A Dialogue with Judge – 1

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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5 Responses to A Dialogue with Judge – 1

  1. Mike D says:

    There’s quite a bit here that I find misguided.

    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.

    To a point I agree with you. Science and religion are both intertwined with our culture, and have been for thousands of years. Neither can be viewed in a vacuum. But you seem to use the word “science” as a euphemism for “humanism”, when they are distinct concepts. Humanism, while clearly being a minority view, has also had profound impacts not only on scientific and philosophical thought, but on religious doctrine as well. Aristotle would have been lost without his humanist Greek predecessors, and the scientific revolution of the Renaissance accompanied a sharp rise in humanist thought. Further, many advances in science and philosophy were brought about at least in part through our interaction with Far East cultures, who seem to have evolved just fine into complex, sophisticated cultures without being dominated by Western monotheism. So I find the notion that Western culture is “Christian” at its core to be simplistic at best, and disingenuous at worst. Western culture is a tapestry of intersecting and competing ideas, not a homogeneous assembly of like-minded monotheists with only a few statistical outliers.

    irst 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.

    I don’t think your rebuttal here sufficiently addresses the Judge’s point. Just as you argue that eugenics gave Nazism a “sheen of scientific credibility”, one could in turn argue that Hitler’s frequent appeals to God, the Creator, the Church, and the antisemitism nurtured by a Catholic church that supported blood libel and had for centuries derided and persecuted Jewish people [more], gave Nazism a “sheen of Christian credibility”.

    It is important to note that neither Darwin nor his cousin ever advocated any of the eugenic policies that led to the idea’s derision and demise in the 20th century, and that the original conceptualizations of it, as Darwin himself stated in The Descent of Man:

    …if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil

    And here, I’ll jump ahead a bit:

    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 is false. Eugenics holds absolutely no intrinsic connection to evolution by natural selection, and was rightly cast out by the scientific community not because it was philosophically unpleasant, but because it was bad science.

    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

    There are three major orthodoxies, sixteen major branches of theology, and well over 30,000 denominations in modern Christianity. There has never been a consensus on the “teachings of Christ”, and no thinker from Calvin to Luther has ever hesitated to impose their biases onto scripture and construct a new theology. The fact is undeniable: that those who acted in the Inquisition and the Crusades did so because they believed their acts were supremely righteous and faithful to the scriptures. It’s quite convenient to suggest in retrospect that they were wrong, but there is no independent criteria for properly interpreting scriptures; all interpretations are necessarily arbitrary. Eugenics, by contrast, is demonstrably unsustainable as a valid science.

    It’s also convenient to suggest that the Nazis were worse because they killed more people, as if to suggest that if Templars and Inquisitors had access to rifles, bombs and gas chambers, they would have dignifiedly declined to use them.

    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 to greater human flourishing

    Christianity is only progress to the extent that it is dragged forward, kicking and screaming, by the inexorable march of secular modernity. The greatest tides of change in theological thought have come not from within the church, but in reaction to the rise of scientific and humanistic thought. The fact of evolution by natural selection has done away with philosophical grasps at teleology and challenged believers to rethink their basic assumptions about purpose and morality, just as modern cosmology has done away with outmoded religious “theories” of cosmogeny, and how neuroscience and cognitive psychology have challenged our most cherished beliefs about decision-making and free will. Religion is not a compliment to science; it is a failed science which offers no methodology by which to weed out bad ideas or gain new insights apart from the advances of secularism.

  2. jackhudson says:

    Hi Mike, thanks for posting. I took the liberty of adding a ‘blockquote’ to your post above so the formatting would be more clear.

    To a point I agree with you. Science and religion are both intertwined with our culture, and have been for thousands of years. Neither can be viewed in a vacuum. But you seem to use the word “science” as a euphemism for “humanism”, when they are distinct concepts. Humanism, while clearly being a minority view, has also had profound impacts not only on scientific and philosophical thought, but on religious doctrine as well. Aristotle would have been lost without his humanist Greek predecessors, and the scientific revolution of the Renaissance accompanied a sharp rise in humanist thought. Further, many advances in science and philosophy were brought about at least in part through our interaction with Far East cultures, who seem to have evolved just fine into complex, sophisticated cultures without being dominated by Western monotheism. So I find the notion that Western culture is “Christian” at its core to be simplistic at best, and disingenuous at worst. Western culture is a tapestry of intersecting and competing ideas, not a homogeneous assembly of like-minded monotheists with only a few statistical outliers.

    In my mind ‘science’ is a specific methodology which entails specific procedures and out of which one can expect certain results. That is what I am generally referring too when I talk about that which is the product of our Western Christian culture, specifically that culture which sprung as a result of the Reformation. We have of course derived ideas and discoveries from previous cultures and time periods, I have never denied that, but modern science, at least in terms of it’s presumptions and purposes was largely the result of the Christian thinkers I have mentioned previously.

    I don’t think your rebuttal here sufficiently addresses the Judge’s point. Just as you argue that eugenics gave Nazism a “sheen of scientific credibility”, one could in turn argue that Hitler’s frequent appeals to God, the Creator, the Church, and the antisemitism nurtured by a Catholic church that supported blood libel and had for centuries derided and persecuted Jewish people [more], gave Nazism a “sheen of Christian credibility”.

    There is no doubt Hitler tried to bring into his fold every institution in Germany and was frequently willing to adopt the language necessary to do so, but that doesn’t change how integral eugenics were to Nazi policies (or the policies of many nations for that matter) nor the fact that it was primary means by which Hitler sought to create a master race. A tu quoque isn’t a defeater here.

    It is important to note that neither Darwin nor his cousin ever advocated any of the eugenic policies that led to the idea’s derision and demise in the 20th century, and that the original conceptualizations of it, as Darwin himself stated in The Descent of Man:
    …if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil

    Galton died the year before the 1st First International Eugenics Congress, but the the event was dedicated to him, and chaired by Darwin’s son – and the consensus of scientist and leaders there saw no discrepancy between the recommended policies and the science of these two men. Indeed, Galton himself said “The question was then forced upon me – Could not the race of men be similarly improved? Could not the undesirables be got rid of and the desirables multiplied?” He was hardly an opponent of eugenics policies. Indeed he was responsible for startin many of the institutes and publications which were to later form the basis of this new ‘science’.

    This is false. Eugenics holds absolutely no intrinsic connection to evolution by natural selection, and was rightly cast out by the scientific community not because it was philosophically unpleasant, but because it was bad science.

    Not true. There is no evidence eugenics was widely criticized before WWII. Eugenics policies were implemented worldwide and embraced by many scientists, as well as by universities, laboratories, and leaders. The only notable critic of eugenics itself prior to WWII is the Christian writer G.K. Chesterton. The advocates of eugenics referred to it as ‘applied evolution’.

    There are three major orthodoxies, sixteen major branches of theology, and well over 30,000 denominations in modern Christianity. There has never been a consensus on the “teachings of Christ”, and no thinker from Calvin to Luther has ever hesitated to impose their biases onto scripture and construct a new theology. The fact is undeniable: that those who acted in the Inquisition and the Crusades did so because they believed their acts were supremely righteous and faithful to the scriptures. It’s quite convenient to suggest in retrospect that they were wrong, but there is no independent criteria for properly interpreting scriptures; all interpretations are necessarily arbitrary. Eugenics, by contrast, is demonstrably unsustainable as a valid science.

    There is no mainstream Christian organization which doesn’t adhere in principle to the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, so to say there ‘never been a consensus’ on such teachings is obviously wrong. And of the major groupings into which those various denominations fall, none of them disagree about who Christ was, what he came for, and the fact that salvation is through Him. Luther and Calvin and the various Popes all shared the same belief in the Beatitudes, the parables, the commands to ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘love one another as I have loved you’. They may not have practiced the commandments well, or perhaps at all, but they didn’t deny that they said what they plainly say.

    The Inquisition ceased not because Christianity ceased, but because it was untenable in the light of what Scripture plainly said about the way we are to treat others – teachings that became available to ordinary citizens due to the Reformation and the translation of Scripture into common language and its wider availability through the invention of the printing press. The Crusades are a different matter, and were more complex than they are normally portrayed by critics of Christianity, but they no longer happen for much the same reason.

    It’s also convenient to suggest that the Nazis were worse because they killed more people, as if to suggest that if Templars and Inquisitors had access to rifles, bombs and gas chambers, they would have dignifiedly declined to use them.

    I think the Inquisition was wrong and horrible, but the Inquisitors only executed about 2% of the people they tried. And the Crusades were wars against other national and threatening powers, not merely attempts to eradicate groups of people. There is no comparison.

    But the major point is that such actions plainly contradicted the understood teachings of Christ; one can be an unbeliever and agree that torturing someone because of their beliefs plainly contradicts ‘Love thy neighbor’, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘Forgive others as I have forgiven you’.

    Christianity is only progress to the extent that it is dragged forward, kicking and screaming, by the inexorable march of secular modernity. The greatest tides of change in theological thought have come not from within the church, but in reaction to the rise of scientific and humanistic thought. The fact of evolution by natural selection has done away with philosophical grasps at teleology and challenged believers to rethink their basic assumptions about purpose and morality, just as modern cosmology has done away with outmoded religious “theories” of cosmogeny, and how neuroscience and cognitive psychology have challenged our most cherished beliefs about decision-making and free will. Religion is not a compliment to science; it is a failed science which offers no methodology by which to weed out bad ideas or gain new insights apart from the advances of secularism.

    There is no real secular belief system to note, merely the denial of the basis of previous thinking. What little morality secularists recommend is borrowed from others and then offered as ‘novel’. There is in fact no inherent atheistic basis for important Western ideas of equality or the intrinsic endowment of rights or liberties.

    As far as culture, the scientism of secularism has done nothing to advance art, music, literature, or political philosophy, and has often failed miserably with regard to its attempts to guide economics.

    And as you rightly point out, the advancement of secular scientism in our time is attempting to deny the very existence of free-will (as well as the idea of self). Like their intellectual predecessors, the secularists of today welcome this ‘advancement’ the same way others welcomed the science of eugenics. Hopefully we will not be dragged forward again, but we can be sure there will be lots of screaming.

    Thanks again for stopping by Mike.

  3. Justin says:

    Eugenics holds absolutely no intrinsic connection to evolution by natural selection, and was rightly cast out by the scientific community not because it was philosophically unpleasant, but because it was bad science.

    Dawkins, an strict Darwinist, doesn’t think eugenics is all that bad and said so in an editorial in the Scotland Herald.

    So, now that Dawkins has made it “good science”, it’s back in the fold?

  4. @Jack

    Thanks for using the term ‘scientism’ correctly!

    You’d be surprised at how many people just don’t know what the term means or how to use it. I always find it being thrown around with know awareness to the fact that you could replace it with “Froozlestick” and it would make the same about of sense. At least now I don’t have to bang my head against the wall. lol

  5. @Justin

    I’ve heard Dawkins talk about a volunteer type of eugenics where people who want to read their DNA breakdowns can then be informed about the types of genetic diseases they carry and which they probably will pass down to their children and then selectively decide whether or not it would be worth having a child, if say, there is an 86% risk of it being born with a debilitating or life threatening disease–such as severe forms of epilepsy, autism, ALS “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” etc.

    I’ve never heard him sponsor any notion of a mandatory (force) eugenics like those programs in Germany and the U.S. I think you misconstrue his intended meaning.

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