Conflict for the Darwinian Dispute

Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is often portrayed as a believer struggling with doubt, reluctantly yielding to rational thinking in light of the evidence he found while journeying on the HMS Beagle in the Galapagos Islands. Wiker[1] points out that while Darwin’s ideas are well known, much of the story of his life is either unknown or mythical. To summarize just a few of his more relevant points;

First, evolution was less innovation and more popularization, having been believed by his father before him and his grandfather Erasmus Darwin. During Erasmus’ time there was a resurgence of interest in the philosophy of the ancient Epicurean philosopher Lucrecius, who propounded evolutionary ideas. Evolutionary thinking was already a part of the ethos of the age we call Modernism and Charles Darwin was a man who set out on the Beagle to find proof of evolution, rather than someone who reluctantly came to accept the idea because of the weight of the evidence.

Second, Darwin’s brief tenure studying theology was less from conviction or faith in God, and more to maintain a social acceptability by conforming to what was then considered to be stabilizing cultural norm – the church. His departure from that institution was less from lack of belief, and more to follow his true interest – the study of nature.

Third, Darwin’s thesis was not the bombshell it has been made out to be.[2] Many Christian’s of the day, including Charles Lyell (1797–1875)[3] easily accepted evolutionary ideas and yet remained critical of the Darwinian posturing toward God no longer being necessary to explain the origin and diversity of life. Darwin’s associate and co-discoverer of evolutionary theory Alfred Russell Wallace (1823–1913) became convinced that natural selection alone – without God – would not suffice. The beauty and intricateness of such a process, he thought, was too grand and astounding, and still could not explain human morality, rationality and even physical nature.[4]

Fourth, the idea that there was a thoughtless rejection of evolutionary theory on behalf of the church when Origin of Species (1859) and the Decent of Man (1871) were published is mainly rhetoric. Christian thinkers, both scientists and theologians, were for the most part civil and maintained friendly dialogue. Asa Gray (1810-1888), the American botanist at Harvard and Evangelical was one of these: a friend and long-time correspondent of Darwin who saw design and order in the natural world of evolution progress. Moore writes,

“There was not a polarization of “science” and “religion” as the idea of opposed armies implies but a large number of learned men, some scientists, some theologians, some indistinguishable, and almost all of them very religious, who experienced various differences among themselves. There was not organization apparent on either “side” as the idea of rank and command implies but deep divisions among men of science, the majority of whom were at first hostile to Darwin’s theory, and a corresponding and derivative division among Christians who were scientifically untrained, with a large proportion of leading theologians quite prepared to come to terms peacefully with Darwin. Nor, finally, was there the kind of antagonism pictured in the discharge of weaponry but rather a much more subdued overall reaction to the Origin of Species than is generally supposed and a genuine amiability in the relations of those who are customarily believed to have been at battle.”[5]

In order to understand the avid rejection of evolutionary theory by some Christians one needs to understand that another science appeared in the nineteenth century. Higher criticism leveled its gaze on the orthodox view of scripture and with the philosophical assumptions of the Enlightenment and Modernism challenged much of Christian belief. There was no official response given by the church on Higher criticism, Evolutionary theory or Darwinism, however individuals within the church did deem to respond to these intellectual challenges. Responses were indeed inevitable if merely by virtue that these ideas became engrained in the culture. These responses can be categorized into four distinct groups: the Liberal response, the Neo-Orthodox response, the Evangelical response and the Fundamentalist response.

The Liberal response to Higher criticism was acceptance. Liberals rejected the authority of the Bible and traditional Christian orthodoxy and therefore did not consider conflict with science possible[6] – science and religion were non-overlapping magisteria. The Neo-orthodox response was dialectical, and so to a lesser extent did the same as the Liberals and accepted the insights.

The Evangelical response was that of accommodation. This was in the tradition of Calvin and in-line with Augustine who advocated perceived conflicts could be reconciled with better interpretation of either the Bible or of nature. John Calvin (1509–1564) the French theologian gave to science two gifts. First, he encouraged the study of nature. Nature demonstrated the wisdom of God and provided proofs of his glory.[7] Second, he removed the need to interpret the bible literally. By offering people a hermeneutic of “accommodation” he made the emergence of the natural sciences possible[8] and firmly grounded a tradition within evangelicalism allowing science to be integrated with the scripture.[9]

Evangelicals therefore attempted harmonization with the insights of Higher criticism, which would eventually yield new insights in theology, and breakthroughs in historical Jesus research. For evolutionary biology harmonization meant a variety of differing positions like Theistic Evolution[10] and Progressive Creationism.[11]

It was the reaction of Fundamentalism that was to have the most profound influence on the way the relationship between science and Christianity were perceived. Higher criticism and Darwin’s popularization of evolutionary theory elicited a negative reaction by some who felt that society was becoming more and more depraved in their thinking. Fundamentalism, distinguished by cultural isolationism and a dogmatic biblical literalism, decided to judge science by the Bible. Evolution is therefore a fraud. This response represents a “circling of the wagons” and as evolutionary theory gained prominence it created a siege mentality. This is why many describe Fundamentalism as obscurantist, insular and militaristic.

Essentially Fundamentalism is Evangelicalism on the defensive, though there is a range of responses to both sciences encapsulated by the term.[12] All refuse the Grand Evolution story for its atheistic implications, but there are a great variety of opinions to the extent which evolution has played a role in the development of the diversity of life. Some criticize evolution on the basis of flaws in theory, others dogmatically refuse in principle and offer no more explanation. Some in the twentieth century sought to re-interpret the evidence without the Rationalist and Materialistic presuppositions and developed Creation Science, which for the most part that militantly rejects evolution in favor of a young earth and a literal 24-hr/six-day creation period.

It is Fundamentalism that fueled the Creation/Evolution controversy in the twentieth century, and this is nowhere more typified by the Scopes Trial (referred to now as “The Monkey Trial”) in 1926. John Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution, and backed by the ACLU,[13] lost when the Tennessee law was upheld, but the fall-out from media sensationalism at the time lent credit to the Conflict Thesis. The influence of that media storm made it the subject of a play Inherit the Wind (1955) later adapted to a movie in 1960. The idea that science and religion are at war is still very much a part of the general public’s consciousness, even though it is not “religion” as such, but one specific branch of Christian belief that insists on literal interpretations.[14]

Today the relationship between science and Christianity is very healthy. It is believed the renaissance of Christian philosophy over the last fifty years has been so successful the effect has been the resurrection of Natural Theology, including powerful refurbishment of the teleological arguments.[15] The increasingly powerful Intelligent Design movement can be viewed as an effect of this renaissance in Christian thinking. The so-called “New Atheism” is an aberration to the general trend (perhaps also a reaction to it) and represents a movement out of touch with the higher echelons in academia that rejects the Conflict Thesis.[16] There are many other models that are used to describe the relationship between science and religion, but as Brooke says “general theses are difficult to maintain.”[17]

Alvin Plantinga views Christian belief as fundamentally congruent with science and only peripherally hostile.[18] Gary Ferngren summarizes,

“While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule”[19]

Concluding then, Christianity has been an overwhelming boon to the scientific endeavor.[20] Kenneth Samples writes:

“Conflicts between scientific theories and the Christian faith have arisen through the centuries, to be sure. However, the level of conflict has often been exaggerated, and Christianity’s positive influence on scientific progress is seldom acknowledged.”[21]

Christianity provides a philosophical foundation for the success of science and today enjoys a fruitful conversation that has endured since the seventeenth century. Although many people presuppose and implicitly if not explicitly accept the Conflict Thesis, this is largely dead in academia. A particular type of Christian belief, namely Fundamentalism, remains reactionary towards a particular type of science, namely evolution. The broad mainstream accepts science as useful to theology, particularly in supporting the project of Natural Theology. When difficulties arise harmonization with a hermeneutic of “accommodation” can be attempted. The relationship is best described as a flourishing dialogue rather than with militaristic terms.

Footnotes

[1] Benjamin Wiker. The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (2009)

[2] Dr. Matthew Flannegan argues evolutionary theory, if correct, only undermines a specific teleological argument for God’s existence and the rest of Christian theism is still on solid ground.

[3] The eminent scientist and founder of modern geology

[4] Talk with Greg Koukl and Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Stand to Reason.

[5] Quote found at God and Nature: p7-8, quote from Moore, Post-Darwinian Controversies

[6] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 14.

[7] In order than no one might be excluded from the means of obtaining happiness, God has been pleased, not only to place in our minds the seeds of religion of which we have already spoken, but to make known his perfection in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place them in our view, in such a manner that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to observe him. . . To prove his remarkable wisdom, both the heavens and the earth present us with countless proofs – not just those more advances proofs which astronomy, medicine and all the other natural sciences are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force themselves on the attention of the most illiterate peasant, who cannot open his eyes without seeing them. (Institutes I.v.1-2)

[8] Alister E. McGrath. Science and Religion, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999) p. 11

[9] “Prior to the nineteenth century there was a widespread agreement in the West, particularly in Protestant Christian circles, that resolution to these questions could be achieved by combining insights from both science and Scripture in a unified field of knowledge. If such an integrated view on the level of method and reference was established, it would become the focal point on which the understanding of life depended. Consequently, science and the Christian faith were presumed to be on the same die, mutually compatible, and dealing with the discovery of truth through a uniform epistemology.”

Diepstra, George R. and Gregory J. Laughery. “Interpreting Science and Scripture: Genesis 1-3” European Journal of Theology, 18:1, p. 6.

[10] There is a wide range of opinion encapsulated in this broad category, but generally means God created the first life and got the evolutionary ball rolling, but then left the process alone.

[11] Again, this is a broad category, but generally means God was involved and intervened in the process of creation.

[12] The term is also employed to describe a quagmire of other things, such as theological positions and hermeneutical methods, social agendas and political associations, etc., which make the title an honorific, a slur, and without context too vague for proper use.

[13] American Civil Liberties Union

[14] Alister E. McGrath. The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998) p. 22.

[15] The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, pp. 69-85. Ed. M. Martin. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2007  also Quentin Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” Philo 4/2(2001): 3-4.

[16] “God Is Not Dead Yet.” Christianity Today. July, 2008, pp. 22-27.

[17] John Hedley Brooke. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) p. 5

[18] He also convincingly argues that it is naturalism that is fundamentally hostile and only peripherally congruent. (Science and Religion: DVD, Naturalism ad absurdum).

[19] Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. p. ix

[20] Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

[21] Ibid., See also Stuart McEwing, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/the-historic-alliance-between-christianity-and-science/; Retrieved 27 Nov, 2009)

34 replies
  1. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    OK, so this is a bit naughty of me, but I noticed, Stuart, that there are three Christian responses to Darwin that you’ve listed: Theistic evolution, progressive (i.e. old earth) creationism, and “fundamentalism.”

    Are these categories exhaustive? ;)

  2. Simon
    Simon says:

    “…Christianity’s positive influence on scientific progress is seldom acknowledged.”

    I was wondering if you Stuart, or someone else, could expand on this – giving real examples of how Christianity has had a net positive impact on science…

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Glenn,

    Very naughty. :-)

    The myriad responses of individuals within the church to Darwin I had in mind I categorised into four groups; the Liberal response, the Neo-orthodox response, the Evangelical response, and the Fundamentalist response. Within the Evangelical response are many different harmonisations, the major ones being Theistic-evolution and Progressive creation. By no means is that meant to be an exhaustive list. The broad sweep over the gradations of response is meant to show that conflict only obtains to a certain subset of Christian belief committed to a certain literal hermeneutic.

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    There are many examples given in the article and articles in this series on the Conflict Thesis. So its a curious thing that you should ask. Here are some examples.

    “Many Puritans in the New World . . . went on to make significant contributions to science, their Christian faith providing the motivation, conceptual framework, and ethical values required for the scientific endeavor to succeed. This was also true for the culture as a whole, for Christians built the first universities providing higher learning and education for a broad range of people to whom it was previously unavailable.”[1]

    Christian Theology can ground the philosophical presuppositions necessary for the success of science, namely;

    “(1) The existence of a theory-independant world, (2) the orderly nature of the external word, (3) the knowability of the external world, (4) the existence of the truth, (5) the laws of logic, (6) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment, (7) the adequacy of language to describe the world, (8) the existence of values used in science (honesty), (9) the uniformity of nature and induction, (10) the existence of numbers.”[2]

    Moreover, modern science was born because of that Christian worldview.[3]

    For almost every modern scientific discipline you can think of, a Christian pioneered it.[4]

    Also theological theses can provide testable hypotheses for research. One example is commemorated in Virginia with a statue. Beneath that statue you will find an inscription that reads; “Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas, the Genius Who First Snatched from the Ocean and Atmosphere the Secret of Their Laws. His Inspiration, Holy Writ, Psalm 8:8, Psalm 107:23,24, and Ecclesiastes 1:6.”[5]

    Footnotes

    [1] Stuart McEwing “Conflict in the Newtonian Worldview,” (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/conflict-in-the-newtonian-worldview/)

    [2] Stuart McEwing, “Scientism,” (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/scientism/), See also, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press: 2003) p. 348.

    [3] Dr. Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), a Professor of anthropology, a science history writer and evolutionist, concluded that the birth of modern science was mainly due to the creationist convictions of its founders.

    “It is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear articulated fashion to the experimental method of science itself … It began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor inference with the forces He had set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond man’s wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian conception of the nature of God. It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.”

    Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Centenary: Evolution and the Men who Discovered it, (Doubleday: New York, 1961) p. 62. Quoted from W. R. Miller, “Scientists of the Christian Faith: A Presentation of the Pioneers, Practitioners and Supporters of Modern Science” (http://www.tektonics.org/scim/sciencemony.htm)

    [4] Wikipedia, “List of Christian Thinkers in Science.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_thinkers_in_science)

    [5] Stuart McEwing, “Science, God and the Bible.” (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/science-god-and-the-bible/)

  5. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    I still think that there was a time when all abrahamic faiths assumed that genesis 1 was literally correct. Evidence later contradicted this. And so the evidence in the world around us and religion are fundamentally at odds. One is based on observation, the other on wishful thinking.

  6. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Other Simon,

    I am uncertain as to precisely what you mean by “literally correct.” It may be you mean the assumption regarding Gen 1 is that a literal interpretation is correct, or it may be you mean that if Gen 1 is not given a literal interpretation (perhaps it uses poetic and symbolic imagery for theological reasons) then the Bible is in actuality less than correct.

    There very well may have been a time when a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 was universal in the Abrahamic faiths, but why should that matter? If we come to accept for instance an evolutionary story that spans millennia. we should also accept that a literal consecutive 24 hour-6 day creation period is an incorrect interpretation of the biblical data. No terrific harm done. We would recognise for the most of history Christians have been wrong about that, and now that instance has been corrected we can discover better ways to interpret Genesis 1.

    Second, why should we believe that a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 was universal among the Abrahamic faiths. I don’t know about Judaism or Islam but as far as my studies have revealed a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 has not been universal in Christian belief at any time. Augustine in the third century, for instance, did not interpret the creation account literally. Augustine has through the centuries been much beloved and imitated. While a literal interpretation was never absent, it is my impression that it only became popular and widespread among studied theologians at the turn of the nineteenth century.

    You conclude then, “so the evidence in the world around us and religion are fundamentally at odds.” For that to be true you would have to (1) make a 24hour-6 day interpretation of Gen 1 necessary, (2) make the creation account a central claim (“fundamental” you say) of religious faith, and of course, (3) accept – dogmatically – that the claims of science for an old-earth are true.

    Leaving (3) aside, both (1) and (2) need to be necessarily true if you want your statement above to follow, and that’s a burden of proof that all I know of with theological training would balk at carrying.

    This here, “One is based on observation, the other on wishful thinking,” seems to me like an ill considered slogan. Why would I wish for the God of the Bible? Is not what I believe from Biblical revelation also based on observation? Is it really the case that the whole project of Natural Theology is based on wishful thinking? That comment is too glib to be taken seriously.

    That’s a large response for such a small comment – don’t you think? :-)

  7. Simon
    Simon says:

    Stuart,

    While Christianity obviously provided foundations for many things in the past, given its immense presence in society, I would argue that all those things you and the article list come from general human inquisitiveness about how the world works – only loosely associated with any religion. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a causal relationship.

    And like Other Simon notes, there is a fundamental difference between science and religion as practised in the early days of Christianity – that of explaining the world through observation/evidence, and that of explaining the world through myth and fantasy.

    But this is a bit of a silly topic, as people find their inspirations in different ways. It seems self-evident that Christian scientists throughout the ages got inspiration from their faith – how could they not? This does not however imply that something in particular about this faith led to scientific discoveries.

  8. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    Ah, thanks for that about Augustine. I didn’t know that – it’s interesting! But going back even further, would you consider that the original authors of Gen1 believed it to be literally correct? It just seems to me that, if you go far back enought, these books were all considered to be literally correct when written. Admitttedly not poetry, but factual claims like Gen1 surely were?

    This here, “One is based on observation, the other on wishful thinking,” seems to me like an ill considered slogan. Why would I wish for the God of the Bible? Is not what I believe from Biblical revelation also based on observation? Is it really the case that the whole project of Natural Theology is based on wishful thinking? That comment is too glib to be taken seriously.

    Well, if the world wasn’t created in 6 days, in the order in Genesis. If the human race didn’t really come from two individuals, and if there wasn’t really a garden of Eden, I think ‘wishful thinking’ is quite an apt description of the thinking of the authors of Genesis, that’s all.
    We humans like to believe that there is order and purpose to the world around us. Yes, I do think that peopel want a god to exist.
    I think that what you believe from biblical revelation, and what the authors of Genesis believed are on par. You could do a lot better by just sticking to what you can be sure to know. All the rest is almost certainly wrong.
    As far as I can see, natural theology is completely redundant. It doesn’t seem to add anything to our worldview. Nothing whatsoever (save psychology) is gained from it. I would be interested to know what it is that you find gainful from natural theology.

  9. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Simon,

    There are two issues here. The first is the birth of modern science in history, and the second is the continuation of science today. You say “There certainly doesn’t seem to be a causal relationship.” Is the causal relationship you refer to the historical one, where you would contend that Christianity did not cause the birth modern science? Or is it the continuation-of-science-today issue, where you would contend that Christianity is not needed for the success of science now?

    If the first then your woefully mistaken, and you need only do a little reading on the topic as a corrective. May I suggest David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986). As that will seem insufficient for anyone not desiring to delve any further on the topic, let me point out the following. I do not argue that Christianity was a sufficient condition, but it does appear that it was a necessary one. Perhaps you offer “general human inquisitiveness about how the world works” as a sufficient condition for the continuation of modern science. But if “general human inquisitiveness” is all that was needed why is it then, that modern science was not born in Ancient Greece, the Medo-Persian Empire, Egypt or Babylon, or seventeenth century China, India, etc…? It seems evident to me that inquisitiveness alone merely gives explanations of how the world works – and generally religious ones at that – not the hypothetico-deductive method of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment which “succeeded beyond man’s wildest dreams.”

    If the second, then at once you fail to grasp two things of great import. One, the impact of a fully realised atheism on the practice of science, and two, that you’re living off borrowed capital from Christianity. If you are offering “general human inquisitiveness about how the world works” as sufficient for the continuation of science today then you may be correct. But this fails to appreciate that today’s modern and westernised culture is steeped in a Christian worldview (as many do), and the only worldview that allows the assumptions necessary for the success of science: to name a few; (i) the orderly nature of the external word, (ii) the knowability of the external world, and (iii) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment. These assumptions do not arise out of nowhere. They are not inherent to all human beings as you might believe. They are unable to be proved by the experimental method. They are not given by a fully realised atheistic worldview which should (at least) rationally deny (iii).

    As to your next paragraph, I have already answered Other Simon in comment # 30 November 2009 at 12:32 am.

    In the next paragraph you argue that (1) Christian scientists got inspiration from their faith, but (2) This does not imply that there is something in particular about Christian faith led to scientific discoveries. I confess I don’t don’t see the reasoning here. If Christian faith provides inspiration and motivation for science, then there is something in particular that led a Christian to scientific discoveries. That was the case for Newton. I don’t see why you would not consider “inspiration” as “something in particular.” But in any case, the other example I provided in # 29 November 2009 at 3:13 pm above was of Matthew Fontaine Maury, who used the scripture as a source for testable hypotheses, which is certainly “something in particular.”

  10. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    But if “general human inquisitiveness” is all that was needed why is it then, that modern science was not born in Ancient Greece, the Medo-Persian Empire, Egypt or Babylon, or seventeenth century China, India, etc…?

    Ah! No other culture gave rise to the modern instantiation of science. But many others were at the cutting edge. China was probably the first, Greeks, Romans. Later, the centre of the academic world was Baghdad(Islam). And today, of course, we have secularism.

    (i) the orderly nature of the external word, (ii) the knowability of the external world, and (iii) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment.

    These assumptions are perfectly valid without theism. Why? Because it makes no sense to assume the opposites: they work! (iii) is perfectly sensible under atheism, too.

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    Today, of course, modern science has already been established, so you can’t use that as an example. And the fact is modern science, as characterised by the formulation and establishment of the hypothetico-deductive method, did not arise anywhere else apart from Christianised Enlightenment Europe. Basically because those other cultures you listed neither believed nor could rationally affirm (i) through (iii). The Greeks for instance were first-class thinkers, but within their worldview could not even conceive of (i) through (iii). The world, they thought was the product of a pantheon of capricious gods which were by nature unknowable. The universe was formed from chaos. It followed that the world would remain inexplicable, and no amount of effort could ever hope to understand the mysterious. They gave us geometry, they gave us philosophy, but they did not give us, nor even come close to creating modern science. The conditions necessary for it simply were not present.

    Your denial of (iii) begs the question – (iii) is so because it can’t not be so. The negation of (iii) would be “our cognitive and sensory faculties that serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment are unreliable,” which makes perfect sense. And that’s precisely what atheism entails, for the evolutionary process determines our cognitive and sensory faculties are the product of chance and natural selection. As natural selection selects on the basis of survivability and not truth that is correspondent to an objective reality, atheism gives us the negation of (iii), not (iii).

  12. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    I don’t understand. What has ‘already been established’ got to do with ‘using as an example’? Algebra (itself an arabic-islamic word) has already been established. Can’t I use that as an example?

    I absolutely and completely agree that Christianity played a large part in modern science. No question. But that isn’t the problem:
    I can see that you are treating modern science as an on/off, 1/0, black and white thing. It is not. To do this is (A)now-centrically naive, and I think in your case (B)christian-o-centrically naive.

    To illustrate (B): You claim that “modern science…did not arise anywhere else apart from Christianised Enlightenment Europe” I don’t disagree, but the problem is that nowhere else on earth did philosophy and education flourish as it did in ancient greece, in ancient Greece’s hayday. Nowhere else did engineering flourish as it did in the Roman Empire, during it’s time. Nowhere else on earth did mathematics, astronomy, science, arts…..(*) advance like they did in the Islamic world in it’s time.

    I mean, just read this section on the scientific method in the Islamic Age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_golden_age#Scientific_method) and then try to claim with a straight face that only christianity can claim (i)-(iii). That’s like claiming gunpowder for christinity because the Chinese didn’t really invent it because they didn’t have the ‘right’ religion! It’s intellectually dishonest is what it is. Or “woeful” ignorance at the least.

    The world, they thought was the product of a pantheon of capricious gods which were by nature unknowable

    Need I annotate this one?

    As for (A), Christianity is certainly the most recent philosophy of history to advance human thought. But it will almost certainly not be the last. It could probably be argued that advancement is now found through post-christian philosophy; secularism. But there’s no convincing a christian, any more than you could convince a muslim that Islam’s Golden Age is over!

    (iii):

    As natural selection selects on the basis of survivability and not truth that is correspondent to an objective reality

    I have corrected you on this before, Stuart. Organisms which have survivabililty hold truthful representations of reality! It makes perfect sense, then, to trust our cognitive and sensory capabilities.

    Sorry that I have been rather exasperatedly damning in tone Stuart but, alas, I think it needed here.

    (*)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_golden_age

  13. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other SImon

    Sorry I missed your comment # 30 November 2009 at 7:30 pm. Here I respond to some of the issues you raised there.

    But going back even further, would you consider that the original authors of Gen1 believed it to be literally correct? It just seems to me that, if you go far back enough, these books [Genesis creation account] were all considered to be literally correct when written. Admitttedly not poetry, but factual claims like Gen1 surely were?

    No, I do not think that the case. And you should be weary as a thinker in the modern, western world of condescending to the Ancient and superimposing onto the original hearers what we believe the original hearers thought about the text. Before any such attempt is made, you have to at least familiarise yourself with their own cultural context.

    The background context of Genesis is a new born nation of Israel after their exodus from Egypt under Moses. It is probably written and compiled from various oral and manuscript sources from their heritage. The original hearers of the text were with little doubt familiar with that genre of writing, as other cultures in close proximity had similar creation stories, and with a high degree of certainty did not understand their own creation story to be a literal description of the methods and procedure (including the length of time) God employed to create the universe. There are problems with definitive statements, as the early chapters of Genesis are difficult to categorise in terms of specific sub-genre and even genre. But its clear however that Genesis 1 is a some sort of poetry which is rich with theological imagery and import.

    Even the word “poetry” is unsatisfactory description because it conjures to the modern mind romanticism and fictional embellishment. Poetry however, is a broad category distinguished by the use of lyrical devises such as syntax, rhythm, meter, parallelism, repetition, simile, metaphor, hyperbole, etc. And poems can describe actual events in narrative form. Genesis’ early chapters appear to me to be the combination or melding of both the Poetry and Narrative genres.

    We also have to be careful not to falsely polarise fiction and symbolism and metaphor, for truth can be expressed in figurative language. Just because it is written in the poetic genre does not disqualify it as correspondent to what actually happened. What we have to do if we want to interpret clearly and correctly is distinguish what is figurative language, and what is not, as well as what is the passage communicating theologically.

    You could do a lot better by just sticking to what you can be sure to know. All the rest is almost certainly wrong.

    I dare not apply such a limited epistemology. :-) As I don’t know for sure a great many things, I would never leave the house for fear of death.

    Other Simon: One is based on observation, the other on wishful thinking

    Stuart: Is it really the case that the whole project of Natural Theology is based on wishful thinking?

    Other SImon: As far as I can see, natural theology is completely redundant. It doesn’t seem to add anything to our worldview. Nothing whatsoever (save psychology) is gained from it. I would be interested to know what it is that you find gainful from natural theology.

    Warrant.

  14. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Stuart,

    I agree with your blog that there is no conflict between science and Christianity. And I even agree with your comments that Christianity is causal to the advent of modern science. Very fertile breeding grounds indeed. Apart from the basis Christianity provides to rational thought and structured matter, I think one more important point would be the attitude of Christ-likeness. This bears itself out in unsurpassed integrity, truthfulness, care and compassion – great qualities for practicing science. Along with wanting to understand God’s handiwork, the desire to serve other can be actualised through scientific endeavours.

  15. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean by “warrant”.

    Further to my post at # 1 December 2009 at 11:28 pm: What was christianity doing for 1600 years? What was it doing when, in the ~9th – 13th Islam had it’s Golden Age? Clearly during that time Islam was on the right track and Christianity was not. This shows that there is far more to it that just having the ‘correct’ axioms.
    Either christianity changed, in which case why did it take 1600 years of having the bible to arrive at the ‘correct’ theology? Or, there were other ingredients which were needed, and the correct epistemological axioms are a minor requirement. I think the latter.

  16. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean by “warrant”.

    There are fine technicalities in the definition, but I basically use it to mean JUSTIFICATION.

  17. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    On presupposition (iii): the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment.

    Stuart: As natural selection selects on the basis of survivability and not truth that is correspondent to an objective reality

    Other Simon: . . . Organisms which have survivabililty hold truthful representations of reality! It makes perfect sense, then, to trust our cognitive and sensory capabilities.

    You haven’t grasped the point at all. To believe that statement you have to use your cognitive and sensory faculties which are a product of the evolutionary process which selected on the basis of survivability. It’s a question of knowing and having confidence given the respective worldviews. There is no way you can have any confidence given naturalism that what you perceive and think about reality is indeed objectively true. Given naturalism and the type of evolutionary theory that entails, you can’t even know if naturalism itself is true – let alone evolution by natural selection or the capabilities of your brain and senses – or if you merely think it true because that belief increases survivability.

    Now you can assume that because human ancestry survived your cognitive and sensory faculties correspond to reality. But that is nothing more that a leap of faith on your part. You have to assume (iii) to believe your bold statement.

  18. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Other Simon,

    What has ‘already been established’ got to do with ‘using as an example’? Algebra (itself an arabic-islamic word) has already been established. Can’t I use that as an example?

    If you are looking for an example of modern science outside the sphere of Christianised Enlightenment Europe, NO you can’t use algebra, as algebra is not modern science. And NO, you can’t use today’s modern science as an example for the birth of science under secularism. It has already been birthed and embedded into contemporary culture. If you are referring to the continuing-success-of-science issue, then you still can’t use secularism as an example as secularism labours to establish itself in a culture where Christian presuppositions still dominate. Secularism is a philosophy living off borrowed capital.

    You claim I’m naive when it comes to the origins of modern science because I treat it as either a “on/off, 1/0, black and white thing” which I take to mean “either modern science is there or it isn’t.” I ask you, is there a third alternative? You accuse me of being “Christian-o-centrically naive,” and to illustrate your point, first, you “don’t disagree” with me, which is tacit acceptance of my point, and then next all you do is give examples of other cultures where other disciplines were (such as Roman engineering, Greek “philosophy and education,” etc.), which doesn’t at all advance your point, for modern science is the subject of discussion – not those others. I see this as an utter failure to demonstrate my naivety.

    Your most compelling example is the Islamic “Golden Age of Science.” You state; “Nowhere else on earth did mathematics, astronomy, science, arts . . . advance like they did in the Islamic world in it’s time.” Are you serious? Perhaps you mean up until the seventeenth century there was no period of advancement in science to match the Islamic Golden Age of Science. If this latter, I might agree. The following is a few thoughts on the subject.

    First, this actually affirms my case that the Conflict Thesis is refuted. Region and science should not be described in militaristic or combative terms. Rather religion (and not just the Christian religion) is a boon to science, as is the case conversely.

    Second, Islam is theistic worldview. If anything resembling modern science were to present itself in pre-Enlightenment history, Islam is exactly where you would expect it to find it, as they can (unlike atheism, naturalism, secular humanism, etc.) at least affirm the rationality of (i) through (iii) – despite there being some reason for theological opposition to a world-view inclusive of these.

    Third, the Islamic “Golden Age of Science” was not modern science, as distinguished by the hypothetico-deductive method, rapid advancement in technology, aggressive innovation, and the continuation of these. The wikipedia source you are so fond of notes; (i) that this movement was a very long period of time – between the 7th and 16th Century, (ii) a diversity of ethnicity and religious backgrounds – although most Muslim, (iii) a variety of views from scholarship on this age, namely; (A) the traditionalist view – while admirable in many technical ways, lacked the intellectual energy required for innovation and was chiefly important as a preserver of ancient knowledge and transmitter to medieval Europe, (B) the revisionist view – that there was during the middle ages a Muslim scientific revolution which was the driving force of Muslim achievments, and (C) the most prominent view in recent scholarship, which holds that Muslim scientists did help in laying the foundations for an experimental science with many contributions, but that this was not a revolution, and finally, (iv) Islam inherited the knowledge and skills from the places they conquered and expanded, such as the Middle East and more than half of the Byzantine Roman Empire. (How’s that for a long sentence?)

    You also accuse me of being “Now-centrically naive” with respect to the presence/absense of modern science, even though it is I who recognise that modern science was born and nurtured in and around the seventeenth century (which is not now). The argument you give admits that Christianity has been beneficial for science, but to suggest there will be other philosophies that will also, suggesting Secularism. The argument does not lead to the conclusion that I am naive in any way. The hope you express for Secularism to advance science somehow is unfounded speculation and irrelevant. Its also doubtful what Secularism, an intellectual movement that seeks to expunge religion from society, could possibly positively contribute to the scientific enterprise.

    Further you add in comment # 3 December 2009 at 2:45 pm that 1600 years of Christianity produced God-knows-what, and ask what were Christians doing during this time of the Islamic Golden Age?

    Well, for the first 2-3 centuries they were periodically hiding in caves, trying their best not to get eaten by lions. From the third century Christianity was exerting a civilising influence on Roman culture, accomplishing things like the closure of the Colosseum. Christian Philosophers in this time were interested in making sense of the biblical data by nutting out coherent formulations of Christian doctrine. It takes a few centuries for a worldview to thoroughly established itself in a culture, and a few more, in a society where communication is limited by the expense and frailty of paper and the speed of distributing hand-written letters by mail, for the entailments of that worldview to present themselves and become apparent. By then there were things like the “Dark Ages,” Islamic aggression and conquest, and a sharp stratification of class in Catholicism effecting things like the availability of the Bible and an education in thinking Christianly. Conditions were not fertile for a scientific revolution – that is until things like the printing press and the Protestant reformation. Note that not long after this was the scientific revolution in the early modern period and the emergence was the of Modern science.

    Either christianity changed, in which case why did it take 1600 years of having the bible to arrive at the ‘correct’ theology? Or, there were other ingredients which were needed, and the correct epistemological axioms are a minor requirement. I think the latter.

    Yes, Christianity did change. Yes, Christian theology was corrected. Have your heard of the Reformation? Yes, other ingredients were needed, not only the presuppositions conducive to the birth and continuance of Modern science. I have already noted this in Conflict for the Conflict Thesis, footnote [7] and [8], as well as above in comment # 30 November 2009 at 9:15 pm where I state. “I do not argue that Christianity was a sufficient condition, but it does appear that it was a necessary one.” Note further that Islam was born in the seventh century, and borrowed from Christian theology its conception of God and creation. Thus a Muslim presupposing (i)-(iii) is completely understandable. It is also possible for Islam to affirm presuppositions (i)-(iii), despite the theological distortions which minimise their obviousness.

  19. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    You haven’t grasped the point at all. To believe that statement you have to use your cognitive and sensory faculties which are a product of the evolutionary process which selected on the basis of survivability. It’s a question of knowing and having confidence given the respective worldviews. There is no way you can have any confidence given naturalism that what you perceive and think about reality is indeed objectively true. Given naturalism and the type of evolutionary theory that entails, you can’t even know if naturalism itself is true – let alone evolution by natural selection or the capabilities of your brain and senses – or if you merely think it true because that belief increases survivability.

    Now you can assume that because human ancestry survived your cognitive and sensory faculties correspond to reality. But that is nothing more that a leap of faith on your part. You have to assume (iii) to believe your bold statement.

    Yes, I hear your point. And the wish to ground knowledge absolutely, as you wish to do, has been an important and vital step in human epistemology for the reasons you outline in your article here: the birth of modern science was intertwined with christianity.
    However, I think it has passed this stage. With absolutely no sign of anything supernatural, it is only reasonable to class every possible thing as natural. If we try to pin our knowledge, in an absolutist sense, upon something – it too is subject to the same intellectual conundrum that you point out above* (esp. any being). To just assert – with absolutely no evidence at all I might add – that there is an object/being to which these conundra and natural limitations do not apply is ad-hoc to say the least. And, in fact, what such an assertion is at the core, is an after-the-fact justification: the desire to justify knowledge as being absolute; the psychological safety involved, is what motivates the ad-hoc move of just baselessly declaring absolute knowledge.

    Our brains have evolved to mimick the world around us. We manipulate symbols internally, and our brains have been selected for the ability to do this accurately. But ‘accurately’ does not mean ‘absolutely’ in the sense you would like. It is merely a correlation.
    How do I know to trust this explanation? I merely trust my senses, which is all anyone can do. And my senses in turn are honed, in large part, by ‘christian science’. And ‘christian science’ has sowed the seeds of it own destruction. Its very philosophical underpinnings don’t stand up to the evidence-oriented thinking that they gave birth to. And so knowledge moves on. But, sadly, absolutist thinking cannot recognise this, which is why you, Stuart, can not explain why massive advances in knowledge have occured outside of christianity. Nor can you accept that knowledge can move on.
    And so I can accept my explanation of how our brains have evolved, just as a large proportion of now-secular academics do. But it’s more than that. I can embrace the explanation as useful, but all the while be quite cognisant, receptive, and open to future explanations which might arrise. You cannot, and so you remain a barrier to the advancement of knowledge.

    *This is exactly like the “god-is-a-self-extant being” argument. Arguing that god it the one thing that didn’t need to be created. It is completely ad-hoc. Just declaring something as not subject to the same rules as everything else is….silly. Especially when there is no evidence of that thing.

  20. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    Re: post 10:03

    The core of our discusson here is of your (i)-(iii):

    (i) the orderly nature of the external word, (ii) the knowability of the external world, and (iii) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties

    You claimed that:
    “Basically because those other cultures [china, greek, roman, islam] you listed neither believed nor could rationally affirm (i) through (iii).”

    I do not understand how you can conclude this? Perhaps you could explain an example for me.

    *“In Classical Antiquity, the inquiry into the workings of the universe took place both in investigations aimed at such practical goals as establishing a reliable calendar or determining how to cure a variety of illnesses…”

    It seems to me that, if one were going to try to cure illnesses, you would have to assume (iii), otherwise, how would you know whether the illnesses were cured? If your senses were untrustworthy, you might see a cured person, when in actual fact your senses were lying and the person was not cured. So to even attempt to embark upon the project of trying to cure illnesses one would necessarily have to assume (iii)
    (iii) assumes (ii). If you are trusting your senses then you are trusting that your senses are giving you knowledge. If you are trusting your senses to give you knowledge, then you are assuming that the external world is knowable.
    To determine how to cure an illness, whether it be by administering chemicals or performing a seance, one would have to assume (i). If you are trying to determine how to cure a particular illness, you are trying to find out what to do to cure it. And if you can find out what to do then the external world is orderly, for effect follows cause.

    In this way even the ancient Greeks believed (i)-(iii). They even considered ‘rational affirm’ations of them: *“How did the ordered cosmos in which we live come to be?”

    *from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_science#Science_in_the_Greco-Roman_world

  21. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon

    *This is exactly like the “god-is-a-self-extant being” argument. Arguing that god it the one thing that didn’t need to be created. It is completely ad-hoc. Just declaring something as not subject to the same rules as everything else is….silly. Especially when there is no evidence of that thing.

    As background an atheist might counter a teleological arguments with the question “Who made God?” Thinking they have said something profound. The Christian can reply “God is a self-existent being, and so the question is a category mistake: like saying ‘What is the smell of a symphony,’ The question is literally, ‘Who created an un-created being’ which is more profoundly silly.” Now the atheist’s counter may be a good one for the teleological arguments – I don’t think so as an explanation of an explanation is an unnecessary requirement for the design inference – however, the cosmological arguments are immune to this question, as the premises conclude the existence of a necessary being. Therefore it is not ad-hoc, but logically necessary if the premises are true, and wholly rational if the premises are more probable than their contradictions.

    And the wish to ground knowledge absolutely, as you wish to do, has been an important and vital step in human epistemology . . .

    This is not my wish. I already said I dare not apply such a stringent epistemology, else I would never leave the house. I disagree with this Cartesian principle, and affirm that I cannot ground everything absolutely. Why should I wish that. Absolutely is not the benchmark of knowledge I desire. I desire merely rationality.

    With absolutely no sign of anything supernatural, it is only reasonable to class every possible thing as natural.

    This is so foolish, I’m inclined to believe you misspoke. Forgive me, but if “every possible thing” is natural, then supernatural entities such as God, angels, etc, are necessarily not-possible, which is to say impossible. It should be clear this is a philosophical statement, and so requires philosophical justification. And I hope for something a hell of a lot better than the naturalist just assuming there is an absence of evidence in the supernatural, and this is evidence of absence. Hence, I need not add that I do not think there is an absence of evidence.

    It seems to me that, if one were going to try to cure illnesses, you would have to assume (iii), otherwise, how would you know whether the illnesses were cured? If your senses were untrustworthy, you might see a cured person, when in actual fact your senses were lying and the person was not cured. So to even attempt to embark upon the project of trying to cure illnesses one would necessarily have to assume (iii)
    (iii) assumes (ii). If you are trusting your senses then you are trusting that your senses are giving you knowledge. If you are trusting your senses to give you knowledge, then you are assuming that the external world is knowable.
    To determine how to cure an illness, whether it be by administering chemicals or performing a seance, one would have to assume (i). If you are trying to determine how to cure a particular illness, you are trying to find out what to do to cure it. And if you can find out what to do then the external world is orderly, for effect follows cause.

    In a way this confirms what I have been saying – that these assumptions are necessary for science. I would expect if these are assumed then technology, medical science, etc., would advance. Now if the Greeks did believe (i) through (iii) then I will admit on that score it was I who misspoke. Still, Christian theology grounded these assumptions like no other before, which provided suitable conditions for modern science to be born and flourish.

    Now if secularism was successful in expunging all religion, especially Christianity, from society, could modern science continue? Sure… if those assumptions remained. But as naturalism, nor atheism can rationally affirm (i) through (iii) – that is, neither can ground those assumptions with sound reasons – modern science’s prospects do not look promising. Now if the secularist in his or her utopian future can assume (i) through (iii) fine – good for them. But without reasons to ground those assumptions, lets not pretend that the naturalist then, is making just as large a leap-of-faith as they accuse Christians of making.

  22. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    The self-extant thing is just nonsense. God is the ONE thing that is self-extant. That is, almost by definition, ad-hoc. It is just as ad-hoc as caliming that the universe always existed.

    This is so foolish, I’m inclined to believe you misspoke. Forgive me, but if “every possible thing” is natural, then supernatural entities such as God, angels, etc, are necessarily not-possible, which is to say impossible.

    Now you are just word games. “Everything is natural” is an empirical statment. All it means is that everything we observe has no properties which could be called supernatural. The modern science which you so wish to claim refutes the supernatural.

    Now if the Greeks did believe (i) through (iii) then I will admit on that score it was I who misspoke. Still, Christian theology grounded these assumptions like no other before, which provided suitable conditions for modern science to be born and flourish.

    Ah, glad we agree about the Greeks. I put it to you that any advance in knowledge assumes these three, not just the Greeks.
    The bold part is a mistake. Even if the Greeks did not explicitly believe (i)-(iii), they did so implicitly; they had to, there is just no way that knowledge could be pursued otherwise.

    Now if secularism was successful in expunging all religion, especially Christianity, from society, could modern science continue? Sure… if those assumptions remained. But as naturalism, nor atheism can rationally affirm (i) through (iii) – that is, neither can ground those assumptions with sound reasons – modern science’s prospects do not look promising. Now if the secularist in his or her utopian future can assume (i) through (iii) fine – good for them. But without reasons to ground those assumptions, lets not pretend that the naturalist then, is making just as large a leap-of-faith as they accuse Christians of making.

    So imagine the scenario, then, where religion disappeared off the planet all of a sudden. All that was left were secularists. Now, are you really saying that these secularists would start to say “Oh, I don’t think I can trust my senses anymore.” I do not think that you really believe that, Stuart.
    I don’t see why it is a large leap of faith to observe that: “Assuming (i)-(iii) has brought such a wealth of knowledge and advancement to society. Therefore (i)-(iii) must be true beliefs. They are clearly a TRUE description of the world we inhabit.

  23. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Other Simon

    The self-extant thing is just nonsense. God is the ONE thing that is self-extant. That is, almost by definition, ad-hoc. It is just as ad-hoc as caliming that the universe always existed.

    The comparison you make between God being self-existent and the universe being eternal is nonsense. The universe has good scientific evidence and philosophical arguments that show beyond reasonable doubt that it had a beginning. No such evidence or argument can be found for God not being self-existent. And as I noted above – a point on which you have failed to address – the cosmological arguments are immune to this criticism as their premises conclude a necessary (self-existent) being.

    As it happens God is not the only thing that is self-existent. The laws of logic, like the law of non-contradiction, are self-existent. Certain truth claims are self existent, like “There is no such thing as a married bachelor.” Philosophers who think that numbers exist also think that numbers are self-existent. A Platonist would say that forms are self-existent (in fact you yourself have affirmed Atheistic Moral Platonism which is itself affirming the existence of self-existent and necessary things – see comment # 27 October 2009 at 4:35 pm).

    But even if it is claimed that God is the ONLY self-existent thing, that does not make such a claim ad hoc. For there may be other reasons why God is believed to be self-existent. Such as his self-disclosure to Moses somewhere in the middle of the 15th century B.C. (so much for an “after-the-fact” justification), the voice of the burning bush saying “I AM that I AM” (Exo 3:14). Such as his self-disclosure in Jesus Christ, who spoke the words of John 5:26, “The Father has life in himself.” Such as other scriptures which speak to God’s self-existence. Such as a deduction from other attributes, including eternality, and immateriality. Such as from the conclusions of the cosmological arguments.

    Now you are just word games. “Everything is natural” is an empirical statment.

    Sorry to dissapoint you but “Everything is natural” is not an empirical statement. It is a faith commitment, and will remain so until you have observed simultaneously and comprehended all that exists. But if you could do that, the statement would be false, as you would be God. Your clarification is likewise just as woefully misconceived;

    All it means is that everything we observe has no properties which could be called supernatural.

    First, note that this revision is not equivalent to “Everything is natural.” Second, I wonder if you have sufficiently observed the field to be able to declare this with confidence? As for myself, I personally know a few people who have witnessed or personally experienced miraculous circumstances such as healing, documented by medical experts, which to my mind is of that class to decisively place it beyond doubt that some of what we observe is not natural. Third, this fails to appreciate that God primarily works through secondary-causation. Fourth, it also fails to appreciate all the arguments of natural theology, to which it is evident you take no cognisance of. Fifth, this revised statement does not lead to the conclusion “The modern science which you so wish to claim refutes the supernatural.” How does science refute God? It seems to me that even if modern science is committed to the presupposition of methodological naturalism (which, by the way, I do think it is), it still does not refute the claim that God exists. Note also that in order for one thing to refute another, it needs an argument. What is the argument here? Perhaps you could grace us with a syllogism?

    So imagine the scenario, then, where religion disappeared off the planet all of a sudden. All that was left were secularists. Now, are you really saying that these secularists would start to say “Oh, I don’t think I can trust my senses anymore.” I do not think that you really believe that, Stuart.

    You are partly right and partly wrong. You are right when you say “I do not think that you really believe that, Stuart.” That part is true at least. I think this because should Christianity suddenly disappear it would leave the presuppositions it has so thoroughly engrained into the culture. These would no longer be able to be grounded rationally, just as they cannot be by naturalism now, but as long as (iii) continues to be assumed people will trust their senses.

    You are wrong in that your thought experiment doesn’t go far enough. The correct scenario to image would be if the effects of Christianity were removed altogether from society from, say the middle of the fifteenth century (perhaps we should go further and remove religion altogether from history). In this scenario, there would be no Protestant reformation – or Catholicism either – and probably no printing press. Would, then, modern science have been able to arise out of the mud? Well, any answer – yours, mine, anyone – will be speculation. But for me I think not. Things I suspect would have carried on as usual – a slow and gradual increase in the tech and knowledge base, rather than the rapid increase which the emergence of modern science produced. Bright sparks few and far between in an unbroken era of general darkness.

    What I think you don’t appreciate is without Christianity (or at least a theistic worldview) any instance of beliefs (i) through (iii) are exceptions and not the rule. Christian theology became so prevalent in the cultural milieu of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth century that these assumptions became the norm, such that even an atheist could participate in the scientific revolution. Such that even you today can comfortably assume (i) through (iii) and believe it rational, even though you have disposed of the means to make it reasonable.

    I don’t see why it is a large leap of faith to observe that: “Assuming (i)-(iii) has brought such a wealth of knowledge and advancement to society. Therefore (i)-(iii) must be true beliefs. They are clearly a TRUE description of the world we inhabit.

    Put syllogistically;
    [1] Assuming (i)-(iii) has brought such a wealth of knowledge and advancement to society
    [2] Therefore (i)-(iii) must be true beliefs.

    Its clear to any student of logic this is not an argument worthy of annotating. For one thing, its seems to be missing a premise. For another, [1] does not lead to [2], and commits the fallacy argumentum ad consequentiam, where one evaluates the truth of a belief on the basis of that beliefs (positive or negative) effect, called the Appeal to Consequences. Truths can be both detrimental and beneficial. Lies likewise.

    Another syllogistic rendering;
    [1] Assuming (i)-(iii) has brought such a wealth of knowledge and advancement to society
    [2] They are clearly a TRUE description of the world we inhabit.
    [3] Therefore (i)-(iii) must be true beliefs.

    This is blatant Begging the Question. Well… what else can I make of the quoted statement above?

    Without good reason to believe (i) though (iii), why assume them? Should I quote back to your own words, “You could do a lot better by just sticking to what you can be sure to know. All the rest is almost certainly wrong”, or should I reiterate that (i) through (iii) are, if held by the secularist, just as much faith commitments as what the village atheist charges a Christian’s belief in God to be? Perhaps I would do both… if I hadn’t already.

  24. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    No such evidence or argument can be found for God not being self-existent.

    Hmmmn. I can see how you end up believeing strange things!
    Ultimately, the universe can have had no beginning. Scientists talk about the universe having a begining, but they do not mean the ‘universe’ as in absolutely everything. This becomes immediately obvious when you ask them what could have caused the universe. For example, if the universe had a beginning there must have been something before it. And that something-before-it must be part of the universe by the definition of ‘universe’. There is a necessarily self-contradiction and mystery here. I embrace that.

    I still think the idea that there is an uncaused cause is ad-hoc. We NEVER observe uncaused causes; we know this. There is no call for one.

    Sorry to dissapoint you but “Everything is natural” is not an empirical statement. It is a faith commitment, and will remain so until you have observed simultaneously and comprehended all that exists

    Yawn. It is also a statement of faith that mass attracts mass. We have had quite enough baseless claims of the supernatural over the centuries. The longer we go on without evidence the more certain the statement “Everything is Natural” becomes.

    …..I personally know a few people who have witnessed or personally experienced miraculous circumstances……

    None of your ‘evidence’ here would be considered seriously by the science which you so zealously claim for christianity. Come up with some actual evidence or just don’t bother.

    should Christianity suddenly disappear it would leave the presuppositions it has so thoroughly engrained into the culture.

    Lol. Those same ones that the Greeks believed?!

    What I think you don’t appreciate is without Christianity (or at least a theistic worldview) any instance of beliefs (i) through (iii) are exceptions and not the rule.

    Again, I’m not going to disagree that christianity had a fair amount to do with science. But I DO think that knowledge would have ramped up eventually.Why? Because we seem, as brains, to have this wonderful ability to observe ourselves. Allow me to expand: At first the assumptions (i)-(iii) would have been implicit. People just assumed them and noticed the patterns in nature – say, for instance, in crop planting. Then people notice the pattern of patterns. They notice that there is more than just crops which follow order; cause and effect. So then they start asserting that much more/all of nature follows logic/order/cause&effect! In this way our ability to make meta-observations would eventually have led to the assertion (i)-(iii). It leads, eventually, to the statment in your last quote of me: the sucess of the assumptions is now an observed fact in and of itself.

    I don’t know of your ‘logical’ audits. I think that maybe you are just scared of admitting something. What I know is this. People the world over – religious, non-religious, whatever – can see the order in the world around them. And in seeing it, they are assuming (i)-(iii). And if you hounded them and demand, as you do, why assume them? they would essentially answer “by their fruit”.

    You seem to spend a lot of your time trying to justify yourself, Stuart, by backtracking and picking things apart and rebuilding them. You have it backwards, poor chap! It is not ‘faithful’ to believe (i)-(iii) because of the fruit they bear. It is sensible. A common-sense which you appear to be butting up against.

  25. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    Ultimately, the universe can have had no beginning. Scientists talk about the universe having a begining, but they do not mean the ‘universe’ as in absolutely everything. This becomes immediately obvious when you ask them what could have caused the universe. For example, if the universe had a beginning there must have been something before it. And that something-before-it must be part of the universe by the definition of ‘universe’. There is a necessarily self-contradiction and mystery here. I embrace that.

    I guess he who embraces self-contradiction wins the day… I can be content if your victory is without rationality.

    I still think the idea that there is an uncaused cause is ad-hoc. We NEVER observe uncaused causes; we know this. There is no call for one.

    So the argument is uncaused causes do not exist because you’ve never seen or observed one. Pathetic! And your belief in an eternal universe only escapes the Kalam Cosmological argument, not the Liebnitzian from sufficient reason or Aquinas’ from existential causality.

    It is not ‘faithful’ to believe (i)-(iii) because of the fruit they bear? It is sensible. A common-sense which you appear to be butting up against.

    Insofar as you think something is true because it is ‘fruitful’ you commit the fallacy, argumentum ad consequentiam or the Appeal to Consequences. Your admission that you don’t know logic was unnecessary, but thank you.

    And of course I think it faithful to common sense to believe in the reliability of senses… I’M A THEIST! (as were the ancient Greeks by the way.) The question is, why do you? I can’t see any reason to think that you should assume the reliability of the senses if you were an atheist.

    Oh, unless your willing to embrace self-contradiction and mystery.

  26. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ultimately, the universe can have had no beginning. Scientists talk about the universe having a begining, but they do not mean the ‘universe’ as in absolutely everything. This becomes immediately obvious when you ask them what could have caused the universe. For example, if the universe had a beginning there must have been something before it. And that something-before-it must be part of the universe by the definition of ‘universe’. There is a necessarily self-contradiction and mystery here. I embrace that.

    Aside from the admitted self-contradiction, this is a very poor analysis of the issues.

    For one, when scientists talk of a beginning to the universe, they do refer to an absolute beginning of all matter, energy, space and time. Note well Barrow and Tipler on ‘Nothing’ and the absolute beginning of the universe…

    It is, of course, somewhat inappropriate to call the origin of a bubble universe in a fluctuation of the vacuum ‘creation ex nihilo‘, for the quantum mechanical vacuum is not truly ‘nothing’; rather, the vacuum state has a rich structure which resides in a previously existing substratum of space-time, either Minkowski of de Sitter space-time. Clearly, a true ‘creation ex nihilo‘ would be spontaneous generation of everything space-time, the quantum mechanical vacuum, matter at some time in the past.

    John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986), p. 441.

    At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

    Ibid., 442.

    For two, when you ask a scientist in the know what caused the universe, he would be wise to not respond. Such a question lies beyond his domain and belongs properly to the metaphysicians. Other Simon seems to posses the mistaken notion that the universe (which is all that is natural; be it space, matter, time or energy) can somehow circumvent the laws of logic and pre-exist its own existence. I say “seems” because it is very difficult to discern if this is an argument or just a word game.

  27. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hmmm, I was following this discussion but will now not. It became utterly futile when the Other Simon make a couple of claims

    a) the universe needs a cause because of the necessity for something before it (you cannot get something from nothing)
    b) there cannot be an uncaused cause, (and the reason for this was) because we never observe such (so) there is no call for such

    Yes Other Simon, you certainly do embrace contradictions and as such have proven that you cannot even be reasoned with. The first point you made contradicts the second because you used logic to reason that there must be something eternal (which is an “uncaused cause”). Then you immediately refute your own logic by claiming that what “you observe” (is everything and this) refutes the possibility of “uncaused causes”.

    A person only needs one “miracle”, one non-natural event to break the false paradigm of naturalism. If you cannot see how rationality, or objective morality, or the design of life breaks this (which is open to everyone), I suggest you look at the “scientific studies” that confirm consciousness after death and consciousness apart from the physical body. If it dawns on you that we really are more than just matter, then it would be entirely prudent to seek the truth. I certainly wish you the best is this matter.

    Stuart, thanks for the time you put in to explaining the same thing over and over. And your dedication to reason and logic is well appreciated.

  28. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Stuart,

    From the quotes you posted:

    literally nothing existed before the singularity

    This is a nonsense statement. It does not make sense to say ‘nothing existed before the singularity’ For this assumes a ‘before’ and a before isn’t nothing.

    For two, when you ask a scientist in the know what caused the universe, he would be wise to not respond.

    LMAO. Oh, so when you ask a scientist what caused the universe we should ignore him. But when we he tells us that there was nothing before the universe, then we should listen!
    Jonathan! You are addressing the wrong person.

    Jonathan,

    I don’t get it. Nothing I have said claims that there must be an uncaused cause. Even your summaries of my statements do not claim an uncaused cause.

    —–

    At any rate, this discussion has strayed from my purpose here, which was for the discussion of the advancement of knowledge with vs. without religion. One other point. Stuart, your notion of argumentum ad consequentiam, I’m afraid is the way advancement, enlightenment, science works. It’s called empiricism. If you want to deny it, go ahead! Truth is the same as fruitfulness. Or rather, truth bears fruit, and where there is fruit there is truth. And you must agree with this, Stuart, otherwise how could you tell what was true? It may be that it is ‘true’ that positives attract, but that ‘fruit’ is bared where it is assumed that positives repel. No, fruitfullness and truth go together. Again, truth is not an absolute in the sense you seem to want it to be. Truth is a correlation between our models of the world and the world itself*. (i)-(iii) are excellently fruitful, they have been assumed for thousands and thousands of years (apes do so), and so they are said to be ‘true’.

    *How do I know this? Because I know that where our models of the world are disregarded (e.g. theological occasionalism) progress halts.

  29. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I think Jonathan has done the wise thing and quit following the conversation. When phrases such as “truth is not an absolute” are trotted out in order to justify one’s position, it becomes blindingly obvious logic has been abandoned. And in logic’s absence truth is the victim.

    This is a nonsense statement. It does not make sense to say ‘nothing existed before the singularity’ For this assumes a ‘before’ and a before isn’t nothing.

    Yes, speaking of a moment “before” the moment of creation does imply time before time, which is incoherent on the view of temporal becoming. But notice that this phrase is placed in a context. Immediately preceding this statement are the words, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; . . .” such that Barrow and Tippler are affirming that very point – that there is nothing before, for there was no before, thus there there was nothing. William Lane Craig, one of the worlds top philosophers of time states;

    In my early work, I thought people would understand, once I explained my view, that the expression “before creation” is just a harmless façon de parler (manner of speaking), not to be taken literally. But in light of the confusion engendered by the phrase, I have since been very careful to avoid it . . .

    And calling them on their use of tensed language you play the fiend. It is evidently you who play word games. You, who accuse me of what you do yourself.

    I thus quit our “fruitless” conversation.

  30. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Yes, I do think that truth is not absolute. I think Kuhn showed this very eloquently in The structure of Scientific Religions. And I think it necessary to be receptive to this, otherwise – if we believed truth was absolute; if we believed what we believed was absolute – we would stop progressing. In a word, ’empiricism’ embodies this open attitude to new knowledge. And it also necessarily embraces the evaluation of the ‘fruit’ of new knowledge, as opposed to trying to evaluate it using old knowledge.
    This is quite foreign; quite the opposite to a logical system. I’d agree, actually, that “in logic’s absence truth is the victim“, but the all-important question here is “To what does the word ‘truth’ apply?” The answer is that the word ‘truth’ applies to the old logic; the old axioms. The ones previously assumed to be true.
    If one has constructed, for instance, a logic-system of knowledge; an epistemological view that people must have metaphysical justification of (i)-(iii) before they can construct knowledge, then of course! one would insist that truth is lost when dumping metaphysical justification of (i)-(iii), because that’s what the logic says. But it is not about the logic. It is not about our axiomatized models of the world, it’s about the world itself. It’s about empiricism. Specifically, ultimately, it is about observation. It’s about our ability to view the world, not through our mental-construct ‘lenses’, but with new eyes.

  31. Bob
    Bob says:

    Empiricism Vs Naturalism and Materialism

    http://atheism-analyzed.net/First%20Principles.htm

    “…Empiricism has voluntarily chosen to limit its range of investigation, and, in theory any way, does not say anything at all about transcendences or about value systems, except that they are out of the range of the testability and verification constraints placed upon Empirical processes. (Empiricism is a process, not a worldview or value system).

    In this manner Empiricism retains its validity as a process for obtaining information about physical reality. Naturalism and Materialism are seen to be invalid, non-coherent worldviews, spun off from Empiricism, but no longer identical to it.”

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