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.”

William Lane Craig’s new book on Adam and Eve given semi-laudatory review—in Science!

October 8, 2021 • 10:30 am

This is one of the most bizarre book reviews I’ve read in Science (or Nature). It’s a long (a full page) review of theologian William Lane Craig’s new book on Adam and Eve, supposedly a “Biblical and scientific exploration,” according to the book’s title (see picture of book below). The reviewer, Stephen Shaffner, is a computational biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT. While he does gripe about some of the book, he winds up saying that it’s very good as an example of how to tackle “philosophical” questions with science, hoping that other theologians will emulate Craig’s efforts. Oy! What I’m wondering is why, given the book’s palpable flaws, including the idea that there was a “first human” whose parents were “pre human”, this book was reviewed at all.

Click on the screenshot to read; if you can’t see it, a judicious inquiry will yield a pdf:

Schaffner outlines Craig’s aims in the book in a somewhat misleading way:

In Quest of the Historical Adam, Craig sets out to bring academic and scientific rigor to bear on the famous first couple of Genesis. He seeks to answer two questions: whether his theological commitments as a Christian necessitate believing in a historical Adam and Eve and, if so, what science can tell us about that couple.

Apparently Craig believes that the story of the First Couple in Genesis is mythology, written as a parable, so he doesn’t buy a literal Adam and Eve. (As Schaffner notes, that’s “a view that will not endear him to creationists”.)  However, he believes in a literal Adam: a first human; and that is based on “some statements about Adam in the New Testament, specifically ones in Paul’s letter to the Romans.”  From this Craig concludes that Adam is real, failing to apply the same exegetical rigor to Paul as he does to Genesis (Schaffner calls Craig out for this).

And then Craig embarks on his search for Adam, the “first human”, apparently meaning “the first human with a soul”. Since souls don’t fossilize, Craig has to look for their correlates, and this is where things get bizarre. Here’s Schaffner’s description of what the sweating theologian is trying to say:

Having established that he should believe in Adam’s existence, Craig sets out to locate him. He does so in the form of a question amenable to scientific analysis: When did hominins acquire the cognitive capacity for abstract thought, symbolic behavior, and the like, such that they should be considered human? The relevant subject matter is large and touches on evolutionary biology, paleontology, paleoneurology, archaeology, and genetics; the data are often scanty and contentious. Nevertheless, he does a more than creditable job of synthesizing both the conclusions and the uncertainties offered by these various fields, often drawing on primary scientific literature to do so.

Craig argues, for example, on the basis of brain size, that the first humans could not have lived before the time of Homo heidelbergensis and late Homo erectus. A number of facts about Neanderthals—symbolic behavior, ability to cooperate and plan, probable linguistic capacity, possession of human-specific genetic modifiers of brain development—convince him that they qualify as human. He therefore concludes that humanness was a trait inherited by Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens from their common ancestral populations and that Adam must have lived circa 700,000 years ago.

This is ridiculous for several reasons, the most obvious being the criteria for “humanness”, which, even if you accept them, must have evolved gradually, not appearing in one instant when Adam was born from a not-yet-human mother less cognitive than he. (Schaffer does mention the dubiousness of seeing human-ness as a binary: it’s not here and then—poof!—it is!) Finally if there is an Adam who is the ancestor of us all, his mate must also have been the ancestor of us all. That is, there must have been an Eve. And if she was from the same population as Adam, she would be “human” too.

In the last two paragraphs of the review, Shaffner criticizes the book but winds up praising it—the latter on very strange grounds.

Craig’s goal in writing this book, of course, is not a scientific one, and it cannot be judged on scientific grounds. I suspect that for many scientists, including religious ones, the exercise will be seen as misguided or simply incomprehensible. Even leaving aside the religious motivations, biologists are likely to be highly skeptical of the idea that humanness is a binary condition that can be induced by a change in a single pair of ancestors—declaring the change to be miraculous and to incorporate an immaterial soul, as Craig proposes, will not make it more appealing.

While my own reaction is along similar lines, I very much welcome the book. I think that it is entirely a good thing that an individual with Craig’s theological commitments and credentials turns to science to answer questions about the physical world, takes evolution as a given, and puts in the hard work to understand scientific findings. I can only hope that others who work at the intersection of science with philosophy or religion emulate his efforts.

What Shaffner misses here is an even more obvious antiscientific aspect of the book. Craig convinced himself that Adam was real from reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, and then collects and massages the evidence to support that conclusion “scientifically”.  Part of Craig’s “creditable synthesis” is to obviate the “bottleneck data”—population-genetic analysis showing that the smallest bottleneck in our species in the last several hundred thousand years must have been at least twelve thousand individuals.  That is, the human population was never even close to one or two persons, much less Noah’s band of eight.

But—and I’ve just discovered that I analyzed and dispelled Craig’s arguments when he proposed them in his newsletter in 2018—Craig then is forced to posit that the extra genetic diversity we have that disproves a one-man or a one-couple bottleneck came later—from “admixture from other hominin lineages” into “Adam’s” descendants. In other words, to save his thesis, Craig simply makes up stuff for which there is no evidence (indeed, there’s evidence against this admixture). So what we have is a preordained conclusion involving data that are either massaged or confected to buttress that conclusion. This is not science, but it’s the way theology works when it tries to use science.

In his last paragraph, “welcoming the book,” Shaffner ignores the fundamentally nonscientific nature of such an endeavor. And that renders a review of Craig’s book in Science as really weird. I, for one, don’t hope that theologians twist the scientific (and Biblical) findings to make them comport with one another in the interests of Jesus-promotion. (Science-minded philosophers like Dan Dennett are okay.) For a theologian, a little science is a dangerous thing.

More bogus claims from a believer that everyone, including atheists, realizes that Christianity is essential for the survival of the West

July 1, 2021 • 9:20 am

Reader Barry sent me this link as “the embarrassing essay of the day”, though the “day” was June 29.  It is embarrassing, though and barely worth noticing, much less refuting. I intend to say only a few words about it, but I tend to forget myself. Should we just ignore intellectual pabulum like this?

The essay comes from the site Mercatornet, an Australian conservative magazine rated with a moderate to high level of bias to the right, though its “factual reporting” is ranked “high”. The essay below, however, is not factual reporting but pure osculation of religion (specifically Christianity) with a claim that without Christianity our society cannot endure. Christianity, it’s averred, is the source of moral values; and no other religion or ideology, much less humanism, can act as such a social glue or save the West from lapsing into barbarity.

This thesis reminds me of one of Andrew Sullivan’s 2020 columns for New York Magazine, in which he said this (my emphasis):

I have a smidgen more optimism. I see in the long-delayed backlash to the social-justice movement an inkling of a new respect for individual and creative freedom and for the old idea of toleration rather than conformity. I see in the economic and educational success of women since the 1970s a possible cease-fire in the culture wars over sex. I see most homosexuals content to live out our lives without engaging in an eternal Kulturkampf against the cis and the straight. Race? Alas, I see no way forward but a revival of Christianity, of its view of human beings as “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This means such a transcendent view of human equality that it does not require equality of outcomes to see equal dignity and worth.

In August of this year, on Substack, he continued his osculation of Christianity as a necessity for society (again my emphasis):

I’m glad you’re making this essential point about right-wing postmodernism as well. I agree largely, and should devote more attention to it — as I have done in the pastBut the honest answer is: I don’t know whether liberalism can survive without some general faith in an objective reality and a transcendent divinity. That’s why I suspect a reinvention and reboot for Christianity is an urgent task.

I wrote a longish rebuttal of this claim and sent it to Sullivan as a “dissent”, but it wasn’t published.  So it goes.

But what this shows, as does the article below by Jonathon Van Maren, is that smart people can be seduced by delusions, and can rationalize their beliefs by saying that without such delusions, society would fall apart.

This baffles me.  Surely you can’t force yourself to be a Christian just because it would help society, for the values that supposedly help society (sin, forgiveness, and so on) are based on things for which there is no evidence. It’s like saying that without Dumbo’s magic feather, he’d fall from the sky, so it’s imperative that Dumbo believe in the power of that feather.  And can one really force oneself to believe Christian palaver just to improve society? It seems to me that you have to have some belief that the central story of Christianity—original sin from Adam and Eve, our collective guilt, and its expiation by the Crucifixion and Resurrection—must have a grain of truth. Either that, or you have a cynical “belief in belief”, as Dennett calls it. That is, one can be a nonbeliever but say feel religion is still a social good—for other people. 

And that’s what Van Maren, who apparently is a believer, argues in his new article. The site identifies him as “a freelance writer and communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. His work has appeared in National Review, The Federalist, National Post, and elsewhere. His book, The Culture War, was published in 2016.”). Another site notes that “Jonathon was raised in a Reformed Christian home and currently attends the Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Norwich, Ontario.”

Van Maren interviews a number of people, including conservative Niall Ferguson (the spouse of Ayaan Hirsi Ali; do they talk about religion?), all of whom say that atheism is a nonstarter when it comes to supporting an “ethical system”. Here’s a quote from Ferguson:

“I was brought up an atheist—I didn’t become one,” he said. “I regard atheism as the religious faith I happened to be brought up in. It is, of course, as much a faith as Christianity or Islam—and I have the Calvinist brand, because my parents left the Church of Scotland. I was brought up, essentially, in a Calvinist ethical framework but with no God. This had its benefits—I was encouraged to think in a very critical way about religion and also about science, but I’ve come to see as a historian that you can’t base a society on that. Indeed, atheism, particularly in its militant forms, is really a very dangerous metaphysical framework for a society.”

“I know I can’t achieve religious faith,” he went on, “but I do think we should go to church. We don’t have, I don’t think, an evolved ethical system. I don’t buy the idea that evolution alone gets us to be moral. It can modify behaviour, but there’s just too much evidence that in the raw, when the constraints of civilisation fall away, we behave in the most savage way to one another. I’m a big believer that with the inherited wisdom of a two-millennia old religion, we’ve got a pretty good framework to work with.”

For one of the most prominent historians in the world—himself an agnostic—to say that we should go to church is rather startling, but Ferguson’s sentiments also appear to be part of a growing trend. . .

Now that is belief in belief.  I won’t go into detail, but it’s pretty clear that some aspects of our ethical system (fairness, reciprocity, etc.) are the products of evolution, probably evolved when we lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers. But that aside, he also claims that atheism is a religious faith, which it’s not (it’s an absence of religious faith). And that aside, where does he get the idea that without Christianity civilization would revert to savagery? Is that the case in nonreligious Scandinavia, or in Iceland, where 0% of people under 25 are religious?

I suppose, in response, that one could argue that, well, Scandinavia and other countries that may give up religion will still inherit an ethical system from their previous Christianity. But that implies that non-Christian societies, like those of Jews or Jains, are also full of “savagery”.

And what does it mean “to base a society on atheism”, anyway? I wouldn’t want some society in which there was an official doctrine of atheism enforced on its adherents. That stifles discussion and thought.  An atheistic society seems to be one in which no religious values are enforced and secularism is institutionalized. That is, for example, like France. But you could still argue that France is civilized because it still adheres to moral values derived from Christianity.

Further, if morality absolutely depends on belief in Christianity, one can draw two conclusions.

First, the “ethics of Christianity” don’t come from God, or even from belief in the Christian myth, but from some non-Christian views of what is good and right. That’s because even Christians don’t adhere to a Christian morality because they think God or Jesus told us what is right. No, they adhere to it because they think that God and Jesus were exponents of a good that pre-existed before Christianity, and is independent of what they declare to be good. That, of course, is the basis of Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma, one of the greatest contributions of philosophy to clear thinking.

Second, if you have to adhere to Christianity to be moral, that implies that your morality is somehow enforced or upheld by God: what Hitchens called a “celestial North Korea”. For if that’s not the case, one can reject all of Christianity itself and just keep the preexisting moral sentiments. (Christianity did not originate any new beneficial moral sentiments, though Van Maren says “forgiveness” is uniquely Christian. But surely Christianity created and supports many bad moral sentiments. You can name many yourselves.). If you remove the religious palaver, you wind up with secular humanism.

Now I’m not saying that religious belief never helped anyone do good, but in general I adhere to Steve Weinberg’s famous dictum:

“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.”

Weinberg is an atheist, and there are many of us who have never embraced Christianity, even if some of us once adhered to other faiths. It takes a special kind of blindness to think that a society constituted of people like atheists would fall apart.

Van Maren quotes some other authorities, accumulating a pile of Believers in Belief:

The late philosopher Sir Roger Scruton began attending church himself despite struggling with belief, regularly playing the organ at All Saints’ in Garsdon. His secular friends say his faith remained cultural; other friends were not so sure. What we do know is that he thought Christianity was in many ways the soul of Western civilisation, and that the uniquely Christian concept of forgiveness was utterly indispensable to its survival.

And Douglas Murray, a good foe of Wokeism, also purses his lips to osculate the rump of Christianity:

Scruton’s friend Douglas Murray, the conservative writer who was raised in the Church before leaving it as an adult, has occasionally referred to himself as a “Christian atheist.” In a recent discussion with theologian N.T. Wright, he described himself as “an uncomfortable agnostic who recognises the virtues and the values the Christian faith has brought,” and noted that he is actually irritated by the way the Church of England is fleeing from its inheritance, “giving up its jewels” such as “the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer” in exchange for progressive pieties.. . .

. . . Murray believes that Christianity is essential because secularists have been thus far totally incapable of creating an ethic of equality that matches the concept that all human beings are created in the image of God. In a column in The Spectator, he noted that post-Christian society has three options. The first is to abandon the idea that all human life is precious. “Another is to work furiously to nail down an atheist version of the sanctity of the individual.” And if that doesn’t work? “Then there is only one other place to go. Which is back to faith, whether we like it or not.”

On a recent podcast, he was more blunt: “The sanctity of human life is a Judeo-Christian notion which might very easily not survive [the disappearance of] Judeo-Christian civilisation.”

Apparently Scruton is unaware of how atheist and humanists philosophers have constructed moral systems without Christianity: people like Bertrand Russell, John Rawls, and Peter Singer. None of this depends on the “sanctity of human life”, but rather on the value of human life.  I looked up “sanctity” in the Oxford English Dictionary and reproduce the only two definitions that are relevant:

Sanctity:

Holiness of life, saintliness. odour of sanctity

The quality of being sacred or hallowed; sacredness, claim to (religious) reverence; inviolability.

Both of these have to do with religion. But you have to be a moron to think that one must accept that humans are made in God’s image to behave morally. The observed morality of lifelong atheists absolutely refutes that, as well as the fact that when religion wanes, as in northern Europe, the U.S.,and the U.K., society seems to get better (and certainly, according to statistics, people are happier).

A few more Arguments from Authority by Van Maren:

The American social scientist and agnostic Charles Murray, too, told me in an interview that he believes the American republic is unlikely to survive without a resurgence of Christianity. Echoing John Adams, he noted that the Constitution of the United States and the liberties it upholds can only govern a religious people.

and

Historian Tom Holland’s magnificent Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, published in 2019, makes a similar case. For years, Holland—an agnostic—wrote compelling histories of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but he observed that their societies were rife with casual, socially-accepted cruelty towards the weak, rape, and sexual abuse towards the massive slave class as an unquestioned way of life, and the mass extermination of enemies as a matter of course. These peoples and their ethics, Holland writes, seemed utterly foreign to him.

It was Christianity, Holland concluded, that changed all that in a revolution so complete that even critiques of Christianity must borrow precepts from Christianity to do so.

As if no “Christian” society ever had slavery, genocide (yes, Hitler was a Christian), sexual abuse, or The Inquisition!

Finally, there’s a bit of atheist-bashing, as if somehow atheists realize the force of Van Maren’s argument:

[Holland] defended this thesis brilliantly in a debate on the subject “Did Christianity give us our human values?” with atheist philosopher A.C. Grayling, who seemed actively irritated by the idea. Not so long ago, unbelievers like the late Christopher Hitchens claimed that “religion poisons everything”—a sentiment that appears to be retreating as we advance further into the post-Christian era.

Hitchens frequently claimed to be not an atheist, but an “anti-theist”—he didn’t believe in God, and he was glad that he did not. It is fascinating to see intellectuals come forward with precisely the opposite sentiment—they do not believe, but they somehow want to believe. The psychologist Jordan Peterson, who speaks about Christianity often, is a good example of this.

and

Increasingly, some intellectuals from across the disciplines—history, literature, psychology, philosophy—are gazing out of what was once a refuge and wishing that, some how, they could believe it. They have understood that Christianity is both indispensable and beautiful, but their intellectual constraints prevent many of them from embracing it as true.

Increasingly? Does Van Maren have data on the per capita increase among atheists in their desire to believe Christianity? No, of course not: he finds a few anecdotes and then makes up a general thesis. I wonder how many atheists like Grayling and Hitchens would say that they don’t believe but want to. Hitchens is gone, but Grayling is with us, and I’ll ask him.

At the end, Van Maren maintains, without any evidence, that Christianity is our main bulwark against totalitarianism—indeed, is essential for the survival of the West.

“It disturbs me that in so many ways, totalitarianism is gaining ground today,” Ferguson said. “Totalitarianism was bad for many reasons, and one of the manifestations of its badness was its attack on religion. When I see totalitarianism gaining ground not only in China but in subtle ways in our own society, that seems to be the disaster we really need to ward off. Why am I a conservative and not just a classical liberal? Because classical liberalism won’t stop wokeism and totalitarianism. It’s not strong enough. Ultimately, we need the inherited ideas of a civilisation and defences against that particular form of disaster.”

The survival of Christianity is essential for the survival of the West.

I have news for Van Maren: religion is declining precipitously in the West, and that means Christianity.  What we find is that Nones, atheists, and agnostics are on the rise at the expense of Christians. In America, the party of Christianity is the Republican Party, a party that nearly wrecked America when it got a chance. Such is the “ethical system” of Christianity.

Jonathon Van Maren

Why evangelical Christians fear Covid vaccination

May 16, 2021 • 11:30 am

It’s pretty well known that some of the people most hesitant to get vaccinated against Covid are evangelical Christians. In the NYT article below (click on screenshot), two of them do a good thing, urging their fellow evangelicals to get their jabs. Here’s a plot showing that while Jews and white Catholics are pretty down with getting their shots, Protestants, particularly white evangelical and Hispanic ones, are resistant, with fewer than half being “accepters”. (Evangelicals are also less likely to wear masks.)

Why is this? Chang and Carter explain:

The decision to get vaccinated is essentially a decision to trust institutions. Many people do not understand the vaccines’ scientific complexities, regardless of religion. That means getting immunized is a decision to trust “them” — the constellation of scientific and government institutions offering assurances that the vaccines are safe and effective.

But American evangelicals are historically prone to ambivalence toward dominant secular institutions. In fact, a posture of critical evaluation is built into the fabric of our faith. Evangelicals interpret Jesus’ teaching that his followers are in the world but not “of the world” (John 17:16) to mean we should engage with secular institutions with a certain measure of wariness. Some amount of caution is healthy for all communities, not just for evangelicals. No institution is infallible, and critical thinking can be a civic virtue.

What ever happened to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s“? For surely the vaccine is Caesar’s!


But there are other reasons as well:

Unfortunately, in recent years, the evangelical approach to engaging with secular institutions has morphed from caution into outright fear and hostility. Three forces have exploited this inherent ambivalence toward secular institutions. First, conservative media has mastered the art of sowing evangelical suspicion of the establishment to increase ratings. Second, politicians — some Christian and some not — have used evangelicals’ distrust of so-called elite institutions to gain our votes. Third, conspiracy movements such as QAnon and antivaccine campaigns have targeted evangelicals, conjuring fictional enemies intent on destroying our values and, in the case of the vaccines, our actual bodies. All of these forces shape how large segments of the evangelical community perceive the Covid vaccines.

In our vaccination outreach, evangelicals have told us they’re suspicious of the shots for a variety of reasons. Many worry that the development process was rushed, that the vaccines contain a microchip or that they are the “the mark of the beast,” a reference from the Book of Revelation that some Christians associate with a future Antichrist figure. A sharpened distrust of institutions underlies these fears.

But did you note the explanation above, which I’ll repeat:

In fact, a posture of critical evaluation is built into the fabric of our faith. Evangelicals interpret Jesus’ teaching that his followers are in the world but not “of the world” (John 17:16) to mean we should engage with secular institutions with a certain measure of wariness. Some amount of caution is healthy for all communities, not just for evangelicals. No institution is infallible, and critical thinking can be a civic virtue.

You can already see the dissonance here, and I’ll quote reader Philip, who sent me this link, who has a few questions:

As if critical thinking and “critical evaluation” (based on rational evidence and the desire to acquire it) constitute the foundation of evangelical skepticism.  Does he include “The Church” in his “No institution is infallible . . . .”?  Would he tell evangelicals that?  And when is critical thinking not a civic virtue?

The first sentence, “In fact, a posture of critical evaluation is built into the fabric of our faith” evoked a guffaw, if not a horse laugh. True critical evaluation by evangelical Christians would lead to the disappearance of the faith, if for no other reason than no Christian, evangelical or otherwise, if sufficiently critical, could demonstrate that their religion—as opposed to the gazillion others on the planet—is the right one. And if you don’t choose the right one, you’re going to fry for eternity.

Kudos to Chang and Carter for trying; theirs is an admirable though an uphill battle. But they really shouldn’t have claimed that critical evaluation and caution are healthy and “built into the fabric of their faith.”

A creationist writes in: Eric Hedin resurfaces

March 4, 2021 • 10:15 am

This morning I got the following email, occasioned, I suppose, by the appearance of a new book by Eric Hedin published by the ID creationist outfit The Discovery Institute. The DI is promoting it heavily, as it’s not selling very well; and I haven’t mentioned it, although one of its main topics is the alliance between me and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in trying to get Hedin to stop teaching intelligent design in a public-university (Ball State) science class. We succeeded, helped by the reporting of Seth Slabaugh at the Muncie (Indiana) Star Press, who pulled no punches about Hedin.

I won’t recount in detail the story of our interactions with Hedin and Ball State, but they took place in 2013. After the FFRF wrote a letter to Ball State warning them about teaching religion in a science class (after all, it was before that, in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, that a federal judge declared that Intelligent Design was “not science”), they deep-sixed Hedin’s course, which was full of religiously-based readings. At no time did any of us call for Hedin to be fired. What we wanted was simply the cessation of teaching a religiously-based idea in a public university classroom. That is not freedom of speech, but a violation of the First Amendment as well as the abnegation of every professor’s duty to teach the subject as it is understood by experts.

Hedin got tenure at Ball State, and I did not oppose that, either. He seemed to be a competent professor in his area (physics and astronomy), and I don’t believe in trying to ruin people’s careers just because they teach one misguided course. Nevertheless, Hedin eventually left Ball State and wound up at a school more attuned to his religiosity: the evangelical Christian Biola University (an abbreviation for its former name: “Bible Institute of Los Angeles.” There he isn’t forced to teach the Satanic topic of evolution. And his new book, which I haven’t read, and won’t, is apparently One Long Kvetch about how he was bullied and canceled by me and the FFRF. It was that incident that nabbed me the Discovery Institute’s 2014 “Censor of the Year” award—one of the proudest achievements of my life.

I asked the author of the email, William Wegert, if I could post it here and include his name, and, to his credit, he said yes, as “It’s part of free inquiry and rationale [sic] dialogue.” Only after I answered him did I look him up and found out why he’s interested in l’affaire Hedin.

Wegert’s email was copied to me and was actually sent to the Provost and President of Ball State University, where Hedin no longer teaches.

Dear President Mearns and Provost Bracken,

I wish to thank Ball State University!  I recently learned of the university’s cancellation of Dr. Eric Hedin’s “Boundaries of Science” course following the intervention of Dr. Jerry Coyne.

After reviewing the information available on the web and from Dr. Hedin’s own words, his popular honors class was an exercise in critical thinking in which students were invited to read the works of materialists as well as those believing that specified complexity might have an intelligent cause.  For any right thinking person, this is what institutions of higher education should be doing, giving students opportunities to consider scientific evidence that lends support to both positions, as well as everything in between.  Apparently, Dr. Coyne and Ball State think otherwise. They must have been fearful of something, but I would not have expected them to share those fears openly.

For what reason?  The First Amendment?   Anyone with a high school understanding of American history knows that such an issue has absolutely nothing to do with our Founders’ concerns in that Amendment.

So looking for another rationale for cancelling the class, let us say the class lacked a scientific basis, at least in the minds of Ball State administrators.  If that is the case, I suggest that those decision-makers have some research to do to get caught up on a plethora of research projects, peer-reviewed articles, and major books coming out of the Intelligent Design movement.  They are quite behind the times, something not becoming to publish-or-perish faculty, wouldn’t you agree?  You see, week-by-week, article-by-article, research project-by-research project, evidence mounts that Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism have both been hung in the balance and found wanting as a tenable explanation of the complexity of life, starting with the genetic code.

The reason I thank you is that I have a popular presentation I make to students and parents around the US and overseas entitled the “Six Surprising Benefits of Attending a Faith-Based University.”  Ball State’s actions in cancelling this course has allowed me to add a seventh benefit!  At faith-based institutions, where I have nearly 40 years of experience, by the way, we provide students with both sides of these kinds of arguments and let them evaluate the evidence for themselves.  There is no fear of where the evidence might lead.  Students are going to be stepping out into the wide world soon enough and will come to their own conclusions anyways.  Why not challenge them in the area of sound critical thinking during the college years?   Dr. Coyne and Ball State give every evidence of being afraid of where that evidence may lead.

So, thanks to your actions, I get to add yet another benefit for attending a faith-based institution.  This kind of fear does not exist at such schools.  Free inquiry is invited and there is no fear of what the students might be exposed to.  Faith-based colleges and universities take seriously the mission of preparing students to think for themselves based on the facts, including results of scientific studies..

Welcome to the Cancel Culture, Gentlemen.  And thank you for enhancing my presentation and giving me a nice Ball State University/University of Chicago case study to present to eager listeners.

William E. Wegert
Monroe, VA

Well, I said my piece above about why professors should not teach intelligent-design as if it were science. For one thing, it’s illegal at state schools. But it also is a lie. It’s as if a European history professor denied the Holocaust in her classroom. I have no objections to creationists speaking at Universities in public lectures, and when one spoke here a few years back, I didn’t try to stop it. But it’s a different matter to teach it in a biology classroom as if it were accepted science.

Wegert’s antepenultimate paragraph about working at a faith-based institution, piqued my interest about who Wegert is. And it didn’t take long to find this on LinkedIn (click on screenshot):

He works at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where evolution IS NOT EVEN TAUGHT! Instead, they teach “Creation Studies“, and not in a way that promotes students’ independent thinking. And it teaches the most ridiculous form of creationism, YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM, which is a triple lie since it distorts geology and chemistry as well as biology.

Here’s the “purpose” of its teaching of Creation Studies:

Purpose

The purpose of the Center for Creation Studies is to promote the development of a consistent biblical view of origins in our students. The Center seeks to equip students to contend for their faith in the creation account in Genesis using science, reason, and the Scriptures. The minor in Creation Studies provides a flexible program with broad training in various disciplines that relate to origins as well as the Bible. Students in both science or non-science majors will benefit from an in-depth study of creation and evolution.

Really, objective, Mr. Wegert, right? Really an exercise in critical thinking for the poor Liberty University students, right? Nope; it’s lying propaganda to turn biology students into parrots of Genesis 1 and 2.

After I found this out, I wrote back to Wegert saying this:

You failed to mention that you are at Liberty University. Do they teach Darwinian evolution there?
What I see is “Creation studies”.
I suspect you don’t teach Darwinian evolution and “let the students make up their own minds”, do you?
Although Wegert replied within minutes when I asked permission to publish his letter, so far I haven’t gotten an answer to this one.

I invite readers to respond to Mr. Wegert. After all, he’s seeking discourse! Just remember to be polite.

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