Today’s Sunday Sermon from Pastor Warren: “Why can’t we all get along?”

May 15, 2022 • 1:20 pm

There’s nothing wrong with Tish Harrison Warren’s latest Sunday sermon, but nothing new either. It’s the same old “We keep hating each other. Why can’t we all get along?” palaver. Click to read:

The problem is political polarization, which boils down to Democrats vs. Republicans and all that those affiliations entail. How many times have you heard this already?:

A 2019 study by Pew said, “55 percent of Republicans say Democrats are ‘more immoral’ when compared with other Americans; 47 percent of Democrats say the same about Republicans.”

We find one another repugnant — not just wrong, but bad. Our rhetoric casts the arguments of others as profound moral failings.

Those who are sympathetic to the Florida legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill don’t just want to leave lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity — with all the inevitable values-laden presuppositions they entail — to parents until kids are around 9 years old; they are “homophobic” and “transphobic.” Those who oppose the bill don’t simply think it wise to acknowledge the reality of multiple sexual orientations and gender identities in a pluralistic society or worry the bill may force gay teachers into the closet; they are “groomers.”

. . . .Our tendency to adopt polarizing and moralistic patterns of speech is turbo-boosted by a social media architecture that encourages animosity toward outgroups.

But this hatred toward our opponents and the accompanying habit of moralism is destroying us as people. To be clear, I am not saying that I find all the brief arguments I’ve listed above equally valid or true. And I’m certainly not saying that they don’t really matter or have enormous cultural ramifications. I’m saying that we cannot flourish as individuals or as a society if we cast all those who differ from us as moral monsters.

Well, okay. But we can surely differ in matters of morality without calling our opponents “monsters” (Trump gets a pass on this one!). But the solution? The Bible, of course!

So before we disagree with others, we have to make a decision about who our ideological opponents are. Are they like us or wholly other? How should we think of people, especially people with whom we have deep differences?

For me, the answer to this question is rooted in two ideas. One is that every single one of us is, as described in the book of Genesis, made in the image of God. With this core identity comes indelible dignity and worth. In practice, this means that I must assume that people I interact with, even those with whom I disagree, often have things they love that are worth defending and perspectives that I can learn from.

The other idea that informs how I see people is that they are fallen. The idea of human depravity or sinfulness means that every person — including me — is myopic and limited, their thinking faulty and subject to deception and confusion. This should humble us all.

One way to repair our social discourse is to begin with the assumption that we are not wildly better or worse than anyone else. Each person who disagrees with me (and each who doesn’t) is, like me, a complex blend of insight, neurosis and sin, pure and impure motives, right on some things, wrong on others.

Of course we’ve heard this all before, and how some have overcome it (viz., the friendship between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia).  And I work with plenty of people whose politics I’m not down with. There are few people whom I see as “moral monsters,” but there are some. I have a hard time, for instance, seeing Vladimir Putin as just an imperfect human made in the image of God.

But most important, we don’t need the Bible for any of this. We are NOT made in the image of God; our “dignity and worth,” for what they are, come from the fact that we are primates living in a global community that works best when we treat each other as moral equals.  The only reason why Warren says we’re made in the image of God is because the Bible tells her so, but of course if she’s being truthful, and we’re really all imperfect and sinners, then God Himself must be an imperfect sinner.

Likewise, the idea of “sin” (beginning of course with Adam and Eve, who were “fallen”) adds nothing—indeed, detracts from—the simple idea that nobody is perfect. In her view, our sinfulness is inborn because it comes from Adam and Eve. But of course some people are more “sinful” than others. I wouldn’t put the Taliban, for instance, on a par with Peter Singer.

And the semon endeth thus:

Thinking the best of the other will inevitably mean we sometimes think more highly of others than we should. We will assume their motives are purer than they actually are. But if we must err, this is the right way to err. It’s easy to think that when we consider the strongest argument and most charitable motivations of others we are doing them a favor. But we are actually doing ourselves a favor as well. Not only does dealing with steel men, as opposed to straw men, help our own arguments grow sharper, it also helps us continue to have a posture of learning, of growth, of curiosity, of compassion and of joy.

There’s a lot more to be said here, but Pastor Warren doesn’t. She gets her handsome check by purveying these kinds of platitudes—views that come straight out of secular humanism—as if they derive from Christianity. I can’t criticize her for saying the equivalent of “brush your teeth every day and don’t hurt people”, but this is all anodyne. When is the NYT going to replace her slot with somebody who a). doesn’t tout Jesus and b). says something substantive?

So go hug a white supremacist or Mitch McConnell. Amen.

Tish Harrison Warren thinks it’s critically important that Jesus DID rise bodily from the dead

April 17, 2022 • 1:00 pm

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

—1 Corinthians 15:14 (King James version)

The quote above is one I use in Faith Versus Fact to help demonstrate that truth does matter to many believers—that factual claims of religion are often vitally important to sustaining the faith. If it were all just a made-up story, or a long metaphor, people wouldn’t be nearly as religious.  And this holds for many faiths. If John Frum didn’t exist, and his followers knew it, there wouldn’t be cargo cults.

This point is demonstrated by Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren’s new Easter column in the NYT. In fact, she takes the exact opposite stand of Tim DeRoche described in my previous post. DeRoche argued that there’s no compelling evidence that Jesus was resurrected, but it didn’t matter anyway. In contrast, as you can tell from Warren’s title, it’s crucial for Christians to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Such are the conundrums in a world where science is increasingly putting the lie to religious claims.

Click to read:

Warren uses two poems to argue for the importance of Jesus’s bodily resurrection: Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The first argues that the Resurrection really happened; the second that its truth transforms the world, offering the possibility of redemption.  And Hopkins tells us why the first is so vital for Harrison: for if Christ be not risen, then is Harrison’s preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. That is, the resurrection has to be true because if it isn’t, Harrison is wasting her life, as are the many Christians, who like her (and unlike DeRoche) depend on the literality of the Crucifixion/Resurrection tale.

Now I’m not being completely fair to Warren. She has one other reason why she thinks the Resurrection happened:

I believe, in part, because I doubt my doubts and I doubt my doubt about my doubts. I can keep going. Round and round, round and round.

But at the end of the day, there’s this unflinching claim to reality: an empty tomb, as Updike says, a stone rolled back, “not papier-mâché, not a stone in a story.” And I, like every person who encounters this claim, have to decide if Jesus’ earliest followers died for something they knew to be a lie.

The first sentence is pilpul: you don’t believe something because you doubt it and then don’t doubt it and go back and forth. That proves nothing.

But what about the second argument? After all, people wouldn’t die for something if it wasn’t true, would they? But of course Jesus’s followers could have died even if he hadn’t been Resurrected. They could have died simply because he was a charismatic leader with a message they fervently believed in. After all, Jim Jones, who was not resurrected, persuaded over 900 people to die in Jonestown.  Further, what about all those Christians who died and never saw the Resurrection, or all those Muslims or Hindus or Jews who died without believing in a Resurrection? To say that if people die for a belief then that belief must be true is the height of self-deception. And that’s all the evidence that Harrison has.

Here Harrison is accepting one of the many bogus arguments apologists make for the truth of the Resurrection story (another is that it was reported by women, and people wouldn’t believe women back then if they weren’t speaking the truth). Here’s evidence that a main reason for her self-forced belief is because it offers her what she wants:

Jesus promises a future when everything is made new. But the only real evidence that that is any more than wishful thinking is rooted in history, as solid as a stone rolled away. The Resurrection happening in truth, in real time, is the only evidence that that love in fact outlasts the grave, that what is broken can be mended, and that death and pain do not have the final word.

Not everything will be redeemed in our lifetime but, even now, we see newness breaking in, we see glimpses of the healing to come. We believe that, because “He is risen indeed,” we can know God and our lives can participate in the life of God, that our own biographies and mundane days collide with eternity.

If Jesus defeated death one morning in Jerusalem, then suddenly every revitalization, every new birth, every repaired relationship, every ascent from despair, every joy after grief, every recovery from addiction, every coral reef regeneration, every achievement of justice, every rediscovery of beauty, every miracle, every found hope becomes a sign of what Jesus did in history and of a promised future where all things will be made new.

I don’t see any “glimpses of the healing to come”. Do you?

In other words, If Christ be not risen, then is her preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. To make a syllogism again (I’m not good at that!), because Harrison knows that her preaching and faith are not in vain, yet they would be in vain if Christ hadn’t risen, then he must have risen.  This is what’s known as confirmation bias.

Of course the Passover story is equally bogus, and I’ll criticize that, too—when the NYT starts presenting it as if it were fact.

A secular case for Christianity?

April 17, 2022 • 11:15 am

One problem with Bari Weiss and some of her acolytes is that they’re religious. I don’t hold that too strongly against them, but a journalist believing in religious dictates is a journalist who doesn’t care about evidence. It’s a journalist who falls prey to the bane of journalism—confirmation bias.

But a secular case for Christianity? Why not a secular case for Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism? It turns out that you could make a similar argument for all religions, but it’s an argument that involves gutting Christianity of everything that characterizes it: in particular, the belief that Jesus came to earth as God/The Son of God, was crucified and resurrected, and this story, taken as true, affords all who believe it the chance for eternal life. Author Tim DeRoche, instead, makes the “little people” argument for Christianity: he avers that even if the story isn’t true, the myth is good for the well being of yourself and society.

Click to read (if you subscribe; it may be paywalled otherwise):

DeRoche is described on the site this way:

Tim DeRoche is the bestselling author of Huck & Miguel, a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn set on the LA River. He is also the author of A Fine Line: How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools. His third book publishes in 2022.

I won’t dwell on his piece very long. DeRoche was brought up religious, drifted away from Christianity, and then returned to the faith when he married a “devout Christian”. That got him thinking about the religion and whether he was, indeed a true Christian, especially because that he didn’t fully buy into the Christian myths of crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation. But he was married to a Christian and going to church. What could he do?

He joined online communities that call themselves Christians, but not because they accept the Christian mythology. Rather, they are “Christian” for three reasons:

a.) Christianity helps you find meaning in your life.  I won’t deny that this is true for many; it’s just that I prefer to find meaning without relying on stories whose veracity I doubt. And of course there are the downsides of religion, too numerous to mention.

DeRoche:

This community is where you’ll find the parkour artist Rafe Kelley, an avowed rationalist, interviewing Jonathan Pageau, an Orthodox icon carver, talking about “bridging the mythological and scientific worldviews.”

It’s where Paul Vander Klay, the pastor of a dwindling Dutch Reform congregation in Sacramento, amassed over 20,000 YouTube subscribers by doing hours and hours of commentary on the biblical lectures of nonbeliever Jordan Peterson—much to the chagrin of some leaders of his denomination.

It’s where the Catholic Bishop Robert Barron engages with the cognitive scientist John Vervaeke on the failure of our institutions—including our Catholic ones—to help people find meaning in their lives.

Lots of folks in the Meaning Crisis community do not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on this day, Easter Sunday. But everyone is willing to listen across the chasm of faith and try to understand the root causes of our current discontent: the political rancor, the economic insecurity, the lack of trust in institutions, the mental health crisis, the collapse of the birth rate.

But the root causes of our current discontent are secular ones. It’s not clear to me how Christianity (or faith itself) can deal with those “root causes”, much less the discontent they produce.   It might make you forget them, or, as Marx posited, help the desperate and downtrodden find solace in the presence of a heavenly father and the promise of better life to come (“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”). But if, like DeRoche, you don’t believe in that stuff—in heaven or maybe not even in God—what solace do you get?

b.) Christianity helps you live a better life. 

Just as any serious Christian thinker must contend with the dark history of Christians persecuting others in the name of their faith, every serious secular thinker has to contend with the fact that these stories—from the Hebrew Bible on through the New Testament—seem to contain a tremendous store of wisdom about how to live a good life and build a healthy society.

Two responses:  The Bible also contains a lot of stuff that would worsen life: like the need to leave one’s family to follow Christ, or about how not to strike your slaves the wrong way, or about how women should not speak. To pick and choose the “wisdom” you use to lead a better life requires a winnowing process that, as we all know, presupposes a non-Biblical and secular point of view.

Second: secular humanism contains a lot more wisdom about how to life a good life and build a healthy society. If you want to do those things, don’t read the Bible, read the great secular ethical philosophers of the past and present, whose views are based not on superstition but cogitation and reason.

I needn’t point out the divisiveness of Christianity or of other religions, for DeRoche does that above. The question is whether the world would be better off now had religions never existed. I can’t prove that it would be—though that’s what I think—but neither can DeRoche prove that it wouldn’t be.

c.) Christianity’s rise is correlated with moral improvement in the world. 

And most everyone, Christian and secular, is willing to contend with realities that our modern culture has chosen to ignore. Namely, that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most successful meme in the history of the world. And the spread of that meme over the last 2,000 years has largely been correlated with decreasing levels of slavery, war, crime, poverty, and general suffering.

Of course, the spread of the “Islamic meme” over the last 1500 years has also been correlated with moral improvement, though most of that moral improvement, as Steve Pinker documents, has actually taken place in the last couple centuries.

But do I really have to inform DeRoche that correlation is not causation, and a lot of things have happened in the last several millennia? The rise of rationality, science, transportation, commerce, democracy, and communication have also been correlated with moral improvement, an indeed, those features might indicate a genuine causal relationship. This is the case that Steve Pinker makes in his two books The Better Angels of our Nature and Enlightenment Now. (For a short read on his case for reason and secularism as pivotal in morality’s advance, go here or here.) Pinker makes the opposite case from DeRoche, and Steve actually has data and arguments, not just correlations.

I won’t go on, but I will say that I’d love to hear Pinker debate DeRoche on the subject: “Resolved: Christianity is the main cause of moral improvement in humanity.”

Jesus will fix everything—if the resurrection happened!

April 11, 2022 • 11:45 am

Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren continues to proselytize for Jesus in the op-ed section of the New York Times, but this time she does it by proxy—by interviewing one of her friends who was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. Click on the screenshot to read:

 

Now I don’t want to be too hard on her friend Timothy Keller, who founded an evangelical Christian church in New York City. After all, the guy is dying.  And he’s finding his final comfort in Jesus and, especially, in the resurrection, as many Christians do.  I for one wouldn’t want to be comforted by superstitions at the end, but hey, he’ll never find out he was wrong.

No, what bothers me more than Keller’s clinging to the myths of Christianity is his claim below that all things will be put right on Earth, but only if the resurrection happened. If that’s not true, then things will go on sucking. (Note, however, that there is absolutely no tangible evidence for the resurrection.)

At first I thought that Keller meant that all things will be set right after you die if the Jesus story be true. Or that somehow we would all come into God’s Kingdom on Earth (not in heaven) when the trumps sound and Jesus comes back at the Rapture.  But I read the passage below twice, and it doesn’t seem to say that. I interpret to me this: IF THE RESURRECTION HAPPENED, then some day (day not specified), God “is going to put everything right.” That is, we’ll keep living our lives on Earth, but all evils will vanish.

You read this and tell me if Keller doesn’t mean that. (Warren’s question is in bold, Keller’s response in plain type. My own emphasis is in italics.

In your latest book, you wrote that our culture is experiencing a “crisis of hope.” Where do you find hope? What hope do you offer to others?

If the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, then ultimately, God is going to put everything right. Suffering is going to go away. Evil is going to go away. Death is going to go away. Aging is going to go away. Pancreatic cancer is going to go away. Now if the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen, then I guess all bets are off. But if it actually happened, then there’s all the hope in the world.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” he says there are indelible human longings that only fantasy, fairy tales or sci-fi can really speak to. He says that all human beings have a fascination with the idea of escaping time, escaping death, holding communion with other living things, being able to live long enough to achieve your artistic and creative dreams, being able to find a love that perfectly heals. Tolkien says: why do we have those longings? And as a Christian, he thinks the reason is that we were not originally created by God to die.

We all deep down kind of know that this is the way life ought to be, and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happens, then all those things are literally going to come true for us.

That’s the reason you have this paradox. On the one hand, the resurrection is a kind of very concrete thing to talk about, like “What is the evidence for this historical event?” Probably the single best book on this subject in the last 100 years is N.T. Wright’s book “The Resurrection of the Son of God.” [JAC: There’s new evidence?]

Yet if we come to the place where we accept it, then suddenly there’s no limit to what kinds of things we can look forward to. I know some of your readers are thinking, “I can’t believe there’s a person with more than a third-grade education that actually believes that.” But I do. And these last few months, as we’ve gotten in touch with these great parts of our faith, Kathy and I would both say we’ve never been happier in our lives, even though I’m living under the shadow of cancer.

Now I’m not sure exactly what Biblical exegesis tells us that Earthly evil will vanish if the resurrection occurred. Yes, the resurrection supposedly affords us a chance to find bliss in eternity (in Heaven, remember), but that doesn’t even hold for all Christians. Whether you believe in salvation through faith or salvation through works, the sheep will still go up and the goats will be fried.

As for “knowing the way life ought to be” in our hearts, well, the way we “know” how life should be will vary among people. And anyway, who says that the way life “ought to be” is the way God will make it? After all, aren’t God’s plans a mystery? Further, what the resurrection has to do with all this is unclear, save that it’s an example of eternal life for one person and a purported miracle.

Keller goes on to say that his belief gives extra power to the holiday of Easter.  As I said, if this makes Keller feel better, more power to him, but the theology behind his reasoning eludes me. Surely there are some ex-Christians among the readers who can explain.

More curious is why The New York Times continues to publish this kind of stuff. If we use the Chicago Maroon editors’ view that op-eds with factual inaccuracies can’t be published, this one should have immediately been spiked. The NYT has no astrology column, and it has no comics. Why does it have this kind of theobabble?

Tish Harrison Warren presents her readers’ prayers for Ukraine, but God doesn’t seem to be listening

March 14, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Once again Tish Harrison Warren is spreading Christian dogma in the pages of the New York Times, and once again I’m baffled that her unevidenced superstition is being purveyed to the paper’s readers.

The typical liberal religionist rationalizes praying to God as simply a form of meditation or a way to get emotional support. When pressed, such people may say that they don’t really think God even hears prayers, much less answers them.

But that’s not Reverend Warren. This Anglican priest is sure that God hears prayers. In her column on sin last week, she asked for readers to send samples of what prayers they were saying for Ukraine, and how that prayer made them “feel”. To wit:

She added, after this poll, that “We may mention some of your thoughts in next week’s newsletter.” I was pretty sure she would; after all, that’s a ready-made column. And sure enough, she did. Click on the screenshot to read:

It’s important at the outset to realize that for Warren, prayer is not a meditative, feel-good exercise. She really thinks God hears the diverse prayers she presents. My question is this: if God hears them, why doesn’t He stop the carnage of Ukraine, or give Putin a stroke? But I can’t ask her that stuff.

Nor does she mention the famous single-blind study of prayer that showed that intercessory prayer to God to help cardiac patients heal faster showed absolutely no effect (there was, as I recall, one significant effect, but in the direction that prayer worsened one criterion for healing).  Earlier, Galton studied the effect of prayer for the longevity of British royals and showed no effect when royals were compared to other upper-class Brits with similar healtcare and nutrition.

Taking into account all studies, the Wikipedia article on “Efficacy of prayer” sums it up tersely in the first paragraph:

The efficacy of prayer has been studied since at least 1872, generally through experiments to determine whether prayer or intercessory prayer has a measurable effect on the health of the person for whom prayer is offered. Empirical research indicates that prayer and intercessory prayer have no discernible effects.

In short, there is not an iota of evidence that prayer works, but people still pray. You’d think that in the face of this evidence, people would confect other reasons for praying, as they often do, but would stop pretending that God hears prayers and sometimes acts on them.

And I doubt that Reverend Harrison would sign on to faith healing, a staple of some Christian sects. But what else is praying to God to change Putin’s mind, or make Russian soldiers want to go home, than a form of faith healing? And she subscribes to that form of faith healing.

Warren:

Each morning over the past few weeks, I have woken up to the chirpy voices of my children. I’ve gotten them off to school and their daily activities, poured a cup of green tea and sat down to pray for Ukraine.

As I pray, images fill my mind: photos I’ve seen of tanks rolling into cities, of a Ukrainian man weeping over his dying son, of mothers and babies crammed into subway stations, of a Ukrainian soldier’s funeral. The contrast between my safe home and the war raging 6,000 miles away feels overwhelming. I feel helpless. There is little that most ordinary people here can do, besides donate money and pray.

Somehow I think the imbibing of not just tea, but “green tea” is significant here, but the subject is too deep for me.

The above shows the patented combination of personal vulnerability and “deep theological reflection” that, said Religion News, makes Warren “a rising star in Christian spiritual writing”. If that’s the case, then the pool of religious writing talent is no deeper than its theological lucubrations.

Warren continues:

But I believe that prayer is indeed powerful, often in ways we can’t account for. War, whatever else it is, is spiritually dark, even demonic. . .

Demonic? Does she think that there are malevolent sprites involved? (Remember Pope Francis accepts the existence of demons.)  But below you see where Warren avows not just belief in a divine being, but the fact that said Being has ears that can hear all the world’s prayers:

Last week I asked you to share prayers that you have offered for Ukraine. We received hundreds of beautiful responses. It was a profound experience to read so many prayers from people all over the world and of various faiths. It often felt intimate and tender, as if you were allowing me to read your journal or private mail. Thank you for that privilege. I wish I could share all of the responses, though I trust that God has heard each one.

What makes her trust that God has heard each one? That’s a pretty powerful God, but it also shows that, unlike many liberal believers, she accepts a personal god, not just a renamed “universe” or “spiritual feeling”.  I would love to interview the good Reverend, just to find out what she really believes. We can start with the Nicene Creed.

Anyway, here are a few prayers she got. To a cynical antitheist like me, the prayers are a mixture of virtue flaunting before God, Warren, and the The New York Times, mixed with a bit of self-flagellation. Here’s one. It doesn’t sound that bad, but remember that it’s supposed to be addressed to God, not The New York Times:

Dustin Valero in California wrote that he uses his tradition’s prayer book. He prays “for the Ukrainians, including the church in Ukraine,” that they would have “a deep resolve and a deep sense of togetherness in the midst of trauma.”

He explained, “When I pray specifically for the church in Ukraine, while praying through this communal prayer book, I feel connected to the global body of believers. Their suffering is my suffering. Their cares are my cares. I consider them to be the peacemakers who can leverage love and faith in the midst of this darkness. I know my safe place on the couch is much different from their lived reality. I fight apathy and distraction in my day to day, and this prayer keeps suffering and hope closer to the front.”

In the one below, Sam is asking God to affect the mental processes of Russian soldiers. Moreover, he thinks that a). God hears this and b). God has the power to do this. But why don’t they? They already want to go home, but if they tried they’d be court-martialed.

Sam Rood in Brooklyn wrote, “My co-workers in Odessa have been praying that ‘a holy fear’ would fall upon the Russian soldiers so that they have an overpowering desire to go home. I’ve adopted that prayer.”

He continued, “My Ukrainian brothers and sisters understand that the Russian soldiers are not their true enemy. Their desire isn’t that they suffer or die but that they return home and they can all live in peace. Though fighting and even killing may be necessary, we remember our common humanity and shared need for peace.”

All of this comprises specific avenues of “praying for peace.” People have been praying for peace for centuries, but the important thing is this: God doesn’t seem to listen, at least not until a few million people have already died.

Below: a woke prayer, which indicts America as well.

The Rev. Canon Patrick Genereux from Iowa wrote: “When reflecting on Ukraine, I begin by being mindful of the murder and mayhem that we, the U.S., inflicted on Vietnam, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and any other places in the world, just as the Russians are doing in Ukraine. I pray for the forgiveness of these people for what we have done to them. I pray for the church in its blessing of war out of fear of reprisals. I pray to be forgiven for my part in these sins as both a priest and at one time a member of the military.”

He also wrote, “My prayers focus on all those whose lives will be forever changed — Ukrainians, Russians, Europeans, and in the end, us all. I pray for the most innocent victims of all wars, the children.”

And one last prayer that asks God to soften the Pharoah’s heart:

Many readers said that they are praying for Putin to repent of his actions and turn away from pursuing war. Here is an excerpt from a prayer from Pamela Thacher in New York: “God, please allow Putin to reject his thirst for war and punishment and greed, and whatever goal he had for his war, let him pursue it through other means. I pray for their leaders, of course, and especially the extraordinary President Zelensky.”

Now one can’t help but be touched by the sympathy that these people show toward the Ukrainians, but don’t we all? Nevertheless, I can’t help but feeling frustrated that they also believe that God is listening to them and—especially—that they seem to believe in a a benevolent God despite the strong and palpable evidence that God is letting awful stuff happen in Ukraine right now.  God is allowing babies, pregnant mothers, children, and cancer patients to be killed. Why is he doing this? Please tell us, Dr. Warren, and if you say, “its a mystery,” then you have no warrant at all for knowing what God is like.

This is the problem of moral evil, which, along with the problem of physical evil, like cancer and earthquakes, is truly an Achilles heel of theology. Any person who looked at the world, especially in the last two weeks, and still retains a belief in a god, much less a benevolent god, is either blind, brainwashed with faith, or both. But that was also true during the Second World War.

So tell us, Reverend Warren, if God is really listening, why doesn’t he stop the war? He could, you know. He’d just have to soften Putin’s heart.

Reverend Warren’s weekly bromide and sermon in the New York Times

December 12, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Why, oh why, does the New York Times continue to print an Anglican priest’s useless lucubrations week after week after tedious week? For the Reverend Tish Harrison Warren, on deadline, always decides to write a column with the theme, “How can we improve our lives by pondering Jesus?”  There’s a slight variation this week, for she’s pondering Mary as well as Jesus. Click on the screenshot if you love Jesus:

The email bringing me Rev. Warren’s words (ceiling cat help me, I subscribe) was headed: “What Mary can teach us about the joy and pain of life.” Well, what can the fictitious virgin teach us about those things? Simply this: life is a mixture of joy and pain.  We know this because Mary was told by an angel that she will have a great son, but at the same time she is greatly troubled, for she senses her son will come to no good end nailed to the cross. She had joy and heartbreak.

And so we learn that we have joy and heartbreak, too, and you can’t have one without the other. (Not true: many people have a ton of heartbreak and no joy.) The Reverend Warren:

Mary was called by God, and her life reminds me that the vocations that God calls us to inevitably involve both joy and pain. “Love and loss are a double helix this side of heaven,” I write in my book “Prayer in the Night,” “You can’t have one without the other. God’s calling on our lives will inevitably require us to risk both. We know this dappled reality in the most meaningful parts of our life: in struggling through marriage or singleness and celibacy, in loving and raising children, in our work, in serving the church,” and in our closest friendships.

(I think she stole the odd adjective “dappled” from another religious source, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty.”)

How many times have you heard something like this, but without the goddy part? It’s simply the old bromide that life has both pain and joy.

And then comes the sermon: we can’t fill the hole in our lives without God and Baby Jesus, for the hole is God-shaped:

When I feel loneliness, loss and the emptiness present in even my very good life, I rush to fill it up. Winds of emptiness echo in a hollow moment of my day, and I run to distraction. I stuff my waking moments with busyness, social media, argument, work and consumption. These can be cheap attempts at joy, or at least at numbing any sense of grief.

But Mary’s story recalls that joy can’t be gotten cheaply. The pain of the world cannot be papered over in a sentimental display of tamed little angels and a cute, chubby baby Jesus. The emptiness in the world and in our own lives can’t be filled with enough hurry or buying power or likes or retweets. We wait for the birth of Jesus, who was called Emmanuel, God with us. We wait with Mary for our hunger to be filled.

This seems nothing more like an attempt to converting readers to Christianity. It’s surely more than Warren’s own personal story, for she tells it to “us”, and also informs “us” what we should do to fill our void. Or is she sayng something else? What is the sweating Reverend trying to say?

But now it’s time to head home, where I have Pinker’s new book waiting for me, a t-bone steak marinating in the fridge, and a good bottle of red wine to accompany it.  For me, at least, joy can be gotten pretty cheaply: the price of a steak, a book, and some Rhone wine. As far as I’m concerned, Baby Jesus can wait.

Oh, and joy is absolutely free at Botany Pond, where Draco and Molly are the sole residents this sunny but chilly afternoon. Honey and her swain are long gone.

For Bible Week: MSN News claims that bits of the Bible are scientifically true

November 24, 2021 • 10:00 am

It’s National Bible Week, which extends from Nov. 21 through the 27th. (Started by Franklin D. Roosevelt, it always occurs the week of Thanksgiving.)

Reader Ginger K. pointed out that the amusing bit of hokum below, honoring Bible week by celebrating the world’s best-selling work of fiction, appeared on the MSN “lifestyle” site in its entirety. And it was taken from the Stars Insider site, a celebrity and entertainment “news” venue.

Being on MSN News brings it a lot of attention, as that site is touted as “the world’s #1 desktop news servic , reaching over 500M users every month in 180 countries and 31 languages across MSNBing NewsMicrosoft Edge, Microsoft Launcher, the Windows lock screen, apps for Windows, iOS, and Android, and popular third-party mobile OEMs, mobile carriers, and browsers”.  MSN News is also the #2 news and media website in the U.S.—the 31st most popular among all websites in the U.S. That means that this craziness reaches a lot of people.

Click on the screenshot to read.  The Intro first:

Like any other religious texts in history, the Bible is open to interpretation and it’s not confirmed by science to be factually accurate in every account. This, however, is not the case for every bit of text in the best-selling book of all time. In fact, some of these verses have been proved by science to be true.

Intrigued? Click through the following gallery and discover the parts of the Bible that have been confirmed by science.

Okay, let’s see which parts science has confirmed.

The quotes from the piece are indented. There are 23 of these; I’ll just pick ten or so.

1.) Earth is round 

While some conspiracy theories might say otherwise, science has confirmed the shape of our planet as round. This is also mentioned in the Bible: “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22).

Are you starting to note that what “science confirms” might be a wonky interpretation of Scripture? I interpret this to mean that the Earth is either a torus (doughnut) or a disk. A circle is not a sphere. Let’s move on:

2.) The great flood likely happened 

The Great Flood and Noah’s Ark is one of the most popular stories of the Bible. And according to geological evidence, the Noachian flood might have actually happened.

Short answer: no, it didn’t. There may have been local floods, even big ones, but no flood that drowned humanity and all the Earth’s creatures.

3.) The ark would have worked 

According to Genesis 6:13-22, God’s instructions to Noah were as follows: “The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.”

It couldn’t have worked for a gazillion reasons, and you could figure some out yourself. A wooden boat that large without metal would be unstable. How did the animals get to the Ark? Where did they house all the animals? What about giraffes and dinosaurs? What did they feed them? What did they do with the poop? How did the marsupials get from Mount Ararat to Australia? And so on. . . .

The best analysis of why the Ark couldn’t work is found on the National Center for Science Education’s website (click on screenshot); the article is pretty funny, too:

4). The universe is made of invisible particles 

Hebrews 11:3 reads: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Umm. . . the interpretation of this is dead easy, and doesn’t at all imply atoms. It states clearly that God created the Earth from nothing. But a “Universe from nothing may be true from physics”, too, if you accept Krauss’s argument that “nothing” is unstable and particles could spontaneously arise from a quantum vacuum. But even if you don’t buy that, the assertion in Hebrews 11 doesn’t say anything about invisible particles.

5.) David could have actually defeated Goliath 

A slingshot might not be the most powerful weapon, but the stones from Elah Valley were made of barium sulphate, which is extremely dense and these would have easily hurt Goliath.

Note that now they’re arguing that science suggests that parts of the Bible could be true in principle, not necessarily true in reality. For what is the evidence for David and Goliath, who, according to the Bible, was 6 feet nine inches tall?  I couldn’t find out much about the geology of the Elah Valley, but I seriously doubt that all the stones there are made from barium sulphate.

But wait, there’s more here!

David could have actually defeated Goliath 

But there’s more. Being a giant, Goliath likely suffered from acromegaly (overproduction of growth hormone). This can cause problems with vision, and peripheral vision can be limited, which would have been handy for David.

Jebus, but these people are really stretching things here. Maybe Goliath had acromegaly (unlikely given that he was a warrior and given he existed, for which we have no evidence), and it’s more likely that Goliath was facing David, not looking to the side.

6.) The Sun actually stopped moving 

Because an eclipsed occurred. Joshua 10:12 reads: “On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: ‘Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.'”

and

The Sun actually stopped moving 

This was most likely an eclipse, which researchers have dated back to October 30, 1207 BCE.

First of all, the Sun is always moving, rotating slowly around the center of the Milky Way. And it doesn’t stop moving during a solar eclipse, though the page with this “prediction” shows a solar eclipse.

7.) Creatures can’t live without blood 

Most of us are familiar with the Adam and Eve story of the Bible. Humans have, in fact, a female biological ancestor called Mitochondrial Eve, which precedes our species (Homo sapiens). There is, however, one thing that connects all us living creatures: blood.

Everything about this claim is wrong. First, not every animal has blood, for example flatworms, nematodes, and cnidarians (jellyfish and their relatives). This is also true of protozoans. Second, “Mitochondrial Eve” did not precede our species. This maternal ancestor of all present-day humans lived about 150,000 years ago, well after Homo sapiens arose in Africa around 300,000 years ago.

But wait! There’s more!

Creatures can’t live without blood 

“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11).

God apparently didn’t know about flatworms and jellyfish.

8.) Sanitizing is really important 

Leviticus 11:28, for instance, says: “Anyone who picks up their carcasses must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. These animals are unclean for you.”

What about your HANDS? But if you read two verses earlier, “cleanliness” refers to which animals are considered by God to be off limits, not decaying animals that carry germs (unknown in Biblical times):

Leviticus 11:26-27:

The carcass of any animal which divides the foot, but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean.

And whatever goes on its paws, among all kinds of animals that go on all fours, those are unclean to you. Whoever touches any such carcass shall be unclean until evening.

********

This all reminds me of the old version of “scientific creationism”, in which the facts of science were supposed to confirm the creation stories of Genesis.  Muslims, too, sometimes use wildly misinterpreted passages of the Qur’an to vouch for its scientific truth as well as its history (see discussion in Faith Versus Fact.).

Finally, what about all the parts of the Bible that science does not support at all but refutes: an instantaneous creation, simultaneous existence of Adam and Eve as our original ancestors, the slavery in Egypt and Jews wandering about in the desert for four decades, and the Census of Quirinius, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. I could go on and on, but if you’re going to imply that the Bible is true because bits of it are true (and yes, some of the historical figures existed), you have, as Hitchens said, “all your work before you.” That’s because for every bit that’s true, there’s two bits that have been shown to be false.

Tish Harrison Warren says that Christian virtues dispel racism

November 14, 2021 • 11:45 am

I subscribe to Tish Harrison Warren’s NYT column for the same reason I sniff the milk when I already know it’s gone bad. Masochism, I suppose.

Today we have a very confused column from the Anglican priest, whose schtick seems to be to take a conventional and approved moral position, inform us how virtuous she is on the issue, and then inform us all how her Anglican faith has buttressed her virtue. I’m not sure what the Times sees in this approach unless it wants to either valorize faith in general or convert people to Anglicanism.

Click on the screenshot to read, or make a judicious inquiry:

Today the issue is racism, which she properly decries, but of course opposing racism is nothing new. The “added value” here is her explanation of how her Christianity helps with her anti-racism.

The first part of the column is her declaration that America is founded on slavery and white supremacy, and that attacks on Critical Race Theory are made by white supremacists to allow white Americans to avoid confronting the sordid past of their race. The last bit is partly true, but the first—that criticizing CRT is a manifestation of racism—is not.

Warren:

I don’t remember the first time I was taught that the Civil War was not fought because of slavery. I am a white Texan, so this idea was simply in the ether, as were myths about “good slave owners” and the “Lost Cause.” I knew that America had a racist history, but when I was a child, the details of what that meant were blurry and vague.

This experience is common. There is objective truth to our nation’s history, based in research and primary sources. But as Clint Smith describes in his book “How the Word Is Passed,” in America we too often tell a slanted version of our history to protect the feelings of white people. Smith highlights how an intentional disinformation campaign, which began shortly after the end of the Civil War, has altered the way much of America narrates our racial past. He looks at the convenient lies that white people often rely on to belittle the horrors of the past, the way we exclude stories that might trouble or challenge us.

I’m wondering if she’s adhering to the claims of the 1619 Project here, as she comes awfully close.  Nothing she says differs from what Nikole Hannah-Jones or Robin diAngelo says.

She then tells us about the aspects of Christianity that help her realize how soaked America is in racism and white supremacy. But before she does that, she says this:


The question before us as a nation is simple: Are we willing to tell the truth about our history or not?

My convictions about this question are deeply shaped by my Christian faith. White Christians do not appear to be any better than the culture at large at truthfully telling the story of America. But the Christian doctrines of sin and grace require truthfulness, even if those truths make certain people feel guilt, shame or discomfort.

First, White Christians are WORSE than others about “telling the true story of America” (i.e. recognizing racism). Look at this article from NBC News (click on screenshot).

 And who could answer “no” to the first question? The problem is that “truth” differs among people. To Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Revolutionary War was fought so America could keep its slaves. Not true. Also to Hannah-Jones, America was founded on slavery, which is the dominant strain in our history. That’s debatable, even among historians. Don’t forget that she also said that America dropped nukes on Japan in WWII even though we knew Japan was going to surrender because, well, we’d made the bomb and wanted to use it. That’s also untrue. So is Nikole-Smith, the truth-teller about America, adhering to her goals?

But I digress. She’s not the only one, as there are debates, even among liberals, about the degree of structural racism in America  and how it influence our history. So yes, we should tell the truth (and, to be fair, many white folks don’t want it told), but a lot of what passes for “history” is debatable, especially around race, for it consists not of empirically verifiable facts but in interpretations of facts.

But then she admits that White Christians aren’t any better than anybody else (and, in my view, probably worse than atheists) in apprehending historical truths. So what good is Christianity if it doesn’t help anybody else but Reverend Warren? She is being personal rather than general, which limits the value of her argument.

Here are the aspects of Christianity that, according to Warren, are supposed to foster anti-racism:

Recognition of evil. 

Christian doctrine also understands sin and evil not only as individualistic, voluntary decisions to do evil but also as a communal, atmospheric reality. We are born into communities with sinful assumptions and narratives about the world that drive oppressive and destructive behavior. However unintentionally, we give our assent to these ways of understanding and acting in the world.

I’m sorry, but racism didn’t pose much of a problem for Christianity until  the twentieth century. In fact, many Christians used their faith to support slavery and promote racist attitudes. As for whole communities being racist, well, we have purely secular explanations for that—explanations better than the fact that we’re born sinful.

Truthfulness.

The gospel presented in scripture demands that we “walk in the light,” that we not try to hide or minimize the truth of what’s wrong with us or our history.

Fine. Then why aren’t Christians “better than anybody else” on the issue of racism? As for distorting history, well, let’s just say that the Christian myths that Warren embraces and preaches to her flock are dubious at best. Jesus as a miracle-working son of God/part of God? The Resurrection? If Christians are going to get straight with history, then they’ll have to discard a lot of their faith.

Repentance for sin.

Christian doctrine also understands sin and evil not only as individualistic, voluntary decisions to do evil but also as a communal, atmospheric reality. We are born into communities with sinful assumptions and narratives about the world that drive oppressive and destructive behavior. However unintentionally, we give our assent to these ways of understanding and acting in the world

John McWhorter would have a few words on this paragraph as showing the similarities between Woke anti-racism and religion. The repentance in the former case involves abject apologies by the Sinful.

Anti-idolatry.

The Bible also lends us the tremendously helpful concept of idolatry to help understand racial evil. John Calvin wrote that the human mind is “a perpetual forge of idols.” Our loves are disordered. Our idols, which are often unknown to us, are not usually bad things in themselves, but instead are things that we have loved and exalted too much. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being white. God designed the specific amount of melanin in my skin. But America has — and has always had — an idolatry of white culture and power. Our history makes that clear.

Here she stretches to draw an analogy between political and racial attitudes on the one hand, and false gods on the other. Whether you find that comparison valid is up to you, but it doesn’t move me.

But the main thing that Warren overlooks—probably deliberately—is that the Bible itself has been used to justify slavery, and, as far as I know, says nothing about racism and nothing negative about slavery.  From the preceding link:

“Christianity was proslavery,” said Yolanda Pierce, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University. “So much of early American Christian identity is predicated on a proslavery theology. From the naming of the slave ships, to who sponsored some of these journeys including some churches, to the fact that so much of early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined . . . with slaveholding: It is proslavery.” Some Christian institutions, notably Georgetown University in the District, are engaged in a reckoning about what it means that their past was rooted in slaveholding. But others have not confronted the topic. “In a certain sense, we’ve never completely come to terms with that in this nation,” Pierce said.

Why did Christianity become anti-slavery? Because of secular humanistic morality, which realized that slavery was immoral. The religious, as they so often do (viz., gay marriage) change their morality only after society itself has started changing because of secular morality.

We all know that time and again, the Bible condones or even approves of slavery. (n.b.. Slaves back then were not mostly blacks, but simply conquered people of all hues. But the same principle applies: the Bible doesn’t criticize one population from enslaving others.) The Wikipedia article “The Bible and Slavery” is a good start. God, it seems, didn’t adhere to Christian principles!

In the end, every Christian anti-racist virtue that Warren says dispels racism was ignored until secular society started becoming abolitionist. And if you adhere stricly to the Bible, you would not criticize slavery or racism. Rather, you’d support them!

What we see in Warren’s essay is a great big con job. Like most of us, she deplores racism, and that attitude is great. But since Warren converted to Anglicanism from being a Southern Baptist. she’s found a way to twist her new faith to show that it’s really anti-racist. It’s not, and hasn’t been until it took the lead from humanism.

If Warren wants Christians to tell the truth about history, they should begin with the things they believe about the history of their own faith, and examine what the Bible says about slavery. Then they can start making up stuff.

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!

 

NYT columnist touts the afterlife

October 18, 2021 • 11:00 am

I am not sure why the New York Times hired a religion columnist who touts not just God but Christianity on a weekly basis, asserting things whose truth she cannot possibly know. I’ve beefed about Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren more than once on this site, decrying her anodyne religious palaver.  But this week’s column is the worst, at least from the viewpoint of someone who likes to see evidence behind assertions.  And although the NYT picked a genial and semi-liberal pastor to write the column, she’s still making assertions on par with, “I know that someday John Frum will come back to my island bringing us all riches and cargo, for that is what my ancestors told me.” What galls me is that she’s not only getting big exposure for her unevidenced religious claims, but probably making at least half as much money as John McWhorter, who has much more to say, likes to see evidence behind claims, and turns out two columns per week.

This time Reverend Warren tells us why she believes in God, the divine Jesus and His Resurrection, and her certainty that she’ll have an afterlife. (I don’t know if she thinks the rest of us will, as Warren is adhering to the tenets of Christianity.) It’s a prime example of confirmation bias, and something that clearly has no place in The Paper of Record.

Click to read and weep:

Rev. Warren is upset because her friend and mentor Thomas, the priest who supported her through her ascent to the priesthood, died in an automobile accident along with his 22-year-old child (sex not specified). That would be devastating for anyone. But she finds herself unable to accept that such a major figure in her life is gone for good.  We atheists may have trouble coming to terms with that, too, but that doesn’t mean we start believing that we’ll see our dead friends and loved ones on “the other side”.  Warren:

It feels to me like something went wrong. He can’t die, I think. He’d made plans. He had so much left to do. A journey interrupted.

. . . There is something deep within us that rejects the idea that the road just stops. We feel there must be more. We must be made for more: more conversations, more laughter, more breaths to take, more miles to walk along the trail.

Yes, and there’s something deep within us that thinks that the sun moves across the sky and dips below a flat earth. But science showed that our intuitions were wrong.

Warren then broaches the idea that Jesus himself must have had a story similar to Thomas’s, something like “Prophet, Interrupted”.  Thus we get to the confirmation bias: because Thomas simply can’t have just expired forever, he didn’t! Why? Because the Bible tells us so and because Warren wants that to be true:

The truth is, no one — not priests, not scientists, not the most ardent atheist, not the most steadfast believer — can be 100 percent certain about what happens to us after we die. Each week at church, when we say the Nicene Creed, I affirm that I believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

I believe that after I die, somehow mysteriously but also materially Jesus will raise me up to live on this good earth, made new. I believe this because I believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. Specifically, I believe the witness of the disciples and others who lived and died for their claim that they (and somewhere around 500 others) had seen Jesus alive again and spoken to and touched him. That’s ultimately why I believe there’s a God at all and why I believe God has defeated death.

Re the first paragraph, no, none of us can be 100% certain that we live on after death. But we can go on what data we have. That data says that there is no evidence for an immaterial soul that would somehow embody our person, that there is no evidence for anybody coming back from death or giving messages from the afterlife (save Jesus, of course). Finally, as Christopher Hitchens said, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

As for the second paragraph, she piles one delusion atop another, all coming from taking the Bible literally. For every assertion she makes is based on the New Testament being literally true. Not only was there a historical Jesus (something that many of us doubt), but also that Jesus was a divine being, both the son of God and a third of God. His resurrection, of course, as well as the witnesses, are views that also come from the New Testament. If those are reasons for believing in God and an afterlife, good luck to Rev. Warren.

After all, we know that both the Old and New Testaments contain historical errors. The census of Caesar Augustus, for example, which made Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed, never took place. Jesus told his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28, KJV) That’s pretty plain: he was saying that he’d return for a second time during the lifetime of his disciples, which of course didn’t happen. (This statement of course has now been interpreted by theologians as meaning something else.) We’ve been waiting two millennia, and Jesus still hasn’t come back. Why not? Could it be because the whole story is fiction? And could it be that the resurrection of the dead is also fiction?

I’m curious about what makes Rev. Warren so sure that she’ll see Thomas in heaven instead, for example, of being reincarnated as another life form, as some Buddhists believe. What makes her think that the Christian beliefs are the right ones, and all other scenarios about what happens after death are wrong?

She gives the answer away in the last sentence here (my emphasis):

As a priest, when I talk about life after death with others, I tend to keep it objective, theological and creedal. I worry about making resurrected life sound sentimental, like we are just making stuff up, dreaming of what we wish was true. So I try to be evenhanded and factual. But the fact is, I believe this is true, and I believe there are good reasons to believe it’s true, but I also want it to be true.

We’ve already seen that there are not “good reasons” to believe that there’s an afterlife, as there’s no evidence save the assertions of the New Testament, which are repeatedly erroneous. The real reason is that she wants it to be true. And that’s one of the main reasons we have Christianity.

Two statements are relevant here. The first is by the estimable scientist Peter Medawar:

I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity of a conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing over whether it is true or not.

Would only religionists who make assertions like Warren adopt that stand!

And the second is an old proverb:

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

And so, in her peroration, when Warren says, “I don’t want to live in a world where everything good suddenly ends,” my response is, “Well, you almost certainly do, so get used to it.”