Scepticism Ancient and Modern

There’s a tendency in contemporary atheism to present itself not as a dogmatic denial of religion and the supernatural, but as an attitude of simple doubt. Atheism is stated to be the lack of belief in God or gods, rather than an outright disbelief in them. The attitude therefore becomes one of philosophical Scepticism, which is perceived to be essentially rational and open-minded, as against the perceived close-mindedness of theism. This strand of atheism dates from the 17th century, when European philosophers and scholars took a renewed interested in the philosophical Scepticism of the ancient world. The arguments of Pyrrho and Carneades against the existence of the gods were taken over into the nascent free-thinking milieu of the period.

Yet despite this position of critical doubt, Scepticism, both ancient and contemporary, nevertheless is constructed on certain assumptions about the world, assumptions which paradoxically act as dogmas in constructing a Sceptical worldview, despite philosophical Scepticism’s rejection of dogmatism. Examining the nature and the underlying assumptions of Graeco-Roman and contemporary Scepticism not only gives an insight into the changing nature of Scepticism and atheism, but also the paradoxical nature of atheist doubt as a worldview in itself.

Ancient Scepticism 

Firstly, ancient Scepticism was a systematic application of doubt not just to religion, but to just about aspect of intellectual life. According to Pyrrho of Elis, one of the founders of Hellenistic scepticism, who lived from c. 280 to 80 BC, the universe was fundamentally unknowable. Nothing definite could be said about the world as it really was, and so the correct attitude towards it and its objects should be one of suspension of belief. This non-committal attitude was held to have the benefit of conferring peace of mind. 1 In some respects this position is closer to philosophical postmodernism, which states that all conceptions of reality are intellectual and cultural constructs with no objective validity, than to the scepticism of atheists and agnostics like CSICOP. Richard Dawkins, for example, is a religious sceptic, but as an avowed opponent of Postmodernism I doubt he would consider that reality is fundamentally unknowable.

Amongst the most brilliant exponents of ancient Scepticism was Carneades, who lived about 214 to 129 BC. A superb debater, he became notorious after his arrival in Rome as head of the Platonic Academy in 155 BC for his ability to argue both for and against any position. He caused a furore by first demonstrating this tactic in a piece of oratory in which he first argued for, and then against, righteousness. 2 While respecting his brilliance, the Romans didn’t like him because of this critical attitude to just about every intellectual or moral idea. I got the impression he was distrusted because he was ‘too clever by half’. Nevertheless, while the Sceptics attacked the Stoic doctrine of cataleptic phantasies, which stated that there were sense impressions that were clear and trustworthy, they did not entirely reject sense experience. 3 Carneades himself believed that there were sense impressions that were persuasive and credible, and that their persuasiveness increased when corroborated by associated impressions and perceptions. He did not believe, however, that such sense impressions could ever be certain. 4

Now clearly there’s an element of common sense in the Sceptical attitude. It’s accepted that sense experience is unreliable, and clearly a statement or impression of reality does become more persuasive with supporting impressions. And the attitude that notions of reality should be lightly held has allowed science to progress as its statements have been refined and superseded by fresh evidence. Indeed, Scepticism had an influence on the Roman empirical school of medicine through the writings of the physician and sceptical philosopher, Sextus Empiricus. 5

Difference Between Ancient and Modern Scepticism 

Yet despite the similarity between the empiricism and attacks on dogmatic statements about the nature of the gods by the ancient Sceptics and contemporary atheists, there are a number of important differences. The most significant of these is that while Pyrrho argued that the world was innately unknowable, contemporary atheism assumes that the world is intelligible and that definitive statements about the world can be made with a very high degree of confidence. Even if scientific views of the world are subject to revision, it is nevertheless assumed that they correspond to reality. Moreover, the intelligible, rational nature of the universe means that the universe does not require the existence of a Creator, and that the existence of any kind of supernatural entities is unlikely to a greater or lesser extent. Moreover, however tentative the philosophy of science insists scientific explanations are, in practice the assumed close correspondence between scientific models and reality mean that many are taken to be established, dogmatic fact. For example, despite his religious scepticism, Carl Sagan always strongly insisted that evolution was fact, as against the possible view following the logic of ancient Scepticism that evolution was more persuasive than the alternatives of special creation, but not certain. Thus, contemporary religious sceptics nevertheless make dogmatic statements about the world.

Limited Nature of Modern Philosophical Scepticism

Indeed, Scepticism itself has its limitations which prevent it merging into Nihilism. For all that philosophers may strenuously debate the meaning and nature of justice, morality and individual ethical qualities, like good and evil, few would actually state that there is no such thing as justice or morality, even if the universe as a whole is simply taken to be a brute fact, neither good nor evil, as Dawkins does in his attitude towards natural evil. Yet there is a problem in that if the existence of God or the gods is dismissed because the different conceptions of them renders the idea of divinity incoherent, then it is equally possible to dismiss morality and justice as illusory because of the sharply different concepts of them in various cultures. Atheism assumes the existence of some kind of objective morality, especially as one important part of its attack on religion is based on the supposed evil or lack of morality in religion. This demonstrates another difference between contemporary Scepticism and that of the ancient world. Carneades, Pyrrho, Arcesilaus and the other ancient Sceptics argued against the existence of the gods because it was felt that the idea of them was incoherent. They did not dismiss religion as evil. Contemporary religious scepticism moves beyond this stance and does declare religion to be evil. You only have to look at the pronouncements of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens and co.

Basis of Atheism in Philosophical Assumptions 

In all of this, however, there are a set of assumptions about the nature of reality, science and morality on which atheism is based. All of these assumptions are vulnerable to attack. However, the stance of some forms of contemporary atheism that atheism is really nothing more than the lack of a belief in God or the gods, and that as such the burden of proof is on the theist, acts to disguise this position. Those atheist polemicists who adopt this position effectively try to avoid exposing their own assumptions to scrutiny by denying that atheism is anything beyond this lack of belief. Yet if atheism is anything more than a simple fideistic denial of the existence of God or the gods, without any supporting reasons or arguments, then clearly there is a structure of belief – positive beliefs and truth statements about the nature of reality – behind it that have to be argued for.

The attempt by atheists to put the burden of proof on the theist is based on the presumption that atheism is somehow more rational than theism. This presumption is considered to be so axiomatic and self-evident that it is not argued for. Instead, it is stated that atheism is merely the lack of belief in God or the gods, while theism, it is suggested, is about the existence of entities for which there is no evidence or proof, that atheism is the default, commonsense position.

Yet this is another assumption. Throughout history, the vast majority of societies have believed in God or gods, and atheism as a belief system based on logic has had to be argued for. It is not for nothing that the British atheist philosopher, Robin le Poidevin, entitled one of his books, Arguing for Atheism. Given that atheism is based on logical argument and positive beliefs and truth statements about the world, it is far more than a merely negative position as expressed by the statement that it is about nothing more than the lack of belief in God or the gods, and the theist is entitled to expect the atheist to provide proof for his statements as well.

Atheists Required to Critique Beliefs in Socratic Dialogue 

This is also true if the debate is seen as a kind of ‘Socratic dialogue’. For many atheists, Socrates is a hero because of his execution by the Athenians for atheism, despite the fact that contemporary historians and classical scholars consider that his own religious views were entirely orthodox. Indeed, Socrates himself claimed to have been inspired by a daimon – a spiritual entity like the Judaeo-Christian concept of a guardian angel, that acted as an intermediary between the gods and humans. Part of Plato’s Phaedo consists of the arguments by Socrates in support of life after death and the existence of superior, transcendental world. Now atheist groups like the RRS admire Socrates for his questioning of dogma, just as the ancient Sceptics did. However, Socrates saw himself merely as a midwife helping to deliver the ideas of other people. Now clearly, as the presumption that atheism is nothing but the lack of belief in God or the gods, and so is somehow more rational, is based on a set of assumptions that are not articulated by this stance, and indeed it is the purpose of this stance to avoid having to articulate them, then, if the Socratic method is to be properly followed, there is the requirement that these assumptions should be brought out into the open and critiqued, just as Socrates brought out of his interlocutors their assumptions and critiqued them in order to get to the truth.

William James’ Criticism of Withholding Faith 

In fact the atheist position that it is better to withhold faith, and doubt the existence of God until there was sufficient evidence to accept it was criticised by the great scholar of the psychology of religion, William James. James considered it to be a tantamount to stating that risking the loss of truth was better than the chance of error. This stance he considered to be like a man indefinitely hesitating to marry a woman in case she wasn’t the angel he thought she was when he took her home. In so hesitating, he lost the good as surely as if he had disbelieved. ‘We cannot escape the issue by remaining sceptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve.’ 6 James considered this stance of withholding consent from religious belief because of the possibility of error to be no wiser than accepting it through hope, and strongly criticised it, stating

‘to preach scepticism to us as a duty until ‘sufficient evidence’ for religion be found, is tantamount therefore to telling us, when in the presence of the religious hypothesis, that to yield to our fear of its being error is wiser and better than to yield to our hope that it may be true. It is not intellect against all passions, then; it is only intellect with one passion laying down its law. And by what, forsooth, is the supreme wisdom of this passion warranted? Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear? I, for one, can see no proof, and I simply refuse obedience to the scientist’s command to imitate his kind of option, in a case where my own stake is important enough to give me the right to choose my own form of risk.’ 7

This is not to advocate religious belief against reason, merely to state that the policy of withholding faith until some criterion of ‘sufficient evidence’ is met is not necessarily any better guarantee of finding the truth than accepting religious belief because of the hope it offers.

Conclusion: Modern Atheism and Ancient Scepticism Different, and Atheists also Required to Provide Proof

Thus, despite its adoption of some of the conventions of ancient Scepticism, modern atheism and ancient Scepticism are very different worldviews. Ancient Scepticism stated that the world was fundamentally unknowable, and that statements about it could only be tentative. In this situation, the correct attitude was to cultivate an attitude of detachment. Contemporary atheism, on the other hand, is predicated on the belief that the universe is intelligible and that true statements about it may be made. It is based on a distinct set of assumptions and statements about the nature of the universe, statements that are not intuitively and self-evidently true, but which have had to be actively argued for. As such, it constitutes a distinct worldview in itself, not merely the lack of belief in God or the gods. Theists are therefore entitled to demand atheists also provide proof for their statements, while the principles of Socratic dialogue means that any attempt to disguise the assumptions on which atheism is based by shifting the burden of proof to the theist means that it is even more necessary that the assumptions of atheism should be stated and critically examined. Furthermore, the attitude that theist needs to provide sufficient evidence before belief in God can be granted is not necessarily a wise decision in itself.

Thus, atheism is indeed a worldview, whose scepticism is limited and whose assumptions deserve to be critiqued by theists. For a true Socratic dialogue to occur, the atheist needs to share provide proof for his worldview as well as the theist, and it needs to be recognised that the Sceptical policy of withholding belief pending sufficient evidence is not necessarily wiser than immediate acceptance. Atheism still makes truth statements about the world, and Scepticism is no guide to the truth, either of religion or the cosmos.

Notes

1. ‘Scepticism’ in Jennifer Speake, ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy (London, Pan Books 1984), p. 314.

2. ‘Carneades’ in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 56.

3. ‘Scepticism’, Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 314.

4. ‘Carneades’ in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 56; ‘Scepticism’ in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 314.

5. ‘Scepticism’ in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 56; ‘Sextus Empiricus’ in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 326.

6. William James, ‘The Will to Believe’ in Paul Helm, ed., Faith and Reason (Oxford, OUP 1999), p. 243.

7. James, ‘Will to Believe’, in Helm, ed., Faith and Reason, p. 243.

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49 Responses to “Scepticism Ancient and Modern”

  1. Feyd Says:

    A very interesting blog as ever Beast.

    Another key difference between the classical and contemporary sceptics is our Western culture and its tendency towards conceptual aggression, the urge to try and make everyone think like ourselves. Western cultures expansive character is partly why we’ve been so “successful” at globalisation and supplanting exotic cultures with our own – so much more so than the Hellenistic period for example.

    Its always why our atheists are militant in a way no other culture has been. Every civilisation has its brief period where atheists become relatively common, but no other culture had a movement analogous to Western atheism as its been since the French revolution. In no other culture did a movement arise where folk made a virtue of their unbelief and aggressively tried to inflict their lack of faith on others. This is why atheists in antiquity are much harder to spot.

    The classical world is also a great example of how the quality of life declines in many ways once reason waxes at the expense of faith.

    The golden age of the Greeks reached its peak with Pericles but its twilight began at the time of Democritus (who represented the old order with his distrust of absolute truth) and the rational Socrates who brought the old age to a close..

    At the time of Pericles youth belief in the omnipotence and omnipresence of the gods was universal, but by his death educated Greeks were inclined to agree with Protagoras that “man is the measure of all things.!

    After Socrates time great art declined , there were no more Asechylus , Sophocles or Euripedes . Almost certainly the very best examples of greek statuary were created before the rational revolution.

    Again in politics and social organisation the best reforms were made in the age of faith :(Decocritus , Pericles, Solon and Cleisthene). In the rational age, we had Plato and his Republic which Popper considers perhaps the most harmful political book ever written, due to its support for Totalitarianism. See the Open Society and its enemies.

    Before Socrates we had the heroic defence of the homeland against Xeres. In the rational age, led by Aristotle’s pupil Alexander we had the first ever great imperialistic campaign by a European power.

    So except when judged in terms of intellectual & economic achievement Greece declined after her rational revolution, especially in her ability to produce great art and for her cities to be happy and free places for the Greeks to live.

    Some of the Greeks greatest minds realised the corrosive effect of the rational outlook while the transition was still in effect; Sophocles is a great example with his Oedipus the King.

    In Spengler’s decline of the West he talks about how atheism briefly rises in every civilisation shortly after its religion development a state of fulfilment , which in the West’s case he says was marked by the Council of Trent. Spengler says atheism is a necessary consequence of religious exhaustion, but also it never persists as a significant minority position for long. While Spengler believed that religiosity would be likely to fall in the West for some time , he also said inevitably the decline would be reversed by the dawning of a “second religiousness” which he says in all cultures inevitably follows the initial outbreak of skeptism. For example with the Egyptian civilisation he reported how Herodotus had been deeply impressed with the quiet piety of the Egyptians, even though at that time the Egyptians as a culture was dying out.

    Spengler predicted that our Western version of Christianity would eventually be replaced after the “second religiousness” kicks in. Not by a new religion , but by a third great issue of Christianity from the East, influenced strongly by the Gospel of St John.

    Some of what he suggested echoes Joachim of Flori, and his talk of the three great ages of man. The first age being the age of Father, where man needed to be forced to be good by the awe inspiring occurrences we read about in the OT. The second age being the time of the Son, where the emphases is on forgiveness. The third age being the age of Holy Ghost, which will be characterised by universal love.

    Sorry to go on and I guess most readers here will know most of this but it seemed relevant!

    I guess the point I was getting to was that every culture has its sceptical period, but thankfully they never last!

  2. Rich Says:

    How do we prove a negative, exactly?

  3. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the appreciation, Feyd. I really don’t know much about ancient history, so it’s been great reading your post. It’s especially interesting as you come at it from a completely different perspective from Carl Sagan. In Cosmos Sagan seems to believe that the Athens of Pericles was a haven of free thought, before Plato and Aristotle inflicted theism and slavery on Hellenic culture. I’ve got real doubts about this, as Sagan bases this view on one particular book, and looking at Cosmos generally, history wasn’t his strong point. There are some horrendous errors of fact there.

    Rich, no, you’re right – you can’t prove a negative. However, that does not stop you presenting the best case you can by itself, rather than simply opting to criticise the arguments of theists.

  4. Rich Says:

    Dawkins says there *could* be a god, he just finds it extremely unlikely. I can postulate a multitude of unknown and unknowable entities. I wouldn’t expect it to incumbent upon you to prove me wrong.

  5. Rich Says:

    This also smacks of a ‘reverse gaps’ argument. I will honestly answer a lot of the “big questions” with “I don’t know”. This is license to fill the gaps with god.

  6. beastrabban Says:

    I know what Dawkins says about God, Rich, and the fact is the arguments in The God Delusion aren’t good. Now he might say that he can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but nevertheless he objects very strongly to religious belief and he is on record as strongly denouncing postmodernism, so he clearly does not share the ancient and postmodernist belief that reality is at heart unknowable.

    As for the ‘reverse gaps’ argument, actually no theologian argues from ‘God of the gaps’. Now I admit that you’re prepared to say that you don’t know why things occur. That’s not the point, and I don’t believe that every gap in knowledge does have to be filled by God. The point is that you have to present a convincing case against God yourself. Now clearly, other philosophers have attempted to do this, so I see no reason why atheists shouldn’t have to argue their case, rather than rely on theists having to make theirs.

  7. Rich Says:

    Then invisible butt monkey, ethereal astro cowboy and FSM are all valid too. You make a case and offer positive evidence for. This is how things work. I can offer *no* evidence for any of the three above, or theism / deism in general.

  8. beastrabban Says:

    Then invisible butt monkey, ethereal astro cowboy and FSM are all valid too. You make a case and offer positive evidence for. This is how things work. I can offer *no* evidence for any of the three above, or theism / deism in general.

    No, Rich, that’s not how things work. Now there are some very good statements by philosophers like William Lane Craig on why Invisible Butt Monkey, Ethereal Astro Cowboy and the Flying Spaghetti Monster aren’t all valid too, and aren’t good parallels to belief in God. Put simply, all of the above are contingent beings. They are, by their very nature, predicated on attributes of the universe. For example, spaghetti is part of the cosmos. Therefore the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a product of the universe, and is merely an extra object added to it.

    God isn’t. God is ontologically prior to the universe, which is dependent on him.

    So atheists should still present their own case against God.

  9. Rich Says:

    Also: “No theologian argues from ‘God of the gaps’”
    Have you really met them all? *wink*

  10. beastrabban Says:

    Also: “No theologian argues from ‘God of the gaps’” Let’s say I know enough to know that it’s well out of favour with them. *wink*

  11. Rich Says:

    “God isn’t. God is ontologically prior to the universe, which is dependent on him.”

    No, you’re confusion God with FSM. He just revealed himself in an amusing story-type format. Also, he’s much kinder to homosexuals, which seems logical to me so I think that shows he’s more likely.

    “God is prior to the universe”, forgive me, but that is a naked assertion.

    We don’t know what if anything provided the universe, is the truthful statement.

  12. Rich Says:

    I agree GOG is a bad argument (for theists). It is proved wrong. Protohominids UGG and OGG made gods of everything, the sun, wind, lightning, etc. Then along comes science and progress and shows how things *really* are. Even Christianity has suffered from this. Fortunately the bible is pretty much written in Jello so a little reinterpretation here and an allegory there and you bend your faith to accommodate reality. Unless you’re a YEC.

  13. beastrabban Says:

    No, you’re confusion God with FSM. He just revealed himself in an amusing story-type format. Also, he’s much kinder to homosexuals, which seems logical to me so I think that shows he’s more likely. Really, Rich – I thought he was just thought up as a bad parody of Intelligent Design. Actually, clearly you’re confusing the Flying Spaghetti Monster with God, as you’ve just arrogated to what is really just a fictional construct attributes of God.

    “God is prior to the universe”, forgive me, but that is a naked assertion.
    Nope – it’s in Scripture: God created the universe, so God is prior to the universe.

    We don’t know what if anything provided the universe, is the truthful statement.
    No, we don’t know, but from here the evidence of an ordered, lawful cosmos points to God.

  14. beastrabban Says:

    It is proved wrong. Protohominids UGG and OGG made gods of everything, the sun, wind, lightning, etc.
    Nope – all the evidence for religion suggests it began with Homo Sapiens Sapiens, not protohominids, Rich.

    Then along comes science and progress and shows how things *really* are.
    Nope, not unless you believe in the kind of God most Christians don’t believe in.

  15. Rich Says:

    And we know scripture is authority because?

    An ordered, lawful cosmos points to an “ordered, lawful cosmos”. Nothing more. Well, perhaps you can get some anthropic principle and a twist of lemon.

  16. Rich Says:

    Okay, Cavemen, not protohominds. Does that *really* change the point?

    Most Christians are ‘a-la carte’ christians. they pick the bits they like.

  17. beastrabban Says:

    And we know scripture is authority because?

    Because it’s self-attesting, for one thing. But to stop this argument running in circles here, let’s say that I have a very high confidence in it as an authoritative text because it closely conforms to the secular history and culture of the time, and that the events portrayed in Scripture would be extremely unlikely to be fictional.

    An ordered, lawful cosmos points to an “ordered, lawful cosmos”. Nothing more. Well, perhaps you can get some anthropic principle and a twist of lemon. Actually, I was thinking of the Anthropic Principle. I’ve yet to see it refuted, except by some extremely dodgy reasoning. And an ordered, lawful cosmos conforms to what is expected from mind and rational planning. Simply stating that an ordered, lawful cosmos points to nothing more than an ordered, lawful cosmos without a counterargument to support it is simply an assertion.

  18. beastrabban Says:

    Okay, Cavemen, not protohominds. Does that *really* change the point? On that assertion, no. But it actually doesn’t affect my argument on the nature of religion. I believe I’ve answered that assertion in my post on ‘Natural History of Religion’.

    Most Christians are ‘a-la carte’ christians. they pick the bits they like.
    Not in my experience.

  19. Rich Says:

    Scripture says the world, universe and life are all 6,00 years old. That’s *nothing* like reality.

    Argument by analogy doesn’t fly now, and never has.

  20. beastrabban Says:

    Scripture says the world, universe and life are all 6,00 years old. That’s *nothing* like reality.

    Be very careful what you say about the Creation Story in Genesis, as it’s very far from a straightforward text, and historically it has been read by the Church as symbolic, long pre-dating modern science. St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century stated that it set out the rational order of Creation, but not a literal, 6-Day event.

  21. Rich Says:

    “Not in my experience.”

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+18:18-30

    ” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” ”

    have you sold everything and given them to the poor? Most Christians? See you in the lake of fire, then!

  22. Rich Says:

    So it’s all true, apart from the symbolic bits. If I can believe parts of it, why should I believe *any* of it?

  23. Rich Says:

    oh, for giggles:

    “Because it’s self-attesting, for one thing.”

    “this statement is true”

  24. Feyd Says:

    Thanks Beast,

    There was certainly widespread slavery in Greece prior to Socrates. And even towards the end of Pericle’s time Athens became a darker place. The Delian League , originally created to resist further attempts at Persian expansion mutated into a kind of empire for Athens and they were ruthlessly oppressive to some of the weaker members.

    The decline in Greek religion predated Socrates, and as you say in your blog we don’t think he was an atheist. Plato certainly wasn’t. Their crime wasn’t atheist propaganda , but the promotion of Logic at the expense of creativity and the earlier more instinctive Greek insights.

    Sagan may have been partly right in suggesting Plato inflicted religion on Athens, or maybe he did so during his governance of Syracuse. I read the Republic as a teenager and I didn’t benefit from clean Christian livening in those days so cant recall all of it. But Certainly Plato advocated a very controlling style of leadership which may have included enforced religion. But I think the inner spirit that previously illuminated the Greek religion was perhaps extinguished by that time so forced adherence to the old forms would not have done much good.

  25. Ilíon Says:

    BR, It has always seemed to me that the (infamous) Pascal’s Wager is another way of putting the critique of WIlliam James as you outlined it. That is, it has always seems to me that Pascal’s Wager is infamous because most people are not thinking clearly about the point Pascal wished to make.

  26. Ilíon Says:

    St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century stated …

    I understand that Augustine, in the fourth, was of the same opinion.

  27. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding your comments about Christ’s recommendation to the rich young rule – probably one of the Sadducee priestly aristocrats – to sell all that he had and give to the poor – have you sold everything and given them to the poor? Most Christians? See you in the lake of fire, then! – this is not a good example of Christian selectivity to their religion. It’s important to read these passages in context. Is Christ telling everyone to sell their possessions and give to the poor, or is He just making this demand of this one aristocrat? It looks like the latter.

    So it’s all true, apart from the symbolic bits. If I can believe parts of it, why should I believe *any* of it? Eh? The parts of your sentence together don’t make much sense. If you can believe parts of it, then the logical jump is that you can believe all of it, not the reverse. Actually, if what you mean ‘if some bits are supposed to be symbolic, why should I believe any of it as literal truth’, again the answer to that is to look at what the Bible is actually saying, how it is written and to which genre the individual books belong. Luke’s Gospel, for example, is pretty much an example of Graeco-Roman biography, and so should be read as history.

    oh, for giggles:
    Yeah, I’m a barrel of laughs too 😀

    “this statement is true” . No, the Bible’s self-attestation is rather more complex than that little paradox. If one authority in the Bible, whose statements can be considered to be reliable, such as St. Paul, for example, states that other books in the Bible are authoritative, then clearly this indicates that a high degree of confidence can be placed in these books.

  28. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Feyd – thanks for the comments about Socrates and Plato. Yeah, I’ve read the Laws , and Plato had a very low view of atheism. He made it very clear that it should be illegal. Sagan seemed to link theism with institutional slavery, and saw Plato and Aristotle as theist aristos reintroducing religion and slavery on early free-thinking democracy. I’ve got a feeling that this is a very peculiar idea, and that Ionian Greek culture was neither as democratic nor as empirical as Sagan seemed to think it was.

    Hi Ilion – Yeah, it does seem that James’ comment is essentially a reformulation of Pascal’s Wager. I’ve also come across the same comments about Pascal’s Wager as well – that it’s not about proving God, as providing a motivation for believing in God.

    Regarding St. Augustine in the 4th century also believing that Genesis was symbolic, I’ve got a feeling that’s true. On the other hand, I’ve also seen passages adduced by Young Earth Creationists in which he praises those who can nevertheless defend it as literal truth as well.

  29. Rich Says:

    “this is not a good example of Christian selectivity to their religion. It’s important to read these passages in context. Is Christ telling everyone to sell their possessions and give to the poor, or is He just making this demand of this one aristocrat? It looks like the latter. ”

    Here?

    sorry for the typo in :
    “So it’s all true, apart from the symbolic bits. If I can believe parts of it, why should I believe *any* of it? ”

    it should read

    “So it’s all true, apart from the symbolic bits. If I can’t believe parts of it, why should I believe *any* of it?”

    Cheers!

  30. graves Says:

    [b]”beastrabban Says:
    this is not a good example of Christian selectivity to their religion. It’s important to read these passages in context. Is Christ telling everyone to sell their possessions and give to the poor, or is He just making this demand of this one aristocrat? It looks like the latter.”

    Hi, I just wanted to chime in on one bit. It sounds more like Jesus is talking about people of wealth in general, not one aristocrat:

    “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

    Kind of like a grandfather saying to his grandson “you kids have it so easy nowadays”

  31. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the link, Rich, but that really only says what one particular atheist thinks Christians do. Now there are some extreme theological liberals who do think like that, like Bishop Spong before he was removed from his bishopric. However, they are in the minority.

    Thanks for the comment, Graves. Yeah, Christ was highly critical of the wealthy of His day. One explanation for this is that during His lifetime there had been a widening gap between rich and poor, and that the wealthy upper classes were far more interested in enjoying their wealth and social prestige than in performing their religious and social obligations to those lower down the social scale. The uneducated, rural people were looked down upon by some of them as amma ha-aretz ‘people of the land’, who were considered to be too rustic, ill-educated and not suffiiciently pious to minister religion too. Hence Christ’s denunciations of His opponents as hypocrites for their failure to minister to the poor and accept His message.

  32. Rich Says:

    Is Christianity defined by popular opinion, or by adherence to scripture?

  33. Brian E Says:

    Hi, I saw a link to your blog via the Richard Dawkins forums. A few points:
    Rich, no, you’re right – you can’t prove a negative.
    This is false. Prove that 5 is not less than 4 – using 0 and successor you can easily prove this. You can also prove the law of non-contradicion through logic, which is a negative. The statment probably should be: You can’t prove some negatives. Usually, when you define something specifically, you can prove it doesn’t exist. Which is probably why believers refuse to define god. He’d disappear in a puff of Douglas Adams’ logic.

    Put simply, all of the above are contingent beings. They are, by their very nature, predicated on attributes of the universe. For example, spaghetti is part of the cosmos. Therefore the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a product of the universe, and is merely an extra object added to it.
    They are not contingent beings because someone thought them up as a parody. There is no way of determining if the parody, by pure and improbable coincidence, reflects the reality that there is a FSM outside of the universe any more than scripture can be used to tell if god is a parody or not. It’s quite simple. There may be a being, hitherto unknown, who has all the attributes of the FSM and those of eternal timelessness and isn’t of this world and by pure luck the guy who thought up the FSM hit upon the incognito deity.

    “God is prior to the universe”, forgive me, but that is a naked assertion.
    Nope – it’s in Scripture: God created the universe, so God is prior to the universe.

    Scripture is unreliable. There are too many of them (christian, islamic, hindu, etc). If there was one, it would still be unreliable. If I get a revelation from god and write it down, no one else can know the internal state of my mind, so they are mistaken in believing the revelation. I could be a liar, sincere but wrong, insane, etc. Infact, by virtue of the well know fallability of the human mind, without some form of external corroborating evidence, the only wise course would be for me to lock myself up and get some good counselling. Revelation cannot be used as evidence. Add to that the fact that scripture was written as propoganda to compete against other faiths that had similar concepts (virgin births, resurrections, etc), is demonstrably wrong in some cases, it’s strange that people give it a second look as anything more than a fantasy story.

  34. Feyd Says:

    Hi Brian, nice to see you here, Richard Dawkins .net is a great place for stimulating chat.

    But with respect Beast and Rich are right. Logicians wouldn’t class your first example as a negative at all – you were expressing a positive in negative form , you could equally have said 5 > 4 . Okay you can do the inversion trick with recognised negatives, but it doesn’t work as well – simple mathematical statements that aren’t saying anything about the real world are essentially tautologies.

    Most folk who are formally trained in Logic don’t class the Law of non contradiction as provable – its just one of those things which it often helps to accept as an axiom.

    Actually there’s a whole branch of Logic which assumes the Law of contradiction is false; where both a statement and its negation can both be true at once (p = ~p). Paradoxes like this were understood to some extent hundreds of years before Christ. For example by Heraclitus who said “the way up and the way down are the same.”

    In some ways this is similar to advances in Geometry once mathematicians starting working on the bases that Euclid’s 5th postulate might not be true, and the resulting Geometries were crucial for the Development of Einstein’s General Relativity, which was later proved empirically.

    There are some interesting results from QM that can be interpreted as examples of p = ~p . like the behaviour of a single photon in the double slit experiment, though admittedly that’s not a main stream interpretation.

    Sorry to bang on but its hard enough to come to understand God through reason at the best of times, you certainly do need to be limited by the simplistic mechanical logic beloved by so many atheists!

    On Scripture , while im no expert I certainly don’t think most main stream academics consider the development of the NT cannon to have been influenced much by a desire to compete with other religions. Rather it was an honest attempt to best record Christ’s teaching and those of the early apostles.

    Through both tradition and faith based knowledge, Christians consider Scripture as the word of God. Many of us accept there may be flaws that have arose due to human fallibility. But the Bible remains are best source of Wisdom, especially when the Holy Spirit is guiding us:

    John 16:12
    But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

    Placing a high value on Scripture , helps us avoid the mistakes we all make with our own reasoning. The Bible has been by far the most influential book ever, and its easy to show how beneficial its been. For example consider Paul the Aposles saying that “there is no male and female , no Jew nor Greek …. We are all one in Christ Jesus” This line was often quoted by the early equal rights and anti racism movements – movements which arose uniquely in the Christian West.

    Our Politicians may have their flaws but at least at the highest level most of the them are Christian. We aren’t as Christian as we once were here in Great Britain but thankfully Bishops still sit in parliament ensuring we have just laws, like the education Act that makes Christian worship mandatory in all state schools.

    Personally I feel we should be campaigning for a greater role for religion in politics, which will help demonstrate the beneficial nature of the Wisdom in scripture along with improving public life!

  35. Ilíon Says:

    Brian E:… The statment probably should be: You can’t prove some negatives. Usually, when you define something specifically, you can prove it doesn’t exist. Which is probably why believers refuse to define god. He’d disappear in a puff of Douglas Adams’ logic.

    Disregarding the silly-on-so-many-levels assertion that that “is probably why believers refuse to define god,” I want to focus on the equally silly-on-so-many-levels assertion that God would “disappear in a puff of Douglas Adams’ logic” if believers were to “define” him.

    What is this “Douglas Adams’ logic?” Why, it’s nothing at all: the man is dead, by now he’s less than worm-food! And from what (admitted little) I’ve seen of it, he wasn’t much of a logician when he was alive, being not quite up to Richard Dawkins’ level.

    By Douglas Adams’ own “logic,” he doesn’t exist now and might as well never have existed in the first place: it’s as utterly meaningless that he did exist as that he doesn’t exist. He was nothing more than a temporarily ambulatory bag of chemicals. Now he’s fertilizer.

    Someday, everyone who personally knew Douglas Adams will also be worm-food, so even the non-existent “living on in others’ memories” form of existence will be denied him. Someday, anyone who has ever read any of Douglas Adams’ book will also be worm-food, so even the non-existent “living on in his legacy” form of existence will be denied him. Someday, the entire culture which spawned him will not exist. Someday, the entire species which spawned him will not exist. Someday, the miniscule speck of dust upon which that not-yet-extinct species lives will not exist. Someday, the star which lights that miniscule speck of dust will not exist. Someday, the galaxy of which that star is a member will not exist.

    And no one will ever know — or care — that a temporarily ambulatory bag of chemicals called “Douglas Adams” did or did not exist.

    That’s one of the amusing things about “skeptics” — they don’t *really* believe their own claims and they seriously resist understanding the meanings and implications of their claims.

    Furthermore, by Douglas Adams’ own “logic,” there is no such thing as logic, anyway!

  36. Ilíon Says:

    In this post, to make a certain point, I’m going to quote others (specifically, Brian E) out-of-sequence:

    Brian E:… The statment probably should be: You can’t prove some negatives. Usually, when you define something specifically, you can prove it doesn’t exist. Which is probably why believers refuse to define god. He’d disappear in a puff of Douglas Adams’ logic.
    .
    .
    Rich: Then invisible butt monkey, ethereal astro cowboy and FSM are all valid too. You make a case and offer positive evidence for. This is how things work. I can offer *no* evidence for any of the three above, or theism / deism in general.
    .
    Beast Rabban: No, Rich, that’s not how things work. Now there are some very good statements by philosophers like William Lane Craig on why Invisible Butt Monkey, Ethereal Astro Cowboy and the Flying Spaghetti Monster aren’t all valid too, and aren’t good parallels to belief in God. Put simply, all of the above are contingent beings. They are, by their very nature, predicated on attributes of the universe. For example, spaghetti is part of the cosmos. Therefore the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a product of the universe, and is merely an extra object added to it.
    .
    God isn’t. God is ontologically prior to the universe, which is dependent on him.
    .
    Rich: “God is prior to the universe”, forgive me, but that is a naked assertion.
    .
    Beast Rabban: Nope – it’s in Scripture: God created the universe, so God is prior to the universe.
    .
    Brian E: Scripture is unreliable. There are too many of them (christian, islamic, hindu, etc). If there was one, it would still be unreliable. If I get a revelation from god and write it down, no one else can know the internal state of my mind, so they are mistaken in believing the revelation. I could be a liar, sincere but wrong, insane, etc. Infact, by virtue of the well know fallability of the human mind, without some form of external corroborating evidence, the only wise course would be for me to lock myself up and get some good counselling. Revelation cannot be used as evidence. Add to that the fact that scripture was written as propoganda to compete against other faiths that had similar concepts (virgin births, resurrections, etc), is demonstrably wrong in some cases, it’s strange that people give it a second look as anything more than a fantasy story.

    The point to this is that “Brian E,” as with the general run-of-the-mill ‘atheist’ (cf. “Rich”), isn’t at all interested in rational reasoned argument. He isn’t even concerned with consistency in his own “argumements.”

  37. Rich Says:

    Do you have a point, Ilion? I think I may have missed it, like your proof of god.

  38. beastrabban Says:

    Rich, to answer your question Is Christianity defined by popular opinion, or by adherence to scripture? you’ve set up what many Christians would regard as a false dichotomy.

    For Roman Catholics and those Protestant who follow the Neo-Orthodox position, the authorities on which Christianity rests are the Bible and tradition. The Bible is the deposit of faith, produced by the believing community, representing God’s revelation to them. As such, it’s interpreted according to the traditions of that community.

    Protestants, on the other hand, consider the Bible to be the single authority for Christian belief, but this does not mean that all readings of the Scriptures are equally valid. As J.P. Holding points out on his website Tekton Apologetics , you don’t read the Bible like it was written yesterday, for you personally. You pay attention to how the saints and scholars of the Church, informed by the text, read and interpret it. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the story of the Creation in Genesis was symbolic from a careful consideration of the what the text actually says. It was an informed reading of the text, taken from the text itself.

  39. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Brian E – thanks for posting. Regarding the issue of not being able to prove a negative, thanks for pointing out that you can. Rich, I believe, was arguing that it was impossible to prove a negative as part of an argument that the burden of proof should be on the theist, rather than the atheist. Thanks, Feyd, for pointing out too that you can prove a negative. This actually reinforces my position that atheists should present their case, rather than just rely on critiquing that of theists.

    Usually, when you define something specifically, you can prove it doesn’t exist. Which is probably why believers refuse to define god. He’d disappear in a puff of Douglas Adams’ logic.

    The problems of defining God have nothing to do with trying to avoid proving He doesn’t exist. It’s simply that, as God is transcendent, He is by definition beyond human concepts except by analogy and revelation. As for Douglas Adams’ logic, well, I like The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well. When I was a teenager I really liked the way Adams played with philosophy in it. The Ruler of the Galaxy who doesn’t believe anyone else exists, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is actually a pretty good description of what someone who really did believe in Hume’s solipsism would be like. But Adams wasn’t a philosopher, and his treatment of philosophical topics, although funny, aren’t deep or profound, and it’d be pretty straightforward to show where Adams’ ideas about God are shallow and mistaken.

    Regarding the FSM, and the other daft parodies, you’ve missed the point of what I was saying. The FSM and all the rest are contingent beings because they are all defined by aspects of the universe, which is posterior to God. At the most, all the parody says is ‘I define God as having these characteristics’. As there is no serious point to defining God this way, except to parody God, the parody is effectively meaningless.

    Now for your comments on Scripture. The mere fact that there are a number of different, competing scriptures is not in itself an argument that none of them are true. By this standard, I can also dismiss atheism as untrue. There are a number of competing arguments for atheism. For example, for Marx, religion is the product of the social alienation created by capitalism. For Freud, it was a projection of the need for a father. One could thus argue that because there were different arguments for the illusory nature of God, this meant that atheism was untrue.

    As for the fallibility of the human mind, this is not an argument for the unreliability of scripture either. The Bible was not written by a single individual, and the events its records were witnessed by significant numbers. St. Paul, for example, lists the names of the people who saw Jesus after His crucifixion as supporting evidence for its reality. More than one person is involved, and this acts powerfully to corroborate the truth of the revelation.

    Now let’s look at the statement that the Bible was written as propaganda against rival pagan claims. This is wrong. The Gospels are bioi – Graeco-Roman biographies, except that rather than being about a pagan philosopher, emperor or sage, they’re about Christ. All ancient biographies were written from a particular moral or ethical viewpoint, so the Gospel’s use as preaching documents is entirely part of the genre in which they were written, and does not make them any the less trustworthy than other ancient biographies. Also, the parallels you seem to believe are there between the miracles of the Bible and pagan religions actually aren’t there. The Greeks and Romans did not have a conception of a physical resurrection like Christ’s. They did not believe in a woman conceiving through the power of the Holy Spirit, but without physical sex. They believed in the gods physically having sex with a woman. And if it’s wrong in some cases, it’s very, very accurate in others. John’s Gospel is extremely accurate in its depiction of the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time, to the point where some scholars believe it could only have been written by an eyewitness.

  40. Rich Says:

    “Thanks, Feyd, for pointing out too that you can prove a negative.”

    I think he said the opposite?

    With regard to my “false dichotomy”, I apologize, the list with neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive. But I find your answer somewhat arbitrary – none of it speaks to truth IMHO.

  41. Feyd Says:

    Rich ,

    I was a little un clear and kind of supported both views – almost an example of the “Law “of Non Contradiction being false , lol .

    But yep I was intending to agree with your’s and Beast’s original statements. I assumed you were referring to the difficulty of proving a universal negative. i.e. a statement in a form like no X has property Y. E.G no dogs has 2 tails. Most would agree you cant prove such a statement empirically as that would need them to observe the entire world. You can try and “proof” the statement by saying that dog cant have 2 tails by definition but then we are in tautology territory and have left behind the world of empirical scientific proof. There are subtler tactics involving contradictory properties but again those arguments can be seen as tautological.

    I guess in these kind of debates it works best to interpret statements from intelligent contributors in the sense they probably intended. Otherwise you get bogged down in syntax and may end up with all sides adopting overly formal language.

    So anyway as Beast picked up on I did also hint at examples where negatives can be proved and Brian is certainly right you can prove some singular negative statements.

    Incidentally the statement “God doesn’t exist” can be regarded as a singular negative so I agree with Beast that some of the burden of proof falls on atheists if they want their position to be taken seriously.

  42. Rich Says:

    This sort of gets at the epistemological / agnostic issue.

    You have to be an agnostic atheist. You believe that there is not god. You can’t know it, that’s an untenable position. I remain open to being convinced – none of my views should be set in stone. I don’t live my life by Popper’s scientific method, but it’s a noble framework IMHO.

    “I know nothing”, has been with us for a while.

    Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum.

    Rich

  43. Feyd Says:

    Personally I agree with you Rich. Until you’ve had direct personal experience of God agnosticism is probably the most scientific position.

    Im not sure what Beast thinks on this issue, but one Christian much more intelligent than me who thinks you can prove God by rational discussion alone if Dr Lane Craig. He’s been quite successful at it to!

    Craig features in possibly the best debate of all time involving atheists v Christians, which has just been posted on Utube. Its over an hour long but if you’re open to being convinced this is possibly your best shot!
    After the debate 97% of the audience voted for the Christian side, which meant almost all spectators who said they were undecided before it kicked off were swayed by Craig and not his atheist opponent (Frank Zindler, apparently at the time he was the best speaker the atheists had)

    The first 12 parts of the debate have been streamed together at atheism sucks
    http://atheismsucks.blogspot.com/2008/01/william-lane-craig-vs-frank-zindler.html

    here are the last 3 parts



  44. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Not only a worldview, BR–but more and more aggressive.

    The Freedom From Relgion Foundation (FFRF)

    http://ffrf.org/

    …. is now placing signs to the effect of “Imagine No Religion” on billboards (very expensive) in traditionally conservative areas like Duluth, Georgia. Apparently a place on John Lennon’s “Imagine” song where in one stanza he asks us to imagine no religion, this is the FFRF’s vision for a better world. While they lay claim to science and Constitutional law about separation of church and state being their primary goals, it is obvious that by such a large billboard mocking with lettering against faux stained glass that there is something more angst driven here than just being bugged by scriptural references in emails. Among the goals are to eliminate religious messages even in private booths and letters at all workplaces and to educate the young in a direction away from parental training. The schools will serve as the anvil on which to cruch religion, etc. As one who’s worked in advertising in another life I can assure you this is not chicken feed for funding. Don’t know what their budget is, how long they can do this, and what level or how many their contributors are, nor if this is the entire budget blown on advertising for one month nation wide. But I DO know that billboards are not cheap, generally.

  45. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Speaking of which, the site lists, in part, something that should be more than funny to Feyd. No sooner than Feyd just got through reminding me on my own blog that religion is associated with more moral behavior, I find this over on FFRF:

    The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.

    In modern times the first to speak out for prison reform, for humane treatment of the mentally ill, for abolition of capital punishment, for women’s right to vote, for death with dignity for the terminally ill, and for the right to choose contraception, sterilization and abortion have been freethinkers, just as they were the first to call for an end to slavery.

    The Foundation works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church.

    I had been under the impression that other than FORCED sterilization (they leave that part out, BTW, regarding India and China!!) Christians were on the forefrong of issues like ending slavery, care for the poor and dispossed, prision reform, and overall human dignity. Perhaps note female suffrage so much, but the FFRF leaves out that many of the early feminist reforms like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were sternly AGAINST abortion. As to capital punishment, that is not quite as cut and dried as we think. Certainly there are moments in crime that while difficult are deserving of the most severe thing civil government can dish out. Once again it seems an ideological agenda is at work here more than some simple outlook of godlessness per se.

  46. beastrabban Says:

    There is a lot in that statement by the FFRF which is simply historically wrong, Wakefield. In Britain and America the leaders in the campaign to abolish slavery were either evangelical Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists or Quakers. In Britain the abolitionists were associated with the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church – William Wilberforce, Thomas Newton and Hannah More; with the Methodists under John Wesley, and the Quakers after John Fox. The Quakers were forbidden to own slaves from the very beginning, and the Methodists after 1740. In the West Indies a lot of the campaigns to improve conditions for slaves and their descendents after abolition came from the Baptists and Moravians. One of the great leaders of the American anti-slavery movement was a Unitarian. In Bristol, England, by the turn of the 18th century the abolition campaign was dominated very much by local Quaker philanthropist businessmen. As for prison reform, in Britain the leading pioneer here was Elizabeth Fry, who campaigned for the improvement of conditions for women in prison. She was a Quaker.

    Regarding psychiatry, in Britain in the 18th century, Lewis Southcombe, a country clergyman who had also studied medicine in London, attacked the cruder methods of treatment for madness and tried to lift the stigma of mental illness: ‘Why should not one form of distemper invade us as well as any other?’ The Quaker tea merchant, William Tuke, founded a very humane mental hospital in York in England, called The Retreat, following the suspicious death of the Quaker, Hannah Mills, in the York Asylum. This new mental hospital laid little stress on drugs, and banned corporal punishment and chains. Instead the regime included warm baths, liberal diet and suitable amusements and reading. A similar hospital was founded by another Quaker, Edward Long Fox, in Brislington in Bristol. He was influenced by the French doctor, Philippe Pinel, who had studied divinity before becoming a doctor. Fox’s hospital included tame silver pheasants and doves, which the patients were encouraged to fee and look after as part of their treatment. In German and Scandinavia, the Pietists were also active funding suitable hospitals, including those for the mentally ill, following the example of Hermann Francke of Halle. In Holland, in 1884 Lucas Lindeboom, a theology professor in the Gereformerde Kerken (the Free Reformed Churches) in Kampen founded the Vereeniging tot Christelijk Verzorging van Krankzinnigen – the Society for Christian Support for the Sick in Mind. This established five great mental hospitals between 1886 and 1910. This led the state church, the Hervormde Kerk, to establish its own mental hospitals. In Denmark Adolph Sell founded a residential community of epileptics, Filadelfia, and added a department admitting those suffering from other mental illnesses. His successor, Hans Jacob Schon added a psychiatric department called Dianalund nervesanatorium. Schon was head of the Christian Medical Association of Denmark from 1929-1947. Under his inspiration, it became possible for whole families to stay in one of the Norwegian sanatoria when one of the parents required care there.

    It looks like with these claims the FFRF is attempting to rewrite history. And I agree – there is an ideological agenda here far beyond the conception of atheism as mere ‘lack of belief’ in God.

  47. Rich Says:

    Here we go. How many atheists were there in the year dot? Not very many. Pick ‘bipeds’ or ‘men’ to lavish your praise upon. Likewise, I can’t attribute the worlds past ills to theists, because most folks were. The bible does say slavery is okay, though. Just an FYI. It was also used to argue against racial integration. And now the poor gays are getting it.

  48. beastrabban Says:

    Pick ‘bipeds’ or ‘men’ to lavish your praise upon.
    No, because as I said, the antislavery campaigners, contrary to the FFRF, weren’t atheists, and they and the mental health reformers acted out of their Christian convictions. These convictions weren’t incidental to their motives for reform, they were central to them.

    bible does say slavery is okay, though. Just an FYI.
    It also says in the Old Testament that you should not return a runaway slave to his master, but allow him to live among you, and demands the death penalty for manstealers. St. Augustine considered slavery unnatural and a product of the Fall, while Gregory of Nyssa demanded its abolition completely.

  49. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    I was under the impression that in the Old Test. what we had was Mosaic Law that dictated for indentured servitude (to pay off debt or an agreement for other services) two things:

    First, this is not akin to slavery in the old South. It was not brutal in that manner.

    Second, while still wrong, God alowed this and other bad things due to the hardness of hearts. The point being “you’re not going to listen to me overall, but I still want to make sure you have rules and regulations for your habits”–something to that effect.

    Correct me BR if this is wrong interpretation.

    These laws were not the ideal nor the habits but God had them placed to serve to continue to separate the Hebrews from their neighbors even uglier habits.

    Likewise today the law recognizes in our secular society you can smoke and drink and have a ladyfriend you’re not married to, but you have still certain rules about these activities and certain legal norms can’t be crossed. You can’t throw your cigarettes out the window or smoke near some buildings in public, you must care for all children born of unions even outside of marriage (in most states), and you can’t drive while intoxicated. And shacking up with a woman and “playing house” with some gal for a period of time in my state entitles her to financial gain should you separate or have kids together.

    Sorta like that…..

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