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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Archive for the 'history' Category

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here. His comments are in blue

    Paul,

    In relation to your claim that my argument involves consciousness you said:

    “Yes it does. It has to, if you’re going to offer an apologetic for theism, as Plantinga does.”

    While, an argument for theism would involve a concept of consciousness, I was not making an argument for theism. Look at the conclusion of my argument it does not mention God. I put forth an argument that demonstrated a key, and I believe fatal, flaw in the claims of naturalism.  While this could be a first step towards building an argument for theism, it is not itself an argument for theism as many other steps would be necessary.  Thus it does not involve consciousness, and your claim that “it has to” is again simply in error.  But while not sufficient to demonstrate theism, it is more than sufficient to refute naturalism, which was the point I was making.

    I find this to be a common problem among non-theists; they always want to jump to the conclusion of god, and then claim there is no evidence.  Any attempt to demonstrate the problems with their thinking or any attempt to build towards theism that involves a multi-step argument is effectively rejected, seemingly regardless of the soundness of the individual steps.  Arguments are evaluated not on their merits, but on whether they could lend support to theistic claims.

    For many non-theists, arguments such as the one I put forth are really crucial, because much of their rejection of theism is based either formally or informally on the concept that the natural world is the only thing that exists, or at least is the only thing that we can know about.  During the latter part of the 20th century, such views became increasingly untenable, which is why theism is once again under serious discussion.

    So my argument still stands, and still refutes the claims of naturalism.

    In relation to my pointing to the historical role of the Judeo-Christian world view as a refutation of your claim that theistic thinking had retarded scientific progress you replied simply,

    “You seem to have met yourself coming ’round the barn.”

    Sorry, but it is not at all clear what your point is, or even the relationship of this statement to my refutation of your claim, and as such it hardly refutes what I said.  Perhaps you could clarify your argument.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Monday, January 9th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here.  His comments are in blue


    Paul,

    “That the universe as we know it had a beginning does not mean that we understand the origins of that universe in the only context we know, which is space-time, beyond saying that a Big Bang appears to have occurred; in other words, we still have no idea why it happened that way.”

    You are side stepping the argument I made, by trying to add additional conditions that were not part of the argument. I did not claim that we understood the origins. Again the argument I made is a simple deductive argument (technically a disjunctive syllogism). The only way to refute it is to show that the logic is invalid, or that one of the premises is false. If the premises are true, and I believe they are, and the logic is valid, which it is; then the conclusion must be sound.

    Still, you have pretty much supported my argument, if “in the only context we know” is the natural world. Then any other means would be the “non-natural explanation” of the argument.

    Granted there may be some other option that we have no evidence for or understanding of, but in that case, who is the one that is relying strictly on the evidence, and who is the one ignoring the evidence because it points to something that their worldview says cannot exist?

    “In no way does anything we know suggest that consciousness predated matter, which is theism’s seminal claim.”

    Again my argument said nothing about consciousness. This is the classic straw man fallacy. Change the argument to something you think you can more easily refute.

    “On the contrary, everything we know about consciousness says that it is the product of an organic (material) brain.”

    You already mentioned this, and I already addressed this point by pointing out how irrational such a line of reasoning is, but you have yet to reply to my objections. In case you missed it, here are my comments from an earlier post:

    As for your views on consciousness, this is a classic example of the problems with the bias of naturalism. You basically have claimed that only natural answers are permissible, and then claim as support for this view that the only explanations we currently have for consciousness are natural. Do you not see the glaring logical fallacy in this? Frankly we know very little about consciousness, and there are some very significant questions such as the nature of Free Will that remain unanswered.

    “The naturalist does not assume that ‘theirs is the only set of assumptions that allows for the advances of science.’”

    Ok. That just means that the naturalists I was referring to did not understand naturalism in the same way you do. I raised that point because this was the common objection made by naturalists in the past to the claim I made that “There is nothing that makes the naturalists assumptions inherently better or worse.”

    “[The naturalist] merely observes that scientific method is the only reliable means by which science had advanced,”

    Something I would agree with, though if taken rigorously it becomes circular.

    “and draws the logical conclusion from that: there is no reason to engage in wishful thinking about a god or gods, since this thinking has not led to any scientific advance but on the contrary has tended to retard scientific progress.”

    There are several problems with this statement. The first is the phrase “wishful thinking about a god or gods.” I see two ways to take this phase. If taken literally, I would agree that we should not engage in wishful thinking about god or gods. Thus this would result in a statement that I, and probably most theist, could actually agree with. However I suspect that this was not your intent and that instead, you were simply using the phrase, “wishful thinking” as a way to denigrate theistic thought. If so this is slanting and hardly makes for a rational argument.

    “since this thinking has not led to any scientific advance but on the contrary has tended to retard scientific progress.”

    Assuming “wishful thinking” was a reference to all theistic thought, (and if not I apologize in advance) then you are again repeating old arguments that I have already addressed, but which you have ignored. As I pointed out the last time you used this line of argument:

    [This] is simply wrong and either ignorant of the history of science, or at the very least highly selective in it view of history. It also assumes a unity in the concept of “theological framework” which simply does not exist. There are in fact a variety of theological frameworks. While some are “affirmatively harmful” not all are.

    But to expand on this a bit further, there is a reason that science developed in Western Europe when it did. Classical thought certainly played a role, but so did the Judeo-Christian world view of a world created by a rational God, a rational God that created a universe that could be figured out using reason. One can certainly argue that such a view is not required for science, but this does not change the history that it did play a key role in what actually happened. This can be seen in Kepler, who after discovering his laws of planetary motion wrote, “O God, I am thinking thy thoughts after thee.”

    The supposed conflicts between science and religion have been greatly exaggerated, and in some cases even invented. There is no inherent conflict between them unless science is taken as a description for all reality, and at the same time restricts itself only to the natural world, i.e., the naturalist world view. So I can fully understand why you think there is a conflict, but the conflict you see stems not from anything in science, but rather is just an expression of your worldview imposed on science.

    I would argue that naturalism is somewhat harmful to science because of its naturalistic bias. In fact I see no inherent difference between theists trying to ban certain lines of inquiry because it disagrees with their understanding of reality, and naturalist trying to ban certain lines of inquiry because it disagrees with their understanding of reality. Yet the naturalists I have talked to in the past have condemn the former while supporting the latter.

    The Fate of the Evangelical Movement

    Friday, March 13th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    One of the hot topics of the moment seems to be speculation on the ultimate fate of the evangelical movement. Mark Spenser believes, among other things, that evangelicalism “is going to decline quickly to a smaller, more chastened, more diverse, less influential form” and that “Megachurch evangelicalism will survive on size, not fidelity to the Gospel.”

    As Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today points out this somewhat depends on what is meant by Evangelicalism.  If evangelicalism is seen as a cultural or sociological movement than its ultimate decline is certain.  On the other hand if it is seen as a primarily theological movement than “Evangelicalism as such will no more collapse than will the ubiquity of sin and the longing for salvation.”

    In all this speculation it is important to keep in mind two things.  The first is that change is inevitable.  Even a quick glance at the history of the Church will show that it has undergone a great deal of change over the centuries.  While with the clarity of our current beliefs, it is easy to look back at the ‘errors’ and ‘follies’ of Christians in the past and ask questions such as: how could they believe that?; or how could they do that?  It should be equally sobering to realize that should Christ tarry long enough, there will be Christians in the future who look back on the evangelical movement and ask those very same questions.

    The change comes from a number of factors.  Galli is right when he points out that “Like any movement, religious or not, evangelicalism has become embedded in certain aspects of its culture.” While we are not of this world we are in it, and try as we might, it does affect us and how we look at things. 

    For example, I think there can be little doubt that should Christ tarry, the church is on the cusp of a major and significant change the ramifications of which will be huge, but as yet unknown.  Why?  Very simple: the growth of technology.  If you were to take a Christian from just about any period of Church history and drop them into the average modern church, while there would be a lot of things they found strange, there would be many things they found the same, in particular how our primary connection to the faith community is through the local church.

    I am not predicting that the local church as an institution will cease to exist, though I would not rule it out.  The primary reason for the local church is to give Christians a means of coming together to worship, learn about, and serve the Lord.  Until very recently how else would you do it?  With the advent of radio and TV, it suddenly became possible for people to participate, at least to some extent, in Church services without having to actually go to church.  But the key weakness of radio and TV is that they are passive and one way.  This was a huge weakness.  But it is not like the local church likewise did not have weaknesses.  After all a common meeting point does allow people to fellowship together, but only when they get together, and for most that was only a couple of hours a week.

    Now we have new technologies such as cell phones, instant messaging and the internet .  There are now so many ways of sharing information and staying connected and few if any have any idea how this will affect the church and the way people worship.  There are people who live in other states, to whom I am far closer and have far more contact with than anyone at my church, because church is still a far more a limited style of communication that requires my physical presents. 

    So how will the church change as it comes to embrace these new technologies?  While we do not know all the details a few things are sure.  These emerging technologies will bring a lot of change, a lot of benefits, a lot of challenges, and some real dangers.

    To give just one example, with the current technologies it would be possible to set up a service that allowed your accountability partner to know where you are and to be notified if you went someplace you shouldn’t.  Such information given to a close and trusted friend, one whom you had asked to help you resist the temptations you struggled with could be a tremendous aid and benefit.  However the same information given as a requirement of the church would itself be a huge temptation to abuse and thus a source of real danger.

    While changes is thus inevitable , the second thing to keep in mind is that God is in control.  Again looking at church history we see that the Holy Spirit breathes life into new movements and they grow.  But when they calcify and stagnate, sometimes God brings renewed life, sometime he just starts something new.  Whether evangelicalism will continue to grow or collapse, will ultimately be determined by how responsive evangelicals themselves are to the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIX

    Friday, January 23rd, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and his defense of atheism in chapter 17.  As I pointed out last time, given how he has attempted to attack religion in the first sixteen chapters, this is pretty much a no win situation for Hitchens, as he has put himself into a box he cannot now escape.  Still that does not deter him from trying, and what follows is a highly selective view of history, in which he attempts to justify his claim that these secular regime, hostile to at least traditional religions and boasting of their scientific foundations, were in fact actually religious rather than secular. 

    Much of Hitchens’ supporting evidence is inconsistent and is at best little better than “grand conspiracy theory ” type thinking that attempts to find the sinister hand of religion pulling the string behind these otherwise  benign atheist fronts.  But some of the problems that run throughout this chapter can be seen in a couple of revealing quotes.  On page 241, Hitchens acknowledges that “Many Christians gave their lives to protect their fellow creatures in this midnight of the century, but the chances that they did so on orders from any priesthood is statistically almost negligible.” 

    This sentence alone is would be enough to fatally damage Hitchens claim. He attempts to write off these Christians who died to protect others, not to mention the many others who likewise risked their lives without dying,  as acting “in accordance only with the dictates of conscience,” hoping thereby to exclude the influence of religion upon their actions. But does religion consist solely of following the orders of a priesthood? 

    It is just a fact that many Popes throughout history have condemned persecution of the Jews by Christians, and that within Christian Europe , the further a Jew lived from Rome, and thus the influence of the Church, the more they were at risk from persecution. This does not absolve Christianity from guilt when it comes to the persecution of the Jews, nor should it.  But if Christians acting in direct contradiction to the dictates from the Rome, can still be seen as religious in their persecution of the  Jews in the Middle Ages, how can Christians risking their lives to save Jews in the 20th century, be seen as secular, simply because they were nor explicitly ordered to do so by a priesthood?  The double standard implicit in Hitchens’ argument is staggering.

    Ultimately, Hitchens’ argument ignores the role of religion in shaping one’s conscience, and one’s sense of duty to our fellow creatures.  Are we really to believe that these Christians who risked their lives to save others, did so completely independent of Biblical teaching such as Lev19:6’s, command not to stand idly by the blood of your  neighbor,  or Jesus’ teaching concerning the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

    And of course, in a nice little sleight of hand,  Hitchens deftly diverts attention away from just whom these fellow creatures needed to be protected from. So what we have here is Christians  risking, and in some cases sacrificing, their lives to save their fellow human being from atheist regimes that sought their extermination, and Hitchens wants us to conclude from this that atheism is free from blame and that religion was actually the culprit.  Talk about turning things upside down.

    From here Hitchens further attempts to make his case by claiming that “those who invoke ‘secular Tyranny in contrast to religion are hoping that we will forget two things: the connection between the Christian churches and fascism, and the capitulation of the churches to National Socialism.” (pg 242)

    This is a classic example of a seemingly devastating point that is really quite meaningless.  Fascism, in the mid-1930s was a large an popular movement with many supporters even in the United States.  Given the size and popularity of  Fascism and number of Christians in Europe, it is hardly surprising that there were some connection between some Christians and Fascism, and in fact there were some Christians who were strong supporters of the fascists. But that hardly makes fascism a religious movement or Christianity responsible.  To put this in perspective it is also a fact the same could be said about Jews, but would anyone seriously claim that Fascism was therefore a Jewish movement?

    The simple fact is that if you look the major leaders of fascism, and communism for that matter, they were atheists who were seeking to apply the principles of science to the governing of society. The intellectual roots of these movements were solidly grounded, not in religion, but in the dialectic materialism of Karl Marx, the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, and philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, particularly on the death of God as an idea that should have any influence us. These leaders, both political and intellectual, saw religion at best as merely a tool to be exploited to achieve their aims, and at worst a competitor to be eliminated.

    As for the capitulation of the churches, this sadly is true, and it is a major mark against the church that it did not do more to resist such evil. But however bad the churches failure, and it was bad, it was still a failure of omission.  Thus Hitchens argument is in reality that the Christians, not atheist are responsible, because the Christians did not do enough to stop the atheists.   A very strange argument indeed.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVIII

    Friday, January 16th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have finally reached chapter 17. At this chapter Hitchens has finished his main arguments against religion, the vast majority of which were examples of religious people behaving badly. Of course this leads to a natural question of what about atheists who have behaved badly.   So here Hitchens attempts to show that same standard he has used to attack religion, somehow does not apply to atheism.

    He sums up the situation writing, “When the worst has been said about  the Inquisition and the  witch trials and the Crusades and the Islamic imperial conquests and the horrors of the Old Testament, is it not true that secular and atheist regimes have committed crimes and massacres that are, in the scale of things, at least as bad if not worse?” (pg 229)

    Hitchens begins his defense with one of his typically sarcastic and false, comments that “it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or  Nazis or Stalinists.”  (pg 230).  Hitchens “inexpensive observation” (pg 230) makes a number of errors key to this entire discussion.  The first is that the argument against secularism is not that the crimes of the secular regimes equaled those of religion, but that in a single century they far exceed those of Christianity in 20 centuries.  The Spanish Inquisition one the classic examples of the  crimes of Christianity resulted in the deaths of about 2000 people.  While a terrible crime these number hardly even compare to the 11 million dead in the concentration camps of Hitler, whose crimes don’t even compare to those of Stalin and Mao who were responsible for  the deaths of well over 100 million people.

    More importantly whereas the crimes of Christianity were the result a mixture of corruption in the church and barbaric nature of the past, the crimes of these secular movements occurred in the  enlighten modern times, and were much more inherent to these regimes, than corruptions within them. So there is hardly any equating going on. 

    Primarily such arguments against secularism are aimed at showing the problems with atheist attacks in two ways.  First, even if everything atheists said were true and characterized correctly, this would not argue in favor or secularism as secularism’s record is far worst.  Second it shows the inconsistency, and thus illogical nature of the secular arguments, for the same reasoning can equally be used against them.  Thus in reality it is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.

    Following his initial remarks Hitchens proceeds with his main line of defense  by first attempting to link these secular regimes to religion, writing, “For most of human history, the idea of the total or absolute state was intimately bound up with religion.” (pg 231)  There are a whole range of problems here, not the least of which are historical.   But there is more fundamental problem with this whole line of argument, for no matter how one attempts to make it there are tremendous problems. 

    First is the question of whether these secular movements were religious.  If these secular regimes which were strongly anti-traditional religion were in fact religious,  then one must have a definition of religion that is broader than just a belief in one or more Gods, a definition of religion that would include atheism.

    Now, as I discuss in my book , Christianity and Secularism,  I believe such a broader understanding of religion to be more accurate, and that atheism is at least fundamentally religious.  But if this is the case, then atheists are either arguing against their own views, or their arguments must only apply to some religions, not all. Either way there are problems.  The only other option would be to try and claim that their brand of atheism was not religious like these other types of atheism, but that would certainly involve special pleading.   

    On the other hand if these secular regimes were not religions, but only adopted a characteristic of religion,  there are still major problems. For such characteristic to be found outside of religion would mean that these characteristics were not and of themselves religious but rather something that could be found in religious movements or non-religious movements, and thus could not be held against religion.

    This in fact is a problem with most atheist arguments against religion, and is found throughout Hitchens’ book.   That such evils can be found in religious people, in the end is little more than a confirmation of the biblical teaching that we live in a fallen world corrupted by sin, and that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Rom 3:23)

    However if this latter line is taken, the argument against secularism remains, for while these evils can be found in both religious and secular people, the secular regimes of the 20th century rejecting religious morality, and instead looking to science as there guide committed the greatest evils the world has ever know.

    Based on Hitchens’ discussion, he seem to fall into the latter category, ultimately arguing,  not so much against religion, but against “the totalitarian mind-set” that has “‘total answers to all questions.”  While it allows Hitchens to distinguish his view of atheism from these other type of atheism, it likewise excludes all traditional religions that do not share such views. In short, we find that most of his arguments against religion have really been again something else.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XVII

    Friday, October 3rd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Continuing in chapter six of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” I come to his discussion of the specific arguments for design.  Again there is a great deal of hyperbole and ridicule that one must wade through, and given the subject matter, a great deal of it is somewhat ironic.  Hitchens attempts to claim that it is theists that have been forced into this argument “with great reluctance,” and that atheists “have to improve our minds by the laborious exercise of refuting the latest foolishness contrived by the faithful. (pg 80-81)

    Hitchens would do to well to seriously read Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution in which Wells exposes a number of not only foolish arguments, but distortions, errors and in many cases outright fraud that has been and continues to be used to defend evolution.  The many examples documented by Wells are not obscure pieces of evidence, but well known and commonly cited examples,  such as that evolution is mirrored in the development of an embryo, or the Pepper moths that changed from white to dark because of pollution, both of which are in fraud category.   Yet, despite the fact some of these have been known to be false for decades, and in the case of the embryos for over a century,  these and the other examples in the book were still being used in standard biology textbooks at least as late as 1998.

    Nor is this simply a problem of the past. Hitchens, himself falls victim to one more recent examples is this string of myths used to support evolution, a supposed computer model that proved the evolution of the eye.  The simple fact is that there was no such program, nor, more importantly, could there be, at least any time soon, for reasons we will come to in a moment.

    In Hitchens defense, apparently he was relying on Richard Dawkins here who popularized this error.  Once the error was pointed out, atheists were quick to claim that Dawkins was only partially in error, for he was referring to a mathematical model develop by Nilsson and Pelger which he merely confused as a computer program.

    The differences between the study and a computer program aside, the problem with Nilsson and Pelger’s paper as a proof for evolution is the same that would plague any computer model; it is based on a whole series of assumptions which go to the core of the theory of evolution. If you accept all of the assumptions, that is, if you already accept evolution, then the paper will make a plausible case. But in the end, the conclusion of the paper is only as valid as the assumptions that are behind it.  It can at best only say how the eye might have evolved if all the assumptions were correct. It is hardly a proof of evolution as Hitchens was falsely led to believe.

    Unfortunately this is how much of evolution is defended. Pieces of information are distorted, expanded, or in some cases even created, and then strung together as so called proofs of evolution.  Anyone who dares questions this alleged evidence is ridiculed, attacked and rejected.  If they persist and expose the error, then we are told the error really doesn’t matter anyway.

    To further compound his problem, one of the points Hitchens makes against design, apparently unbeknownst to him,  is a major problem for evolution.  Hitchens quite correctly states that, “a theory that is unfalsifiable is to that extent a weak one.” (pg 81)   

    The problem of Hitchens is that evolution is unfalsifiable for two reasons.  The first is that it depend heavily on imagination.  A great deal, if not the vast majority, of what we think of as evolution, is not based on what we actually know happened, but on what scientist imagine might have happened.  Since we have a great capacity for imagination, evolution has a rich texture of what might have been, especially given how little we really know about the prehistoric past.

    Hitchens might object to this by claiming that evolution is science, and therefore must pass peer review and conform to the evidence. But modern science is not the open-minded investigation atheists like to claim. It is a narrow-mind and oppressive system that will severely punish any who question the current orthodoxy, as Pamela Winnick shows in her book A Jealous God.  One of the quickest ways to lose funding for your research, your job, and your livelihood is to raise a question about evolution.

    As for the evidence, there is in reality very little, and more importantly any potential problems are brushed aside with the claim that future research will resolve them. Even worst is the often used argument that we are here therefore evolution must have happened. The bottom line is that evolution is unfalsifiable.

    Sure if you interpret all evidence to fit your theory, let your imagination fill in any blanks, strenuously ignore any problems, and suppress any criticism so that only believers of evolution, or at least those who will not voice any doubts, can be considered scientists, then evolution will seem to be firmly established.  And yet, despite this the evidence for design grows stronger, not weaker, the more we know.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    Hitchens – God is not Great XII

    Friday, August 29th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Continuing my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’, “God Is Not Great,” after the first two examples in chapter four, which, as I have show fail to make Hitchens’ claim that religion is hazardous to health, Hitchens proceeds on a tour of the strange and obscure; the practice of some Islamic clerics of issuing a package deal for marriage and divorce certificates permitting men to legally marry and then an hour later divorce a prostitute; the killing of cats in the Middle Ages because it was thought that the Black Death was linked to black magic, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses refusal of blood transfusions, among others.  Hitchens sums up his view when he says, “The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile.”  (46-47)

     

    This brings us to the second of the two fallacies mentioned in an earlier post, Hasty Generalization.  The fallacy of Hasty Generalization occurs when you try to derive general rules form what are inherently individual cases or very small samples. For example, when driving, a man or woman cuts you off, and based on that you claim that all men or all women are bad drivers. That is essentially what Hitchens is doing here.  Some religious people, or even some religious groups, have practices that are harmful to health; therefore religion in general is harmful to health.

     

    But there is an even deeper problem for Hitchens. Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning.  The do not necessarily mean that the conclusion is wrong, only that a particular way of justifying a conclusion does not work. More troublesome for Hitchens is his claim that religion must be hostile to medicine, for it is clearly false and easily demonstrated as such.

     

    While it is true that here have been some groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientists who have been hostile to some or all of medicine, they are hardly the norm. In fact the norm at least within Judaism and Christianity has been the opposite.  If Hitchens were correct that religion’s attitude to medicine “is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile,” then why are there so many Christian hospitals? Why are there so many Christian and Jewish doctors and nurses? Why do so many churches sponsor trips to third world counties to provide health care, clean water, and basic sanitary practices?

     

    Hitchens points to the superstition that surrounded the Black Death, though he does concede that “We may make allowances for the orgies of stupidity and cruelty that were indulged in before humanity had a clear concept of the germ theory of disease.” (pg 47) But has the noted Historian Will Durant points out, while a few clergy hid in fear, “the great majority of them faced the ordeal manfully” (Will Durant, The Reformation, pg 64) and thousand gave their lives doing what little they could for the sick, for it would be over 500 years from the first outbreak before the cause was finally determined.

     

    Even with the germ theory of disease things are not quite so clear.  In school I was taught the germ theory was a clear victory of science over superstition the latter coming in the guise of spontaneous generation.  On more than one occasion I have been told by atheists that it was also a victory of atheism over religion. Nothing can be further from the truth.  In fact, as I recount in my book Christianity and Secularism, the view of those atheist has it backwards.

     

    The Germ theory was put forth by Pastor, and defended by Lister, both of whom were Christians, while the opposition to the germ theory came from secularist who needs spontaneous generation to explain the origin of life apart form religion.  It was only after Darwin’s theory of evolution was adapted to try and explain the origin of live that the opposition to the germ theory was finally dropped.  In this case it was the secular, not the religious, who were a hazard to health.

     

    To be clear, I do not use this example as an attack on secularism, but rather to show that the traits Hitchens is attacking in religion, are not inherently religious traits, but traits that extent to all of humanity, including even atheists.

     

    Towards the end of Chapter four, Hitchens summarizes his argument as, “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women, and coercive towards children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”  It is very true that far too many examples can be found of religious people who fit into these categories.

     

    But it is equally true that even more examples can be found of religious people who not only do not fit into these categories, but precisely because they were religious have argued and fought against these very things, some even giving their lives in the process.  Just to take the first one, violence, during the Middle Ages the Church sought to limit the violence in the wars between the European kingdoms, and it is just an historical fact that the weakening of the Church in the Renaissance, brought about a marked increase, not a decrease in violence. In short Hitchens’ claims are not only logically fallacious and at their core irrational, they are just wrong.

     

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    Christianity and Secularism

    Evidence for the Bible

     

    Free Inquiry

    Friday, December 7th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Dec 7, 2007, Wausau, Wi —  An issue that commonly comes up in discussions with skeptics is the role of free inquiry.  Skeptics frequently see themselves as being free to ask questions and to go wherever the answers may take them, while religious believers are bound by the teachings of their religion.  Religion, then, is automatically seen as bad because it limits our ability to learn.  As with many of the criticisms of skeptics this view is not only self-serving, but false.

    Built into our very being is the desire to seek explanations.  Parents see this desire all the time in young children and their seemingly never ending question of “Why?”  To be sure these questions can at times be very frustrating for the parent, or even teacher, who has reached the limits of their own personal knowledge, but such questions are the foundation of our quest for knowledge, of our seeking to understand.

    Over time, most cultures have decided that questions can dangerous to the status quo, and this decision is not completely without reason.  All societies are based on some sort of agreement, either formal, as in the case of laws, or informal as in the rules of etiquette.   Some of these agreements are arbitrary, such as where on the road should one drive. But just imagine what would happen if tomorrow the societal agreement about driving was somehow removed from everyone’s memory. It would be chaos. And this is just driving.  Such societal norms govern virtually every aspect of our interactions with each other, often without our even realizing it. For us, the reasons are lost in antiquity and it is now just how things are done. 

    Thus there is, and must be, some sort of balance between norms and questions.  Societies that stress the norms too much stagnate.  Societies that question the norms too much, loose the cohesion to remain a society and collapse. Loss of societal cohesion was one of the factors in the fall of Rome.

    So whether from desire to maintain society, or just simply the frustration at not knowing the answers, at some point all societies teach their children to limit their questions in some fashion. 

    One of the things that made Western Civilization different is that at during some periods in our history there have been groups that encouraged questions, beginning with the early Greek city states. Granted such freedom of thought was not unlimited, nor necessarily was it for the general public, as questions could still lead to dangerous ideas that could undermine society.  But it was allowed for a few, and still had some limits, as Socrates sadly found out.

    As we saw last time, contrary to how history is commonly taught, this freedom of inquiry appeared again in the Middle Ages.  The Middle Ages were a time or great intellectual development that, rather than suppressing inquiry, actually laid the intellectual foundations for the Renaissance and modern science.  To be sure there still were some limits on inquiry, and a thinker who strayed too far beyond those limits could find themselves, like Socrates, in trouble.

    Modern critics act as if these limits were some sort of aberration to be condemned.  The problem is that, at least until very recently, the norm has never been free inquiry, but rather limits on inquiry and normally quite strong limits.  What was unique about the Middle Ages was not that there were limits, but rather that those limits were loosen enough to allow for intellectual development, development that led to things like our current understanding of human rights, democracy and science. In addition these were not seen as contrary to Christianity, but were developed from it.  The origin of Human Rights for examine has its roots in the belief that we are all created in the image of God, and what God has given no one can arbitrarily take away, not even the King.

    Contrary to the skeptic’s self-perception, they also have limits on inquiry.  During the Middle Ages, if one questioned church orthodoxy, one could be in trouble. Today, if one questions scientific orthodoxy, one can also be in trouble. The history of science if full of people who questioned the established science of their time, to find themselves ridiculed, rejected, denied employment, or otherwise punished. The theories of some of these people were later shown to be correct and have since become part of the established science of today. 

    This limiting of inquiry continues today, as scientists who question the theory evolution a little too much, or who begin to consider the possibility of intelligent design have found out. The only thing that has really changed is where the limits are and what the societal norms for punishment should be if one challenges those limits.  Contrary to the charges of skeptics the punishment during the Middle Ages was not always burning at the stake. As with most things punishment was determined by the norms of the time. During some periods it was simply excommunication from the church.

    So the skeptic’s view that religion limits inquiry while they are free, is simply false. While it is true that Christians have at time suppressed inquiry, history shows that this is the norm. It is also true that contrary to the norm, Christians played a role in expanding inquiry.  After all as Paul wrote, “Test everything, hold on to the good.” (1 Thess 4:7)

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact. 

    Historical Understanding

    Friday, November 30th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Nov 30, 2007, Wausau, Wi   One huge difference between Christians and their critics is the framework in which judgments are made. Often it is the differences in the framework which results in their vastly different conclusions, more than the actual evidence.  One key difference is over one’s view of history.

    Critics often see religion in general, and Christianity in specific, as a vastly negative force in history.  For example, they see the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages” where the former brilliance of Rome was suppressed by the Church. When the iron grip of the Church weakened, this former brilliance broke free again in the Renaissance.  In fact for them the Western History of the last 1500 years has been marked by a struggle to break free of the Church and its flat earth view of the world, so as to embrace a more rational view based on science. 

    Despite the popularity of such thinking is it nevertheless false and misleading.  For example, it never was church doctrine that the earth was flat, nor did even a large number of Christians believe in a flat earth.  This is a myth that originated among the critics of Christianity in the 18th century.  As for the so-called Dark Ages, historians have long since realized that this was a somewhat self-serving view of history spawned by those in the Renaissance who saw themselves as restoring the glories of Rome, and not an accurate depiction of the  period historians now refer to as the Middle Ages.  

    In reality the Middle Ages were a time or great intellectual development that, rather than suppressing inquiry, actually laid the intellectual foundations for the Renaissance and modern science.  It was from the so-called Dark Ages of Church repression that we see the origin of Universities, the beginning of experimental science, and many discoveries and innovations like the incorporation of things like the decimal system and gunpowder. It is from this period we see the invention of eyeglasses, pendulum clocks and the compass. Magna Carta comes from this period, as does the jury system and habeas corpus, along with the beginnings of representative government in the English Parliament, and the French Estates-General.   

    As the historian Will Durant summarized it “It would be unwise to look down with hybritic pride upon a period that produced so many great men and women.” Durant went on to add “we shall never do justice to the Middle Ages until we see the Italian Renaissance not as their repudiation but as their fulfillment.” (Age of Faith, pg  1082, 1085)

    To be sure, not everything was rosy. Like any period in history the complete picture was far more mixed. When compared with today’s standards, the Middle Ages often fall short.   But judging the Middle Ages by today’s standards about as valid as saying that Newton, Galileo, or other early scientist, didn’t even know what would now be called High School science, and therefore were stupid.  

    A more accurate standard would be to judge based on the historical norm up to the period in question.  This is why Newton and Galileo are seen as great. While they may not have passed a High School science test of today, they made discoveries and scientific advances unknown until then.  

    Unfortunately, history is so badly taught, and poorly understood, that the average person has little understanding of even recent history (or in some cases even current events outside of sports or music).  This lack of any historical understanding is why Britain and America are frequently condemned for having slaves.  Until recently, slavery was an almost universal institution, and one that still exists in some areas even today. Thus what was aberrational about Britain and America was not that they had slaves, but that they led the way in abolishing the slave trade and then slavery itself. 

    Significantly other notable exceptions to the historical norm of slavery were Ancient Israel, and the Middle Ages.  While the Bible allowed slavery, it regulated it to the point that slavery virtually disappeared from Ancient Israel. Likewise, during the Middle Ages, under the influence of the Church slavery disappeared from most of Western Europe, only to be reintroduced after the Middle Ages.

    Another example would be that, while we frequently hear of the atrocities committed by the early settlers of the Americas on the native inhabitants, one of the reasons we are able to do this is that the atrocities were documented by early churchmen seeking help in stopping them. Until then such atrocities were the norm, what was aberrational was the attempt to prevent them.

     So when judging the actions of those in the past, we must be careful to factor in what was historically the norm for their time.  What if in a couple of centuries from now, standards have change such that eating meat, driving your own car, watching football, or anything number of things we current do without a second thought, is then seen as barbaric and/or immoral? Would we consider ourselves fairly condemned for our failure to follow such future standards? 

    Instead of focusing on condemning those who followed the norm of their time, would it not be better to focus on those who broke from the norm to help bring us our modern understanding? But to do this would in many cases, be to acknowledge the positive impact of Christians, such as those in the forefront of the anti-Slavery movement.   

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.