Dawkins and the Slaves of Unreason

I hadn’t intended on posting again on Richard Dawkins again so soon after my last post, but he’s appeared once again on the British media waging his personal war against superstition. He had two programmes on Channel 4 in Britain, the first of whoch was broadcast on Monday. Entitled Enemies of Reason, the blurb in the Radio Times described it thus:

‘Professor Richard Dawkins explores how society appears to be retreating from the concept of reason, with the rise in belief systems like astrology, clairvoyance and alternative health rememedies. He meets with The Observer astrologer Neil Spencer to find out how the movements of the planets people’s lives and garners some Earthly trade secrets from illusionist Derren Brown’ (p. 67, for the of the 11-17th August 2007).

Now at one level Dawkins is quite right to offer his criticisms of the proliferation of fringe mysticism, like astrology, dowsing, tarot reading and the like. I do know people who take astrology far too seriously. In America, some municipal authorities have become extremely worried about the way some self-professed psychics have conned tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients, to the point where laws have been passed to close down fortune-tellers and other psychics.

Also, Dawkins in this sense actually isn’t doing anything new. James Randi has been doing this for several decades, now joined by Penn and Teller. About two years ago Channel 5 in Britain screened Secrets of the Psychics, where various scientists and stage magicians took examples of fraudulent psychic activity, and showed how the perpetrators actually performed their tricks. So, nothing particularly new or even controversial here.

What is debatable is Dawkins’ philosophical standpoint for attacking the psychics. Dawkins himself is a thoroughgoing materialist. He stated at a conference organised to discuss and promote the sceptical debunking of the paranormal that many of the phenomena considered paranormal were really ‘perinormal’ in the sense that if they were true, then it was likely that they worked according to as yet unknown scientific laws, and so would be incorporated into the domain of science. His primary objection to the paranormal has always been philosophical. As an outspoken Physicalist, he’s always made it very clear that he objects to any kind of non-materialist philosophy or the idea that certain events and phenomena may have non-materialist causes. This has served to weaken his argument, as far from being an impartial sceptical, he’s adopted instead a doctrinaire position, which was actually one of the criticisms levelled at CSI(COP).

I also suspect Dawkins is missing the point in suggesting people are abandoning science for superstition or the paranormal. I’m certainly not a Pagan, but my experience of Pagans and the ritual magicians in Britain is that very many of them are extremely scientifically literate, with some being professional scientists or technicians. Thus a commitment to science in one sphere does not automatically translate to a rejection of the spiritual or transcendent, as the experience of the numbers of scientists of more conventional religious convictions demonstrates.

I also think he’s missing the point. A lot of the decline in the interest in science in the West over the past decades has probably less to do with the rise of mysticism and far more to do with the general structural and ideological changes in British and general western society. Way back in the 1950s, when the British manufacturing was much, much stronger, most boys took some form of vocational training and there was a stronger interest in science, partly because of the stronger role of machine industry in the British economy. Scientists, technicians and engineers were needed to build, service and develop the machines and technology that were obviously driving the British technology. Moreover, the rate of technical change meant that machines and technology were expected to play an ever greater role in the future. So, there were confident predictions of trains that could reach speeds of 300 mph, commercial holidays in space and robots around the house.

Now to be fair, some of these dreams have come true. People do have robots and computers – but they’re not sentient machines like R2D2. There are holidays in space, but only for the seriously rich who can spend $30 million. And yes, there are trains reaching those speeds, but not on the British railway network, which has suffered persistent lack of investment. The future doesn’t look nice, bright, shiny and technological. It looks pretty much like today, only a bit, but not radically different. It’s possibly for this reason that five years ago one of the complaints of one of the leading figures in the Science Fiction community complained that little far future SF was being written, and that most Speculative Fiction was near future. And the British manufacturing base has dwindled, so the social need for scientists and technicians isn’t as high profile as it once was.

Moreover, the glamorous jobs and projects that grab public attention have either declined, or appeared less glamorous. Aviation is a case in point. Manned flight is naturally one of the most fascinating and attractive areas of technology, and the development of aircraft from the frail kites – literally, as used by the British for reconnaissance during the Boer War in South Africa – to todays modern jets is stirring stuff. But the British aviation sector has suffered serious commercial problems as developing and constructing these great machines has become more expensive, and orders consequently more difficult to fulfil. And flight itself has become so routine that it isn’t a marvel anymore, to stir the imagination and the blood, as the experience of sitting in an airport departure lounge has demonstrated to the millions of international travellers every year.The new machine age which so enthralled the Italian Futurists has brought excitement and thrills, but also tension, anxiety, boredom as people have got used to it.

As for the abandonment of reason, that’s been going on at a number of levels, and not just by those who have embraced what Dawkins undoubtedly considers superstition. Postmodernism is one example of the philosophical attack on reason, and here I do agree with Dawkins’ in his sharp criticism of it. However, some of this pessimism has come from evolutionary biology’s own view of humanity as merely a particular type of animal. Darwin himself wondered if his human ideas could ever be trusted to be true, as ‘who could trust a monkey’s brain’.

And for many the real refutation of the technological, scientific optimism of the type Dawkins’ espouses was the mechanised, technological carnage of the 20th century. The Victorians had an optimistic belief in progress, and so viewed that scientific and moral improvement would eventually lead humanity into some kind of utopia. Only people took their scientific insights, and turned them to mass death, just like they always had. Surveying the carnage of the 20th century, it’s difficult to have any view of the moral perfectibility of human beings, or see technology and science as purely a blessing.

Now I don’t think Dawkins is blind to all this for one moment, but I do think he has consistently missed the point and undervalued these factors in the decline of science in the West. Chasing after mediums and mystics is all very well, but it fails to address the real underlying causes of the decline of science for something that may be a correlation, not a cause.

And it also raises the uncomfortable question of thoughtcrime. Way back in the 19th century mediumship and witchcraft were expressly considered to be fraudulent under British law, and astrologers, mediums and fortune tellers prosecuted and convicted by the authorities. There were special Committees for the Suppression of Vice established, which, amongst other things, patrolled British society against the depradations of such superstition. All this changed in the 1950s after the prosecution and conviction of Helen Duncan, a celebrated British medium. This caused an outcry as it seemed to the British public to constitute not an attack on medium for fraud so much as an attack on a medium simply for being a medium. A modern, literal, witch trial. With some of the noises from Dawkins and his associates sometimes it can look like Dawkins’ own attitude actually isn’t very far different from the stern 19th century guardians of rationality.

Now mediums and their like may be deluded, but one of the hard-won freedoms of Western society is the freedom to believe what one wishes without coercion by the state. It means that people can believe strange and bizarre things, and hold opinions which can be completely wrong. Nevertheless, providng they aren’t harming others, the dangers in bringing the law to attack these people, simply for their beliefs, should be strongly rejected as an infringement on people’s fundamental liberties, no matter how well intentioned such laws may be.

33 Responses to “Dawkins and the Slaves of Unreason”

  1. Frank Walton Says:

    Hey Beast,

    Just wanted to congratulate you on this blog of yours. It’s about time you started one. As always it’s a great read! May you have a fan base, my friend.

    Frank Walton

  2. Responder Says:

    Swell, another anonymous Christian blog.

    Well, at least you allow unmoderated comments unlike the brave souls at Atheism sucks.

    That takes guts these days, I admit.

    Now, if you have a lick of proof for your theological beliefs, I’d like to hear it.

  3. Responder Says:

    Oops, I spoke too soon.

    You are moderating. You will note that over at the Rational Responders, anyone can register and post comments.

    You might bet deleted, you might even get banned, but at least you get a shot at posting them without moderation.

    As such, your comment section is not a true reflection of responses, and is of minimal value.

    Sayonara.

  4. Responder Says:

    By the way, “Frank”, your congrats is a little belated…he posted this over two months ago and not much since.

  5. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks, Frank, for your congratulations and best wishes – they’re much appreciated. Very best wishes for your own awesome blogs!

    Hi, Responder!

    Thanks for your comments. Let’s go through them.

    Firstly, as far as anonymity goes, I thought that this was supposed to be general all over the web, and for very good reason. The dangers of personal harrassment and identity theft are very real, so people on the Web are generally advised to adopt a pseudonym.

    Just as you yourself have done.

    As for moderating comments, as you can see, I haven’t changed any of yours. I do, however, reserve the option to moderate comments on my blog here. I’m not a fan of censorship and the suppression of genuine free debate and inquiry, so I don’t intend or foresee censoring or deleting comments.

    However, I feel that nevertheless this should be retained as an option considering the possibility that some people may try posting grossly offensive material here. I’m sure that you will understand that I’ve no desire to open up the comments section to some of the extreme scatological, racist or misogynist stuff that might get posted here, and which plenty of other bloggers before me have had come through their in-tray.

    As for the Rational Response Squad’s supposed lack of censorship, you said yourself that people on their site get banned and deleted. I’ve come across accounts from atheists as well as theists of how they’ve been summarily banned and deleted for little or no reason on the RRS board, except that they’ve contradicted or disproven the official RRS line. Now I can’t see any difference between this, and the moderation you decry, except that the RRS’ censorship is, by your account, retrospective.

    It doesn’t change the fact that it’s still censorship and suppression of genuinely free debate, which is something I definitely hope to avoid.

    As for Frank’s congrats being a little belated, well, I’ve been busy with a lot of things since I posted this, and unfortunately haven’t had quite the opportunity to post other stuff on here. It’s still good to have them, however.

  6. Frank Walton Says:

    LOL! Yeah, and the Responders are one to talk about courage and bravery in the sight of competition. That’s why they ban people from their site. Great assessment there, pal.

  7. Rich Says:

    Will this be a ‘heavy moderation and summary deletion’ blog as I have experienced on most creationist websites, or a free exchange of ideas?

    Thanks in advance.

  8. Responder Says:

    Well, Beast, you make some valid points about anonymity and, to be fair, I see you have not moderated any of my comments.

    Now, you recall that I said that if you have a lick of proof for your theological beliefs, I’d like to hear them.

    I’ll be waiting.

  9. kh123 Says:

    Responder, c’mon; Beast deserves a bit better than to be harangued off-topic. If you’ve got it, then give something tangible; interact with what is written here. *Dialog with the author*. (Beast seems to give you the benefit as such.) It gets old to see anonymous posturing posted on an article that took some time and thought to post.

    For me personally, it would be nice to have an atheist at least once be polite in asking questions, or in actually saying “Hmm, you have a point – period”. But, you can’t have everything in this world, I suppose.

    Beast, I especially enjoyed how you connected Italian Futurists with the theme of this post. And those are interesting points to consider, how socioeconomics, war, and the general “everyday” feel for technology has helped that industry lose some of its steam (pardon the pun) over the years. Perhaps a little bit of that imagination Einstein so highly lauded is needed every so often to spark inspiration again? After all, seeing Von Braun standing underneath the gargantuan booster section of a NASA rocket is pretty awe-inspiring.

    But, thought comes to mind: Do some of our technological feats, and the purposes behind them, parallel Babel in any way? We simply building towers again only to defiantly reach into the heavens for some sort of deeper, personal, or spiritual ulterior motive? Of course, the basic visual metaphor is there: Towers wanting to reach into heaven. But given NASA’s more recent aims as far as “proving” life can spontaneously arise on water-laden planets (Dawkins’ dream), and this being the key factor in why they’re continuing to put countless dollars and hours into going to Mars, I’m not so sure that our pushing into space is as noble a task as we Americans have always wanted it to be.

    And besides satellite communications, what practical benefits are we currently expecting to further gather from continued projects regarding space exploration? That’s alot of tax-payer dollars over the years going towards fostering a thousand Asimov’s looking for anything other than God’s universe. I just get the feeling…. well, we’ve come a long way from the Gate of God, and it seems like we’re right back there again. Perhaps at times, imagination can be futile when it’s sown among the weeds.

    Anyhow, just a thought.

  10. kh123 Says:

    (BTW, sorry if that sounded incoherent; I ended up writing that after a bout with a fever.)

  11. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Rich, thanks for your enquiry.

    I’m sorry if your experience of Creationist websites has been one of heavy moderation and summary deletion. I don’t intend my blog to be like that. However, I’m not actually a Creationist, though I do have more than a little sympathy with ID, and don’t regard all Creationists as irrational, bigoted or a threat to reason and democracy. I don’t object to Dawkins’ support of evolutionary biology, but to his atheist polemics. Dawkins has made the mistake of confusing evolutionary theory, which applies only to the process of creation, with the Creator, along with a multitude of other, equally profound philosophical mistakes. My guess is that far from disproving the existence of God, it’s possible to turn evolutionary theory around and use it to argue for a Creator, a possibility I hope to explore in a later post.

    Regarding your request for a lick of proof of my theological beliefs, Responder, I could present several, and indeed whole books have been written about this subject. Again, I’ll go into more detail in later posts, but I’ll lay out briefly the main points I believe support theism.

    However, I will state that I don’t think you can categorically prove the existence of God. What I think you can do, following the great 14th century philosopher and theologian, William of Ockham, is present a set of arguments that provide a rational warrant for theism and show it to be far more probable and convincing than atheism.

    For me, the arguments in favour of God’s existence are:

    The appearance of the universe in the Big Bang, apparently ex nihilo, 13 billion years ago, with physical laws set to allow the development of stars, planets, galaxies and the emergence of organic life.

    The deep orderliness of the cosmos, where even the apparent randomness of the subatomic realm appears to be built in to play a part in the over all structure of the cosmos.

    The rationality and intelligibility of the Cosmos, which seems to indicate that the universe is the product of a transcendent intelligence, hokma , the divine wisdom, which informs and has its earthly counterpart in human intelligence.

    The existence of transcendent moral laws and an autonomous realm of values that make civilised life and moral action possible.

    The witness of the Bible as a record of God’s revelation and actions in the world. The arguments against the miracles of the Bible are, in my opinion, all seriously flawed and spring from the imposition of prior philosophical misconceptions onto the text, rather than a genuinely disinterested examination of the witness of the text itself.

    The resurrection of Christ, presented in the Gospels and St. Paul according to contemporary, Graeco-Roman standards of historical scholarship, by men and women who had witnessed it and lived, ate and drank with the Lord after his resurrection, in a way unparalleled in mythology, and who personally suffered martyrdom and disgrace for their witness. No-one goes to their deaths for a belief they know to be fraudulent.

  12. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Kh123 – thanks for your kind support. And regarding your remarks on Babel and the modern space project, you’re making very good sense. The biologist and Biblical scholar, Leon R. Kass, professor of social thought at the University of Chicago and members of the President’s Council on Bio-Ethics, says pretty much the same in his book The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, University of Chicago Press 2003) in his comments about the Tower of Babel. Discussing the construction of the Tower of Babel as a project to produce human values away from the transcendent guidance and goodness of God, following the Babylonian astrologer-priests who looked to the heavens, Kass makes this very astute observation:

    ‘Perhaps they will look up to the heavens. But looking to the heavens for moral guidance cannot succeed; the heavens may, as the Psalmist says, reveal the glory of God, but they are absolutely mute on the subjects of righteousness and judgment. One can deduce absolutely nothing moral even from the fullest understanding of astronomy and cosmology. Not even teh basic prohibitions against cannibalism, incest, murder and adultery – constitutive for all decent human communities-can be supported by or deduced from the natural world…

    The intelligentsia and the astrologer-priest of Bable know perfectly well the moral silence of ht ecosmic gods, but they are not without resources. The builders can build whatever is wanted. They will, accordingly, construct their own standards of right and good; but by this device they ultimately degrade the people they mean to serve. For if right and good are themselves human creations, if they have no independent meaning, justice eventually loses all claim upon the soul. The natural longings for the right, the noble, or the good that might arise in human beings could only be treated with contempt: the soul would be fed instead with artificial and arbitrary substitutes, cast forth by the human “makers of values”. And unlike the shadows or images cast by the poets in Plato’s Cave, these artifacts of the just or the noble could bear no image relation to some genuine original towards which they point.’ (pp. 234-5).

    ‘The causes of our malaise are numerous and complicated, but one of them is too frequently overlooked: the project of Babel has been making a comeback. Ever since the beginning of the seventeenth century, when men like Bacon and Descares called mankind to the conquest of nature for the relief of man’s estate, the cosmopolitan dream of the city of man has guided many of the best minds and hearts throught the world. Science and technology are again in the ascendancy, defying political boundaries en route to a projected human imperium over nature. God, it seems, forgot about the possibility that a new universal language could emerge, the language of symbolic mathematics, and its offspring, mathematical physics. it is Cartesian analytic geometry that enables the mind mentally to homogenize the entire world, to turn it into stuff for our manipulations. It is the language of Cartesian mathematics and method that has brought Babel back from oblivion. Whether we think of the heavenly city of the philosophes or the posthistorical age towards which Marxism points, or, more concretely, the imposing building of the United Nations that stands today in America’s first city; whether we look at the World Wide Web and its WordPerfect, or the globalilzed economy, or the biomedical project to re-create human nature without its imperfections; whether we confront the spread of the postmodern claim that all truth is of human creation-we see everywhere evidence fo the revived Babylonian vision.

    Can our new Babel succeed? And can it escape- has it escaped? the failings of success of its ancient prototype? What, for example, will it revere? Will its makers and its benefitciaries be hospitable to procreation and child rearing? Can it find genuine principles of justice and other nonartificial standards for human conduct? Will it be self-critical? Can it really overcome our estrangement, alienation, and despair? Anyone who reads the newspapers has grave reasons for doubt. The city is back, and so, too, is Sodom, babbling and dissipating away. Perhaps we ought to see the dream of Babel today, once again, from God’s point of view. Perhaps we should pay atatention to the plan He adopted as the alternative to Babel. We are ready to take a walk with Abram.’ (pp. 242-3).

    As for the various missions to find the origin of life in space, I’ve no doubt that some of that really is to shore up philosophical materialist theories about the origin of life. I can remember Denyse O’Leary quoting the astronomer Paul Davies as saying such in her blog, Post Darwinist . My guess, however, is that this is a hazardous business for materialism. Here’s why:

    Firstly, it may turn out that space offers absolutely no clues or support for abiogenesis at all. There are organic grains in space and in certain meteorites – the carbonaceous chondrites. However, they’re a long way from the complex molecules required for DNA. It may be that despite the optimism – or desperation? – of atheist biologists no clues may be found for the origins of life. And so materialism will be no better off, and perhaps even worse off because it has tried to confirm its claim by scientific experiment and failed.

    Secondly, it may indeed discover that life does arise by pre-biological material, but that this process is so lawful and structured that it seems to be an innate product of the type of universe we inhabit. John Maynard Smith, the atheist evolutionary biologist, notes that the nature of organic life is partly dictated by the way proteins fold. I’ve found some interesting stuff on the Real Physics website discussing the way protein folding seems to be dictated by the laws which structure the cosmos generally. If this is the case, and this pattern is reproduced throughout the cosmos, then it would appear that humanity or at least organic life is not the accident Steven Jay Gould would have us believe, but a planned, intrinsic part of the cosmos.

    Thirdly, it may be that organic life could be discovered in circumstances that disprove abiogenesis. I think this is extremely unlikely, but I don’t think you can automatically rule it out. In which case, there is a major problem for materialism.

    As for the benefits of space exploration, well, Guillermo Gonzalez made the point that it looked like the cosmos was deliberately planned for us to explore. Intelligibility seems to be a basic property of the cosmos, and so I’d say that the human exploration of space, done in a spirit of true philosophical inquiry and informed by the witness of the Bible, could benefit humanity immensely, by challenging him to transcend his current limitations to take a leap into the new and challenging High Frontier.

  13. Responder Says:

    Well, like I said, if you have a lick of proof, produce it.

    I’ll be waiting.

    Prediction: I’ll get hemming and hawing mixed with ad hominems.

  14. Philip Says:

    Hey, Beast!

    Finally, you have started a blog! I must tell you I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments at Frank’s site for some time, and I had wondered on my own if you were ever going to start a blog of your own. I appreciate how you have emphasize information and research beyond just pure philosophical thinking.

    But mainly, I like your dialectical methodoloy: take every single claim and slowly and carefully reason it out to reach the logical conclusion. As you can see by Responder’s comments, some people want answers and arguments delivered to them like fast food, when really the method most conducive to intellectual amelioration would look more like a five course gourmet dinner.

    I will be reading your posts, so consider me a tick on the meter that measures your blog’s influence. Thanks for being a great example on how to reasonably and fairly debate (on the internet no less).

  15. MDS Says:

    Responder, like most atheists, seems incapable of discerning when a rational argument has been made in favor of the existence of God. Responder, like most atheists, continually moves the target of what defines “proof” in order to avoid acknowledging the aforementioned rational arguments in favor of the existence of God.

    Responder, like most atheists, confuses empiricism for logic–erroneously concluding that since one cannot produce empirical scientific evidence of God’s existence, it must therefore follow that God does not exist.

    I’ve yet to meet an atheist who was rational.

  16. Rich Says:

    I’ve heard Dawkins say on TV, and perhaps this is a retraction of his stance, somewhat, that he doesn’t know there isn’t a god, just that he sees no evidence for it and thinks such an entity would be unlikely. Hitchens goes further and says that the god of the bible, is a bad entity. I have some sympathy for both positions. I’m not an anti-theist and believe folks should be allowed to worship who they like, which they are. I’m against government endorsement of religion, the corruption of science with creation myths and if people are allowed to evangelize then we must allow a voice of descent or the process is asymmetric. though your views may be sacred to you, you cannot make them sacred to me.

    With regard to ID, I find the whole enterprise both scientifically vacuous and disingenuous.

  17. Rich Says:

    Pt 2!

    It wasn’t actually me who asked for “a lick of proof”, but I’ll address your points as I see them, if that’s okay.

    >>The appearance of the universe in the Big Bang, apparently ex nihilo, 13 billion years ago, with physical laws set to allow the development of stars, planets, galaxies and the emergence of organic life.
    We don’t know how of course. Modern cosmology has some conjectures, but we don’t know. Of course “we don’t know” God, necessarily. This is God of the gaps.
    >>The deep orderliness of the cosmos, where even the apparent randomness of the subatomic realm appears to be built in to play a part in the over all structure of the cosmos.
    This seems a sort of anthropic principle argument. I would suggest “order” means little unless you can quantify it.
    >>The rationality and intelligibility of the Cosmos, which seems to indicate that the universe is the product of a transcendent intelligence, hokma , the divine wisdom, which informs and has its earthly counterpart in human intelligence.
    Again, this is a “seems like..” argument, or lack thereof.
    >>The existence of transcendent moral laws and an autonomous realm of values that make civilised life and moral action possible.
    If moral laws facilitate “civilization’ then they allow a reproductive advantage. I have no problem with them being an emergent trait.
    >>The witness of the Bible as a record of God’s revelation and actions in the world. The arguments against the miracles of the Bible are, in my opinion, all seriously flawed and spring from the imposition of prior philosophical misconceptions onto the text, rather than a genuinely disinterested examination of the witness of the text itself.
    I don’t touch Bible arguments.
    >>The resurrection of Christ, presented in the Gospels and St. Paul according to contemporary, Graeco-Roman standards of historical scholarship, by men and women who had witnessed it and lived, ate and drank with the Lord after his resurrection, in a way unparalleled in mythology, and who personally suffered martyrdom and disgrace for their witness. No-one goes to their deaths for a belief they know to be fraudulent.
    > Nobody “Knows” anything. Those ‘Heavens Gate cultists’ who killed themselves to get on the spaceship they knew was behind the comet would seem to falsify your argument.

  18. Rich Says:

    MDS: You’d be better off talking specific points, otherwise it looks like handwaving / well-poisining.

    If you have “yet to meet an atheist who was rational” may I suggest you should get out more?

  19. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi Beast. Enjoying so far. Not expecting that to change. I’ve seen some of your material before and had one commentary on my own site about the non-existant but well alleged and hoaxed out “war of science and religion.” May I also put in a shameless plug here (since, after all, its NOT my book in any case!) about a book called The Soul of Science(Pearcy).

    I too get ribbing about alleged “censorhip”, of which I do not do. If people want to say I’m off my rocker that’s nothing more severe than getting scolding for throwing rocks at trains by my mother (dangerous, yes, but exhilerating when you’re a lad of nine).

    But I too DO moderate, especially since the epidodes of anonymouse (pun intended) posters automatically loading everything from male enhancement ads to diet pills and other minutia. Some people consider me obnoxious but all the while they need to understand that I often ask questions out loud more than lay claim to the Truth. Would think they’d get the hint but I guess I’ll start letting the Cheshire Cat out of the bag.

    Suffer me to go into Moonbat mode for a second. These are some goodies:

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=2F74C381-8239-4FA2-B775-1FDAB1E8D74D

    Great Q and A here—and some much needed perspective on a few all-too-common-charges hurled at Christianity.

    OH–but to play the devil’s advocate here–anyone one a take a stab at THESE?

    Handed to me by a “Skeptic” friend of mine, just wanted to see what the answers might be, as these are a little beyond me at the moment. This guy can out-Dawkinise Richard Dawkins.

    Point 1: http://www.newsweek.com/id/62337?GT1=10450

    I had heard this was being discussed–that there really is nothing “out there” any more about God than about ufos and tarot cards, ghosts, and the like you hear on the Art Bell show. While not using the “G” word, you can clearly see where neuroscientists are going with this idea about the “supernatural” being merely a reflection of the “false” dualism that one finds in a MATERIAL mind built to see patterns everywhere–this pattern building evolution of the physical brain does not prove there are things “out there” but rather that we merely get fooled sometimes into thinking this is the case when we see things that are not actually in existence. Thus the false dichotomy of “dualism”, etc.

    ALSO, Point 2: (on the path, forthwith is the smart-alec mode)

    Do aborted fetuses and babies and even embryos who die in the womb are miscarried, or otherwise taken from us prematurely automatically go to heaven to be with God? And for those who die at the point of conception STAY WITH GOD? At what point is the soul “implanted” on the human mind? At the point of development of the brain at some X point? Or at the moment of sperm and egg?? Not to seem smart, but these are legitimate issues theologically if the issues of embryonic stem cell research and abortion remain in focus in the Church community. The idea here being that it is a “waste” of God’s resources. (and even some notable theologians–or some profs who claim to teach such in some colleges–point out that this is a CRUEL God who is not only wasteful of resources and time, noting all the wars and human depravity, but one who is malevolent. Though I realize that’s an overall old argument that has been repudiated to SOME extent by pointing out human free will and the imperfect state of nature). Also, do children reside in Heaven or do we all default to some young but mature states of being? (I think the latter most likely for full development and service to God, etc).

    Point 3: Bouncing of the very last comment about free will in the upper sentence, someone asked me if it were not possible God could have avoided all our more gruesome problems of sickness, death, murder, mayhem and other societal ailments by just making us into energy beings rather than the state of matter with a spiritual duality/identity that only becomes perfected upon death. And why then death only? I think he has a point, and would be interested to see your answer. The issue of free will and the Fall could still apply since even as perfect bodied energy beings we could still rebel and sin. After all, the devil did just this and still has no permanent physical identity, or at least one than can (or could) shift at will. He, like God, might have a “male” persona but still mostly resides in the spirit realm along with the demons tucked away in Tarturus.

    Point 4: Speaking of which, (gender personas), why have sex at all? Not being overly facetious here. The point is that while we might have male and female personas on earth to reproduce and have some fun on the side and marry and whatnot, it is noted in the Scriptures the angels do not do this. Is there sex in heaven??? And will the perfected state of things to come in Heaven allow for this since the Scriptures seem to imply that no such thing is found among the angels (not given to marriage). In pure energy beings it is implied that we will be mostly gender neutral, and not have more children. The famous saying being that God does not have grandchildren in heaven–only His children. These seem facetious but have been raised by Skeptic types for a reason. For example, Satan and God both are held to have MALE personas, though to be sure they both might exhibit qualities of females at times (someone once said the Devil might even wear Prada and high heels and fancy mascara after all, and if you could have met some of the gals I’ve known….well….anyhow…..:)
    But seriously, if we still bear gender personas in Heaven, then apparently there is no sex to accompany that. An eternity of frustration? Or perhaps sex is only a temporal thing and actually will be supplanted by something much better that does not require the problematic issues of marriage? But will that relation be with females that you were married to on earth? After all, death breaks the marriage bond on earth, and is one of the few exceptions to prohibitions against remarriage to another person (for the survivor, of course).

    Well? Not for the timid, eh?

  20. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Mr. Responder.

    Not that I should “butt in” or have a dog in this fight just to fight—but:

    If you understood the “design parameters” of the either life itself or perhaps even just the human tongue, that lick is in the licking. Without going into another epistle here, and I’m sure Beast will unweave all this soon enough, one guesses, see also for brevity and sanity the work regarding Cosmology from Dr. Hugh Ross on the (literally) astronomic odds of the Known Universe even being as we know it from purely materialistic mechanisms.

    This might help answer your query as well as the statements of Rich, especially as it covers the old ground again about “ultimate origins” not actually being really a part of the “God of the gaps” since definitionally we’ve reached some upper limites on the notion/somthing dichotomy that materialists themselves (also by very defintion) cannot conquer without their own reputations being crackpot.

    A bird that came from no egg is no more rational—and thus no more IRRATIONAL—than a bird that had existed for all eternity. Those are the absurd choices before us by analogy to the main competing theories about beginnings of the stage production called the Universe.

    (nothing causing something, which is against all scientific reason to date–

    vs. something beyond current scope and matter/time contraints
    and therefore not directly observable causing something).

    One of the absurdities is true. Else we don’t exist at all.

    Many thanks.

  21. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks, Philip, MDS and Wakefield Tolbert – it’s great having your appreciation. I’m glad you’ve found me to be a good example of how debating should be done. All I can say is, I’m just following the example of some really great debaters who do far better than I. Considering the grossly offensive rubbish that some people have had to put up with on their sites, I’m not surprised that the moderation on some sites is very heavy and the bloggers touchy and aggressive. Hopefully I’ll avoid that here.

    Hi Responder – as you can see, I produced my arguments, which you’ve ignored. As for the humming, hawwing and ‘ad hominems’, no, I’m not interested in doing that. I’ve you’ve counterarguments against them, then by all means post them. I’d be interested in seeing your comments.

    Thanks for your comments, Rich. Here’s my perspective on them.

    Firstly, regarding MDS’ comments about the irrationality of atheists, unfortunately when you read some of the stuff on the web, you can see his point. I’m British, and it’s a far more secular society than America, so you meet more atheist and agnostics. Clearly most of them, like everyone else in society, are rational. On the other hand, if you go to some of the atheist websites, you can encounter individuals who have some very bizarre views about theism indeed. Dawkins is a good example. He clearly believes that somehow, simply by being religious, even religious moderates are at heart crazed suicide bombers ready to wage a bloody Crusade or jihad against everyone else. Now Dawkins is more articulate and guarded in his statements than some of the people on the various atheist forums who’ve picked up his views. I’ve come across some individuals who really do believe that the forces of Christianity are massing to take power and kill everyone else.

    Now I’m an Anglican (Episcopalian). If they are, then our church’s definitely been left out of the loop. So have our local Baptist, Roman Catholic and United Reformed Churches. I also haven’t noticed the Methodists preaching violent revolution and hatred either. The British comedian, Eddie Izzard, has a joke about the Anglican Church starting a Crusade: ‘What will it be, unbelievers – death? Or cake?’
    ‘Er, cake, please!’
    ‘You, death? Or cake?’
    ‘Cake again!’
    It pretty much describes the modern Anglican mentality, and Dawkins’ ideas about the fundamental nature of belief is basically just grotesque paranoia, but one unfortunately that a lot of his followers seem to share.

    So, while it’s not fair to say that atheists are all irrational, unfortunately you can get the impression of some when you come across the real, irrational fear and hatred on certain atheist sites.

  22. beastrabban Says:

    Going on to your points about Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Rich – yeah, I’ve come across Dawkins’ statement that he can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but thinks it’s very, very unlikely. Now Dawkins here is merely stating a fact: to prove that God didn’t exist, you’d have to be an omnipotent, omnipresent being – in other words, God. However, I think it’s very clear that Dawkins doesn’t believe in God, and resolutely hates religion. At the ‘Beyond Belief’ conference in La Jolla last year he upbraided Steven Weinberg when Weinberg said he would be sorry when religion was gone. Given that attitude on Dawkins’ part, I believed I am very justified in attacking his atheism and hatred of religion.

    As for Christopher Hitchens, yeah, Hitchens also has a vehement hatred of religion. My own feeling is that in Hitchens’ case, it was a strong part of his former Marxism, and that the fall of Communism has left him with a void where the only remaining radicalism is a hatred of religion. That’s sad. For all the horrors committed in the Soviet Bloc – the forced labour camps, the mass deportation of entire nations under Stalin, the ruthless subordination of the individual to the state, Communism offered more than simply an absence or a repudiation of an existing state of affairs. It promised a transformed humanity and an ultimate utopia at the end of history, a dream of people sharing everything in peace and brotherhood. Hitchens doesn’t seem to have anything like that to offer. His hatred of religion just seems to be a reaction to massive disillusionment with what his former ideology actually did, rather than what it claimed to be doing.

    I also wondered if some of that resentment was due to the powerful influence religion played in toppling Communism. The Roman Catholic church was highly influential in keeping some of the worst excesses out of Poland, and in assisting its downfall there, while the Lutheran church did the same in East Germany. Now a few years ago, just after East Germany’s re-unification with the Bundesrepublik, one German archaeologist wrote a book claiming that it was the Christians who were really responsible for the great fire of Rome, rather than Nero. I’ve got the distinct impression that some of his ire towards Christianity was due to the Church finally overthrowing the East German dictatorship. Hitchens still has a nostalgia for the old Soviet Union and praises Lenin’s achievements, so I do wonder if he shares in that mentality. Of course, I could be wrong.

  23. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding Hitchens’ comments about the God of the Bible being a bad entity, yeah, a lot of people have problems with the actions of God in the Old Testament. However, one needs to see it in the context of its times, as St. Paul considered it to be – ‘a training in righteousness’. A progressive revelation of God’s love and purpose while making strict ethical demands to raise people out of the iniquity of the times.

    Regarding your statement that if people are allowed to evangelise, then they must also allow dissent, I actually agree with you. I don’t believe in the suppression of free speech or genuine inquiry, though I do believe in criticising the critics, if you catch my drift.

    As for government endorsement of religion, I have a rather different perspective. I’m British, and over this side of the Atlantic we have an established church. While the Anglican Church has clearly come under attack and there are demands for its disestablishment, I think it actually performs a vital role. An awful lot of the philosophical principles which underlie Western civilisation, such as human equality and dignity, are actually theologically based. The whole notion of human rights was developed by the medieval theologians from Graeco-Roman social contract theory, as elaborated and transmitted by St. Augustine and the other Fathers of the Church. Once that theological supporting for human rights and values, then a vital support of humane civilisation falls. During the French Revolution, the Revolutionaries had to reintroduce God into the French constitution as without God as the ultimate sanction of human rights, human rights themselves could not be supported.

    Moreover, official sanction and coverage of religious ceremonies to commemorate national events does provide a valuable spiritual guide in public life, such as the prayers in churches, synagogues and other places of worship after 9/11. I don’t mean that the government should be repressive or sectarian in matters of religion, only that state support for religion can be a good thing for the collective spiritual health of a nation.

    Regarding not allowing science to be corrupted by Creation myths, I have to say I’ve some sympathy there. The Bible isn’t a scientific text. However, I think there’s a paradoxical danger that materialism has created its own set of Creation myths. The British philosopher, Mary Midgeley, who is definitely no Creationist or friend of ID, wrote a very good examination of the religious attitudes underpinning a lot of atheist evolutionist pronouncements in the book Evolution as a Religion . Now I do feel ID has contributed immensely to the debate on the nature of science by questioning whether a basis in philosophical materialism is adequate as a basis in science, and how science can claim to be an unbiased, objective view of the world when this bias is at its heart.

  24. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding your criticisms of my arguments for the existence of God, Rich, allow me to critique them in turn.

    Firstly, the statement that I am using a ‘God of the gaps’ argument when I state that the creation of the universe ex nihilo 13 billion years ago is itself a statement of faith. It presumes there is a philosophically materialist solution to this problem, or that a philosophically materialist solution, even if based on weaker evidence than divine fiat, is still somehow preferable. This is a faith position, a ‘materialism of the gaps’. Now things don’t come into being without cause, and the unfolding system of the universe seems to me to bear out the belief that there is, at the heart of Creation, an Uncaused Cause – God.

    Regarding the deep orderliness of the cosmos to which I pointed, and which you felt was simply subjective impression, the evidence for this is the success of science. Science is predicated on the belief that the world everywhere follows certain rules. It was developed during the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century by Christian philosophers and theologians who based it on the descriptions of God measuring and surveying the Earth at the Creation in the Bible, and imposing order on the pre-existant chaos in the Genesis account. Even Darwin’s bulldog, T.H. Huxley, stated that if you took a God’s eye view of the cosmos, avoiding the pain and suffering in the Creation, what would strike you would be the overwhelming order in the universe, an order which would give you a kind of beatific vision as you contemplated the God of the philosophers.

    As for the argument for the intelligibility of the universe, well, perhaps it is a ‘seems like’ argument. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no reason for the universe to be intelligible, especially if human minds are only the products of Natural Selection. As Darwin himself said, ‘he would trust the musings of a monkey’s brain?’ An awful lot of scientists have been astounded by the universe’s staggering intelligibility, and some, like the great British astronomer and science popularizer, Sir Arthur Eddington, saw it as evidence of a divine Mind because of the way the mathematical exactitude of universal law is so precisely mirrored by human mathematics.

    There’s a problem with moral laws simply being an emergent trait. Simply giving a reproductive advantage does not make something moral. Most of us would consider that the deranged doctor who got caught a while ago in an in vitro clinic using his own sperm, rather than those of the clinic’s genuine donors, to get the clinic’s clients pregnant was grossly immoral. If, however, a reproductive advantage is the gauge of morality, then this pervert becomes a moral paragon. Now moral laws clearly give a life-enhancing benefit, but to be moral, rather than merely expedient, a transcendent principle has to be involved.

    Now for your comments about the Heaven’s Gate cultists. I don’t think that tragic episode has anything to say about the Resurrection of Christ whatsoever. Yeah, the people involved went to death for a belief that was wrong. Now, does this disprove the experiences of the Resurrection?

    No. One of the reasons is that many of the daft materialist theories about the Resurrection were based on the idea of Jesus and the disciples somehow faking it. Now as I said, nobody goes to their death for a belief they know to be wrong. I’m presuming that the people in Heaven’s Gate genuinely believed in what they were doing when they committed suicide. Also, those who have studies the Resurrection and human pathological psychology have stated that the two are very different. John Pearce-Higgins in his paper, ‘Biblical Miracles (II) in Canon J.D. Pearce-Higgins and Rev. G. Stanley Whitby, eds., Life, Death & Psychical Research: STudies on behalf of The Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies (London, Rider 1973) notes that schizophrenics don’t share each other’s hallucinations, for example. The apostles’ mental health seems to me to have been entirely normal.

    As for the Heaven’s Gate people themselves, just because they were deluded it doesn’t mean that all religious people are. To take a secular example, the pioneering British neurologist Grey Walter had a patient who used to hallucinate, seeing a crocodile in the kitchen. However, merely because he saw illusory crocodiles does not mean that real crocs don’t exist, or that it is impossible to be sure that the crocodile one has encountered is not illusory.

  25. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield – thanks for the links and the knotty problems. Here are my attempts to answer them.

    I had heard this was being discussed–that there really is nothing “out there” any more about God than about ufos and tarot cards, ghosts, and the like you hear on the Art Bell show. While not using the “G” word, you can clearly see where neuroscientists are going with this idea about the “supernatural” being merely a reflection of the “false” dualism that one finds in a MATERIAL mind built to see patterns everywhere–this pattern building evolution of the physical brain does not prove there are things “out there” but rather that we merely get fooled sometimes into thinking this is the case when we see things that are not actually in existence. Thus the false dichotomy of “dualism”, etc.

    This suffers from two flaws.

    Firstly, it presupposes that there really is nothing out there, and that spiritual, transcendental and ghostly experiences are just shadows of a material mind. The problem I have with it is that if you go through some of the research collected in the over 100 years of psychical research, you do find much that suggests the continued presence of the human personality after death. You also find a lot of celebrity mediums who eventually got exposed as frauds, of course. But still, there are some extremely strange episodes, such as the Vandy case, where a medium gave very accurate information regarding the death of a early 20th century British inventor to his brother in conditions which effectively acted as a double-blind trial. In my opinion there is good evidence in psychical research to suggest that Mind does exist outside of the body.

    Secondly, if the human brain is constructed to see patterns which aren’t really there, then all rationality is automatically undercut, as I cannot be sure if anything that exhibits ‘mind’ is really there. It becomes a general assault on consciousness, part of the modern abolition of man. And as philosophers have pointed out, like William Barrett in his Death of the Soul: Philosophical Thought from Descartes to the Computer (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1987), this has deeply dangerous implications for human dignity and value. I do plan to get round to critiquing this view in due course, as over here it’s being very loudly trumpeted by Dr. Sue Blackmore, a psychology lecturer at the University of the West of England in Bristol. She’s a fan of Dawkins and has Dennett’s weird view that consciousness doesn’t exist. If there’s a dangerous, irrational, destructive worldview waiting to be attacked, it’s hers.

    One could also add that if the human brain has evolved to see patterns suggesting mental agency, then presumably this trait must actually correspond to something that really exists in the world to persist, and so at some level the intimations of transcendent agency given by the brain’s neurochemistry are based in truth, otherwise they would not have survived and developed.

  26. beastrabban Says:

    Now for the question concerning embryos.

    Do aborted fetuses and babies and even embryos who die in the womb are miscarried, or otherwise taken from us prematurely automatically go to heaven to be with God? And for those who die at the point of conception STAY WITH GOD? At what point is the soul “implanted” on the human mind? At the point of development of the brain at some X point? Or at the moment of sperm and egg?? Not to seem smart, but these are legitimate issues theologically if the issues of embryonic stem cell research and abortion remain in focus in the Church community. The idea here being that it is a “waste” of God’s resources. (and even some notable theologians–or some profs who claim to teach such in some colleges–point out that this is a CRUEL God who is not only wasteful of resources and time, noting all the wars and human depravity, but one who is malevolent. Though I realize that’s an overall old argument that has been repudiated to SOME extent by pointing out human free will and the imperfect state of nature). Also, do children reside in Heaven or do we all default to some young but mature states of being? (I think the latter most likely for full development and service to God, etc).

    Not being God and having an automatic hotline to the Next World, I don’t know. But here’re my thoughts anyway.

    Regarding the point at which the soul is united with the baby, there’s a difference of opinion. Some theologians consider it to be the point of conception, while others, following the lead of St. Thomas Aquinas, considered it to be about 40 days or so after conception. An Anglo-Saxon tract on the development of the foetus from the 11th century states that ‘in the third month he is man, except for the soul’ (‘The Development of the Foetus’ in Michael Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Prose (London, Everyman 1993), p. 263). I would say that the soul was united with the body at conception, as this is the very first starting point for a whole human being, and so presumably contains the soul, which is an integral part of whole, living humans.

    I’d also say that those babies, embryos and foetuses that die in the womb do indeed go to heaven to be with God. Outside Christianity, this belief is found in Shinto. The British anthropologist Dr. Nigel Barley, in his book, Dancing with the Dead , about beliefs and practices connected with death and the dead around the world, states that there is a section of modern, Japanese Shinto devotion centred around funerals and offerings to children who have not been born through abortion. From what I gather, this is partly due to the comparative lack of contraception in the Land of the Rising Sun. When the Japanese government was considering liberalising the availability of contraception decades ago, there was very strong lobbying against it by the abortion sector of Japanese medicine, who feared losing valuable trade. Thus, abortion became easier than straightforward contraception, and Japanese women make offering to the souls of aborted foetuses.

    As for what age we are when we go to Heaven, St. Augustine believed that those who died young would gradually age, and those who died old would age backwards until everyone reached the physical age of 30, and enjoyed good health in their mature prime.

    As for waste, the Bible actually tells you that because of the Fall, human reproductive biology isn’t as it should be: women suffer in childbirth. Therefore, the apparently wastefulness of embryos that pass through the reproductive tract without developing into a foetus is a product of the Fallen world, not the ideal world God had in mind. I’d also argue that waste here is very much a subjective concept. Evolutionary biologists have argued that God cannot exist, as there is much waste in nature. But other biologists have made the observation that there is very little actual waste, as the billions of minute organisms, like Krill, that are spawned form the basis of a vast trophic pyramid and support entire ecosystems. Furthermore, one could also use evolution to argue that the suffering in nature is not cruel or malevolent if it is used to actualise the further potential for development within organisms. Robin Attfield uses this argument against Dawkins and his fellows in his book Creation, Evolution and Meaning (Aldershot, Ashgate 2006).

  27. beastrabban Says:

    Now for point 3:

    Point 3: Bouncing of the very last comment about free will in the upper sentence, someone asked me if it were not possible God could have avoided all our more gruesome problems of sickness, death, murder, mayhem and other societal ailments by just making us into energy beings rather than the state of matter with a spiritual duality/identity that only becomes perfected upon death. And why then death only? I think he has a point, and would be interested to see your answer. The issue of free will and the Fall could still apply since even as perfect bodied energy beings we could still rebel and sin. After all, the devil did just this and still has no permanent physical identity, or at least one than can (or could) shift at will. He, like God, might have a “male” persona but still mostly resides in the spirit realm along with the demons tucked away in Tarturus.

    There are several approaches to this topic.

    Firstly, it’s possible to take a quasi-Gnostic approach to this problem. The early Church Father Origen, for example, believed that originally all there had been was pre-extant souls, created by God, with their attention and devotion uniquely centred on Him. These souls, however, became fascinated with the temtations of the flesh, and so fell from God. Just how far you were fascinated with the pleasures of matter determined your form, and how far you fell. At the top were angels, then humans, then animals. Origen was profoundly heretical in this aspect of his teaching, which was based on Platonic and Pythagorean theories of reincarnation. For Christians, the soul is created by God at the moment of conception. It does not exist before then.

    Judaism, however, has, I believe, a slightly different idea. There are Talmudic legends which state that there are only a finite number of human souls, stored under the Almighty’s throne. The end of the world will only come, and the Messiah arrive, when the store of these unused souls is exhausted. There is another legend in the Talmud which describes the soul as living in a heavenly garden before God comes and takes it from this heavenly garden to place in the human body, a process which the soul finds extremely traumatic.

    However, the idea of energy beings as inherently better than the current corporeal existence is strongly rejected in Judaism and Christianity. It’s based on the Gnostic contempt for matter and the flesh. Yet for Christians, Jews and Muslim, matter, as part of God’s good creation, is also good. It is not an evil shadow of a more real transcendental realm. The Resurrection that Jews, Christians and Muslims look forward to isn’t the disembodied realm of pure spirit, as envisaged by Plato, but one of a perfected material order. We take on the same kind of glorified flesh that our Lord took on after His resurrection.

    As for whether it would be better to be pure energy, as that way the worst sufferings of sin could be avoided, this wouldn’t be the case. If we were all immune from real, physical suffering, then cruelty and true goodness would have no meaning, as one could do anything to anyone without it being remotely harmful. Humanity could not develop its innate good – compassion, dignity and courage without being faced with real, physical evil – sickness, torment and death. It’s these that bring out human morality and make it concrete and actual.

  28. beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s tackle point four:

    Point 4: Speaking of which, (gender personas), why have sex at all? Not being overly facetious here. The point is that while we might have male and female personas on earth to reproduce and have some fun on the side and marry and whatnot, it is noted in the Scriptures the angels do not do this. Is there sex in heaven??? And will the perfected state of things to come in Heaven allow for this since the Scriptures seem to imply that no such thing is found among the angels (not given to marriage). In pure energy beings it is implied that we will be mostly gender neutral, and not have more children. The famous saying being that God does not have grandchildren in heaven–only His children. These seem facetious but have been raised by Skeptic types for a reason. For example, Satan and God both are held to have MALE personas, though to be sure they both might exhibit qualities of females at times (someone once said the Devil might even wear Prada and high heels and fancy mascara after all, and if you could have met some of the gals I’ve known….well….anyhow…..:)
    But seriously, if we still bear gender personas in Heaven, then apparently there is no sex to accompany that. An eternity of frustration? Or perhaps sex is only a temporal thing and actually will be supplanted by something much better that does not require the problematic issues of marriage? But will that relation be with females that you were married to on earth? After all, death breaks the marriage bond on earth, and is one of the few exceptions to prohibitions against remarriage to another person (for the survivor, of course).

    Firstly, this is where the Christian view of the afterlife differs from the Muslim. In Islam, sexuality is seen as a definite good, and so most certainly exists in heaven. The Qu’ran specifically mentions a class of heavenly maidens, the houris, who remain perpetually virgin and are there as one of the delights of paradise for Muslim men.

    In Christianity sex is seen as far more problematic, especially as it has been traditionally considered by theologians as the cause of the Fall. Now Scripture doesn’t just say that sex doesn’t occur in heaven, it states that in heaven ‘they neither marry, nor are given in marriage’. This was Christ’s answer to the Pharisee’s questions concerning levirate marriage. In Judaism at the time, it was permitted, even required, for the brother of a man who died without children to marry his widow in order to father children that would be raised as the children of the dead man. The pharisee’s question is about whose husband a woman would be in heaven if she so married two brothers successively after being widowed. The answer is that she wouldn’t be anyone’s wife, because of the absence of marriage and sexuality in heaven.

    As for gender differences, it’s assumed that there will still be male and female in heaven. The fallen angels who sinned with the daughters of men to produce the giants – the Nephilim , the ‘mighty men of renown’ who corrupted the Earth with their violence so that the Lord destroyed it with the Flood – are described as the ‘sons of God’. Interestingly enough, Jewish legend on the other hand always describes the soul as female, with God addressing it as ‘daughter’. I’ve got a feeling that’s because the word for soul is female in grammatical gender in Hebrew. This persistence of gender without sex may not lead to an eternity of sexual frustration. In contemporary psychology, gender is seen as something different from sexuality. So it’s possible that in eternity people will retain their gender identities, but transcend the purely carnal aspects of sexuality. If you remember the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, Eve was created as a companion and a helpmate for Adam ‘because it is not good that man should be alone’. In medieval and early modern ideologies of gender, women were subordinate to men, but also complemented them. Without women, humanity would be incomplete and imperfect, so women and the feminine qualities were felt to complete and perfect the male to make a whole humanity. It’s therefore possible that the idea of a humanity without sexuality, such as that portrayed in Genesis, looks forward to a better state of relationships between the genders which goes beyond mere carnality and reproduction.

  29. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    In Christianity sex is seen as far more problematic, especially as it has been traditionally considered by theologians as the cause of the Fall.

    I thought the actual problem was disobedience by Adam and Eve. Perhaps Pride had a part in this? But Sex?

    In fact I thought it was only the parodies of “fundamentalist” Christians as seen in wildly inaccurate portrayals of us chaw-chewing country hicks that says we think that the Fall is due to sexual promiscuity. See for example “Inherit the Wind”. The errors in this secularized parody of the real events in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trail (even being a Brit you may have heard of the tale about the teacher virtually pilloried for teaching Evolution in rural Tennessee, USA). Secularists like John Dewey and the obnoxious professional Doubter HL Mencken (the Dawkins of print in those days) chimed in for the feast on these poor dumbunnie backwoods popinjays. But the actual events (as with all tales, including Copernicus and Galileo) is somewhat more complicated and actually implicated both “sides.”

    I would love to address the other parts but for now will have to gel things down since I’m on my way to Chicago soon. On the part about forms of thinking being illusory of course I agree that this serves mostly to contraindicate all notions. Period. It has been pointed out by people better than myself that this kind of attack would be an attack on all non-concretes. And I agree with you and him. If our minds evolved or developed to “see” patterns there is a vaid reason for this. If the evolutionary biologist says this is all for survival mechanisms then it still serves as a valid way to survive that can’t discount notions that some of us have. They’ve served us well, agree. In fact they serve us better than banging into walls.The reality is that many thought forms allow us to move beyond the temporal and concrete (often called Einstein’s Gulf, as unknown to many people he had some pointed things to say OUTSIDE of hard science being the only arbitrary of reality). There is the Indian mystic who gave the concept of the nothing that is the something found in the Zero and all the rest of the numeric system that hangs in our minds. There is no such thing as a giant obelisk or oracle in the Cosmos that says “behold , the reality of numbers in the concrete.”

    The same is true for all other notions of love, charity, political and philosophical disputes that regardless of arguments and ideology one assumes that goal direction and the name calling has some other motive (for good or ill—always claimed for the Good, naturally) that belies biology’s attempt to say that everything is mechanistic, or (dawkinsonian) on behalf of “gene machines”, or preset mechanically. But the Doubter can always respond to this by saying, “ok, so crocodiles are not actually ‘good’ mamas when they bite you if you mess with their egg nests, and humans no doubt are not MERELY a high brow extension of that primordial defense of the young disguised as love, BUT you’ve GOT to place the concept of ‘goodness’ somewhere, yet your placing it with a Creator is arbitrary and therefore how convenient he just happens to be “in the good side of things.”

  30. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Secondly, if the human brain is constructed to see patterns which aren’t really there, then all rationality is automatically undercut, as I cannot be sure if anything that exhibits ‘mind’ is really there. It becomes a general assault on consciousness, part of the modern abolition of man.
    ……..

    ……She’s a fan of Dawkins and has Dennett’s weird view that consciousness doesn’t exist. If there’s a dangerous, irrational, destructive worldview waiting to be attacked, it’s hers.

    I thought about that even as I typed out the last message. CS Lewis touched on this and yes it seems that if “pattern building” in the mind and other illusory or non-extant illusions point to consciousness as myth, then all propositions that are not concrete are in trouble–including notions about the material evolution of the mind. Yeah–that’s a hard rock to pill down, I agree.

    Actually this line of thinking is more and more common, unfortunately.

    To wit consciousness is mere illusion. ” the Emperor has no mind”.

    That does leave the question of how these people know that factoid or for that matter any function of the mind above eating and sleeping and other base needs. For that matter, any mental contruct.

    Though some are simply not as aggressive as Dawkins and dear Sue. William Province, Francis Crick, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, B.F. Skinner, Francis Fukayama, Stephen Wienberg, Stephen Pinker, Michael Shermer, The semi magician the “Great Randi”, Carl Sagan, Michael Ruse, and a host of other too numerous all have popularized something akin to a “radical” redifinition of human values to “keep pace” with the “realities” of the coldness of the universe. Gould hemhawed a little saying that faith and religion were “separate magesteria” but THEN later said that evolution was not a tree or “ladder of success”—but rather a “copiously branching network” and one could NOT lay claim that humans as the titular spokespersons of the biosphere have any more moral input than cockroaches and rats, seeing that this mechanism for making babies is but one of billions of methods for “getting the deed done” and is neither better nor longer lived than reptile mating habits and canine temperments and heirarchies.

    (But then they to a man go on like Dawkins to align themselves with moral causes from feminism to deforestation and socialized medicine for the little ones.)

    I hate to say it, since I admired your spirited defense of the putative “lack of conflict” deemed necessary betwenn faith and modern darwinian thought, but the fact is that very few on the biology side make room for the “God” question or seriously consider God’s agency working via evolution. After all, they raise a dour notion (as did Weinberg) that all theological evidence to boot indicates a God somewhat more active in the affairs of beast and man than one who merely “allows’ mechanistic forces via time and gore and bloodletting to sort the genes out. In other words, either God is kinda lazy here, or is using methodology that for some reason is REALLY obscurantist, OR He has not real will and has little to do with the affairs of the flesh in contradistinction to Scripture. I’m NOT the only one who has noticed this issue. For most biologists and deep thinkers, by contrast, this is THEIR logical conclusion, not one of compromise (as seems your personal position.)

    The above list is about 1/50 of the number of names I’ve collected on prominent Darwinian spear carriers who agree in principle that no compromise is possible between the modern darwinian conception of time and chance=people and things vs. the biblical notion of God. One does not have to be a religious nut or Bible thumper from the Antebellum South to see the trouble here.

    Allen Orr, to his credit as a hard core materialist biologist, devastatingly critiqued Dawkins from something suprisingly akin to some of what you said though he remains a member of the Faithful of the house of hard core agnosticism, though to be sure pointing out that Dawkins can’t have his Politically Correct Moral cake and sup from it too. You can’t claim people are immoral or evil or that certain policies from the Fundy Right are horrid to gays and blacks and the poor if (even if right or wrong) you have no basis for making a materialistic assumption about moral suasion that is trans-culturally satisfying.

    PS–my vision is bad–but is that a TINY smiley face at the very bottom of your blog—-really small smiling back at me? Or is that something wordpress has standard? Kinda funny.

  31. JOR Says:

    Eliminativism contadicts itself from the very start – every argument for it is an argument against it. Its embrace is exactly the sort of thing that implicates positivism as insane.

  32. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield – thanks for taking the time out from your preparations to go to Chicago to answer some of the points I made.

    Regarding contemporary Darwinians attack on the dignity of humanity and the extence of transcendent soul or Mind, I completely agree with you. I’m not impressed by the way the Darwinian establishment uses Darwin as some kind of atheist credo or mantra, and will brook no criticism of Darwinism as a scientific theory nor its moral implications. I do feel, however, that much of this is based very much on a process of psychological projection – of atheist psychological need – on evolutionary theory.

    Regarding your observation that

    After all, they raise a dour notion (as did Weinberg) that all theological evidence to boot indicates a God somewhat more active in the affairs of beast and man than one who merely “allows’ mechanistic forces via time and gore and bloodletting to sort the genes out. In other words, either God is kinda lazy here, or is using methodology that for some reason is REALLY obscurantist, OR He has not real will and has little to do with the affairs of the flesh in contradistinction to Scripture. I’m NOT the only one who has noticed this issue. For most biologists and deep thinkers, by contrast, this is THEIR logical conclusion, not one of compromise (as seems your personal position.)

    Firstly, the Bible states clearly that God supplies food for young lions and other predators, so that although, following Genesis, predation is a degeneration from the condition of primordial harmony and peace God wished for His creation, nevertheless the Lord does use bloodletting in the natural world to accomplish His works. Now regarding the issue adopted towards evolution by mainstream theologians, it’s considered that the process as a whole is governed and structured by the Lord. God doesn’t intervene at various points to develop new creatures, as the whole process is being guided from start to finish by God. I’m going to have to blog on this point at some time in the future, but I think it stands up. However, ID, if true, ramps up the evidence in favour of God’s governance of the process of Creation immensely.

    As for using a really obscure process to create the world, well, the Prophet Isaiah said of the Lord ‘Truly, you are the God who hides Himself!’ Calvin himself believed that although the Book of Nature did indeed proclaim the glory of God, nevertheless you need the spectacles of Scripture to recognise this. In defence of the apparent obscurity of the notion of evolution as the means by which God creates the wonderful organisms of the living world, it’s been pointed out that whatever process God had used to shape the natural world would, as soon as God interfered in nature, appeared to be natural. Thus the apparent naturalism of the evolutionary process is not evidence against a supernatural Creator. I’ve seen this argument used by one of the great Christians who’ve argued for the reality of God on Dawkins’ own forum, and I think the argument has merit. Obviously, however, it’s not one Dawkins or the other materialists would accept. This says much about the narrowness of their own philosophical beliefs and the simple naivete of their thinking, and is, to my mind, one of the reasons they can’t be taken seriously as philosophers. Nevertheless, unfortunately it is a position which regrettably has an appeal to a public taken in by the simplistic empiricism, or what passes for it, promulgated by the Darwinist establishment.

    As for evolution being a branching bush, with humanity no more evolved or better than the other organisms, Gould did indeed base this on Darwin’s own ideas. Now I think that Gould has confused several different philosophical issues here to support his own bleak beliefs. Firstly, I have no problem with the idea that tube worms may be more evolved than me in respect to their adaptation to their environment. God has ‘made all things well’, and if He uses evolution, then it means that the evolutionary process will lead to organisms more evolved than ourselves when it comes to their specific biological niches.

    However, this does not rule out human dignity, as humans clearly have been endowed with intelligence, an innate moral sense and freedom of choice, qualities that make us the image of the Lord. And as the most powerful species on the Earth with an awesome impact on the environment – at least if you follow the arguments of the ecological party – than humanity clearly does act as the Earth’s spokesman and steward.

    Thanks, however, for raising the issue of humanity in connection with the natural world and the implications of evolutionary theory for us as creatures made in the image of God. I’m going to have to blog about this too, as I think that the disparagement of the anthropomorphisms of the Bible act as a profoundly anti-human ideology. More specifically, I suspect that human rationality is also based very much in our biology, and that the supposed dichotomy between ‘body’ and ‘rationality’ is a false one.

    As for the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’, we’ve certainly heard about it over here, and yeah, there was more going on there than the Hollywood propaganda in Inherit the Wind . I’ve far more sympathy with William Jennings Bryant than Clarence Darrow. As for H.L. Mencken, he’s someone I’ve heard of, but don’t have any deep knowledge about. I did, however, read the review of the biography about him Denyse O’Leary linked to on her blog Post Darwinist , and was spectacularly unimpressed by the man. I’m not a fan of Dewey’s Naturalism either.

    As for traditional Christian discomfort with sex having a basis in the Genesis account of the Fall, I believe that to be true. It certainly seems to permeate much medieval theology. However, you’re right in that sexuality wasn’t the cause of the Fall, but Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God. In the Book of Common Prayer used until the 1980s by the Anglican Church, it’s stated very firmly that marriage is based on the condition of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

    As for metropolitan secularists like Mencken, Dewey and the rest sneering at rural Fundamentalists as backwoods hicks, yes, I’ve certainly seen that done. It’s an attitude that persists today, and I’m not impressed by it. It’s bases on an arrogant assumption of superiority on the secularists’ part, and betrays a certain intellectual insecurity there as well. And given Mencken’s support for eugenics and Hitler, he had absolutely no basis for assuming any kind of moral superiority over the guys from the sticks. One of the best things I’ve heard said about that attitude came from Origen, who stated that there people in his church who couldn’t read, yet nevertheless were superior to him as practical teachers of the church.

  33. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Jor – I completely agree with your comments about the absurd and self-contradictory nature of eliminativism and the atheist attitudes based on it. There’s no way I can argue against that!:)

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