The Advent of Teleology

February 4, 2013

I was recently watching an interview with theoretical physicist Alexander Vilenkin that was conducted as part of the Robert Lawrence Kuhn’s PBS series, Closer to Truth. A couple of things struck me about the interview. The first is Vilenkin’s humility. While he is certainly no believer and at most holds a Spinoza-esque view of an impersonal God, Vilenkin is certainly humble with regard to the idea of God. This is refreshing in light of the arrogance one typically sees amongst those scientists who are advocates of New Atheism. As a Christian I am never offended that someone doesn’t share my belief in God – in fact in a world where God allows men to choose their responses to Him, I would expect a certain number of people not to believe in God. But there is no reason for epistemic arrogance displayed by New Atheists, who have no warrant for the certainty they invest in scientism, materialism, and naturalism. So to see measured responses of the sort Vilenkin gives is refreshing.

But the other thing that strikes me about the interview is Vilenkin’s references to the underlying laws of physics which exist independent of the universe itself, as he calls it, a Platonic existence. For those who aren’t familiar with Plato, he imagined our universe was a reflection of a deeper reality, an ideal reality. To that end Vilenkin expresses the notion that mathematics itself isn’t merely a human a construct, but an underlying reality waiting to be discovered by us.

Vilenkin’s view here comport on some levels with those of another thinker, philosopher Thomas Nagel who recently wrote the book, Mind and Cosmos, which is a critique of the reductionist view of the universe suggested by Neo-Darwinism. Lest you take Nagel to be a creationist, he is in fact an atheist, though again a thinker of the sort Vilenkin is – thoughtful, epistemically humble and willing to be skeptical of things other atheists seem certain of. He suggests in his book that the universe has an inherent ‘mindfulness’, a tendency that inclines it to follow a path that eventually leads to us. In this he channels another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who believed the ends to which nature tends were inherent in nature itself.

Where both men seem to be arriving, albeit through different means, is at teleological view of the universe. For those not familiar with the term, generally speaking it means that processes bear attributes indicating they are being shaped toward an end – or that those processes have a purpose.

For most of human history humans have understood nature to be essentially teleological. Only in the 20th century did the reductionist notions of materialism and naturalism really begin to predominate in the sciences. But as Nagel points out, such reductionism essentially fails to explain certain aspects of nature – particularly the minds ability to explore the universe. More generally materialism fails to explain many aspects of the universe – it’s fine-tuning, the origin of the information driven machinery of life as well as human consciousness – or consciousness generally.

Of course Christianity has and continues to offer an inherently consistent answer to the question of the teleology we see in the universe. When Genesis describes God speaking the universe into existence it provides the bridge between the underlying principles, the forms that exist in the eternal mind of God and the reality that we experience as the universe. We see not only the receptacle of the natural laws that govern nature, a place both outside the universe and consistent with it, but we see how such laws could be invested in the fabric of the universe itself. A Christian view of the universe encompasses both Plato and Aristotle.

It also aids us in understanding why our minds comprehend the universe at all. If it is true that we are ‘created in the image of God’ then we derive from God the ability to conceptualize the principles that underlay the structure of nature – we are both the product of the mind of God, and we share with it the ability to comprehend its works.

That modern thinkers are beginning to see the underlying purpose of the universe is no surprise. If men are honest observers, whatever winding roads they might follow they arrive back at the same place despite their desires to end up somewhere else.

As a Christian I believe the universe was structured so that, as Romans says, “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” If that is true, then the simplest man or the most sophisticated thinker should be able to observe nature and have some notion that it exists for a purpose – and that certainly appears to be the case.


Observations

April 12, 2012

It’s amazing to me the number of atheists who seem to hold this mindset.


Observations

March 27, 2012

Scientism, whether Rosenberg’s today or E. O. Wilson’s a generation ago, is impatient with history (“The Atheist’s Guide” declares it to be “bunk”), with social science generally and with the arts and literature. These benighted investigations cannot generate first-class knowledge, for they provide no predictive laws for human behavior. Yet the success of science in delivering powerful generalizations need not diminish accomplishments that help with decisions great and small. History and ethnography, poetry and fiction all modify the ways in which people see themselves and others, creating intricate webs of associations that pervade our judgments. It may be hyperbolic to declare that Shakespeare teaches us more about being human than all the natural scientists combined, but a real insight underlies the assertion. Similarly, the first sentence of Thomas Kuhn’s masterpiece, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (now half a century old), instantiates a more general piece of wisdom: History can change the images by which we are possessed.

Philip Kitcher, John Dewey professor of philosophy at Columbia University in Seeing Is Unbelieving a New York Times piece discussing why Alex Rosenberg’s THE ATHEIST’S GUIDE TO REALITY: Enjoying Life Without Illusions was selected by the New Republic as the worst book of 2011.


The Absurdity of Scientism

January 4, 2012

In the latest issue of the New Republic, Editor Leon Wieseltier does a scathing review of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions by Alex Rosenberg, a philosopher of science at Duke University. Wieseltier notes the primary flaw of the book (indeed, the primary flaw of New Atheism) is its overt reliance on scientism – a philosophy that contradictorily purports that philosophy (and all of other forms of knowledge) is irrelevant in the light of scientific knowledge. As Wieseltier puts it:

Rosenberg arrives with “the correct answers to most of the persistent questions,” and “given what we know from the sciences, the answers are all pretty obvious.” (I have cited most of them above.) This is because “there is only one way to acquire knowledge, and science’s way is it.” And not just science in general, but physics in particular. “All the processes in the universe, from atomic to bodily to mental, are purely physical processes involving fermions and bosons interacting with one another.” And: “Scientism starts with the idea that the physical facts fix all the facts, including the biological ones. These in turn have to fix the human facts—the facts about us, our psychology, and our morality.” All that remains is to choose the wine.

IN THIS WAY science is transformed into a superstition. For there can be no scientific answer to the question of what is the position of science in life. It is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. The idea that physical facts fix all the facts is not an idea proven, or even posited, by physics. Rosenberg does not translate non-scientific facts into scientific facts; he denies that non-scientific facts exist at all. But in what way is, say, The Jewish Bride a scientific fact? It is certainly composed of fermions and bosons, but such knowledge, however true and fundamental, casts no light upon the power of the painting, or the reasons for its appeal. The description of everything in terms of fermions and bosons cannot account for the differences, in meaning and in effect, between particular combinations of fermions and bosons.

Indeed they cannot. Advocates of New Atheism-cum-scientism don’t limit themselves to mere science as they consider various issues, but also utilize the full range of knowledge human reason typically employs. I have thought of this as I have been reading Pinker’s book on the history of human violence. While he employs stats and cites empirical data on various phenomena, he also notes philosophical trends, social practices, beliefs and realities about ‘human nature’, that most ephemeral aspect of humans. It would seem when push comes to shove, New Atheists don’t even believe their own b.s. about Scientism.

And b.s. it is – the claims to reductionist materialism as a means of comprehensive explanation has almost nothing to do with humans explaining or understanding anything. It is merely a self-serving strategy to diminish the importance of philosophy, history, revelation and personal experience as ways of understanding the world so as to advance atheism.

And strategies aren’t forms of knowledge, they the means to win a battle – and that is ultimately what the New Atheists are about.


Observations

July 18, 2011

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind… This is a somewhat ridiculous situation… It is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist.
Thomas Nagel, The Last Word


A Dialogue with Judge – 2

April 25, 2011

This is the second and last in a series responding to some questions a semi-regular poster on the site, ‘Judge’ had about some of my recent articles and claims. Judge first asks a number of addition questions, starting with these three:

1. What does it mean for something to be the ‘basis’ of a culture/society? How does it inform that society in practice? If we’re talking about cultural, aesthetic, artistic influence, why is Christianity privileged over something like, say, the Greco-Roman world, which is just as preponderantly present everywhere in our culture?

I think this is fairly straight forward, and I have mentioned it briefly before. I think when I say ‘basis’ of our culture/society I am talking about the origin and development of those aspects that make up a society – the arts, music, literature, philosophies, politics, economics, etc. Even more particularly I am talking about the operating principles of a society.

In American society for example there are a number of defining principles, like human equality, inherent and definitive rights and the respect for conscience that can be specifically traced to our Christian worldview. Also critical is our understanding of human nature and how it informs our political philosophies and economics. Take for example one simple one – the view of human nature as corruptible. That is a distinctly Christian view derived from what Christians refer to as the ‘sin nature’, the view that we have a tendency follow our own selfish desires and are tempted by various enticements. The very structure of our government reflects that in its checks and balances system – a system meant to prevent selfish human ambition from becoming tyrannical.

2. Do you reckon that Hinduism, Buddhism and the like form the ‘basis’ of the Indian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. societies? If that is so, then do you think it is possible for the basis of a society to be something other than religious? If so, can you provide an example? If not, then isn’t your point tautological – aren’t you just using the word ‘basis’ as just a synonim for ‘religion’?

No – if I say ‘flour is the basic and essential ingredient of bread’ it does not then follow that flour is synonymous with bread. However it might be essential to making bread. I think that invariably a society requires some sort of over-arching view about the nature of humanity and their relationship to each other, and principles by which to operate. I think the few times we have those principles have been derived from purely material or atheistic philosophies, the societies they have produced have been dismal failures – examples of that would be Revolutionary France, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, N. Korea, to name a few.

3. Are bases of societies necessarily monological – that is to say, is it possible to conceive of a society split in two or more different, competing cultural forces for its basis? Is it possible that the political division of right and left reflects the fact that society doesn’t have a single ‘base’, but more than one force acting in competition with each other, and that these forces put together form the real ‘basis’ of the society within which they work?

Sure, I don’t see Western society as only being the product of Christianity, and I have never made this claim. We have a long and varied influence with many influences. And there have been many failures along the way, as I said before stops and starts, steps forward and back. The same is true for most human societies. But I don’t think this prevents us from clearly seeing how the operating principles of Western society have largely been influenced by Christianity. At some level I think the politics of right and left, at leastin the extreme, reflect radically different views of human nature and the operating principles of government.

As it were, Christianity led to an equally complex set of superstitions and mythologies on the architecture of heaven, the number of angels and archangels, not to mention saints, as well as demons, witches, exorcisms, vampires and spirits, the structure of heaven and hell (which is completely fictitious, as the details barely appear in Scripture), and cloudy theological mysteries like the Trinity. I’m assuming you’ve read the Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost? They’re every bit as colourful as the Odyssey or the Metamorphoses. Again, I have the impression that you’re assigning to Christianity a ‘special status’ of some kind. Much like you burden science with things which Christianity is no less vulnerable to, so you accuse pagan religions of issues which are also present in Christianity.

I think you are confusing ‘Christianity’ (that is a scripturally based belief system derived from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles) with the history of Christian Europe. There is no doubt that over the millennia a number of ideas have been introduced either as a derivative of or emanation of Christianity. In fact you acknowledge above that many of these ideas are completely fictitious and have no basis in Scripture. The writing of Milton and Dante were impactful and certainly influenced by certain ideas in Scripture, but they were never themselves considered doctrinal or traditional beliefs of Scripture – they were taken for what they were, powerful poetic ruminations on the implications of certain Biblical ideals – and they were notably allegorical with respect to the events at the time they were written.

In fact I would say this has been the great battle of Christianity over the years, the fight against maintain a pure doctrine derived from foundational orthodox beliefs and keep it from being tainted by human superstition and speculation. The Reformation was critical in this regard as it elevated Scripture into its proper centrality in the church, and made it available to believers for review and comprehension. From this we see Christian thinkers like Francis Bacon developing the scientific methodology as a bulwark not against Christianity, but against the ‘idols of men’s minds’ – superstitions and biases.

Also, the cosmology that you advocate is a bit of a free interpretation. The Gospel certainly doesn’t encourage scientific enquiry to understand God’s laws. I wouldn’t say that Acts 19:19 encourages open research, for example: Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men. The Old Testament does include more cosmological statements, though I’d like to see the specific passages by which you sustain an interpretation which seems to me rooted outside of Scripture (where do you get this idea that since the universe is made for us, it follows that we’re equipped to understand it?).

I find it curious that you see the passage in Acts 19:19 as anti-science. The word ‘curious arts’ is from the Greek periergos or in this context ‘magic arts’. The Christians were destroying their own books on magic – that isn’t a superstitious act, in fact in the full reading it’s the opposite! They were ridding themselves of superstitious items.

Also, the God in the OT is not too different from Zeus/Jupiter. A quick comparison of Yhwh in the Bible with Zeus/Jupiter in Homer and Virgil reveals the same fundamental function – an anthropomorphised fulcrum of physical, legal, moral, cosmic authority. The details are different, of course, and Zeus is anthropomorphised more explicitly, but their literary role is the same. In this sense the pagan minor gods have an almost subsidiary role, like the angels (consider the scene in the Iliad where Zeus tells Hera, ‘even if every other god in the world pulled a rope in one direction and I in another, it would still go where I’m pulling it.’).

I disagree strongly with this – Zeus was a child of Cronus, part of a genealogy of Gods – Jehovah is the ‘I am’, ever existing and transcendent. Zeus rules men according to his own whims and desires – Jehovah rules men according to well defined and unchangeable laws. In Greek mythology the troubles of men are a punishment for transgression of gods – in the Old Testament men suffer because of choices they made to transgress the eternal will of the only Jehovah. Jehovah inhabits no earthly place, and the universe is His creation, subject to his laws. The Greek god’s demi-gods inhabit earthly places and phenomena in nature are the result of their activities. Jehovah makes covenants with men that are eternal and binding – Zeus is fickle and deceptive and acts according to his own selfish purposes. I could go on, but I think the differences are clear.

If Christianity ‘cleared the way’ for scientific thinking, why is it that the period immediately following its consolidation in Europe was the most stagnant in scientific progress (or any progress) in European history – namely, the Dark Ages? Why didn’t science just immediately follow, instead of having to wait almost one thousand years to flourish again? Doesn’t this suggest that the direct connection you propound is in fact a fiction?

First off, ‘science’, that is the methodology developed by Francis Bacon didn’t ‘flourish’ previous to Christianity. In fact one of the most important steps Bacon and other thinkers of his time did was to free themselves from the hindrances of Greek and Roman thinking vis-à-vis natural phenomena – namely the use of deductive syllogisms to interpret nature as opposed to the inductive reasoning employed by Bacon’s methodology. And I am not sure what your view is of history, but Christianity didn’t become ‘immediately’ become consolidated in Europe – Rome stopped persecuting Christians around 300AD. After that it began to spread over Europe over the course of hundreds of years while facing growing challenges from Islam in the South, Huns from the East, Mongols from the Far East, plagues, and the incorporation and corrupting influences of Rome itself.

I think it would be simplistic to expect the immediate development of science, which depends not only certain principles, but also on the establishment of universities, the ability to publish and disseminate books and the freedom to exchange ideas. This doesn’t negate the fact that the scientific method sprung out of the thinking and writing of Reformation era Christian thinkers, who had those advantages – in large part because of the Reformation itself.

Furthermore, it is also ‘disproved as humanly possible’ that the earth and man weren’t created in seven days, that a man cannot be resurrected from death or water be turned into wine just by sheer will, nor can blindness be cured by touching a forehead, and that man evolved from the apes. You could claim that some or all of these things are metaphorical, but then, why isn’t Apollo’s chariot metaphorical as well?

I think you have conflated a few things here and missed the point in the process. The claim that Apollo’s chariot pulled the sun across the sky was an attempt to specifically explain directly observable phenomena in nature; i.e. that the sun moves across the sky. As we have disproved this religious idea it has been demonstrated that we can in fact disprove religious ideas, contra the claim that, “that no scientific theory can “disprove” any unfalsifiable assertion, whether religious or otherwise.” I think both by observation and scientifically derived explanation we have in fact disproved the idea that a chariot is pulling the sun across the sky.

With regard to the aforementioned miracles (water to wine, the resurrection, and blindness cured) these aren’t attempts to explain natural phenomena, but chronicles of unique events understood to have happened in the past. Though I think they can be discussed and debated reasonably and believed for perfectly rationale reasons, I don’t think they can be (nor have they been) disproved scientifically because they aren’t subject to current observation or experimentation. And as they aren’t offered as explanations for certain observable phenomena (as Apollo’s chariot was) then we wouldn’t expect science to contradict them in the same way.

And concerning the origin of the universe, earth, and mankind, I don’t think it is required that one has to see the description in Genesis as either an attempted scientific explanation or a metaphorical description – I have written elsewhere about how they should be viewed, which doesn’t contradict our current scientific understanding at all.

So I guess the short answer here is no, science has not disproved these things in the same way it has disproved other religious ideas, though I think it could render them untenable.

Jack says: Even in the OT you have Jewish laws which advocated practices like sterilization, quarantine, ritual cleansing, avoiding potential disease bearing vectors, not to mention the fact that certain living practices like those that forbade sexual promiscuity which would have avoided a host of diseases (like AIDs, which now plagues Africa).

I understand what you’re saying, but do bear in mind that a correct application of guided scientific methods – like contraception – would have been as effective as a correct application of religious ones in preventing the spread of Aids. Once again, you’re giving the lip to Christianity – there’s many more systems which would have been great for humanity if everybody had agreed to apply them, the problem is that people don’t. A doctrine that fails to account for human fallibility is responsible for the evil that is perpetrated as a result of this failure. Marxism, for example.

I find this somewhat contradictory and convoluted claim here. On one hand you admit the strictures given in the OT would have been effective in preventing a number of human ills, but then go on to claim that certain scientifically derived solutions would have been ‘as effective’ as the Scriptural solutions. But then you criticize Scripture for failing to ‘account for human fallibility’. Obviously the existence of contraceptives and prophylactics and medicines haven’t succeeded in eradicating the same problems for the very same reasons – so we are only left with the conclusion that our primary problem as a species is our fallibility! Or as the Bible puts it, it is the fact that we are corrupted but our sin nature. We have an inherent tendency to act according to self-destructive desires and so undermine potential solutions. And that is why science alone is not sufficient to deal with these problems – because it doesn’t solve for the problem (nor recognize it). But the whole point of the Bible is to point out that this problem exists, that it is the primary cause for human suffering, and that there exists a means to address the human condition. Science will never solve this for us, which is why the Bible is essential in this regard.

I fully agree with the last sentence, but yet again, what’s with the special status of Christianity? It never succeeded in changing human nature and our tendency to live immorally. We’ve had two-thousand years of it and it doesn’t seem to me like human nature has changed or wars have stopped. Yeah, of course if everybody followed the tenets Christianity, it would all work well, but that point is moot. Even fascism would ensure stability and peace if everybody were to follow the principles of Obey, Believe, Work. Or Communism, for that matter.

Well again, I think we in the Christian West live in one of the freest, healthiest, most prosperous places and times in human history. I think this is true in large part because Christian principles have been incorporated into our lives and society in a way they never have before. Not perfectly, but widely and uniquely from a historical perspective.

And beyond that Christianity is personally transformative, so that whether or not society at large accepts Christianity as true, an individual can experience the freedom and joy of faith in Christ. This is quite different than systemic solutions like Communism which depend on forcing individuals to comply with impositions by the state or society. Christianity is ‘bottom-up’, which is why it is organic and progressive unlike human systems which are ‘top-down’ and require certain entities to compel others to act a certain way. This is the inherent danger of atheism – it has no power to transform, and yet seeks to bend others to its will – which is why atheistic systems invariably become totalitarian.

Judge, I hope this addresses some if not most of you points. Thanks for taking the time to have this dialogue.


A Dialogue with Judge – 1

April 23, 2011

A while back a poster on this site, Judge asked a number of questions about points I was making, which later culminated in a lengthy post on his own blog. I have wanted to respond to a number of points in part because they are interesting questions, and also because I enjoy dialoguing with Judge.

I personally don’t consider this a ‘debate’ because I don’t think that is his intention to merely contect my points. The response has been somewhat delayed because I have been busier than usual lately, and it is spring in Minnesota when a young man’s fancy turns to cleaning his garage and fertilizing his lawn. :)

This is the first of what will be a two, possibly 3 part post.

Jack says: I wasn’t referencing Harris, but if this is his point, then he is plainly wrong – science as a methodology is largely the result of Christian thinkers (like Newton, Pascal, and Bacon) who readily intertwined their scientific thought, philosophy and theology. But science and Christianity are different in their effects on the acquisition of knowledge in this respect – Christianity forms the basis of societies, cultures, and institutions in which human thought can operate in such a way as to allow human flourishing. Science has no creative power in this regard. While science is the product of such societies and can be used as a tool within such societies for much good it is not itself useful as a foundation for human culture; and the outcomes of trying to use it that way can be horrendous.

A few things to say here. Firstly, I find the statement on the origins of science a bit too convenient, as it wittingly forgets to mention fathers of the scientific method who were famously at odds with Christian institutions or their predominant doctrines (Copernico, Galileo, even Leonardo, all of whom precede your thinkers, incidentally). Far more importantly, though, you try to sketch a difference between Christianity and science without bothering to substantiate your points. Yes, if scientific discourse is selectively adopted as the spine of an ethical system, the results can be disastrous (but bear in mind that Nazism wasn’t exclusively the product of eugenetics, perhaps not even primarily – its roots were cultural and historical as well, harkening back to Germanic mythology, romanticised knight-hood militarism, Nietzschean philosophy, among others. The swastika, an ancient mythological symbol, should be an illuminating example, and remember that Hitler was an artist).

A few thoughts; I don’t know that one would rightly put Copernicus, Galileo and Leonardo ‘at odds’ with Christianity per se. Copernicus and Galileo certainly challenged the notion of geocentricism, a stance adopted by the Roman Catholic church via the Scholasticism of the medieval period that brought Aristotelian paradigms into Church tradition. None of the three men ever rejected Catholicism, indeed Copernicus was a Catholic cleric, and some of Leonardo’s most notable works were religious in nature. Galileo had issues with the Church, but he can’t in the least be described as an atheist. And Galileo was a contemporary with Bacon, not a predecessor. Interestingly Galileo suffered from the Counter-Reformation, while Bacon seems to have benefited from the Reformation. None of this seems to contradict the notion that modern science came to fruition as the result of Christian thinkers.

And my point about the difference between Christianity and science was in terms of the ability (and a history) of each in producing cultures. There is no doubt that the Roman Catholic traditions, or the Reformation based European societies, or the Puritan foundations of America were broad and culturally creative in any number of areas – art, music, literature, philosophy,political theory, economics, and the substance of human communities. There is no such correspondence with mere scientific thought. I will touch on eugenics after your next point.

I just to bring even more clarity, I don’t think the scientific method was a direct and immediate emanation of Christian thought, nor do I think no scientific discoveries could be made apart from Christianity – obviously there were many. What I contend is that the methodology upon which modern science is based is the product of Christian minds acting in a Christian culture according to Christian pre-suppositions.

What you fail to mention is that Christianity too has led to some horrendous results in societies were it was adopted as the basis. The Inquisition produced a holocaust comparable for scope and atrocities to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. And you know as well as I do that there are many more examples. Yes, you can argue that these societies were based on distortions or misinterpretations of Christianity. But your own sentence on Darwinism applies just as well to Christianity: And it’s not a matter of whether evolution leads to eugenics – evolution did lead to eugenics – this is undisputable history, not conjecture. Whether it should have is another question. If you don’t know this, then you are either ignorant of history or intentionally being deceptive.

Try swapping the words evolution/eugenics with Christianity/Inquisition, and tell me that the paragraph doesn’t hold up just as well.

Well the difference between the cases is historically apparent. Eugenics was a movement that started within the life of Darwin. It was developed by his cousin Galton who considered it a natural derivative of evolutionary thinking. The first International Eugenics Conference was chaired by Darwin’s son. Eugenics was considered by a worldwide consensus of scientists as the “self-direction of human evolution” and policies implementing it were adopted not only by the Nazi’s but by governments throughout Europe, Canada, the US and Australia. Nazism may have had many influences (including insanity itself) but eugenics gave their policies the sheen of scientific acceptability which resulted in the deaths of millions.

By contrast, the Spanish Inquisition was fundamentally contradictory to the central teachings of Christ (love your neighbor, forgive one another, etc.). It happened a thousand years after the founding of the Church, and resulted in deaths numbering at the most in the thousands, nothing like the millions in Nazi Germany. I don’t hold Christianity innocent in regards to the existence of the Inquisition or the deaths it produced, but the cases are quite different. In addition Christianity has a means of correcting itself morally; the Reformation, which represented a return to a personal familiarity with Christian principles, had a tremendous effect on alleviating the ills perpetuated during medieval times by Church institutions. Eugenics on the other hand was only rejected when the cost in human lives was so overwhelmingly horrible that it couldn’t be sustained.

This isn’t to say ‘science’ is necessarily responsible for eugenics, but I do think it highlights the dangers of scientism, and the belief that science alone can provide a foundation for human societies.

Okay, time to discuss one more point:

I like your interpretation of the social role of Christianity (though it has, ironically, a faintly Marxist backtaste). But it seems to me that you need to address your bias. Christianity too, like science, is liable to misinterpretations and to our “natural tendency to live immorally.” It too can (and has been) readily exploited in the context of power-struggles. In this sense, my question to you is this: why is Christianity exempt from the corrupting influence of power and immorality which plagues all other systems and cultures? Why does Christianity have this ‘special status,’ when it led to just as much suffering and injustice as, say, Marxism or the French Revolution?

Well, Christians certainly are not exempt from the corrupting influence of power and immorality. Neither are Christian institutions. Much of the history of Christianity is in fact a history of stops and starts, moving forward three steps and back two. I believe it is a progressive belief system in that while there are many faults along the way in terms of its perfect implementation (which were anticipated by Christ from the start, by the way) the set of principles we have had from the start lead us constantly forward greater human flourishing. I don’t think it is any accident that the greatest health, freedom prosperity, human education and charity lie mainly in the West; it is where Christianity has its deepest and longest roots.

And I would disagree that there has been ‘just as much’ suffering and injustice as Marxism or the French Revolution. The French Revolution led to the immediate deaths of tens of thousands of people, chaos, and the eventual installment of a dictator who brought even more pain to the whole of Europe.

Marxism, at least in terms of its manifestation in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam and various African nations led to the deaths of tens of millions of person, not to mention untold poverty, starvation, and severe limitations on freedom. The suffering it brought in the 20th century was unrivaled in human history.
That’s it for now – I will try to touch on other points at a later time.


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