

And then Warren, trying to dispel the myth that faith and science are at odds, gives evidence that they are indeed at odds!

It has not been hard for me to trust the medical community and their recommendations during the pandemic because I personally know biomedical researchers whom I trust. I worship each Sunday with physicians. My church prayed for an end to the pandemic and asked God to help scientists in their vaccine research. We never saw a conflict between the work of God and efforts of science.
But others saw the two in opposition. In April 2020, Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York, explained declining coronavirus rates by saying, “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus.” Around me, I heard some churchgoers say that Covid precautions were motivated by fear, not faith.

Indeed, these past two years have exposed how the science vs. faith discourse isn’t an abstract ideological debate but a false dichotomy that has disastrous real-world consequences. According to a September Pew study, white evangelicals are the least likely religious group to get vaccinated (about 57 percent have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine). There are certainly political reasons for this. Many white American evangelicals lean Republican, and Republicans overall are less likely to get vaccinated against Covid. But we also cannot overlook the broader context of distrust between evangelical faith communities and the scientific community.

So the Evangelical form of Christianity is in opposition to science. Why, then, is it a false dichotomy?   And, of course, 40% of all Americans accept the Genesis account of creation, with instantaneous poofing of life and a young Earth. Isn’t that a conflict? In fact, Warren scores another own goal by showing that the young are increasingly finding MORE conflict between science and religion:

A 2018 study by Barna, a Christian research and polling firm, showed that “significantly fewer teens and young adults (28 percent and 25 percent) than Gen X and Boomers (36 percent and 45 percent)” view science and faith as complementary. Young people increasingly see an essential conflict between faith and science.

[Christian astrophysicist Deborah] Haarsma told me that the rise of the creationism movement in the 1960s, led by the engineer Henry Morris, increased the skepticism between some evangelical churches and scientists. The rift continued to grow because of bioethical conflicts around issues like stem cell research and euthanasia, but more so because of a latent cultural assumption that faith and fact oppose each other. When President Barack Obama appointed Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian (and the founder of BioLogos), as head of the National Institutes of Health in 2009, some questioned whether Collins’s religious faith should disqualify him from the position.

If there are so many people who see a conflict, why are they wrong? Are they misperceiving? They’re not, and the reason is simple: there is a conflict, and that’s what my book is about. I’ll write a paragraph about that below. In the meantime, Haarsma and Warren tout the old “there are religious scientists” trope as evidence that they’re not in conflict:

It wasn’t always this way. At the outset of the Scientific Revolution, many scientists were motivated by their beliefs about God. Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and other giants of modern science were people of faith. But, after high-profile debates over Darwin’s theory of evolution in the late 19th century, a perceived division began to emerge between religion and science. In the spectacle of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, which assessed, among other things, whether a state could prohibit the teaching of evolution in schools (but was also staged as a publicity stunt by town leaders in Dayton, Tenn.), Christian beliefs and science were set up as incompatible ideas.

Yes, but everybody was religious back them. In fact, Newton was also into alchemy. Does that mean that alchemy and science are compatible, too? If science and religion are compatible, Warren should tell us why a very high percentage of scientists—much higher than the general public—are atheists. That either means that atheists are attracted to science, or that science turns believers into atheists. I think it’s a bit of both, but either way it shows some kind of incompatibility. There is an incompatibility in Francis Collins’s rejection of supernatural causes when he goes into his lab, and his embracing of completely unevidenced nonsense when he steps into his church. The kind of evidence he sees for the Resurrection wouldn’t pass muster as a scientific hypothesis.

Finally, let’s skip all the other nonsense and understand why, in my view, science and religion are incompatible. It’s actually hidden in the column:

. . . . the scientific community could be more honest about the limits of the discipline. “Sometimes people say things like, ‘If everyone would just accept the science, the world would be great,’” Haarsma said. But she notes that science doesn’t solve everything and that scientific communities have to “acknowledge the value of religion as a way of answering life’s biggest questions.”

No we don’t, because religion never answers “life’s biggest questions.” She goes on.

In the end, Haarsma said, these two communities share a goal: seeking truth. “They can find common ground in their desire to know what is true,” she suggests, “whether about nature or about God.” I asked Haarsma how faith and science entwine in her own work. Her voice sounded ebullient. As a professor of astronomy, she said, she truly sees how, in the words of Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” That’s what scientists study, she told me, “the very handiwork of God.”

The problem, which should be obvious, is that yes, science and religion are both ways of finding out the truth about the universe, but only science has a reliable way to find those truths. If religion does tell us the truth about God (or nature), what is it? If there is a truth about God, every religion has a different take on it, so in fact there is no consensus truth. That’s why there are so many religions, for crying out loud! Is there one God, like Warren believes, or many, as Hindus and other polytheists believe? What’s the answer, Reverend Warren? And how do you know the answer?

Wanting to know what is true is not the same as having the ability to find truth. Science does have that ability, and religion doesn’t.  Warren may feel that the tenets of her Anglican faith and its claims about God and Jesus are “true”, but can she then tell us why the Muslims, Hindus, and Scientologists are wrong?

At least in science, something doesn’t become provisional truth—the only kind we have—until it’s repeatedly confirmed. Likewise, repeated failure to confirm, or direct falsification, means a scientific hypothesis cannot be taken as true. We have a toolkit for determining truth: observation, testing, experimentation, replication, consensus, and so on. Religion has only authority, propaganda, and scripture, which conflict with other faiths’ authority, propaganda and scripture.

And that is why science and religion are in conflict. If Warren really thinks that religion can answer life’s biggest questions, then let us by all means have the answers!

And why does the New York Times try to inflict this kind of harm on us? By flouting reality and favoring fantasy, Warren’s claims are nothing other than violence!


60 thoughts on “Lame compatibilism from the NYT’s resident Anglican priest

    1. As another poster commented in response to an earlier Warren column, the NY Times does not allow comments in response. Otherwise, the credulous would have something of oppositional substance to contemplate.

      “I have never had much interest in faith versus science debates. They simply did not resonate with me.”

      I wonder if faith versus faith debates resonate with her. Those debates don’t seem to obtain in the Times’s opinion pages. Are all faiths true and in agreement?

      “I went to a fairly conservative evangelical seminary (founded by Billy Graham himself) . . . .”

      As William Randolph Hearst instructed his reporters, “Puff Graham.” “Graham himself,” eh? I have the vague impression of name-dropping and virtue-signaling.

  1. Great response, Jerry. It’s astonishing people believe the bilge spouted by Her Most Reverendest Tish. Not in all circumstances–but most–more scientific understanding helps people avoid holding false views. Harrison Warren doesn’t know enough about science, I’d wager, to declare its compatibility with religion.

  2. I have never had much interest in faith versus science debates. They simply did not resonate with me.

    That speaks to a deficiency in the frequency at which Warren resonates, not an answer to the weakness of her side in the underlying debate.

    1. Well, she’s pretty heavy (as such things go) and not very stiff at all: So that resonant frequency (first mode) is going to be mighty low. 😉

  3. If god is ineffable, or unknowable, or moving in mysterious ways then believers cannot know for certain anything about he/she/it/them for certain. All they have is opinions; strong ones perhaps but no greater validity for their strength.

  4. Ah yes, other ways of knowing and “finding the truth”.

    As I like to ask: If religion is about finding the truth, why haven’t the religious converged on a single religion around a single God if there is any such thing, rather than splintering into thousands of disparate ideas about this, which are mutually incompatible?

    1. And weirdly enough, though the people of the Americas prior to 1492 had pretty advanced astronomy/calendars, architecture, had discovered the “number” zero, had languages and skills including agriculture that all had many similarities to those things in the eastern hemisphere–as one would expect of things that are “universal”, or at least global–there was no sign of anything like the Abrahamic god, let alone Christianity (or Judaism or Islam). These things had to be spread in the New World by the sword and the gun. Odd that a supposedly omnipotent and omnipresent entity couldn’t let those of the western hemisphere know about its existence and characteristics, and what it wanted from people, without using the intermediary of the likes of conquistadores. Hmm.

    2. One of the problems with religion is that it’s not about searching for the truth. Most are convinced they have found the truth, and a very large proportion are all about forcing their particular religion on everyone else.

      And when those people pray, their version of God always seems to agree with their own conclusions on any particular subject.

  5. I think maybe when THW writes that religion can find out what is true, she means “find out what is true for me”, and she imagines that this is what a scientist also means by finding out what is true. Then one can just “teach the controversy”, where each side of any controversy is true for one of the two parties, and so most debates or disagreements can be resolved by just convincing everyone that both sides are true and can’t we just all get along? IOW, it’s kumbaya all the way down.

      1. I think a clear majority of people in general don’t understand science at all. I even routinely come across scientists saying or writing things that pretty clearly indicate they don’t understand science. Not that that should be surprising given that science is something that people do, and people are fraught with limitations, contradictions and various other flaws.

        Perhaps even more common than not understanding science is people that are willing to grant that science is successful at figuring out certain kinds of things, like all the things necessary to make smart phones and the internet, but completely failing to understand what the implications of that are.

    1. Yes it would imply a complete misunderstanding on her part. As my wife has pointed out, I am a terrible mind reader so it’s hard to know what THW is thinking here.

  6. There can be no evidence for something that does not exist. I don’t argue religion any more. My question is, “Where is this supernatural realm called heaven?” To believe that a supernatural realm exists outside of the human mind is a delusion. Children are taught to believe in this imaginary realm where all immaterial entities reside. Cheers. GROG
    Jerry, I emailed you about your bit on the “supernatural” in your book, Faith verses Fact. Page 43, you say, “As we’ll see, the term “supernatural” is slippery, for even supernatural powers can affect natural processes, bringing the supernatural into the realm of empirical study.” There are super powerful forces, but none are supernatural. Those supernatural powers that affect the natural realm are called miracles. GROG

    1. I always say that there can exist nothing real that is in fact “supernatural,” since if something actually exists, it is part of nature. Fiction is the only possible realm for the supernatural.

  7. The one thing I always find a bit irksome is when religious apologists tout that past scientists like Newton, Copernicus and Kepler were religious. Of course they were! The churches sponsored and funded the universities of the time. These early thinkers and pioneers of science made great contributions in spite of the beliefs of their time, even in spite of their own beliefs. I think it’s a bit disingenuous of writers such as Warren to present the past as anything like our present secular world.

  8. Religion and science are both a search for truth? Don’t make me laugh! Truth is the last thing religion wants to find. The goal of religion is to preserve and expand its own authority, and the way they do that is not to pursue truth, it’s to peddle mystery, also uncertainty and anxiety about our eternal fates.

    Religion gives us answers, not explanations. The difference is: an answer is any utterance that serves to stop further questions. Which is fine, if the answer is actually true! But an explanation not only ties all the evidence together into a neat solution, but suggests further avenues of inquiry, and increases useful knowledge.

  9. What if science is a process oriented way of understanding the world and religion is an emotionally based way of understanding the same. Science: head, religion: heart. Both have benefits and flaws. Neither of them negates our basic primate nature but both satisfy an important aspect of that nature. Science gives us a process to exercise our curiosity about the mysteries of life. Religion gives us a common cultural way to explain the world and who we are as individuals and members of groups. Some scientists also believe that it may have been the basis for different groups working together for a common cause during prehistoric times. It is primarily a facilitator of culture, cooperation, and identity formation for those in the group. And, is an excuser or facilitator of aggression toward people outside the group, a problem anti-religious believers in science may share. Anyway, just an idea I’m playing with.

    1. Yes, scientists are studying the reasons humans evolved to be supernatural or spiritual. Tying a community together with common beliefs may well be one reason these tendencies were codified by each group as religion. But I don’t agree with the idea that “science is head and religion is heart, both with benefits and flaws.” The human proclivity towards religious belief can be seen in the earliest known rock carvings and the most ancient architectural remains. Science is very, very new to humans compared with how long we have evolved to have supernatural beliefs. Science does not go in any manner in tandem with religion, providing the intellectual vs the emotional. Supernatural beliefs were a means to explain death, sickness, the weather, the movement of the lights in the heavens, the seasons… science now explains those things. It does not replace our evolved need for spiritual beliefs. If anything, it can cause psychic pain as our rational mind reveals the emptiness of our supernatural beliefs.

      1. In a very real sense I don’t think it’s accurate to say that science is very, very new. I mean, you’re right that what we typically mean by science in day to day use, modern science, certainly is very new. But testing and observing to see what works and what doesn’t is something people have done since humans, or our ancestors, first started making tools and modern science simply formalized how to do that and how to reduce the sorts of mistakes due to common human failings and limitations.

        1. True, I am not calling human development of tools or other technology science. I am thinking of the ancient Egyptians and Aristotle. Engineering and technology existed prior to science. Certainly the part of the brain that invented tools is the same part that invented science? Only guessing…

      2. “….as our rational mind reveals the emptiness of our supernatural beliefs..”

        Yes, and perhaps even worse for those who seem to need desperately some kind of cosmological significance for themselves as humans. As the great scientist Steven Weinberg wrote:
        “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

        I’m afraid the person you are replying to has made no end of nonsensical statements, almost as bad as the Anglican priestess the NYTimes is now flogging on their OpEd pages. Neither is worth wasting time rebutting, which has been done quite effectively time and again by Jerry in his book, by Hitchens, by Weinberg, etc. etc.

    2. It would be at least a bit of fun if Suzi also whole-heartedly accepted the proclamations of QAnon and then we could know her as “Suzi-Q!”

    3. To echo Peter N up above, I don’t think it is true that religion is a way of understanding the world. Perhaps the idea that early religions were attempts by prehistoric peoples to explain the world they observed is in part accurate. At least it sounds plausible. However, that does not seem to be the case for any of the major religions.

      The major religions have long since become primarily about power. Most new religions too for that matter. They stifle curiosity and discourage questions because the way they maintain their access to power is by encouraging their constituents to view the religion’s authorities as being the primary source of knowledge and wisdom.

      The exceptions to these generalities are few and tend to hilight the truth of them rather than disprove them. Religions are cons and use the same sorts of tactics that more ordinary cons use, and prey on the same common human characteristics.

      This of course doesn’t mean that individual believers of any particular religion, even clergy, don’t believe that their religion is primarily a way of understanding the world.

    4. What if science is a process oriented way of understanding the world and religion is an emotionally based way of understanding the same.

      The word ‘understanding’ in science is usually used in connection to scientific theory. For example, because Newton’s theory of gravitation is a good description of nature, we say we ‘understand’ how the planets move to some degree of approximation. But when you say that ‘religion is an emotionally based way of understanding the same’, I don’t think the word ‘understanding’ means the same thing.

      Most religious people I have spoken to see their religion as one that makes objective statements about nature. But I find most religious statements to be grammatically correct nonsense. So I don’t even get to the stage of figuring out if they are true or false.

      Neither of them negates our basic primate nature but both satisfy an important aspect of that nature.

      Any superstition (or any other delusion) may be seen to ‘satisfy an important aspect of that nature’. Religion is just one example of flawed thinking, but it is a prominent one.

  10. I believe God created the world, but I never felt the need to nail down the details or method of creation.

    That says a lot about her interest in constructing a valid and sound argument. Her belief is not supported by logic or evidence. She sounds rather proud of that fact. So why wouldn’t she believe in fairies, astrology, homeopathy, Hinduism, and a flat Earth?

    1. I wonder what she would make of Peter Cook’s explanation:

      “One explanation of the Universe that has been little probed by theologians is that God is a benign drunk and that the world is His Hangover. If we were to regard the Creation as the result of a cosmic binge everything would fall neatly into place. I believe He meant very well and still does. When He wakes up and surveys the mess He resolves to straighten it out at once. The trouble is that He always has ‘a little nip’ to steady Himself and so the chaos continues.”

  11. Ms. Warren’s reasoning is so confused it’s unfortunate that we have to deal with it. Yet we must, because not dealing with it leaves her position out there for others to adopt.

    I have many times read and heard people claim that religion and science are not in conflict. Even my old friend Steve Gould tried to make this claim—quite unsuccessfully if you ask me—in his 1999 book Rock of Ages. In that book he tried to argue that religion and science occupy different realms, that religion is about morality and science is about nature. The problem with this argument is that many people who actually practice religion do not accept that the religious realm is agnostic about the facts of nature. Many practitioners believe that their religion has a *great deal* to say about the facts of the world.

    And therein lies the problem. Religion isn’t an abstract body of thought that can be put into a box. Religion is what people actually profess to believe. So, to the extent that religion *as practiced* makes claims about the world—how old it is, for example—religion and science are indeed in conflict. Years before he wrote his 1999 book, I remember quite clearly conveying to Steve my own view that religion is what its practitioners practice; it is not an abstraction that confines itself to its own lane. His position was different.

    The bottom line is that folks who deny that there is conflict between science and religion are fooling themselves and worse yet, in the case of Ms Warren, others.

  12. This is the first article by Warren that I read, mostly because I wanted to see her arguments in the context of what I’ve gleaned from reading PCC. Jerry is right when he calls it “lame compatibilism.” It’s completely unoriginal drivel. Sophomoric.

    What really ground my gears was the comment that “…scientific communities have to ‘acknowledge the value of religion as a way of answering life’s biggest questions.'”

    Excuse me? They have to do no such thing!

  13. If making stuff up counts as answering questions, then religion can answer life’s biggest questions. Otherwise the answers come from elsewhere. For example, if working in a church soup kitchen reveals that helping others brings much meaning to your life, that answer comes from your heart, not from the religion.

    1. 🙂 Excellent example. If you try working in a soup kitchen and you observe that it makes you feel you’ve found meaning in your life, congratulations. You’ve just used science, broadly construed, to find out something real.

  14. So the Evangelical form of Christianity is in opposition to science. Why, then, is it a false dichotomy?

    Food for thought: the modern evangelical form of Christianity being in opposition to science is not evidence of religion’s incompatibility, but of modern conservative politics’ incompatibility with science. Why: well the original argument about theology’s incompatibility was primarily focused on method; science says you reach knowledge and understanding via the method of empiricism and that’s pretty much it; faith says while empiricism works for some things, the methods of authority and revelation work in other cases to produce knowledge too. Thus, methodologically, faith and science are incompatible.

    Okay so with modern evangelicals, they’re rejecting vaccines not due to revelation or religious authority, but because they identify as conservatives, and as conservatives they accept the statements of conservative authorities that say ‘don’t trust the CDC, don’t trust the HHS, don’t trust any social policy or science that Democrats promote,’ as a form of knowledge. So they’re using an incompatible method. But rather than that method being religious revelation, it’s political authority. So it is the case that their politics are now incompatible with science.

  15. So she was offended at Neil deGrasse Tyson’s celebration of Isaac Newton? Well, we atheists as well as those of other faiths should be offended at the notion that we cannot criticize or mock other belief systems because they might offend someone. Is Christianity today’s Inquisition, in which
    critics or satirists get put on the pyre because someone’s feelings were hurt? Non=believers get insulted, mocked, denigrated and dismissed daily. Just why are we the only ones to be subject to
    this treatment? Lack of faithism is apparently offensive to society, while irrational beliefs are
    not only accepted but worshipped. No wonder the world is in trouble.

    1. — “So she was offended at Neil deGrasse Tyson’s celebration of Isaac Newton? ” —

      Generally speaking I think taking offense is silly and unproductive.

      But if we want to play the take offense game, many of us atheists sure as heck are galled at Christians who walk out of hospitals thanking God instead of the skilled and caring medical staff who did the actual work.

  16. My Scottish mother would have probably referred to her as Pish Harrison Warren…

    Also, why do so many of these leftist slingers of BS have three names?

  17. Napoleon is reputed to have said that religion is a wonderful way to keep common people quiet. Perhaps that was true then, but nowadays the religious seem to make a lot of meaningless noise.

  18. I believe God created the world, but I never felt the need to nail down the details or method of creation.

    She ‘never felt the need to nail down the details’. Therein lies the problem. It is because some people thought more deeply about language and knowledge that we made progress.

    I wonder what her anwer would be if she were asked if it is at all possible that she is wrong. And how would she find out? Some time ago, I got a religious person to admit that he could be wrong. But by the next morning he had reverted to absolute certitude. Such is the power of the Spirit 🙂

    1. It’s a shame they ‘never feel the need to nail down the details’ of how their fellow citizens should behave. If their religion was as hands-offish about the neighbors’ bedroom as it is cosmology, there’d be far fewer problems.

  19. I’ve been thinking about this idea that if religion were “true”, then we should all have converged on a common belief. You know who would never go along with that? Religious leaders! Because religions, aside from any lofty humanistic goals they may espouse, exist to divide us. “We believe ‘this’, they believe ‘that’. That’s how they build and maintain their power — and if anyone came along who didn’t prioritize power, he would be quickly replaced by someone who did. It’s Darwinian that way.

    If there should ever be only one religion for all of humanity, there could only be one supreme religious leader, and one Quorum of the Elders or whatever. That would never do!

    1. They have, that belief is “respect my authority”. They just can’t agree on who is the ultimate authority. Further, I don’t know how you resolve the problem of competing authorities without violence in the ultimate instance, so the division problem is real.

      That being said, a lot of the icky ethical positions are mostly about maxing group fertility rates, which is why there is a fair amount of overlap on certain issues, which is driven by Darwinian processes.

  20. At the outset of the Scientific Revolution, many scientists were motivated by their beliefs about God. Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and other giants of modern science were people of faith.

    The first two were more occultists, non-Trinitarian Christians, e.g. heretics, of their day, and the early modern guys were all trying to take down Aristotle and Thomism.

  21. The question of whether to take Biblical stories literally or metaphorically misses a point: Christians such as St. Augustine believed that the entire Bible could be read on several levels. Thus, the story of Noah was both a description of an actual event that took place in the past AND a metaphor for the end of the world (Noah is Jesus, the ark is the Church, and only those on board will survive). One theologian said “Man uses words as metaphors; God uses actual events.”

    In the Middle Ages, the idea grew that the Jewish scriptures contained prophesies that only made sense when read through Christian eyes. A poem at the time said “In the Old Testament, the New is concealed. In the New Testament, the Old is revealed.” Abraham beginning to sacrifice his son and substituting a ram? God sacrificing Jesus instead of punishing humanity. A metaphor AND a real event from history. Christians couldn’t understand why Jews wouldn’t accept Christ when their scriptures were full of such obvious “prophesies.”

  22. You can set your watch to when a Christian apologist speaking of science and the bible will mention Augustine (or Aquinas), as examples showing “we knew a long time ago not to take the bible literally.”

    They should be pushed back with the facts every time they try this: Direct anyone to Augustine’s City Of God, where Augustine is found defending the literalism of the Ark story (and other parts of Genesis) against skeptics of the time. Literally outlining how it could have been built, held the animals, how the entire earth could have been flooded etc – it’s like something lifted direction from Ken Ham’s web site.

    And when atheists critique Christians for the nonsensical nature of prayer, both it’s inefficacy beyond chance and the logical implications of a God who helps some but not others in the same situation, Tish Harrison Warren is also one of those “enlightened” Christian voices who you know will spin prayer as “not actually petitioning action from God, but engaging in a relationship of trust with God in hard times.” As if Christians don’t *really* want God to act in the very explicit ways they pray to God. All you have to do is look at sorryantivaxxer and the Herman Cain Awards, most of the “applicants” being God botherers, and you’ll see a relentlessly predictable trends of begging “prayer warriors” to pray that God gets So-And-So off the ventilator. The idea Christians don’t *really* think God intervenes on behalf of the prayed is ludicrous, but it’s a very common spin by Liberal Christian Thinkers ™.

    There isn’t a single move in the Christian belief-system-book that doesn’t correspond to precisely the moves you’d have to make if you are stuck trying to bolster belief in the imaginary.

    1. I agree with your entire thesis. The last paragraph is especially poignant. The moves are predictable because the “enlightened” ones know exactly where their logic fails and where they need to spin. If they know their logic fails, they *know* they are supporting a fantasy. If they know they are supporting a fantasy, it’s inescapable that they don’t even believe what they say they believe. Knowingly promoting a fantasy that they don’t themselves believe is doubly odious. It may be worse than being a true, but intellectually honest, believer.

      1. I disagree in a sense: I believe most Christians, including the Sophisticated Ones, say what they believe for the most part. Cognitive dissonance and bias are enormously powerful. Often people are arguing for things that seem so manifestly absurd you presume they can’t really believe it…but they do!

        The problem is that when you have to defend bullsh*t, you end up being in essentially the same position as The Liar and it can be hard to tell them apart.

        As I’ve often put it to Christians: Let’s say I make a claim: I have a friend Bill who is magical, and who showed up at a house party a couple years ago, and performed incredible miracles, levitating people, turning people in to animals and back, he walked through walls, even turned the moon purple for a while. Then he just disappeared. You say “Wow, that sounds hard to believe. Where did he go?” I say “Oh Bill didn’t go away, he’s still around, he’s here right now, invisible.”
        You say “Ok, let’s see Bill and have him do something miraculous.” I reply “Yeah..well…Bill doesn’t really do that stuff any more.” You say “Why not? Can’t he just appear right now?” I say “…sorry, Bill doesn’t want to do that. He’s not really in to obvious displays of his magic anymore. Doesn’t like to be tested. But I’ll tell you what, I’m going to show you are wicked card trick instead…”

        And I start doing some average slight of hand card tricks. Of the type any average magician can pull off. Then I claim “See, Bill was actually the one doing that card trick – He was working through me!” “Oh, and did I mention, Bill created The Moon?”

        That is the paradigm of Bullsh*t. Big, extraordinary claims, but when you ask for the evidence, you get the runaround, excuses for why YOU don’t get the evidence, accompanied by bar-lowering of the things now claimed to be miraculous, along with having to crediting already existing phenomena to the magic guy. If that story doesn’t get anyone’s BS meter peaking, they need a new one.

        All these moves are precisely the ones you have left, when you have to defend something imaginary, when you have to defend B.S. You just don’t have any other moves to make.
        It’s the same playbook for every magical belief system.

        And it’s precisely what we get from Christians. They come to us with claims of a magic Being doing extraordinary things a long time ago, but when you ask for an extraordinary display as evidence, all you get are the excuses for why you won’t get the Amazing Evidence they got in Biblical Times. What we get instead is…Benny Hinn waving his jacket at people, pastors and faith healers using standard cold reading and parlor psychological tricks, Christians crediting the power of prayer to mundane natural phenomena, using standard bias of choosing the hits, ignoring the misses. Along with waving their hand across the sky saying “You know our God made all this, right?”

        But, as I said, I think they come by it mostly honestly. The deluded look the the same as the liars, since they are pushed to defend B.S. using exactly the same moves, even if unconsciously.

        1. Your position that they believe what they say is plausible. It’s certainly much more charitable than mine.

          Yet, the people who make the claims seem to be perfectly capable of normal reasoning when it comes to everything other than the claims that are vulnerable—the power of prayer, for example. How can they be so good at pinpointing exactly where to spin if they don’t know that their logic has failed? Either the entire “industry” of enlightened theology is built on a set of false beliefs that are sincerely held by its practitioners, or that industry is built on a set of known fallacies that are consistently and predictably explained away by verbal slight of hand.

          When otherwise logical thinkers throw reason to the winds at the exact points where reason puts their beliefs at risk, I can’t help but be suspicious that these thinkers know exactly what they are doing. But, like you, I would prefer to believe that they are sincere.

    2. Doors: Soft Parade. Morrison’s rant at the song’s beginning is right-on for Calvinists of the Old School: ‘You cannot petition the Lord with prayer. . . [numerous exclamation points]’ By contrast, it is Evangelicals’ insistence on a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ that lets them believe that you can so petition, and that God-the-Father: Jesus-the-Son will always answer. . . in the way you desire. The banky and the Teddy.

  23. Trust a priest to not know very much about religion.

    It is beyond reasonable doubt – latest at 11 sigma confidence – that science has succeeded in describing 100 % of the universe as a relativistically closed natural system with the LCDM model.

    Yes, there are remaining discordances, mainly in the Hubble rate, but the generic result has been shown to be robust.

    I guess theology could try to insert gap magic*, but as our host notes it has no consensus view (and, worse, no empiricism) so no way to find fact.

    * The equivalent to ask how religious gods poofed into existence (to later poof the rest) is when theologians worry about their “first causes” or, in terms of science, initial conditions.

    As it happens, last week the US National Academy of Science released the “Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 (Astro2020)” [ ]. Their Report of the Panel on Cosmology now accepts the inflationary hot big bang cosmology, which raises questions about the initial conditions of the hot big bang [my bold].

    While simple, this result is profoundly important because it indicates that the density perturbations were established before the Hot Big Bang phase of cosmic evolution. It is remarkable that these inferred properties match exceptionally well to the predictions of the theory of cosmological inflation, in which extraordinarily rapid expansion in the earliest moments of the universe established the large-scale homogeneity and flatness of the universe while also causing quantum fluctuations to create exactly the kind of density perturbations we observe.

    There is no doubt that the standard cosmological model is a triumph. By adopting simple versions of inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, the model can match observational results despite orders of magnitude of improvement in cosmological measurements over the past 20 years.

    In the Astro2010 decadal survey, the Panel on Cosmology and Fundamental Physics presented four questions—(1) How did the universe begin? (2) Why is the universe accelerating?

    Do theologians worry about how gods poof into being? I think not!

    1. And again I forgot that this site runs the blockquotes together. There are 3 different quotes in there.

      The analogy between having a complete model, instead of worrying about where physics laws comes from, is the difference between having an internal combustion engine *not* driven by miniature horses inside and worrying about where the engine schematics comes from.

      1. If you take say Christianity and compare it with a mathematical model of the universe, one thing that the mathematical model of the universe leaves out is the question of who or what is important. Is Jesus Christ important? How important? Is Martin Luther KIng Jr. important? How important? What does science tell us? [No one is important? So no more holidays?]

        Even if you eliminated Christianity, and everyone embraced LCDM, you would still have that problem. Religion in great measure is a passionate commitment to a frame of reference. In science, frame of reference is adopted chiefly on the basis of utility (except for the Woke-which is why it is turning into a religion).

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