Posts

the cross

All religions the same? Take a closer look

An oft repeated sentiment today is that all religions are basically the same in that they are all subjective, unscientific, and just plain false. So in today’s secular climate, how does someone go about filtering out the good from the gunk? Is there even a concept of good religion, or are they all gunk?

Secularism has firmly removed religion from the public sphere of objectivity and ‘science’, and placed it in the private corner of subjectivity and ‘faith’. This means that religion can never really be considered true in any meaningful sense. It can provide meaning for adherents in a utilitarian sense, but can’t authoritatively direct mankind due to its obsession with ancient books and garden fairies.

I don’t see the majority view changing on this anytime soon, so for the purposes of this post, I will appeal to an objective and scientific concept to bring the objective backing the world craves to the subjective sphere they despise. This concept is known as falsifiability.

What is falsifiability?

The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, suggested the criterion of falsifiability – a scientific hypothesis must be inherently disprovable before it can be accepted as a legitimate theory. While this criterion was originally only used within the physical sciences, it was eventually used across a number of social sciences, including anthropology and history.

By applying falsifiability to a small number of the world’s great religions, we begin to see weeds amidst the wheat. Take a look at these origins stories:

Islam

An Arabian merchant begins to receive visions from the Almighty God (Allah) whilst in a mountain cave. Turns out these vivid hallucinations are actually the words of Allah, the one true God. Muhammad is the True Prophet and forms a people in submission (the meaning of the word, Islam) to Allah.

Buddhism

The Buddha, or “the awakened one”, shares his eternal insights with man on how to transcend our earthy desires to reach the spiritual Nirvana.

Mormonism

Disillusioned by the various Christian denominations before him, a young boy named Joseph Smith asks God to give him wisdom for which path to choose. One day, while in a wood, Joseph receives an angelic vision of the true faith and Mormonism is born.

Can you see the similarities between these three religions? They all originated from moments of quiet contemplation. This does not necessarily mean that they aren’t true but it does create skepticism when considered in the broader context of the respective religious histories. Turns out caves and trees are perfect places to start a religion.

It isn’t that these three religions aren’t falsifiable – their claims can be investigated and doubt shed. The issue is that they automatically reject criticism based on their internal frameworks, making them inherently unfalsifiable. Muhammad and Joseph Smith can’t be wrong because they were declared as authoritative prophets of God. Rejecting Buddha’s teachings proves that you are filled with desire, and thus not worthy. What we see is the proverbial bait and switch – offering a falsifiable claim only to remove it right before your eyes using their own theology (or in Buddhism’s case, a-theology).

Take a look

Wasn’t Christianity founded by a solitary figure, you ask? Didn’t Jesus claim that he heard directly from ‘The Father’? Isn’t he also circularly impervious to the attacks of the enemy? Good questions. Let’s look at them next time.

 

New milestone: fundamentalist atheism now indistinguishable from parody of itself

A tirade was published last month by Al Stefanelli, the Georgia State Director of American Atheists, Inc, entitled Taking the Gloves Off.

In it, Al starts with this…shall we say “provocative”…statement:

It should come as no surprise that the individuals who abide by fundamentalist Christian and radical Islamic doctrines would be the first to cry out that they are being persecuted when their dangerous, damaging and disingenuous beliefs come under attack. Most of these people lack the maturity and intelligence to act in a socially acceptable manner. Many of them are sociopaths and quite a good number of them are psychopaths. All of them are clearly delusional.

Naturally, when I read this, I assumed it was a parody. Here’s someone who likes to poke a little fun at New Atheists by writing a piece that almost could describe their position if it weren’t so extreme. But it’s just a bit too absurd. Obviously an attempt at humor. You know, like Landover Baptist.

Turns out…not so much. Apparently Al is serious. And a lot of appreciative comments indicate he’s not the only one. Which is a bit sad for New Atheism, since if your position is indistinguishable from a parody of itself, then you’ve got a problem.

Al spends another 800+ words saying things like: “bigotry, discrimination, hatred, coercion, terrorism, slavery, misogyny” are “part and parcel of fundamental Christianity and radical Islam”. That the “fundamentalist Christians and radical Muslims are not interested in coexisting or getting along … They do not want to sit down with us in diplomatic efforts to iron out our differences and come to an agreement on developing an integrated society. They want us to die” (emphasis mine).

Of course, this is all true of radical Islam. No argument there. But really, for fundamental Christians, does Al really think that “their interpretation of the Bible … are such that there is no other course of action but to kill the infidel”?

What exactly does Al think fundamental Christianity is?

To my understanding, a fundamental Christian is someone who believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Christian fundamentalism arose as a response to liberal theology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, precisely in defense of the doctrine of inerrancy. It exists because Christians then, as now, believe the Bible’s original manuscripts were free of error, having been “breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16).

According to a Wikipedia article on Christian Fundamentalism—which I have no reason to question, but if you think Wikipedia is everything wrong with the world, feel free to add your own sources in the comments—the term “fundamentalism” was coined by Baptist editor Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 to designate Christians who were ready “to do battle royal for the Fundamentals”, namely the foundational doctrines of the Bible which were being eroded by liberal theology.

Thus, “fundamentalist Christian doctrines” are the doctrines that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, that Jesus is of the same substance with the Father, that he was crucified and died, then raised again on the third day, etc. These are the doctrines that Al is speaking of—whether he knows it or not—when he says that they are part and parcel with bigotry, discrimination, hatred, coercion, terrorism, slavery, misogyny—and that people who believe them lack the maturity and intelligence to act in a socially acceptable manner, that many are sociopaths or psychopaths, and all clearly delusional.

True: Christian Fundamentalism has gotten a bad rap lately. The sorts of Christians who self-identify as fundamentalists are typically poorly trained in theology or apologetics. They are insular and simplistic in their understanding of both Christianity and other religions (including atheism).

And unsurprisingly, they sometimes hold to views that other Christians, such as myself, find at least unsophisticated, if not downright foolish. For example, I believe it’s fair to say that the characterization of Christians as teetotalers can be traced to fundamentalists. Whereas I personally try to be at least half cut every time I get behind the keyboard.

What you will not find in fundamental Christianity, however, is the view that non-believers of any stripe are to be put to the sword. You will not find sanctioned slavery. Nor the stoning of rape victims, as Al mentions in his article (he describes “fundamental Christians” and “radical Muslims” in the same breath, attributing the same objectionable practices to both groups without distinction). Nor will you find terrorism being taught as a biblical solution to ungodliness.

Westboro & Abortion Clinic Bombers

But the underbelly of fundamentalist Christianity and radical Islam does not operate in the legal system. They don’t respond to lawsuits, letters, amicus briefs or other grass-roots campaigns and they must, must, must be eradicated. As long as they are allowed to exist, we will continue to be inundated with accounts of buses, buildings, markets and abortion clinics being blown up, rape victims being murdered for adultery, wives being beaten (sometimes to death), airplanes being flown into buildings, people being tortured and sometimes beheaded for blasphemy, people being burned for witchcraft and sorcery and all the other horrific, inhumane and insane practices that are part of fundamental Christianity and Radical Islam.

I’m not aware of any buses being blown up by fundamentalist Christians. Nor buildings in general, nor markets nor planes. Neither do I know of any examples of fundamentalist Christians beating their wives to death (in the name of Christianity at least), torturing and beheading people for blasphemy, or burning anyone for witchcraft in recent history (and as regards less recent history, it only needs to be pointed out that burnings were a cultural, not religious, phenomenon).

In fact, the only thing that can actually be attributed to fundamentalist Christians on Al’s list of atrocities is the bombing of abortion clinics. Everything else is either anachronistic or the sole responsibility of Muslims—who I am hardly going to defend.

So, abortion clinics. Two obvious things need to be pointed out here:

Firstly, a lot of people who have done nasty things have claimed to be Christian. But by the same token, a lot of people who have claimed to be atheists have done nasty things. Stalin and Mao are fine and oft-cited examples. So if Al is going to take the approach that any belief system must, must, must be eradicated in the event that some nutjob uses it as a pretext for actions he finds objectionable, then the first thing he ought to do is shut down his own website.

Secondly, there is an obvious distinction between some isolated and infrequent acts of violence (in the modern day) by people claiming to be Christian, and the continuous, systematic, frequent pattern of violence found in Islamic responses to pretty much anything that offends them. Islam is undoubtedly a religion of violence—one only needs to read the Koran. The Bible, on the other hand, contains absolutely no general commands to engage in physical warfare against non-Christians, and indeed contains several examples of commands or principles to the opposite effect. And since I’m sure some atheist smart-ass will pipe up with Old Testament examples of Israel’s conquests, note how I said general commands. If atheists think the commands to Israel are general, and apply to Christians today, then they will need to explain why by exegeting the relevant passages.

Of course, it goes without saying that even if atheists think this, fundamentalist Christians do not—so the entire thrust of Al’s point is refuted by this mere observation. It is simply absurd.

Al will probably respond by saying that he is not talking about “mainstream” fundamentalist Christians, but rather about the extreme ones. But that isn’t what he said. “Fundamental Christianity” is a defined group, with defined doctrines and practices. Atheists can’t just co-opt the word to mean whatever they want it to mean. And such a response also begs the question as to whether these extremists are really Christians in the first place. It’s hardly clear that one can be a Christian and deny fundamental Christian truths like those expressed in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5. Indeed, that would, by definition, preclude you from being a fundamentalist Christian!

It’s also unclear why he even bothers to mention such an incredibly small group at all. Why not focus on Islam? And why mention fundamental Christians before radical Muslims every time—as if they were the greater problem, the greater priority?

Overall, Al’s piece is saturated with unintentional irony. Quite aside from its rank smear tactics and illicit comparison of fundamental Christianity to radical Islam, it reads like a fundamentalist manifesto. Is this what the response of pioneers of reason looks like? The champions of rationality? Looks more like something shrill fundamentalists would write.

But hey, that’s what all the cool atheists are doing these days.

Update, October 12, 2011: Wintery Knight has published an excellent complementary article in response to Al, documenting how and why militant atheism leads to persecution (particularly of Christians) on a far wider and more extreme scale than even Islam does.

Why Did Scientific Inquiry Fail in the Arabic World?

By the thirteenth century, Arabic science was the most advanced in the world. Advances in optics, astronomy, medicine, architecture, and more had brought a golden age of science and technology. Today, however, the scientific contribution of Muslim countries pales in comparison. Since 1901, only two scientists from Muslim countries have won Nobel Prizes in science. In total, forty-six Muslim countries contribute just one percent of the world’s scientific literature. Out of approximately 1,800 universities in Muslim countries, only 312 of those universities have scholars who have published journal articles. Muslim countries have only nine scientists, engineers, and technicians per thousand people, compared with a world average of forty-one. What happened?

In an article in The New Atlantis journal, Hillel Ofek explains why. He discusses the reasons for the decline of Arabic science and notes the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity which led the latter to produce the modern scientific revolution.

[HT: Joe Carter]

Gandhi: Saint or Sinner?

When people talk of great spiritual leaders, Gandhi and Jesus are often mentioned in the same breath. Jesus was a great man with great teachings, whose values and actions positively influenced Western civilization. Gandhi was a great man with great teachings, whose values and actions positively influenced Eastern civilization—particularly in India.

Christians have long disagreed. Jesus was not merely a man, and Gandhi was not really a great man. Indeed, when you consider the state of India—where Hinduism and Islam have made it home to one third of the world’s poor, where until recently over half of its citizens lived below the poverty line, and where many of its citizens are considered so unclean that their mere touch can contaminate a member of a higher caste—it would be surprising if a Hindu man from this place were not as depraved and inhumane as his religion.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal confirms that Gandhi was not the saint Westerners have assumed. This image arose largely because of his “martyrdom”, followed by Martin Luther King Jr’s ignorant adoption of him as a role model—and fueled by the fact that Gandhi prohibited journalists from publishing anything about him that he had not first extensively vetted and edited.

The article goes into some detail, listing many of Gandhi’s morally questionable actions and attitudes. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s a sampling:

Read more

Islam, Christianity, and Archaeology

Last month it was reported that nearly two thousand potential archaeological sites had been discovered in Saudi Arabia – and all from an office in Perth, Australia. Read more

Debate: Women in the Bible and the Qur'an

The Acts 17 Apologetics blog, Answering Muslims, has uploaded and posted video from the recent debate between Mary Jo Sharp and Tabasum Hussain. The debate was held in Ontario, Canada and compared the Bible and the Qur’an’s views of women.

Mary Jo Sharp holds a M.A. in Christian Apologetics with honours from Biola University and is a Certified Apologetics Instructor with the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention). Check out her website Confident Christianity here and her blog here. Last year, she debated the topic “Was Jesus Crucified” with Ehteshaam Gulam.

The video for this debate is in four parts.

Opening Statements:

First Rebuttals:

Second Rebuttals and Q and A:

Final Statements:

(HT: Stand to Reason)