Another critic writes in touting the scientific rationality of Islam and decrying the moral failures of atheism

December 15, 2020 • 9:00 am

Since Yahoo! News reprinted my essay from The Conversation arguing that science and religion are incompatible, I’ve been getting lots of emails, nearly all from people who disagree with me. The accommodationists are, of course, religionists, and don’t like to hear that their faith puts them at odds with science. Many of them, like the reader below, also takes atheism to task. I’ve redacted this writer’s name because, unlike the Vatican Vice Astronomer, I don’t think the name is relevant.

This correspondent tries to make two points. First, Islam is not nearly as strongly at odds with science as is Christianity. Second, that religion gives us a moral framework but atheism doesn’t.  Both points are wrong, and I’ll respond to each separately.  The quotes the writer gives within his/her email are put in italics and quotation marks, for the “extra indent” feature isn’t working right now.

Read and weep:

Professor,

Thank you for the article Yes, there is a war between science and religion. There are two reasons why I would argue that the article reflects atheism in denial of its own shortcomings. You write

“In the end, it’s irrational to decide what’s true in your daily life using empirical evidence, but then rely on wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions to judge the ‘truths’ undergirding your faith. This leads to a mind (no matter how scientifically renowned) at war with itself, producing the cognitive dissonance that prompts accommodationism. If you decide to have good reasons for holding any beliefs, then you must choose between faith and reason. And as facts become increasingly important for the welfare of our species and our planet, people should see faith for what it is: not a virtue but a defect.”

Here you are clearly extrapolating your own experiences with Christian apologists to followers of other religions: in particular Islam. I’d argue that Muslims have no need for “wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions” when forming a judgement about the reliability of their religion. It is common for atheists to  assume that the conflicts between the Bible and scientific evidence (e.g. the descriptions of the Flood, the Exodus or age of the earth) applies equally to the Quran. However, to my knowledge there has been no serious scholarly effort to support this assumption or more generally to show that the Quranic accounts and claims are in conflict with what we have learned through science.

For example, a reading of the Quranic account of the Flood would reveal that it occurred over a short period (a couple of days), the animals preserved were only those required to support a small human settlement and there is no mention of the whole earth being flooded. In regard to the Exodus, the Moses leads a small group of people into the desert, much less in number than the Pharaoh’s pursuing army, so one would not expect to find evidence of over 1 million people roaming the desert for 40 years. In addition, the Quran predicts the preservation of the Pharaoh’s body for future generations. Finally while there is no mention of the Earth’s age, there is a description of the creation of the universe which appears consistent with what we’ve been able to learn through science.

So I think its fair to say that atheists have a lot more work to do to make their case than many are prepared to acknowledge.

The email went on, but let me stop and respond:

As I pointed out in an email to this person, there is a growing literature on the incompatibility of science and Islam.  Here’s how I responded when the person asked for even one piece of literature pointing out an Islamic incompatibility between science and faith.

First, there’s Taner Edis’s book (click on screenshot):

Another book by Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy on the stifling of scientific thought and rationality by modern Islam (and how that contrasts with the faith’s more open attitude centuries ago). 

 

An article from Discover Magazine (click on screenshot:

 

A quote from the article:

“This tendency [of Muslim accommodationists] to use their knowledge of science to ‘prove’ that the religious interpretations of life are correct is really corrupting,” he tells me. Soltan, who got his doctorate at the University of Northern Illinois, works in a small office that’s pungent with tobacco smoke; journals and newspapers lie stacked on his desk and floor. “Their methodology is bad,” he says. Soltan explains that Islamic scientists start with a conclusion (the Koran says the body has 360 joints) and then work toward proving that conclusion. To reach the necessary answer they will, in this instance, count things that some orthopedists might not call a joint. “They’re sure about everything, about how the universe was created, who created it, and they just need to control nature rather than interpret it,” Soltan adds. “But the driving force behind any scientific pursuit is that the truth is still out there.”

“Researchers who don’t agree with Islamic thinking ‘avoid questions or research agendas’ that could put them in opposition to authorities — thus steering clear of intellectual debate. In other words, if you are a scientist who is not an Islamic extremist, you simply direct your work toward what is useful. Scientists who contradict the Koran ‘would have to keep a low profile.”’When pressed for examples, Soltan does not elaborate.”

I talk about this kind of Islamic confirmation bias in Faith Versus Fact. It’s pervasive and at once annoying and amusing.

I’ve personally encountered Qur’anic opposition to science—and especially evolution—many times, as has Richard Dawkins. It often comes in the form, as Pitock notes, of saying that the Qur’an is remarkably prescient about science, with its human creation myth coincident with the evolutionary scenario. If you think that’s true, just read about the Qur’anic account itself.  Page 105 of Faith versus Fact shows the desperate lengths that some Muslim scientists go to comport science with the Qur’an.

The resistance of Islam to evolution is not, of course, universal, even within Muslim countries. Surprisingly, Iran doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with evolution being taught in its schools, while Iraq, on the other hand, has always had problems teaching evolution, and has dropped it from secondary-school curricula. Turkey, increasingly becoming a theocracy, did the same thing a few years ago.

The problem comes because many Muslims are Qur’anic literalists. Here are two plots from a 2012 Pew Poll: the first on the proportion of people in (mostly African) Muslim-majority countries who think the Qur’an should be read literally, and then the proportion of people in different Muslim-majority countries who accept evolution. Note that countries like Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia were not surveyed.

Then my correspondent goes on about morality:

The second way in which the article highlights atheist denialism an shortcomings, is in failing to tackling the issue of morality. What are the consequences of a world where ‘moral judgements’ are mere ‘value judgements’ to be decided by each individual. Magnas Bradshaw’s From Humanism to Nihilism: The Eclipse of Secular Ethics (CMC Papers, No. 6) addresses this question. One the one hand we have the teachings of New Atheism, such as Richard Dawkins who writes “‘the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pointless indifference’.” and Francis Crick who is even more explicit, “you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules… ‘‘you’re nothing but a pack of neurons’’.”

On the other hand we have its practitioners, the rationalists, those who take this stuff seriously, such as Ted Bundy, trained lawyer and serial killer, who reasons thus

Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments’, that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself – what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself – that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring – the strength of character – to throw off its shackles…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others’? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self

Bundy’s reasoning is impeccable and based on the teachings of atheists. “Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than  any other animal?” or, “Why shouldn’t Trump tear down the institutions supporting U.S. democracy if he wants?”. Care to answer?

Yes, of course I could answer, but would this person listen? Not a snowball’s chance in hell! But wait! There’s more!

Atheism is leaving people with no guidance on how they should conduct themselves, and what they should expect from others. That’s the reality. And logically, that is what one would expect when people do not believe in a soul capable of oppressing itself through its oppression of others or even simply contemplating words of repentance and aspiration such as : “You that turn stones to gold.. change me.”(Rumi). If you want to claim that such notions are the result of “wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions” then first offer the scholarly work that demonstrates that the Quran is indeed incompatible with what we have learned through science, and hence unreliable.

Name redacted

Where to start here? First of all, neither Dawkins nor Crick would deny that there is a morality that can be derived from humanism; Dawkins, as well as his colleagues Dan Dennett and Anthony Grayling, have been quite explicit on this point.  Indeed, unless you’re one of the few “moral objectivists”, even religious morality must come from “value judgements.”  This is the crux of the Euthyphro argument: if you say that God is good, and wouldn’t give us bad moral guidance, you are assuming there are criteria for “good” and “bad” that are independent of God. (Theologians such as William Craig, who adhere to “divine command theory which stipulates that God is the sole determinant of good, are exceptions, and their morality isn’t so hot anyway. Craig doesn’t oppose the many genocides in the Old Testament, since God ordered them.) Even religious moral judgments, then, are almost always based on “value judgments”. But so what? Different judgments have different consequences for society. You can, for example, be a utilitarian, and base your morality on what acts will do the most good or cause the least harm. Other criteria lead to other moralities, but all of them are superior to the “morality” of the Catholic Church or Islam.

Further, there is a long history of writing and philosophy on secular ethics and morality, beginning with the Greeks, extending through Kant and Hume down to Rawls, Russell, and Grayling in modern times. It is not at all true that atheists haven’t grappled with the problem or morality. To use Ted Bundy as a secular arbiter of morality is simply ridiculous!

And, of course, humanistic morality is far superior to religious morality. The latter has given us things like dictates about genital cutting, the oppression of women and gays, the diktat to kill apostates and infidels, the terrorizing of children with thoughts of hell, the abnegation of modern medicine (Christian science and other faith-healing sects), the prohibition of divorce and regulations about how to have sex and when, and the propagandizing of innocent children, who get turned into little Amish people or Orthodox Jews, deprived of opportunity and education—all because of religious morality.

When I reread the email above, I realized that the writer hadn’t really investigated the rich tradition of secular ethics, and was also woefully—and perhaps willfully—ignorant of what many Muslims think about science. I’m not sure why, but I did write him/her a summary of what I’ve said above.

You should feel free yourself to address the writer’s remarks, and I’ll call that person’s attention to this thread tomorrow.

Lagniappe (h/t Peter N.):

A philosopher infected with confirmation bias explains why evolution proves God

November 15, 2020 • 9:15 am

Religious affirmations like those in this video make me angry, wanting to call philosopher Holmes Rolston III a chowderhead who’s taking money under false pretenses. But I will refrain from such name-calling. Nevertheless, what you hear coming out of Rolston’s mouth in this short Closer to Truth interview is pure garbage: not even passable philosophy. It should dismay all rational people that such a man is not only expressing laughable confirmation biases, but is getting paid for it.

And yet here are Rolston’s bona fides from Wikipedia:

Holmes Rolston III (born November 19, 1932) is a philosopher who is University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University. He is best known for his contributions to environmental ethics and the relationship between science and religion. Among other honors, Rolston won the 2003 Templeton Prize, awarded by Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace. He gave the Gifford Lectures, University of Edinburgh, 1997–1998.
And remember that the Templeton Prize, was worth over a million bucks, even back in 2003. What did he get it for? This is from Templeton’s press release when they gave him the Prize:

The world’s best known religion prize, [The Templeton Prize] is given each year to a living person to encourage and honor those who advance spiritual matters.  When he created the prize, Templeton stipulated that its value always exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore his belief that advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than those honored by the Nobels.

. . . .Rolston has lectured on seven continents including throughout Europe, Australia, South America, China, India, and Japan.

Seven continents? They left out Antarctica, and I doubt that Rolston has lectured there.  His prize-winning thoughts:

. . . science and religion have usually joined to keep humans in central focus, an anthropocentric perspective when valuing the creation of the universe and evolution on Earth.  Rolston, by contrast, has argued an almost opposite approach, one that looks beyond humans to include the fundamental value and goodness of plants, animals, species, and ecosystems as core issues of theological and scientific concern.  His 1986 book, Science and Religion — A Critical Study and his 1987 Environmental Ethics have been widely hailed for re-opening the question of a theology of nature by rejecting anthropocentrism in ethical and philosophical analysis valuing natural history.

Do I denigrate him unfairly? Shouldn’t I read his many books to give him a fairer assessment? Not on your life: I’m through with the Courtier’s Reply gambit.  Just let me add that Rolston is a believer, with a degree from Union Presbyterian Seminary, the same year he was ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  

Have a listen, and don’t be drinking liquids when you do. The good part is that this is only a bit less than seven minutes long.

Rolston gets a sense of “divine creativity” from the gradual and incremental changes wrought by neo-Darwinian evolution. But in this video he dwells more on serendipity, the “surprises” that punctuate the history of evolution. These include these “adventures that turned out right”:

a.) Swim bladders evolving into lungs (most people think it’s the other way around, but Rolston is right). This is a simple case of an “exaptation“, as Gould called it: the adaptation of an evolved feature into something with a new function.

b.) The capture of a photosynthetic bacterium by another cell to form photosynthetic eukaryotes: plants. (The same happened with mitochondria.) Yes, this is unpredictable, as is all of evolution, and was a major innovation, but it’s not evidence for God.

c.) The evolution of hearing began with a pressure-sensitive cell in a fish. This is another exaptation, though the function didn’t change, but altered a bit. Hearing still depends on pressure change, but we use it for apprehending and interpreting language and other sounds in air. Animals use it for intraspecies communication and detection of predators (which fish also use it for).

I could give a gazillion examples of such “surprises” in evolution, like the evolution of the ovipositor of insects into the stinging apparatus of bees and wasps, the doubling of an entire ancestral genome—twice—during the evolution of the vertebrates, and so on. Nobody can predict where evolution will go, for, as Jacques Monod famously noted in 1977, evolution is a tinkerer. And what about the “adventures that turned out wrong“, like the evolution of large dinosaurian reptiles? God killed ’em off by sending a big asteroid plummeting towards Earth.

The fact is that nothing we see in evolution contradicts the claim that it’s a purely naturalistic process, proceeding via unpredictable events—mutations and environmental change. This is the most parsimonious hypothesis given that we have not an iota of convincing evidence for God.

Then, in response to a softball question by the host, Rolston avers that he sees a theological underpinning of surprise, co-option, and serendipity. But since he also sees the hand of god in gradual Darwinian evolution, he sees the hand of God in all of evolution. In other words, there is nothing Rolston could observe about evolution that wouldn’t, for him, constitute evidence for God. As he says:

“It leaves open a place for surprising creativity . . . that I think exceeds any Darwinian capacity for explanation. Now I said when I began that I can find the presence of God in incremental evolutionary genesis. But maybe if the world is surprising as well as predictable that might further invite places where you might think if I should say, ‘God might sneak into the evolutionary process.’. . . .God may like serendipity as well as law-like prediction and determinism.”

So, If evolution is gradual and smooth, it’s evidence for God. But if there are “surprises”, as there have been, well, that’s also evidence for God. In other words, EVERYTHING is evidence for God. It is an academic crime that someone not only gets paid—and wins a huge prize—for spouting this kind of pabulum, but also is respected for it, for, after all, Rolston is a minister and a believer.

My contempt for this kind of reasoning knows no bounds. It could be filed in the Philosophical Dictionary under “confirmation bias; religion”. (Is that heading a redundancy?) Everything that happens is evidence for God because it’s “what God likes.” But of course if you argue that “whatever happens must be what God likes,” then you have yourself a million-dollar airtight, circular argument.  Some philosophy!

I guess the host, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, sees his brief as drawing out the guest rather than challenging him, and that’s okay. But I would have been pleased had Kuhn asked him this: “Is there anything about evolution that doesn’t give you evidence for God?”  I would think, for instance, that the evolution of predators and parasites that inflict horrible suffering on animals might make one question the existence of God, as it did for Darwin, but I’m sure Rolston has his explanation. Maybe it’s “God likes a little drama in his creation.”

 

h/t: Mark

A Christian tries to save my soul by answering my hard questions about religion

August 23, 2020 • 9:15 am

In 2014 I published a piece in The New Republic (click on screenshot) which, despite the title, which I didn’t choose, described ways to turn religious peoples’ debate arguments back on themselves.

Part of that article involved using a “no-god of-the-gap” arguments, asking religious people to answer a series of six questions. The bit below is from my piece:

But we can play the Gap Game, too. There are huge gaps in believers’ understanding of God, and in those lacunae, I claim, lies strong evidence for No God. Here are a few religious gaps:

  • Why would the Abrahamic God, all-loving and all-powerful, allow natural evils to torment and kill people? Why can’t he keep kids from getting cancer, or stay the waves of tsunamis?
  • Why, if God so ardently wants us to know and accept him, does he hide himself from humanity? And, since modern humans originated over 100,000 years ago, why did God wait 98,000 years before sending his son to redress our sins—and then to only a small portion of humanity within a hundred miles of Jerusalem? Or, if you’re sufficiently sophisticated to see God not as a bearded spirit but as The Ground of All Being, why isn’t that Ground obvious to everyone?
  • Why would an omnibenevolent God consign sinners to an eternity of horrible torment for crimes that don’t warrant such punishment? Official Catholic doctrine, for instance, is that unconfessed homosexual acts doom you eternal immolation in molten sulfur. That’s unconscionable. And would a loving God really let someone burn forever because they were Jews, or didn’t get baptized?
  • Why is God in the Old Testament such a narcissistic bully, toying with people for his amusement, ordering genocides in which innocent women and children are killed en masse, and demanding the death of those who work on the Sabbath? How does that comport with the God that Christians and Jews worship today?
  • Why didn’t Jesus return during his followers’ lifetime, as he promised?
  • How do any believers know for sure that their faith is the right one, especially given the presumed penalty for guessing wrong?

Now I didn’t think that these questions would flummox more “sophisticated” believers, but they were designed to plant doubts in the minds of the more open-minded believers, or of those on the fence, and help them realize the intellectual vacuity of Abrahamic religion.

And, sure enough, six years later a Christian came out of the woodwork, emailing me a long screed yesterday giving his answers to the questions above (the writer is a man). To be fair, the guy spent a lot of time on the answers, even quoting the relevant Biblical passages. But the email turned out to be too long to post here.

Instead, I’ll just show you how he answered  three of the questions above (they’re in bold below, and stuff from the email is indented). I’ll say a few words (flush left after my initials), and let readers respond. I have the writer’s complete email with the answers to the other three questions, and will be glad to send them—without the sender’s name—if you’re interested.

If you respond, please be polite: the gentleman did, after all, have my salvation in mind. But be as hard-nosed as you want in the answers. Afterwords, I’ll inform the sender of the comments on this site so he can see the responses.  I have of course eliminated the name or any identifying aspects of the sender; the point here is to address arguments, not “out” a believer.

Here we go, with the sender’s words indented, with all words exactly as sent: typos and other errors are the sender’s.

In this article from 2014 you said that no theologian could provide credible evidence to the “gap” in believers understanding of God. I have a rebuttal to your six gaps. I know it will probably not change your mind about a thing, but if anything I hope that it enlightens you to the fact that some Christians will research and formulate comprehendible arguments. If it means anything to you know this; even as a stranger, i sincerely do hope that you will think about these things and I care enough about your salvation that I bothered to do this for you.

Q) Why would the Abrahamic God, all-loving and all-powerful, allow natural evils to torment and kill people? Why can’t he keep kids from getting cancer, or stay the waves of tsunamis?

A) This question is easily answered by the most simplistic Biblical concept there is. Loving God=freedom for people, freedom=choice. Humanity chose to rebel against God and the consequences is separation from God=death(Gen 3). God holds all things together (Pslm 75:3)therefore going against him, rebelling, sinning and going our own way leads to death(Rom 6:23). He dwelt among us in the garden which was perfect and God(Gen 1:31) (Gen 3:8) and kept all things Holy, once His presence left death and decay gripped all creation. Satan is the accuser, the liar, the murderer of the human family(Jn 8:48) who holds the power of death(Heb 2:4). Because of his pride he first rebelled against God and has sinned from the very beginning(1 Jn 3:8), and he uses that very same pride today to get people to not believe, masquerading as an angel of light(2 Cor 11:14) making sin look fun and beautiful, lying that we will not die for disobeying God (Gen 3:4). The key is though, that God has been using redemptive work ever since the days of Noah (Rom 8:21). All of the Biblical story points to Jesus and how it is God’s plan to save us from the punishment and judgement of our sins by becoming a perfect man (Heb 9:11) fulfilling all of God’s law and dying on the cross, rising again to bring us to life through him (Jn 6:40). So the all loving God was able to make a way for anyone that believes in the Son to live forever by reconciliation with the Father again(Jn 3:16) (Rom 10:9).

Suffering is a permanent sickness for the earth until we go to our true home, heaven (Rom 8:18-26). Even Jesus was not exempt from suffering. It is used as an instrument of obedience. As Wayne Jackson from The Christian Courier says ” all sunshine and no rain creates a desert”. We use suffering as a means to bring glory to God by persevering, enduring, and to become patient, compassionate, loving, kind, and yes even joyful which are all qualities God desires to see arise out of us from trials. The child that gets cancer has hope, hope in Life with Jesus eternally (Matt 19:14). The tsunami victims have hope if they cry out to God to be saved (Pslm 34:17). God also promises we are not alone during life’s trials(2 Cor 1:3-7)(Heb 4:16). Jesus told us that in this fallen world we would suffer but he has overcome the world(Jn 16:33) so we can overcome the world through him( 1 Jn 5:5). Life is not all about the materialistic. There is another life beyond this. Plus God can heal providentially with medicine, wisdom for the doctors, and for the complex design of the human body and immune system are all ways he can work through natural law. It is foolish to think that if God created the world that all of the resources we have available are not created by him either. Who would understand it better than the one who created it all? With no God, cancer consumes the child and they have no hope, no more life, just a cruel and unfair “chance” that is uncontrollable and uncalculated in an uncaring universe.

JAC:  Here the blame falls on humans and (naturally) Satan, with God unable or unwilling to intervene to stop natural evil. Humans, of course, were responsible because Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit, damning all their descendants to both moral and natural evil. Note that, unlike theodicy of “moral evil,” in which humans do bad things to other humans as an undesirable but necessary product of free will, free will here invoked only once: on the part of Adam and Eve. (You can’t invoke free will for stuff like cancer and tsunamis, which do not have any capacity to choose freely. Neither, of course, do we, but here we see the critical importance of libertarian free will in Christianity. If our “choices” are all determined by factors we don’t control, the whole explanation above collapses.)

Note, too, the Mother-Teresa-like concentration on suffering as a way to glorify God. This is barbaric. “The child that gets cancer has hope in eternal life with Jesus”? Not if the kid is too young to know about Jesus, much less accept him as a savior! And what about tsunami or accident victims that don’t have time to cry out to God to be saved? After all, as the writer said in another part of the email:

Not being baptized does not necessarily mean you will go to hell. Observe the thief on the cross. All he did was repent and that was last minute(Lk 42-43)! We all have been blessed with time to repent and come to Jesus(2 Pet 3:9). Then through acceptance of him, the Holy Spirit leads you to the decision of baptism and repentance(Matt 3:11)(Acts 13:24).

Not if you meet a sudden and unpredictable death, much less if you’re of a faith that doesn’t worship Jesus as the savior (e.g. Islam or Hinduism)!

Finally, if medicine and doctors are all products of God’s wisdom, why was He so late to bring antibiotics to our attention? Or, for that matter, why doesn’t he heal those cancer-stricken kids himself rather than rely on methods that aren’t always reliable? Why is suffering abated in some children but not others? But we must drop these questions and pass on.

Q) Why, if God so ardently wants us to know and accept him, does he hide himself from humanity? And, since modern humans originated over 100,000 years ago, why did God wait 98,000 years before sending his son to redress our sins—and then to only a small portion of humanity within a hundred miles of Jerusalem? Or, if you’re sufficiently sophisticated to see God not as a bearded spirit but as The Ground of All Being, why isn’t that Ground obvious to everyone?

A) He is hidden, or veiled, away from humanity because He is too Holy to be looked at without humans dying (Ex 20:18-20). He has revealed himself through His Word from which he spoke to prophets and patriarchs through dreams and visions and messengers (angels) see (Pslm 147:19) (1 Sam 3:21) (Isa22:14). Also creation displays God’s attributes and wonders and God is evident through all creation (Rom 1:20)(Pslm 19:1-2). In fact, we bear the image of the Almighty (Gen 1:27) and, God’s people also bear fruits that can only come from the holy spirit(Jn 15:16) which reveals a transformation that is visible for all to be recognized as coming from God(Matt 7:16) which shines a light for others to see (Matt 5:16). He also revealed himself through His Son Jesus (Jn 14:9) who was fully God and testified all that we need to know about God in our present state, more shall be revealed later, in eternity we will have all the answers we have ever sought(Pslm38:15). Jesus even says that there are some who would be unbelieving even while seeing (Jn 5:43-47),(Jn 20:29)(Jn 6:36).

Finally, we are to seek God with all our hearts, minds and strength humbly and confidently (Jer 29:13), (Matt 6:23), (Duet 4:29). God’s timing is His own and his ways are not our ways(Isa 55:8), the reason he waited was because everything had to be fulfilled perfectly for his redemptive plan (Matt 8:17), (Jer 33:14), (Acts 7:17), just as we are waiting now for Christ’s return (Jm 5:8). The area that He chose was foretold in prophesy (Pslm 130:8), (Rom 11:1-5) and the milage sure didn’t seem to make a difference for the spread of Christianity. We are now reconciled to Isreal from all nations and peoples who call on His name, great multitudes (Eph 2: 11-18) (Rev 7:9). Why is the ground not obvious to everyone? Because of our hard hearts. Our idolatry. Our carnal desires that we will not give up to taste and see. Our rebellious nature(Ezek 12:2)(Pslm 53:12). Seeking our own ways(Isa 53:6), inventing our own gods and following the god of this age(2 Cor 4:4)

JAC: First of all, several humans in the Bible (e.g. Moses, Abraham, etc.) did see manifestations of God without dying. But what I was talking about here was not a vision of God as a person, but the absence of well documented miracles these days when they were so frequent in Biblical times. (This is a question I discuss in Faith Verus Fact, even including the kind of miracle that would make me a provisional believer.) In the end, the writer expects us to accept God because the Bible says that there’s a God, and the Bible is TRUE. This is another instance of “begging the question” in the correct sense: assuming what you want to prove. The writer has no evidence that the Bible, as opposed to gazillions of other scriptures that make contradictory claims, is the truth.

Which brings us to the last question this Christian tries to answer.

Q) How do any believers know for sure that their faith is the right one, especially given the presumed penalty for guessing wrong?

A) How we know for sure that our faith is correct is that our God has revealed himself (Isa43:12)(1 Cor 4:1)(Duet 29:29)(Ezek 20:5). This was achieved by signs and wonders, prophets, his Holy spirit, his Word, his promises that have been fulfilled(Jos 21:45). No other God is like Him who created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1)(Col 1:16). No other “god” has ever or will ever be able to prove themselves and have faded and passed through the ages, but the word of the Lord endures forever (1 Pet 1:25). So therefore, if someone in a monotheistic religion believes all of this about the one true God, then they must believe Jesus is who he said he was (1 Tim 2: 5-6). If not, they are calling God a liar and the entire Christian religion is false. If Jesus didn’t create the New Covenant through his death and resurrection, then that means we cannot be reconciled to God. We would be stuck having to atone and sacrifice for our own sins which we would all fail at and be lost forever.

My point is Christians can be confident their faith is the right one through faith in Christ, the other religions are not even confident enough to know if they are saved or not! Even the most devout among them still question whether God will have mercy on them based on their actions, which still might not even be enough for salvation no matter how good they have been. But there is a contradiction: if God has revealed himself then how can one not know what God wants from them to be saved? Even better, how does any other religion have a superior way to salvation than God dying in their place for them? Trusting that Jesus is the way is how to be sure your faith is right(Jn 14:6). Jesus is Divine. Jesus is God. And to deny him is to deny God (1 Jn 2:23(Luke10:16).

JAC: Here we have more question-begging. We know that Christianity is the right faith because the New Testament says so, and the Bible must be true. If you doubt the Bible, you “are calling God a liar.” I’d put it more gently: the Bible is the word of humans, not of a god. The second paragraph assumes that we all want salvation, but some religions, like many kinds of Judaism, don’t believe in or expect an afterlife.

Oh hell, I’ll put in one more question and just a snippet of the sender’s response, just to show that he sees homosexuality as a sin:

Q) Why would an omnibenevolent God consign sinners to an eternity of horrible torment for crimes that don’t warrant such punishment? Official Catholic doctrine, for instance, is that unconfessed homosexual acts doom you to eternal immolation in molten sulfer [sic]. That’s unconscionable. And would a loving God really let someone burn forever because they were Jews, or didn’t get baptized?

A) First of all let’s get one thing strait: all sins are punished(Rom 5:12). Not just homosexuality but also lust, idolatry, murder, greed, selfishness, fornication, adultery, hate, theft, lying, idolatry, and blaspemers. No one is good, there is not one(Pslm 53:3). We all have weakness(2 Cor 12:9). Now this is considering that these sins are not repented of that we receive the punishment. . . .

Final thoughts [from the sender]:
• How, after fierce opposition and persecution to the early church, did Christianity spread so rapidly by so few men, with such little resources and survive 20 centuries and is still the biggest religion? Why risk your life and families life for something that is false, and why do so many people suffer for the name of Christ but are still zealous and faithful?

JAC: Lots of people have risked their lives and families for religions that this sender claims are false. QED

• The biggest humanitarian and philanthropic movements in history are influenced and supported by Christians and the church and some examples are: The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision International, Samaritans Purse, Water Missions International, Feed the Children, ect. Also most addiction services and many hospitals and nursing homes are started in the name of Christ with Christian values and ethics as their mission statement.

JAC: Do I need to point out that the argument above says nothing about whether the tenets of Christianity are correct? At best it says that belief in Christian tenets can motivate some people to do good. The same holds for the tenets of many faiths.

• Some of the most influential historical figures that have impacted society and made for a better life include: Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King Jr, ect.
Ect. indeed!  I won’t bother to list the many historical figures or organizations who were Christians and did bad things. As the physicist Steven Weinberg famously said:
“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.”

A short Francis Collins interview on the BBC

May 23, 2020 • 11:00 am

Here’s a short (7.5-minute) interview with NIH director and Templeton Prize awardee Francis Collins that was played on NPR yesterday but came from the BBC Newshour.  Collins answers questions about God, evil, coronavirus, and so on, but you may already be familiar with his theological views, which are at the preceding link.

Collins’s interview starts at 30:07 and ends at 37:34; click on the screenshot below to hear it.

You’ll hear that Collins is scientific and religious because science answers the “how” questions but—citing Steve Gould’s NOMA hypothesis—only religion can answer the “why” questions, questions like “Is there a God?”, or “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Collins claims that faith provides the answer to these questions, but of course it does not. Collins knows there’s a God because humans have a “moral law” (a ridiculous idea), but I’d like to hear how his Christianity answers the second question. Is “God did it” the answer to “why is there something instead of nothing?”

When asked why the coronavirus has killed so many (the question of “physical evil”), Collins has no answer. When asked if the virus is a “God-given plague”, he says that faith provides the answer, which is “no”. But then when pressed about why God would allow so many people to suffer, and whether there’s a moral dimension to the suffering, Collins says this:

“The question of suffering and its meaning and why a loving God would allow it is one of the toughest ones that both believers and nonbelievers have to wrestle with. I don’t have an easy answer to that and I grieve for all those who are suffering and all those who have lost family members to this terrible plague. . .”

Now that’s just plain weird.  Why do nonbelievers have to wrestle with the question of suffering? It’s a non-question for atheists, or at least an empirical question that has no “why” answer. And the secular answer is better than any religious ones. All we have to say is this: “It’s a virus that’s evolved to do its thing in the cells of other organisms, and its reproduction involves killing the cells and getting passed on through respiratory droplets.” I suspect that Collins wasn’t thinking about what he was saying here.

He then rabbits on about how we have some valuable lessons to learn from the pandemic—perhaps the reason God allows that suffering!—including pondering the “significance of suffering in general” and learning that (he quotes Scripture), “humans should not expect to be free of suffering.”

Collins ends by trying further to make a virtue out of necessity by arguing that the pandemic gives us a chance to ponder the Big Questions (which is what the Templeton prize is for)—questions about suffering, about our own natures, about our relationships, about what love means, and about what happens to us when we die.  Of course we can ponder these, but faith provides no better answers—and probably worse ones—than does Collins’s evangelical Christianity.

Listen to a very smart man who has become deluded by adherence to Iron Age mythology.

Francis Collins, new Templeton Prize winner, pushes woo in a Scientific American interview

May 22, 2020 • 2:00 pm

As I reported two days ago, NIH head Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, just nabbed the lucrative Templeton Prize, usually given to people who are both science minded and blather on about the “Big Questions”:  metaphysical “why” questions like “Why are we here?” or “What is our purpose?” Designed to exceed the Nobel Prize in dosh, the prize enriched Collins by a cool $1.3 million. Below is a photo of his press conference and the announcement of the award, in which Collins, unlike Tr-mp, is setting a good example by being properly masked.

Before I proceed to take apart Collins’s “theology”, such as it is, let me say that by all accounts he’s a really nice guy. Remember when he helped Christopher Hitchens get the best cancer treatment, even though Hitchens mocks and reviles everything Collins holds sacred? I’m sure I’d enjoy having a beer with the guy—until  the conversation turned to God.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, right, received the Templeton Prize for his work to de-escalate mistrust between scientists and people of faith.Andrew Harnik / Pool via Reuters

Apparently there was an NPR interview with Collins yesterday, but it isn’t online yet. I’ll link to it when it appears. But if you want a precis of his views, John Horgan interviewed Collins for Scientific American in 2006 and, as far as I know, Collins’s form of Christianity hasn’t changed since then. (You can read about it in his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents evidence for Belief.) Horgan has (excuse the metaphor) resurrected the interview to mark Collins’s prize.

Now the “evidence for belief” in Collin’s book and this interview is both thin and unconvincing, and in fact doesn’t go beyond C. S. Lewis in sophistication or novelty.  Collins, for instance, argues that the fact that humans have a “Moral Law” constitutes strong evidence for God, as an innate morality could have been bequeathed only by God.  That, of course, is ridiculous: not only could evolution instill rudiments of morality, but there’s a cultural veneer on our evolutionary legacy, born of human experience, that can spread from society to society. And, of course, moral dicta are not universal, and I shouldn’t have to mention variations over time or among societies to show that.

Collins notes that he believes in the Resurrection, but avers that God uses miracles sparingly. But that’s one of them, and it’s curious that if God resurrected Jesus so that humans could be saved by their Christian faith, why Collins doesn’t think strongly that Christianity is the “right” religion? He goes on at length about Christianity not being privileged with the unique truth about God? But if there are many “right” religions, why his adherence to Christianity?

Further, Collins explains immorality—those who break God’s law—as a result of God’s having given us free will. This is, of course, not compatibilist free will that coxists comfortably with determinism, but libertarian free will. This is what his fellow evangelicals, who are many, believe as well. Those who claim that most people who espouse free will are really compatibilists are wrong.

Collins and Horgan:

Horgan: Many people have a hard time believing in God because of the problem of evil. If God loves us, why is life filled with so much suffering?

Collins: That is the most fundamental question that all seekers have to wrestle with. First of all, if our ultimate goal is to grow, learn, discover things about ourselves and things about God, then unfortunately a life of ease is probably not the way to get there. I know I have learned very little about myself or God when everything is going well. Also, a lot of the pain and suffering in the world we cannot lay at God’s feet. God gave us free will, and we may choose to exercise it in ways that end up hurting other people.

Horgan: The physicist Steven Weinberg, who is an atheist, has written about this topic. He asks why six million Jews, including his relatives, had to die in the Holocaust so that the Nazis could exercise their free will.

Collins: If God had to intervene miraculously every time one of us chose to do something evil, it would be a very strange, chaotic, unpredictable world. Free will leads to people doing terrible things to each other. Innocent people die as a result. You can’t blame anyone except the evildoers for that. So that’s not God’s fault. The harder question is when suffering seems to have come about through no human ill action. A child with cancer, a natural disaster, a tornado or tsunami. Why would God not prevent those things from happening?

Once again, we have to deal with the idea that God gave people free will so they could freely choose whether or not to accept Jesus (I suspect this would be Collins’s take). And if you make the wrong choice, you’re punished unto eternity? That then turns into the question of why God did this. Why is free will so important? For surely God knew that this would lead to untold suffering, so why couldn’t He just give people a form of free will that allows them to choose a saviour, but doesn’t allow them to commit moral evil? Or can’t He give you that form of free will? I thought he was omnipotent!

Well, it’s all obscure, of course (Collins doesn’t answer). But when it comes to physical  evil: tsunamis, earthquakes, childhood cancers, and other bad stuff that doesn’t result from human “choice”, well, it’s all very murky—but God has his reasons!

Horgan: Some theologians, such as Charles Hartshorne, have suggested that maybe God isn’t fully in control of His creation. The poet Annie Dillard expresses this idea in her phrase “God the semi-competent.”

Collins: That’s delightful–and probably blasphemous! An alternative is the notion of God being outside of nature and of time and having a perspective of our blink-of-an-eye existence that goes both far back and far forward. In some admittedly metaphysical way, that allows me to say that the meaning of suffering may not always be apparent to me. There can be reasons for terrible things happening that I cannot know.

Here we have a watertight edifice that can’t be refuted.  Collins has enough “evidence” to know that God exists, gave us morality and free will, but he’s not quite sure why. But he is sure we have libertarian free will. Why? Because twins tell us!  Apparently Horgan is also a libertarian free-willer, at least judging by the following exchange. (My emphasis.)

Horgan: Free will is a very important concept to me, as it is to you. It’s the basis for our morality and search for meaning. Don’t you worry that science in general and genetics in particular—and your work as head of the Genome Project–are undermining belief in free will?

Collins: You’re talking about genetic determinism, which implies that we are helpless marionettes being controlled by strings made of double helices. That is so far away from what we know scientifically! Heredity does have an influence not only over medical risks but also over certain behaviors and personality traits. But look at identical twins, who have exactly the same DNA but often don’t behave alike or think alike. They show the importance of learning and experience–and free will. I think we all, whether we are religious or not, recognize that free will is a reality. There are some fringe elements that say, “No, it’s all an illusion, we’re just pawns in some computer model.” But I don’t think that carries you very far.

Why, exactly, do the differences between identical twins in thought and behavior give any evidence for free will rather than the non-goddy explanations like “learning and experience” (or somatic mutation)?

And with that I’ll stop, because Collins is just spouting boilerplate Lewis-ian Christianity for the masses. And if I do say so myself, his views are theologically unsophisticated. But I’ll take that back, for to deem any form of theology “sophisticated” is to commit a profound error of thought.

 

h/t: Paul

A pastor, on house arrest, vows to further violate quarantine orders in Louisiana

May 17, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Talk about Making America Great Again! Why not do it by violating the law?

Reader Ken sent a link to this video, made three days ago, which truly shows a man who serves God by risking the lives of his flock in defiance of Caesar’s order and snarfing up the government pandemic checks given to his parisoners. He’s even wearing an ankle bracelet, but remains defiant. LOCK HIM UP!

Ken’s words:

Louisiana pastor Tony Spell (who has successfully petitioned over 200 members of his flock to donate their pandemic checks to him) was recently allowed off the house-arrest he was placed on for violating state quarantine orders and given permission to hold either outdoor services or indoors services at 25% capacity. (Spell was represented in court by the infamous Judge Roy Moore.)

Below is his video response, in which he says he will comply with the orders “whenever they sell popsicles in hell” and “set up an ice-skating rink on the Lake of Fire,” and promises to operate his church at 125% capacity.

Religion poisons everything, and this dude has drunk deeply of the Kool-Aid.

The faithful go after Andrew Cuomo for giving humans and not God credit for abating the pandemic

April 19, 2020 • 12:00 pm

Remember a few days ago when I quoted the words of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in an interview with CNN about the pandemic?

“We’re talking about a reopening that has a public health plan and an economic plan totally coordinated. Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus. And what we do, how we act, will dictate how that virus spreads.”

During a press conference last Monday, Cuomo is reported by several places (e.g., here and here) to have supplemented that statement:

“The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that . . . That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”

Well, that’s all true, but to those marinated in faith who see God behind every epidemic, it’s blasphemy. And so religionists decided to fight back.  As reader Dawn Flood wrote me:

In the High and Late Middle Ages, the faithful would sometimes gather in front of the manors of the nobility, waving saints’ bones and other relics in front of them in order to get them to obey “God’s law”.  It is good to see that modern attempts have become much more benign.
I am forwarding the following to you for your amusement and as a potential posting for your very wonderful blog.
She then enclosed a letter she had received from John Horvat, signed with this: “Vice-President, Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). www.ReturnToOrder.org”, and linking to a petition created by the organization telling Cuomo to knock off mocking God. You can see the words importuning you to sign that petition in the screenshot below.

This is truly hilarious. If there’s a god, he clearly wanted us to get coronavirus—for reasons best understood by theologians and faithy mushbrains like Ross Douthat. It’s not God who is creating vaccines or making antiviral drugs. Humans are. And clearly God isn’t responding to prayers, either, given the number of prayed-for victims who died anyway.

The narrative that Cuomo is challenging is that the spread of the virus, and its ongoing abatement, had nothing to do with humans. And the bit about “calling down God’s wrath”—a threat to the governor—is equally hilarious. There is no god, at least not one that’s given us any evidence that he exists, but if there was one he’s shown himself to be pretty much of a jerk by turning his head as a pandemic ravages innocent people. Indeed, the people hardest hit are those trying to save other people, like healthcare workers. God’s a big Tony Soprano in the Sky, whacking the one species he made in his image:

Here’s the petition you’re supposed to sign:

To: The Honorable Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York,

I protest against your defiant statements against God, directly pushing the Author of Life and Death out of the attempts to fight to coronavirus.

New York has suffered much because of the coronavirus, and mockery of God and the Faithful from a public official will only increase God’s wrath and endanger lives.

I urge you to publicly retract these statements and apologize.

Sincerely,

I was strongly tempted to sign the petition “Elmer Fudd”, but I don’t do stuff like that.  And of course Cuomo won’t apologize or retract what he said. Why should he, since he’s absolutely right?

This petition request appeared on the Return To Order Campaign, Horvat’s campaign to get this unruly country back under the Rule of God and out from under the thumb of Beelzebub:

The Return to Order campaign is based on the award-winning book, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society–Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here and Where We Need to Go by John Horvat II. It addresses the growing alarm, confusion and frustration that so many Americans experience when seeing the nation fall into disorder and chaos.

This social decay manifests itself in many ways. It can be seen in the breakdown of the family and community. It can be experienced in the frenetic intemperance of hectic lifestyles, the frenzied activity of economic markets and the abuse of technology and social media. Above all, there is the abandonment of God and His law and the increasing public recognition of satanic acts, symbols and ideas.

It goes on, but by now you know the lunacy of the the religious Right and the religious Nationalists. By now we should be used to it, but somehow I continue to shake my head when I read stuff about the wrath of god falling on those who deny him.  If the wrath of god should fall on anyone, it’s all those god-denying atheists who didn’t get the coronavirus because they trusted science and scientific medicine. Somehow most of us have escaped that wrath. Instead, God seems to be smiting the people who flock to the churches thinking that the blood of Jesus will protect them.

Ross Douthat’s dumb Easter theodicy: what is the “meaning” of the pandemic?

April 12, 2020 • 11:00 am

If you knew that Ross Douthat was religious, or even that his faith was Christian, but didn’t know what brand, you’d know by the end of his new column that he was Catholic. And indeed he is, for at the end he invokes the Hornéd One, aka Beelzebub.  In other words. . . SATAN.

After going through all the reasons why we’re having a pandemic, even under the watch of a benevolent and powerful God, at the end Douthat defaults to Old Nick. Such belief in Satan as a real “being” is inherent in Catholicism. Even the supposedly liberal Pope Francis accepts Satan—and the driving out of his demons via exorcism.

It is pathetic that a paper like the New York Times publishes this kind of drivel, ridden with explicit acceptance of supernatural beings. And now. . . SATAN? Yes, the paper strives to publish all points of view, but why so many op-eds expressing the point of view of deluded religionists lacking evidence for their beliefs? Where are the columns by “nones” and atheists? After all, we’re now about 25% of the population, so for every three religious columns there should be one expressing nonbelief.

But I digress. Read Douthat in one of his wonkier pieces, dilating on theodicy and meaning-making:

The point of the piece, of course, is how to reconcile the pandemic with Douthat’s Catholicism.  Now we have familiar answers to this kind of theodicy: free will (for moral evil), balancing the scales in the afterlife, testing people, and so on.  But none of these deal adequately with the issue of physical evil, like the pandemic or earthquakes, in which good people meet their ends. Nor do they explain why people who have never had the opportunity to sin, like small children, often suffer horribly: getting cancers and other diseases and, in poorer parts of the world, malaria, eye diseases, and starvation. The unanswerable question for believers is this: why would a powerful and loving God allow this to happen? It is in fact the inability to answer that question that cost Bart Ehrman his faith.

Douthat runs through the usual litany of answers for “sophisticated believers”:

1.) There is an explanation, but we don’t understand it. That doesn’t wash because the same people who say that seem to understand a whole lot about God.

2.) The “ministry of healing” of Jesus, as well as of those who care for the sick, show us that God is “loving” and tells us “where to find his presence today”. That’s hogwash as well, for if one concludes anything from pandemics and the pervasiveness of suffering (in animals, too), God isn’t loving at all but either indifferent or sporadically cruel. Further, because you don’t have to be religious to help people (most scientists racing to find vaccines and medicines are nonbelievers), finding helping behavior doesn’t say anything about God’s presence.

3.) “It is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.” If that’s the case, who would want such a vocation? I thought that the major benefit of religion was it’s ability to provide people with explanatory schemes.

4.) “Suffering may be a gift to the righteous, given because their goodness means that they can bear more of its hard medicine, its refining fire.” Is that the “gift” of the Holocaust? What a stupid thing to think!

No, the existence of things like this pandemic testifies, if you’re religious but honest (an oxymoron?), to the idea that God is pretty much of a jerk. And the responses of god-enablers to show why He isn’t forms a sad commentary on the willingness of people to be duped.  In fact, to many nonbelievers, this kind of suffering is clearly a result of natural selection—in this case on the virus to propagate its genes. Earthquakes? The result of plate tectonics. The nonbeliever, in fact, is in a much better position than the believer to understand suffering, for we have credible explanations.

But none of those explanations have an extrinsic “meaning”. Christopher Hitchens exemplified this when he got throat cancer, and briefly pondered the reason. And then he said this:

To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply “Why not?”

Douthat, though, argues that even atheists must make meaning out of these tragedies.

This need is powerful enough that even people who officially believe that the universe is godless and random will find themselves telling stories about how their own suffering played some crucial role in the pattern of their life, how some important good came from some grave evil. And it’s a need that religious believers must respect and answer: We can acknowledge the mystery, with Martin and Wright, while also insisting that in their own lives people should be looking for glimpses of a pattern, for signs of what a particular trial might mean.

And indeed, we are meaning-making beings, and many of us try to find some good in the pandemic. And there is good in people’s responses and behaviors—so much good that it often brings me to tears. Every time I see a nurse or doctor decked out in full anti-virus regalia, my eyes get moist. For I am seeing true biological altruism: people risking their own lives without hope of reproductive gain.

But for atheists there is no “mystery”. The pandemic is here because of biology and evolution. If there is a “meaning” to the tragedy, it’s one we confect ourselves post facto. And who among us would argue that the world is better off with the pandemic than without it? Did we need this “trial”? We can surely learn lessons from the pandemic about how to prepare for the next one, and perhaps there is a calculus somewhere that, in the end, tells us that fewer lives will be lost with the pandemic than without it. I have not heard that argument, but even if it were true that is not the “meaning” of the pandemic—it’s the result.  And surely you can’t say that about all physical evils. What is the “meaning” of earthquakes that kill so many people? That now we can prevent them? What is the meaning of the Holocaust? So we can prepare and stave off the next one? For that we lost ten million people?

Douthat believes we have an “obligation” to discern and interpret the meaning of the present moment—of this pandemic. Agreeing with the Dominican theologian Thomas Joseph White, Douthat believes that we must figure out what the pandemic tells us “about ourselves, or about God’s compassion and justice.” (Of course he never entertains the idea that perhaps there is no God, and that everything would make a lot more sense under that hypothesis.) And so the hapless Catholic comes up with his Easter Message in the time of the virus:

Asking these questions does not imply crude or simple answers, or answers that any human being can hold with certainty. But we should still seek after them, because if there is any message Christians can carry from Good Friday and Easter to a world darkened by a plague, it’s that meaningless suffering is the goal of the devil, and bringing meaning out of suffering is the saving work of God.

I’ve read the last sentence several times, and am not quite sure what the sweating columist means. It’s pretty clear that he does believe in Satan, but it’s not clear what Satan’s role is. You could say that physical evil is the product of Satan, and it’s then the goal of believers to find the good side, and the meaning, of that evil. (But why would God allow Satan to do stuff like this?)

Alternatively, you could say that physical evil is part of God’s enigmatic plan, and Satan is delighted if we can’t make sense of it, and so, like Christopher Smart’s cat Jeoffry, we must “counteract the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.” That is, we vanquish Satan by finding meaning.

To make his own meaning out of the pandemic, Douthat must not only accept the existence of God and his alter ego Jesus, but must also drag Lucifer into the mess. How much easier to dispose of that whole mythology and see suffering as the inevitable result of a materialistic world—one in which suffering is often an inevitable outcome of natural selection!  Yes, we must, as humans, try to find some good in the bad, but that doesn’t mean finding some pre-existing, externally imposed “meaning” to suffering that, in the end, it would be better to have avoided.

Atheists don’t have to go through the mental contortions of believers like Douthat. But then our own answers—which happen to be the right ones—don’t get published in the New York Times.

h/t: Bruce

Evangelist Franklin Graham helps set up COVID-19 facility in NYC, but makes helpers pledge to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, and accept his Christian beliefs

April 12, 2020 • 9:00 am

This is the kind of thing that ticks me off about Christian “charity”: there are nearly always goddy strings attached. When believers tout the noble acts committed in the name of their faith, they never mention these strings. In contrast, when humanists or atheists do organized charitable acts, they never ask the recipients to abjure God or give up their faith.

And so, when Franklin Graham donated money to help set up a Covid-19 field hospital in New York’s Central Park, he required volunteers to adhere to the oppressive strictures of his brand of Christianity. Read (and weep) by clicking on the screenshot below, an article in the Charlotte [North Carolina] Observer:

Franklin Graham is of course the son of evangelist Billy Graham, and head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The news report is notable for highlighting not only Graham’s “strings,” but also his crazy Biblical explanation for the pandemic. The virus spread and killed, of course, because the world is FALLEN. (In a later post today, we’ll see another faithhead who attributes the virus to SATAN.) Here’s what the Observer found out in a phone interview with Graham:

Asked about a comment he made to Fox News personality Jeannine Pirro last Saturday contending that COVID-19 has spread “because of the sin that’s in the world,” the 67-year-old evangelist said:

“When God made man, he never intended for man to have disease. And to have death. He put us in a perfect world. The climate was perfect. The conditions were perfect. The food to eat. But man rebelled against God. And the Bible is very clear that, as a result of this rebellion against God, we live in what we call ‘a fallen world.’ So we have cancer. We have the coronavirus. We have diabetes. We have all of the other problems we have as a society. We have murder, we have thefts. …

“But that wasn’t God’s intention. That’s why God sent his son Jesus Christ to take our sins. And Christ died for our sins. That’s why we celebrate Easter.

“So I see the coronavirus, I see the wars of this world, I see the economic problems — I see all these other things — as just a result of the fallen world in which we live. And that’s as a result of sin that came into the world and has infected the entire human race.”

Let me get this straight.  God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that he could raise up the Fallen World created by Adam and Eve and their consumption of fruit.  So why is the world still afflicted? If “God’s intention” was to rid the world of death and disease, why does he still let it go on, even after his gallant effort of assuming human form and getting himself tortured and crucified? I suppose theologians would say that we’re still victims of original sin, and must pledge fealty to Jesus to partake of salvation, but how is a baby who dies of disease or starvation “sinful”? For what is it being punished?

Clearly, Graham is a loon. But even a blind loon can find an acorn, and so Graham is practicing “Christian charity” by helping set up a Covid-19 treatment unit in New York.  But there are those pesky strings. . .  (my emphasis)

. . . [Graham] had no qualms about his feelings on another — the one involving Samaritan’s Purse, the Boone-based evangelical Christian organization that he leads.

Samaritan’s Purse recently worked with the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, to set up a small field hospital in Central Park comprising 14 tents and 68 beds (including 10 ICU beds equipped with ventilators).

As with all of its volunteers, Samaritan’s Purse has required those wanting to help out in New York City to agree that “marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female,” per its statement of faith.

That statement of faith also opposes abortion: “We believe that human life is sacred from conception to its natural end; and that we must have concern for the physical and spiritual needs of our fellowmen.”

Now it’s not clear whether everyone who helps at that facility must sign and adhere to the statement of faith, but that’s what it seems like:

On Thursday evening, Graham elaborated on the anti-LGBT requirement regarding Samaritan’s Purse volunteers:

“All of our doctors and nurses and staff, (they’re) Christians,” he said. “We believe it’s very important that — as we serve people and help people — we do it in Jesus’ name. …

“Of course, I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s part of who we are. So we have a long list of things we want people to understand and agree with before we take them to work with us. I don’t want a person who is going to be on the job and drinks; that’s not a good witness. I don’t want a person who’s going to be using drugs to be part of our team. I don’t want someone who’s going to be swearing to be part of our team. I don’t want someone who is trying to pick up girls, and using this as an opportunity to do those kinds of things.

“So, we try to screen the people that work with us. And we want men and women who believe the way we do and have the same core values that we have.”

And so, it seems, Mount Sinai, which began as a Jewish organization but is now secular, must go along with Franklin’s ludicrous strictures. No swearing, no belief in gay marriage, no sex outside marriage, opposition to abortion, and belief in the Trinity (read the Samaritan’s Purse statement of faith to which volunteers must adhere).

New York state Senator Brad Hoylman, however, tells it like it is (he’s a Democrat, of course, and also is gay):

The strings of Samaritan’s Purse, it seems, are long and tortuous.
h/t: Ken

Rowan Williams, Lord Oystermouth and former Archbishop of Canterbury, faults Dawkins and New Atheists for damaging Christianity and not knowing theology

April 2, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Good God, here we go again! Rowan Williams, formerly a “sophisticated” Archbishop of Canterbury, now bearing the appropriate title of Lord Williams of Mealymouth Oystermouth, is still kvetching about Richard Dawkins and his supposed New Atheist posse, and on two grounds.

First, Dawkins (and we) damaged Christianity, and it needs to be repaired.

Second, New Atheists don’t know jack about theology.

As to the first, I say “GOOD FOR US! Christianity needs to be damaged, for it’s harmful and delusional, and enables the vice of belief without evidence—in other words, faith. As to the second claim, I’ve dealt with it many times before (it’s gone under the name of “the courtier’s reply“), and address it here only briefly.

Here’s the short article from The Tablet. Click to read, and shake your head about the lucubrations of poor Lord Oystermouth:

A few short excerpts:

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord (Rowan) Williams of Oystermouth, has made a scathing attack on Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists”, while cautioning that their negative impact on religious faith could still take time to repair.

“Many people who aren’t religious believers regard writers like Richard Dawkins as extremely bigoted and authoritarian, and I think their writings are less popular now,” Dr Williams told Polish Radio in an interview.

“But secularisation has also meant a lot of ignorance, and there’s a suspicion towards religion, sometimes intensified by anxiety about militant Islam. It’s as if every form of religion is the same and the local parish priest would like to cut your head off or impose some alien law on you.”

The 69-year-old theologian and poet, who was 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, from 2002 to 2012, said he planned to engage in a new debate during 2021 with Professor Dawkins, whom he viewed as a “very good biologist and absolutely brilliant writer”, but also as a “very bad philosopher” with virtually no knowledge of theology.

He added that a “rash of books” a decade ago by Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, AC Grayling and other “New Atheists” had damaged Christianity, by fostering an assumption that “the consensus among intelligent people was anti-religious”. [JAC: This is getting truer and truer every day.]

. . . He said: “The bad aspect of secularisation is that people forget what religious doctrine really is, and become subject to distortions and charicatures. It’s as if people have a very trivial picture of what religion is and why it matters.

I have news for Lord Oystermouth: yes, New Atheists damaged Christianity by turning people away from that delusional faith (is “delusional faith” a tautology?).  But no, Christianity will not be repaired. All over the West, and especially in the UK, Christianity is waning rapidly—so rapidly that I needn’t look up links to document its disappearance.

Further, none of the New Atheists named above think that all religions are the same, or are identical to militant Islam. Has Oystermouth even read Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, or Harris? None of them say that all forms of religion are the same and, in fact, all say that different faiths are indeed different. In their writings they make distinctions between more harmful and less harmful faiths, but always emphasize that faith itself, as instantiated in nearly every “religion”, is not a virtue but a vice.

And bad philosophy? Who’s a worse philosopher? Who’s a bad boy? A guy who spends his life touting a deity for which he has no evidence, and bolstering the idea that it’s fine to believe without evidence, or a guy who simply points these things out? That’s not philosophy, but empiricism. For surely all theology, even Oystermouth’s “sophisticated”® brand, must begin with the proposition that there is a God of a certain sort. If you can’t even buttress that first assumption, the rest is commentary, and ridiculous commentary. As Dan Barker likes to say, “Theology is a subject without an object.”

Look: Here’s Oystermouth blathering on about the certainty that there is a deity, and, in fact, a deity of the Anglican persuasion (my emphasis):

Asked about the prospects for Christianity across Europe, the retired archbishop said he was “completely confident” the faith would survive.
“The Church exists because God wanted and wants it to exist, so we shouldn’t have any anxiety about its disappearance,” Dr Williams said. “Despite the New Atheists, people are not hostile to the Christian faith, nor do they regard Christianity as their enemy or as something completely ridiculous. They want to know and learn, and I think we have to be out there, arguing, persuading, doing what we can from a place of basic confidence.”

See? Some readers have defended the claim that bad things happen because “we don’t understand God’s ways” by saying, “Well, see, that’s just like what scientists do! What’s wrong with saying ‘We don’t understand?'” We had one of these commenters today.

But the difference between scientists and believers, my brothers and sisters, friends and comrades, is that scientists say they don’t understand in a uniform way, not pretending that we understand some stuff but not other stuff, when there’s no evidence for either. Yet Oystermouth blithely tells us that he knows not only that there’s a God, but that God wants the Anglican Church to exist, so it won’t go extinct. How does he know that about God?

I get peevish when I read stuff like this, so I can’t resist commenting on his eyebrows, which have always freaked me out, making me fear that he’d take off in a high wind. 

Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

h/t: Enrico, Barry