Wakefield Tolbert presents further arguments from atheists such as Steve Kangas concerning scientific progress leading to modern, humane, democratic society, and the problem the destruction of corrupt societies by God, such as the Midianites and Sodom and Gomorrah, poses for opponents of abortion, who view the killing of those societies’ children as a way of preventing their abuse in those societies.
Thanks for bringing all this to the forefront.
I hope I have not only done Dr. Logic justice in my presentation of his main points (having had to scale down from many to just get to the core arguments), but the topic as well.
His basic premise seems to be that religion in general is unscientific, science is
the fount of all meaningful knowledge, and that what he considers the harmful
effects of faith are ameliorated by advanced secular democracy.
His take is simliar to that of the late Steve Kangas, who wrote a rather long list
of the alleged crimes of religion, including a handy list of the “war on science and religion” from Andrew Dickson white. Additionally, Kangas mentioned the notion of progress being scientific alone is, by the accounting of the enlightened secularists like himself has now merged with moral progress. Thus for example only in modern times have we defeated what Kangas claims are almost the sole provence of religion: war, famine, pestilence, appeal to authoritarian styled authority over democracy, deprivation, fascism, patriarchal rule, rape, incest, pograms and other whole scourges of minorities, racism, genocide, feudalism, serfdom, class distinctions, etc. Then of course the charge that the Bible itself is filled with atrocity commanded by God, and that only science has found a way around this, and thus in the modern age we now know much better.
Well, you see the picture:
then we have something many mention, where Kangas manages, amazingly as his tactic is wont, to merge two issues into one.
Abortion and the Bible, and the difference between “viability” and “dependency”, and why the Bible and “prolifers”, unlike science, cannot offer clear dividing lines or reasoned arguments about when life begins for humans, along with an alleged contradiction in God’s character.
To wit, God had the Midianites destroyed utterly, except for girls and women to be placed into what some see as sexual slavery. Now if this is the case not only is this atrocious in and of itself, BUT ALSO, we have the problem of the pro-lifers claiming that all unborn life is precious. With the destruction of the Midianites, and no doubt with the leveling of Sodom and Gomorrah and reclacitrant cities like Jericho, the unborn were killed also. This leaves a problem for Christians. Or so I’d think. Kangas has a point here: If your argument was like Pat Robertson’s, where we see God might have SPARED the unborn a needless suffering the in captivity of sin and dysfunction, the PRO-CHOICERS would pipe up to say this is JUST how that make THEIR argument. By eliminating unwanted pregnancy, they are doing what God did with the Midianites and Sodom, etc.
Thanks for the appreciation, Wakefield. I’m glad you enjoyed my comments, and I’m sure you did Dr. Logic justice in your description of his views. Let’s critique the underlying assumptions of both him and Steve Kangas.
Firstly, they’re both Positivists, essentially following the 19th century views of the founder of sociology, Auguste Comte, who believed that human society evolved from religion, through philosophy, to science, which was the highest stage of human development and would eventually provide the solutions to humanity’s problems. Unlike modern atheists and humanists, he attempted to create a religion based around science and humanity, with an elaborate ritual and hierarchy. This didn’t work, but nevertheless it has influenced much of contemporary atheist and humanist ideas, such as the supposed connection between scientific progress and moral progress. You can find these same ideas expressed in some of the optimistic science fiction, like Star Trek.
In fact, there are major problems with it from the outset. Firstly, many historians, philosophers and anthropologists are particularly critical of the notion of progress. The British Christian historian, Herbert Butterfield, called this kind of view ‘the Whig view of history’ – the idea that history is a story of continuous progress, culminating in freedom, democracy, and the British Empire. As you can see, he was criticising the British version of this view, which viewed the British Empire as bringing freedom, progress and prosperity to its colonies around the world, rather than conquering them and oppressing their peoples in the more contemporary view of the Empire. Part of the argument against progress is the view that the present view of history is very much determined by the development of history itself, but if that history had been different, then our view of history would have been very different. For example, if democracy had not emerged, and society remained strongly hierarchical, then presumably the notion of historical progress would have been one of the development of proper notions of hierarchy and authority, rather than egalitarianism and democracy.
There are other problems in that the view that science automatically leads to moral progress has been rejected by many of the horrors that took place and were committed by advanced, technological societies. For example, one of the major criticisms made of the development of nuclear weapons was that in creating them, humanity’s technological and scientific skill had gone far beyond humanity’s ability to act morally. One can also add the examples of scientific experimentation on unwitting or unwilling subjects, even in democratic western societies, such as nuclear experiments on civilians, and covert experimentation on civilians. Science, it has been claimed, is morally neutral, and that’s more or less the case. It’s application for good or evil depends on the individuals and governments involved, not on the scientific method itself, so science does not necessarily lead to greater morality or freedom.
There is also the problem in that he views scientific progress as leading to what is basically modern secular humanism, but this assumes that only secular humanism is scientific, and that science is necessarily the basis for equality and democracy. However, Communism also claimed to be scientific and to be the only true Humanism, so scientific development can be interpreted as leading away from bourgeois democracy to highly authoritarian systems of government.
There’s also the point made by Christian philosophers like Roger Trigg in his book Religion in Public Life: Must Faith be Privatized? that the notions of equality on which modern democracy is founded are derived from the Christian conception of equality before God as contained in and articulated by the philosophy of John Locke in his Two Treatises of Government, which provides the basis for modern democracy. Trigg makes the point in the book that contemporary atheist philosophy generally simply assumes that democracy and equality are the best forms of government and society, without being able to defend or support this view. Trigg therefore considers that only through religious faith can democracy be properly supported. Indeed, the whole conception of modern individualism may be considered to derive from the Puritan idea that each person is responsible for their own salvation and so should diligently investigate scripture for themselves. It was this individualist view of the responsibility of every person to seek salvation that led many Puritans to support the British Revolution against Charles I. In the case of the view that science necessarily leads to equality and democracy, this appears to have developed from people reading Locke’s metaphysic into modern science without recognising its basis in Christianity.
Many Roman Catholic philosophers reject Locke’s philosophy, but nevertheless also consider that it is only through Christianity that notions of human dignity and equality at the heart of modern democracy can be supported. Roman Catholic philosophers such as Jacques Maritain, in his detailed appreciation and analysis of democracy in America, have argued from St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotelean philosophy that it is only through Christian theology, rather than reason, that politics can be adequately supported and defended.
Regarding issues such as famine and deprivation, while Christianity accepted that poverty would always exist, it was also committed to its alleviation long before the emergence of contemporary science. Joseph, when he was vizier of Egypt, for example, opened the storehouses to alleviate the famine. Furthermore, the French historian, Jean Gimpel, in his book, The Medieval Machine, noted that people in the Middle Ages had a very modern attitude to estate management and farming, citing the English 13th century agricultural writer, Walter of Henley, the philosopher and theologian, Robert Grosseteste, and the two treatises Seneschaucy and Husbandry. One can similarly find agricultural handbooks advising landlords and farmers how they could improve yields in the 16th century. The early Church regularly preached the virtue of charity and of providing for the physical needs of the poor, and medieval ecclesiastic writers also insisted on the duty of the Church to provide for the poor. In fact the Church was often unable to do so through poor organisation, human corruption and poverty amongst some of its own members itself. For example, while some parts of the church were extremely wealthy and corrupt indeed, other parts of the church, such as many Benedictine monasteries in the 14th century, were so poor that they were themselves in need of poor relief. Furthermore, the acquisition of ecclesiastical funds by the state did not necessarily lead to better provision for the poor. Alfred Cobban in his book, The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution has noted that the provision of funds to alleviate the famine that occurred at the time of the French Revolution actually became much less, and the famine much more severe, after the ecclesiastical money reserved by the French Roman Catholic church for famine relief was confiscated by the Revolutionaries.
Regarding Fascism, although this horrifically did have the support of sections of the Christian Church, it had its origins – at least in Italy and Germany – in militant nationalism that could include a rejection of Christian morality. The Italian Fascists in particular stated that Fascism was based on moral relativism, rather than the traditional Christian view that morality is objective and transcendental in origin.
Now let’s examine the critique of the Pro-Life attitude towards abortion, and whether this is indeed contradicted by the destruction of corrupt societies such as Sodom and Gomorrah and the Midianites. Firstly, it must be recognised that the capture of the Midianite women and girls by the Israelites as wives was not considered to be a form of slavery. The Mosaic Law stated that women captured in war and married by the captors were not to be treated as slaves. They were given an amount of time to mourn the death of their families, and were to be properly treated and provided for. If a man wanted to divorce one of them, he was to give his former wife her freedom and not sell her as a slave. As for the complete destruction of societies like the Midianites, ancient warfare generally could be extremely brutal. Under Roman law, a besieged town was granted humane treatment if it surrendered. However, this was granted only if it surrendered before the battering ram had struck the town gates for the third time. If it had not surrendered before then, then the entire population of the town was massacred if it was taken.
Now the corrupt societies of Sodom and Gomorrah and Midian were destroyed because it was felt that they were completely corrupt, and every member of that society shared in its corruption. Hence the complete destruction of those societies. Clearly there is a difference here between the destruction of these societies and abortion. The children of these cultures were not destroyed to prevent their abuse by their elders, but because it was considered that they shared in their societies’ corruption and that these societies should therefore be completely destroyed, which included the massacre of their children. The sacrifice of infants by these societies was one reason for their destruction. The killing of these societies’ children by the Israelites was not to prevent their being used in such sacrifices, to but to destroy completely the society that practised that and other corrupt acts. So, there is indeed a good point that the Pro-Life position is not supported, and is indeed contradicted by claims that the Israelites killed the children of these societies to prevent their being used in human sacrifice. However, the reason for these societies’ complete destruction was still because, amongst other horrific acts, they practised child sacrifice.