Positivism, Abortion and the Destruction of the Midianites

Wakefield Tolbert presents further arguments from atheists such as Steve Kangas concerning scientific progress leading to modern, humane, democratic society, and the problem the destruction of corrupt societies by God, such as the Midianites and Sodom and Gomorrah, poses for opponents of abortion, who view the killing of those societies’ children as a way of preventing their abuse in those societies.


Thanks for bringing all this to the forefront.

I hope I have not only done Dr. Logic justice in my presentation of his main points (having had to scale down from many to just get to the core arguments), but the topic as well.

His basic premise seems to be that religion in general is unscientific, science is
the fount of all meaningful knowledge, and that what he considers the harmful
effects of faith are ameliorated by advanced secular democracy.

His take is simliar to that of the late Steve Kangas, who wrote a rather long list
of the alleged crimes of religion, including a handy list of the “war on science and religion” from Andrew Dickson white. Additionally, Kangas mentioned the notion of progress being scientific alone is, by the accounting of the enlightened secularists like himself has now merged with moral progress. Thus for example only in modern times have we defeated what Kangas claims are almost the sole provence of religion: war, famine, pestilence, appeal to authoritarian styled authority over democracy, deprivation, fascism, patriarchal rule, rape, incest, pograms and other
whole scourges of minorities, racism, genocide, feudalism, serfdom, class distinctions, etc. Then of course the charge that the Bible itself is filled with atrocity commanded by God, and that only science has found a way around this, and thus in the modern age we now know much better.

Well, you see the picture:



then we have something many mention, where Kangas manages, amazingly as his tactic is wont, to merge two issues into one.

Abortion and the Bible, and the difference between “viability” and “dependency”, and why the Bible and “prolifers”, unlike science, cannot offer clear dividing lines or reasoned arguments about when life begins for humans, along with an alleged contradiction in God’s character.

To wit, God had the Midianites destroyed utterly, except for girls and women to be placed into what some see as sexual slavery. Now if this is the case not only is this atrocious in and of itself, BUT ALSO, we have the problem of the pro-lifers claiming that all unborn life is precious. With the destruction of the Midianites, and no doubt with the leveling of Sodom and Gomorrah and reclacitrant cities like Jericho, the unborn were killed also. This leaves a problem for Christians. Or so I’d think. Kangas has a point here: If your argument was like Pat Robertson’s, where we see God might have SPARED the unborn a needless suffering the in captivity of sin and dysfunction, the PRO-CHOICERS would pipe up to say this is JUST how that make THEIR argument. By eliminating unwanted pregnancy, they are doing what God did with the Midianites and Sodom, etc.

Thanks for the appreciation, Wakefield. I’m glad you enjoyed my comments, and I’m sure you did Dr. Logic justice in your description of his views. Let’s critique the underlying assumptions of both him and Steve Kangas.

Firstly, they’re both Positivists, essentially following the 19th century views of the founder of sociology, Auguste Comte, who believed that human society evolved from religion, through philosophy, to science, which was the highest stage of human development and would eventually provide the solutions to humanity’s problems. Unlike modern atheists and humanists, he attempted to create a religion based around science and humanity, with an elaborate ritual and hierarchy. This didn’t work, but nevertheless it has influenced much of contemporary atheist and humanist ideas, such as the supposed connection between scientific progress and moral progress. You can find these same ideas expressed in some of the optimistic science fiction, like Star Trek.

In fact, there are major problems with it from the outset. Firstly, many historians, philosophers and anthropologists are particularly critical of the notion of progress. The British Christian historian, Herbert Butterfield, called this kind of view ‘the Whig view of history’ – the idea that history is a story of continuous progress, culminating in freedom, democracy, and the British Empire. As you can see, he was criticising the British version of this view, which viewed the British Empire as bringing freedom, progress and prosperity to its colonies around the world, rather than conquering them and oppressing their peoples in the more contemporary view of the Empire. Part of the argument against progress is the view that the present view of history is very much determined by the development of history itself, but if that history had been different, then our view of history would have been very different. For example, if democracy had not emerged, and society remained strongly hierarchical, then presumably the notion of historical progress would have been one of the development of proper notions of hierarchy and authority, rather than egalitarianism and democracy.

There are other problems in that the view that science automatically leads to moral progress has been rejected by many of the horrors that took place and were committed by advanced, technological societies. For example, one of the major criticisms made of the development of nuclear weapons was that in creating them, humanity’s technological and scientific skill had gone far beyond humanity’s ability to act morally. One can also add the examples of scientific experimentation on unwitting or unwilling subjects, even in democratic western societies, such as nuclear experiments on civilians, and covert experimentation on civilians. Science, it has been claimed, is morally neutral, and that’s more or less the case. It’s application for good or evil depends on the individuals and governments involved, not on the scientific method itself, so science does not necessarily lead to greater morality or freedom.

There is also the problem in that he views scientific progress as leading to what is basically modern secular humanism, but this assumes that only secular humanism is scientific, and that science is necessarily the basis for equality and democracy. However, Communism also claimed to be scientific and to be the only true Humanism, so scientific development can be interpreted as leading away from bourgeois democracy to highly authoritarian systems of government.

There’s also the point made by Christian philosophers like Roger Trigg in his book Religion in Public Life: Must Faith be Privatized? that the notions of equality on which modern democracy is founded are derived from the Christian conception of equality before God as contained in and articulated by the philosophy of John Locke in his Two Treatises of Government, which provides the basis for modern democracy. Trigg makes the point in the book that contemporary atheist philosophy generally simply assumes that democracy and equality are the best forms of government and society, without being able to defend or support this view. Trigg therefore considers that only through religious faith can democracy be properly supported. Indeed, the whole conception of modern individualism may be considered to derive from the Puritan idea that each person is responsible for their own salvation and so should diligently investigate scripture for themselves. It was this individualist view of the responsibility of every person to seek salvation that led many Puritans to support the British Revolution against Charles I. In the case of the view that science necessarily leads to equality and democracy, this appears to have developed from people reading Locke’s metaphysic into modern science without recognising its basis in Christianity.

Many Roman Catholic philosophers reject Locke’s philosophy, but nevertheless also consider that it is only through Christianity that notions of human dignity and equality at the heart of modern democracy can be supported. Roman Catholic philosophers such as Jacques Maritain, in his detailed appreciation and analysis of democracy in America, have argued from St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotelean philosophy that it is only through Christian theology, rather than reason, that politics can be adequately supported and defended.

Regarding issues such as famine and deprivation, while Christianity accepted that poverty would always exist, it was also committed to its alleviation long before the emergence of contemporary science. Joseph, when he was vizier of Egypt, for example, opened the storehouses to alleviate the famine. Furthermore, the French historian, Jean Gimpel, in his book, The Medieval Machine, noted that people in the Middle Ages had a very modern attitude to estate management and farming, citing the English 13th century agricultural writer, Walter of Henley, the philosopher and theologian, Robert Grosseteste, and the two treatises Seneschaucy and Husbandry. One can similarly find agricultural handbooks advising landlords and farmers how they could improve yields in the 16th century. The early Church regularly preached the virtue of charity and of providing for the physical needs of the poor, and medieval ecclesiastic writers also insisted on the duty of the Church to provide for the poor. In fact the Church was often unable to do so through poor organisation, human corruption and poverty amongst some of its own members itself. For example, while some parts of the church were extremely wealthy and corrupt indeed, other parts of the church, such as many Benedictine monasteries in the 14th century, were so poor that they were themselves in need of poor relief. Furthermore, the acquisition of ecclesiastical funds by the state did not necessarily lead to better provision for the poor. Alfred Cobban in his book, The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution has noted that the provision of funds to alleviate the famine that occurred at the time of the French Revolution actually became much less, and the famine much more severe, after the ecclesiastical money reserved by the French Roman Catholic church for famine relief was confiscated by the Revolutionaries.

Regarding Fascism, although this horrifically did have the support of sections of the Christian Church, it had its origins – at least in Italy and Germany – in militant nationalism that could include a rejection of Christian morality. The Italian Fascists in particular stated that Fascism was based on moral relativism, rather than the traditional Christian view that morality is objective and transcendental in origin.

Now let’s examine the critique of the Pro-Life attitude towards abortion, and whether this is indeed contradicted by the destruction of corrupt societies such as Sodom and Gomorrah and the Midianites. Firstly, it must be recognised that the capture of the Midianite women and girls by the Israelites as wives was not considered to be a form of slavery. The Mosaic Law stated that women captured in war and married by the captors were not to be treated as slaves. They were given an amount of time to mourn the death of their families, and were to be properly treated and provided for. If a man wanted to divorce one of them, he was to give his former wife her freedom and not sell her as a slave. As for the complete destruction of societies like the Midianites, ancient warfare generally could be extremely brutal. Under Roman law, a besieged town was granted humane treatment if it surrendered. However, this was granted only if it surrendered before the battering ram had struck the town gates for the third time. If it had not surrendered before then, then the entire population of the town was massacred if it was taken.

Now the corrupt societies of Sodom and Gomorrah and Midian were destroyed because it was felt that they were completely corrupt, and every member of that society shared in its corruption. Hence the complete destruction of those societies. Clearly there is a difference here between the destruction of these societies and abortion. The children of these cultures were not destroyed to prevent their abuse by their elders, but because it was considered that they shared in their societies’ corruption and that these societies should therefore be completely destroyed, which included the massacre of their children. The sacrifice of infants by these societies was one reason for their destruction. The killing of these societies’ children by the Israelites was not to prevent their being used in such sacrifices, to but to destroy completely the society that practised that and other corrupt acts. So, there is indeed a good point that the Pro-Life position is not supported, and is indeed contradicted by claims that the Israelites killed the children of these societies to prevent their being used in human sacrifice. However, the reason for these societies’ complete destruction was still because, amongst other horrific acts, they practised child sacrifice.

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15 Responses to “Positivism, Abortion and the Destruction of the Midianites”

  1. feyd Says:

    Im not so sure this is the best approach assuming you’re trying to reach out to unbelievers Beast?

    Before I was banned for preaching on Richard Dawkins .net , I noted many atheists had a lot of respect for Dr William Lane Craig – they didn’t like his message but those who watched his videos couldn’t deny he’s a superb debater. However this all changed when someone started a thread highlighting Craig’s defence of some of the OT massacres , where he used arguments similar to yours. I think it might have been dawkins himself who started that thread, or at least I seem to remember him commenting on it. Anyhow after that thread one couldn’t mention Craig without having him slandered as an apologist of . And to be fair to the atheists its easy to understand their point of view . While the arguments you put are strong, if one doesn’t have faith in the reality of an eternity in union with the Love of God , its easy to see why one would be disgusted at any attempt to justify the slaughter of innocents.
    I haven’t yet been blessed by the second baptism, so my interpretation of the Holy Bible may not be the best. Still Im not inclinded to take the reports of God commanding the more extreme acts of violence literally. God is Love.

    Christ has told us that many of the stories in the Bible are parables which are meant to impart moral education but dont reflect real life happenings (Luke 8:9-10 , Mark 4:10-12 or Mat 13). We know to from the Prophets that God sometimes causes Himself to be misunderstood (Isaiah 28 9-13 , Isaiah 29: 9 – 12 , Isaiah 6: 9 – 13 ).

    My view is that many of the dark stories in the OT are not real events but are there as the human soul needs a mix of darkness and light to progress. (Isaiah 45:7) This partly explains why Christians in generally behave more ethically than atheists, despite some of their belief systems like humanism being superficially all sweetness and light.
    Anyway just my little thoughts, Im not the most Godly Christian to be honest and I may have this all wrong. Once again great to see you blogging again Beast!

  2. Beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the comments and the welcome back, Feyd. It’s great to have them, and especially your different perspective and allegorical reading of the destruction of the Canaanite tribes. Yeah, the massacres of the Bible do present a moral problem for contemporary people, and have been a particular subject for debate and apologetics since the 18th century. Last year I went to a seminar on attitudes towards genocide in the 18th century at Uni, presented by an historian who had researched this particular topic. He pointed out that in the 18th century, the defence of such massacres like those of the Canaanites were always based on the tribe’s criminality, rather than their simple existence. In one of the books of the Apocrypha, the Israelite invasion of Palestine and treatment of the Canaanite peoples is considered merciful, because the Israelites did not automatically exterminate them. They were offered terms before military action was taken. Those tribes that accepted them became tributary peoples – subordinate, but otherwise left in peace. Those tribes that refused, and continued to practice their atrocities were destroyed. Nevertheless, they had been given the opportunity of surrender, and the Bible states that God had already told them many times over the centuries to repent.

    One of the other interesting points this particular historian raised is the difference in attitude between genocide, and the willingness to discuss and defend it in the early modern period – 16th to 18th centuries – and the 20th centuries. In the 18th century genocide was discussed and defended, but was, in practicle, rarely done, though obviously even those few occasions when Europeans did massacre indigenous peoples were too many. However, this is in stark contrast to the 20th century, when genocide on a massive scale was committed by states like Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR, but was strictly covered up by the regimes involved. Despite the fact that writers in the 18th century were prepared to defend genocide, the fact that in practice they committed it rarely compared to the horrors of the 20th century suggests that the 20th century regimes were far less moral than those in the 18th century. Their attempts to deny and cover up their crimes nevertheless illustrates that both the Nazis and Stalin were aware of the immense evil they were committing.

    As for the destruction of the Canaanites, there’s the problem of how much the Israelites could do otherwise, in the absence of 20th and 21st century international mechanisms for attacking abuses in rogue states. Furthermore, the actions of the Israelites have to be seen in the context of their times, when human and child sacrifice were accepted and considered normal by many of the civilisations in the ancient Near East. But you’re right – it does present a moral problem, and probably not likely to impress many atheists. The whole question of the destruction of the destruction of the Canaanites and its relation to the wider issue of genocide generally undoubtedly deserves a far longer and more detailed treatment than I presented here. Perhaps I’ll have to investigate this issue in more depth in the future.

    I’m sorry you were kicked off the Dawkin’s Forum for preaching, Feyd. I’ve no doubt that they lost a quality contributor there, even if they don’t realise it.

  3. feyd Says:

    Thanks Beast. I probably should have said I understood what you were saying in the blog, and for me if I did come to believe that the genocide stories are literally true it wouldnt affect my relationship with God or my respect for His chosen people at all. I just wanted to say IMO there’s next to no chance of atheists accepting that line of argument, no matter how rigorously its made. Even the more good hearted and honest atheist are just going to think ‘child muder apologist!!’ and then not give this sensitive subject the sympathetic treatment it needs. Despite their stated preference for clear rational thinking, Id say there’s some areas where atheists simply aren’t as capable of the impartial consideration as us theists. I hope no atheists read this!

    In case youre open to requests for future blogs, one topic I’ve been thinking of addressing on Wikki once I’ve finished working on some economic articles is pseudo skeptism. There so much evidence out there for the supernatural or at least paranormal, yet many atheists still insist on claiming the balance of evidence supports their materialist world view. By highlighting how overwhelmingly the evidence supports the reality of the supernatural we might help them take an important first step towards Truth! It would be great to know your thoughts on this, if its something you have time to look at.

  4. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Feyd that certainly sounds interesting.

    I was thinking about such the other night when listening to someone on the radio go over the controversy about Electronic Voice Phenomena, which if you ask the Skeptys is just a phenomenon of sound bleedover from radio transmissions and “false positives” (more on that later) about human auditory perception hearing things not there among white noise, or bad instrumentation. The point being that when you ask Michael Shermer and Co, they have included this controversy along with all notions of paranormal or supernaturalist belief.

    My thinking on this personally is that if God is who He says He is, then technically the “supernatural”, as commonly defined, does NOT exist. God works within natural processes, its just that we don’t understand. But I wonder if you or BR has run into this issue with Skepties claiming that faith is on the same par as Tarot Cards and palm reading, etc., and your response?

    You see, when pressed on the issue, the usual paranormalists, be they tarot card readers or reincarnationalists true believers, or the EVP advocates saying that voice recorders can pick up the voices of the dead and other spirits, cannot seem to explain the mechanism of what exactly is going on. Though some might claim this for a belief in God, I did take note that early on the early church fathers insisted that science and God are not on some antogonistic par and that God was the presenter of a reasonable faith. Stephen Jay Gould called faith and science equal but separate “magesteria”, although one suspects that with him as well as the “science” advocates at Dawkins’ site and Panda’s thumb would laugh and suggest that this means little more than “separate but equal” did in the days of Jim Crow in the US deep south.

    That is the most common take from the Skeptic Crowd, I find.

  5. Feyd Says:

    Hey there WT.

    I’ve not heard any rational explanations for paranormal phenomena. I guess this relates to your point about God working within natural process. We discussed this before and I agreed that in some sense its possible that both supernatural and natural processes are all governed by a single cohesive set of True laws. But getting away from metaphysics , for practical purposes there’s a lot of value in making a distinction between natural and supernatural. Speaking as someone educated in science and who has even conducted a little original research, I find it hard to envisage how supernatural phenomena will ever be explained in terms of natural process. I guess its just about possible some effects will be explained by exotic branches of Quantum mechanics.

    For now it can be helpful to view the natural and supernatural as separate orders of being, with one of characterises of the supernatural being that we can’t directly probe the supernatural with scientific tools. Therefore we cant explain in detail the mechanism for supernatural process, beyond what God has revealed to us in the Bible.

    What science can do is investigate phenomena in the real world which have an apparently supernatural or at least paranormal origin. When such phenomena can be demonstrated by repeatable and verifiable science , then IMO its strong evidence for assisting scientifically minded atheists see the light! One example is Dr Dean Radins precognition experiment which consistently suggests humans have the ability to see at least 3 seconds into the future, and has been verified by labs all over the world:


    Just about all the good evidence I know in this area I learnt from Beast’s friend Jerome on RD.net, so I was wondering if Beast knows of other good sources.

    I haven’t been asked that question about Tarot Cards and palm reading, which Im glad about as it would need a long answer!

    I completely agree science and faith don’t have to be antagonistic , and in fact generally aren’t. Beast has covered this before several times, it’s a subject also covered in detail by several of Rodney Starks books, and by the excellent ‘The twilight of atheism’ by Alistair McGrath.

  6. Beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the comments here, Feyd and Wakefield. Regarding the extremely difficult and sensitive issue of the genocides of the Bible, Feyd, thanks for clearing up your position on them. I think you’re probably right that no matter how you point out the necessity of viewing the Israelite’s actions in the context of their times, nevertheless atheists will still see it as defending the murder of children. However, that doesn’t mean that they argument are invalid, as you state. I still think that such a defence is important for attacking atheist assumptions about the past and the nature of morality.

    For example, Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion talks about morality being defined by ‘the zeitgeist’. This is one of his many statements that have been particularly attacked by philosophers and theologians. Put simply, if morality is defined by ‘the zeitgeist’, it is relative. If it is relative, then Dawkins has absolutely no grounds for attacking the morality of past ages. Moreover, he has absolutely no basis for his own moral views in the present, as they may be superseded in the future. One can further argue that one of the reasons why the West does not accept human, and particular child sacrifice, is because the Israelites were so firmly against it.

    Regarding your allegorical interpretation of those parts of the Bible where the Israelites do commit such massacres, I wonder what the great Alexandrian allegorists, such as Philo and Clement of Alexandria wrote about them? I got the impression that you’ve been inspired by Philo’s method of interpreting those parts of Scripture that are morally difficult allegorically, so I wonder if anything he and Clement wrote might help you in your defence of the Bible.

  7. Beastrabban Says:

    Regarding the issue of using evidence for the existence of the supernatural to make atheists’ minds more open to the existence of God, I think there’s a lot of scientific evidence for the supernatural, and I’m sure you’d write a great article on it, Feyd. However, I think we need to be careful before adopting such an approach.

    Firstly, most Christians have strong reservations about anything that could be described as the occult, and some Christians are suspicious about psychical research as they consider it to be a form of it, and hence prohibited as a form of magic. Now not all Christians feel this way – Jerome on the Dawkins forum doesn’t, and the Christian philosopher Metacrock has used the scientific evidence for the paranormal on his site as part of his argument for the existence of the Almighty. My own feeling is that if the scientific evidence gathered through psychical research for the paranormal is used, it should be made clear that this does not constitute an endorsement of the occult, and people are not being encouraged to become involved in magic.

    The other problem is that many atheists use examples of paranormal phenomena to sneer at theists, considering that a belief in God is a similar example of the gullibility of people who believe in the supernatural, such as ghosts and UFOs. Wakefield’s mentioned how atheists have attempted to rebut his points by asking about belief in tarot cards etc. Dawkins himself has adopted this approach by comparing belief in God to the belief in fairies. Now one can attack this approach, as clearly belief in God does not necessarily mean that you have to believe in all paranormal phenomena. Nevertheless, I feel that if you’re using general arguments about the paranormal, you should be careful not to reinforce, or appear to reinforce, their prejudices about supposed theist gullibility.

    Another point that might have some bearing on the subject is that some Christians are sceptical about certain paranormal phenomena for theological reasons. One of the reasons why belief in ghosts declined in Europe was because of the rejection of the doctrine of Purgatory by Protestants after the Reformation. It was generally believed by all Christians that after the deceased received their eternal reward – went to Hell or Heaven, according to their judgement – then they could not return to Earth. However, Roman Catholics believed that it was possible to return to Earth from Purgatory, and so believed that ghosts could be the souls of the dead. Protestants, however, had rejected Purgatory, and so for them either ghosts did not exist, or they were demons, rather than the spirits of the departed. Also, while some Christian denominations accept miracles, such as Roman Catholics and Charismatic Christians, there are others who believe that miracles and supernatural intervention ceased after the ministry of the Early Church.

    Please note that I’m certainly not saying that the evidence of psychical research, and arguments for God’s existence using them, should not be put forward, merely that I think some caution is needed when doing so, though I realise, Feyd, that you’ve undoubtedly had a lot more experience of this approach on the Dawkins’ Forum than I have. If you want to write a piece on the evidence for the supernatural from psychical research, I’d be delighted to look at it and post it up here. 🙂

  8. Beastrabban Says:

    On the topic of EVP, I don’t actually know much about the phenomenon, but some of the examples I’ve heard on various TV and internet radio programmes haven’t been terribly convincing. The problem is that the human ear, like the eye, can be misled and hear things that really aren’t there. A few years ago I went to a talk on ‘The Science of Dr. Who ‘ at the Cheltenham Festival of Science. One of the things discussed there was how the Doctor could deceive people using his ‘psychic paper’, so that when he waved it at people they saw the documents he wished them to see, which he didn’t possess in reality. The speaker obviously discussed optical illusions, before going on to discuss auditory illusions. He mentioned that it was possible, as Wakefield says, to hear things in white noise that simply aren’t there. One example he gave of this was the supposed backmasked tracks in Rock music. He illustrated this by playing several pieces of rock music which supposedly had Satanic messages on them when played backwards. He played these pieces backwards twice. The first time he didn’t tell you what the supposed messages on them were. You didn’t hear anything, except the usual weird noises of a piece of music being played backwards. He then showed you what some people claimed to have heard when they were played backwards. For example, one Heavy Metal/Hard Rock song by one of the most notorious bands, supposedly had a message about worshipping Satan, containing the line ‘In the garden shed he makes us suffer’. This provoked a ripple of laughter from the audience. The idea of a Rock band conjuring up Satan, who tortures them in their garden shed, is frankly hilarious. However, when the piece of music was then played after that, you could indeed hear those words very clearly. So, I’m not yet entirely convinced by EVP. However, I haven’t really looked at it in as much detail as it deserves.

  9. Beastrabban Says:

    Regarding books on the paranormal you might find useful, I really don’t have Jerome’s extremely wide reading and experience of investigating the paranormal. However, I’ve come across a few books that are really interesting discussions of the supernatural and paranormal. You might like to try the following:

    Brian Inglis, Natural and Supernatural: A History of the Paranormal (Dorset, Prism Press 1992). It was distributed in America by Avery Publishing Group Inc., 120 Old Broadway, Garden City Park, NY 11040.

    Inglis was one of the leading members of the Society for Psychical Research here in Britain until his death in the 1990s. He was a very strong advocate of the belief that the soul survived death. As the book’s subtitle states, it’s a history of the paranormal and psychical research from the Stone Age to the rise of Spiritualism and psychical research in the 19th century, and is extremely thorough. However, Inglis believed that all of humanity once possessed psychic abilities, but that humanity gradually lost them until they were retained only by shamans, and that as shamanism itself declined, so religious rituals and priests took over, thus creating organised religion. It’s similar to the various 19th century theories about the origin of religion from ancient magic, like Sir James Frazer’s, except that Inglis believed that humanity genuinely possessed these gifts. Nevertheless, Inglis discusses in detail the history of psychical research, and advances strong arguments against the sceptical, materialist explanations of some of the particularly notable and celebrated cases.

  10. Beastrabban Says:

    Another book that you might like to take a look at is Death: The Great Mystery of Life by Herbie Brennan (Bridgnorth, Eye Books 2005). This is basically a general discussion of death, including the way parts of the body continue to operate even after the heart has stopped beating, various causes of death and theories about how humanity could become immortal through nanotechnology. It also includes the different perspectives on death in the various religions of the world, and the history of ghosts and psychical research. It’s a popular introduction to the issue, and is written from a sort of New Age perspective. However, there are some really interesting pieces in there which present strong evidence for mind-body dualism, such as the neurologist Wilder Penfield’s findings during his electronic probing of his patient’s brains. He discovered that although he could stimulate particular parts of the brain so that they performed certain actions and experience various sensations, nevertheless they were aware that this was due to him, and that they weren’t doing it under their own volition. This convinced Penfield that there really was an immaterial self apart from the brain that was the source of human action and their identity.

    I’ve also found Janet Oppenheim’s The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) also very useful indeed as a general history of psychical research in that period. Oppenheim’s a history professor at The American University in Washington D.C. She states in her introduction that the book is intended to be an impartial discussion of Spiritualism and psychical research in the period from 1850 to the outbreak of the First World War, in that she is concerned to examine the issues surrounding them as an historical phenomenon, rather than argue whether or not they actually existed. The book discusses not only the mediums themselves, but also the membership of the Spiritualist movement, its relationship to Christianity, psychical research and agnosticism, and the development of Theosophy. She also discusses Spiritualism and psychical research as a ‘pseudoscience’, with chapters on:

    ‘Concepts of Mind’, including the mind-body problem, phrenology and mesmerism, and psychology and psychical research, and the work of two of the founders of the SPR, Gurney and Myers;

    ‘The problem of evolution’, which discusses theories about the evolution of the brain, Robert Chambers, one of the first proponents of the theory of evolution in Britain in his 1844 book, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation , Romanes and colleagues, Spiritualism and Alfred Russell Wallace, who discovered Natural Selection with Charles Darwin, and Wallace and human evolution;

    The last chapter is on the relationship between physics and psychic phenomena, which covers some of the Victorian and Edwardian physicists who engaged in psychical research and believed in the survival of the soul after death – William Crookes, William Barrett and Oliver Lodge.

    I hope this helps you in search for good reading material on psychical research and the paranormal.

  11. Feyd Says:

    Thanks very much for the information Beast. I agree promoting the supernatural runs the risk of doing more harm than good if it encourages folk to participate in the occult , and also may lead to more victims of fraud. I guess at the moment I feel the harm done by the fallacy of materialism outweighs both, but I’ll be doing plenty of praying before deciding whether or not to launch my campaign on Wikki.

    Im afraid there was no philosophical reflection involved in my allegorical interpretation of the darker OT stories, its more a product of my upbringing in a liberal Anglican environment. Im slowing learning to take God more at His word from my dialouge with more serious Christians and Bible study. I’ve not read any Philo and Clement I only know for his writing on Apokatastasis and interesting speculation relating to Gods feminine as well as masculine qualities, which some experience in their encounters with the Holy Ghost, my fave quote of his is “And God Himself is love; and out of love to us became feminine. In His ineffable essence He is Father; in His compassion to us He became Mother. The Father by loving became feminine: and the great proof of this is He whom He begot of Himself: and the fruit brought forth by love is love”

    Will try to reasearch further one day, thanks for the pointer!

  12. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the reply, Feyd. I didn’t realise that your allegorical interpretation of Scripture came from your background in Liberal Anglicanism, rather than a study of Philo and Clement of Alexandria. I don’t know whether Clement’s interpretation of Scripture is always allegorical, but Philo apparently stated that those passages which were morally dubious in the Scriptures were to be interpreted allegorically, and the quotations from Isaiah clearly could support such an interpretation of Scripture. Either way, I certainly don’t rule out an allegorical treatment of Scripture in incidents such as the extermination of the Canaanites.

    Going back to the subject of using evidence from parapsychology to support the existence of the Almighty, there’s an extremely interesting discussion of the existence of psi and the way this seems to support the existence of the soul in Mario Beauregard’s and Denyse O’Leary’s The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul . Beauregard is a Canadian neurologist, while Denyse O’Leary is a science journalist and one of the leading supporters of Intelligent Design. Regardless of one’s views on ID, they do make a strong case for an independent soul, including critiquing some of the various evolutionary theories about the emergence of religion.

    I’ve also come across a positive treatment of psi, which discusses its implications for theology by a female Roman Catholic theologian. She sites as a founder of the modern, Roman Catholic tradition of the sceptical investigation of miracles and the paranormal one of the 18th century popes, whose original name was Prosper Lambertini. Lambertini was the cleric in charge of that section of the Vatican that investigated candidates for canonisation, and the present rules governing the examination of miracles by the Vatican were originally drawn up by Lambertini, along with his cases studies, in the 18th century.

    I did wonder if it might be an idea, rather than just simply use the evidence from psi, to use contemporary scientific evidence for miracles, such as that discussed by Randall Sullivan in his book, The Miracle Detective , as that might support the Christian faith more, rather than lead to a general belief in the paranormal.

    I hope this helps you make a decision about whether or not, or how, to use the evidence from psi in apologetics. As I said, if you do decide to write something on it, I’d be very willing to put it up here.

  13. feyd Says:

    Cheers Beast. That Philo character seems a good chap. I was in the Libary this Sat researching economics and chanced to see a book on Slavery by Milton Meltzer. I’ve noted Wikki is stunningly biased against the abrahamic faith on that issues so I had a quick read of the sections relating to religion. Apparently Philo argued powerfully against slavery and for benign treatment of unfreed slaves. Also Philo recorded the views of the Essenes and Therapeutae, Jewish tribes that owned no slaves at all and even tried to free them from others. Meltzer wrote that no society in antiquity approached these two tribes in their opposition to slavery, and that the world did not see slavery denounced so sweepingly until the emergence of radical protestant sects after the reformation. Philo is definitely someone I need to read up on! Im glad to hear you’re open to the possibility of some OT passages being non literal, I wont be doing atheist’s work for them but I guess we’d both agree there are several episodes that are much harder to justify that the cannite extermination if they are literally true episodes.

    The Beauregard / O’leary and Sullivan books sounds just the sort of thing I was looking for and I’l l certainly be adding them to my shopping trolley next time im on amazon! I hope the RC theologan you mentioned is advising the Vatican to loosen up their standards a bit – I’ve heard from Catholics how hard it is to get miracles accepted within their community, at least in Europe and North America. In the twilight of atheism I felt McGrath was implying the frequent manifestation of spiritual gifts was one of the key drivers for Pentecostal Christianity’s expansion from zero to over half a billions souls in just a single century. I hear there are many Pentecostal churches where over half the congregation speaks in tongues! As it seems such gifts often only appear after one asks for them its a shame Catholic priests are making it less likely for their congregation to do so by teaching that tongues and similar gifts are only received by exceptionally rare and blessed individuals.

    Yep I agree about presenting evidence for miracles in tandem. On RD.net, an atheist neurologist called FedUpWithFaith agreed the evidence for the Our Lady of Fatima miracle appears so strong that just about the only credible alternative seems to be alien technology!

    Thanks for the offer to publish an article here. If I write anything cohesive enough I’ll defo take you up on that , although I know I’ll struggle to even begin to approach the standard of scholarship of your blogs. Rather than a big article though I mainly have in mind a series of new sub sections and minor edits to existing wikkie entries on relevant subjects. I found this a surprising effective way to communicate a message, I guess it relates to the fact that wikki very often returns the number 1 result in a google search, and so gets copied by net users and journalists.

  14. Lord Kitchener Says:

    I don’t think the Canaanite massacre ever happened, at least there is no archaeological evidence for it according to Robin Lane Fox’s ‘The Unauthorised Version’. He says ‘there is no sign of foreign invasion in the highlands which would become the Israelite heartland’. Instead the theory is that Israel emerged peacefully and gradually from elements that arose from within Canaanite society. Why was this passage included in the bible?. Here is one theory:


    The Bible is after all, the history of the Israelite people, hence much of what God is supposed to have done in the Old Testament is more likely to be what the authors think he has done. In this respect, history in the OT is no different to history of the medieval era where God is always given credit for victory in battle, natural disasters (Sodom and Gomorrah) or anything else that happens. And of course, bad stuff is his justice as well.

  15. Beastrabban Says:

    Interesting post and view on the massacre of the Canaanites, Lord Kitchener, and thanks for the link. There are problems with the view that the Israelites didn’t invade Palestine, but arose from within the indigenous societies. Some archaeologists have pointed out that the evidence from northern Israel certainly fits the Biblical description of events, while it doesn’t for the south. I know a few people who take the view that the best explanation for the origins of Israel is Martin Noth’s, and that one part of the Israelite people were already in Palestine before they were joined by the Israelites of the Exodus.

    On the other hand, it’s possible that the reason why evidence for an Israelite invasion hasn’t been found is that subsequent building destroyed much of it, and the actual destruction involved was much less than the impression that can be given by the idea of the Israelite invasion. For example, in the Bible only a handful of Canaanite cities are described as being burned, which suggests that there was much less violence than is usually considered. As for evidence of outside settlement, James Hoffmeier in his book, The Archaeology of the Bible notes that in 2001 or so the Israeli archaeologist Finkelstein discovered houses dating from the period of Judges that looked like they were adaptation of tent design to permanent, stone buildings. Obviously, if this is correct, then it supports the Biblical account of the origins of the Israelites as desert nomads settling down in Palestine. Aside from the issue of the origins of Israel, it’s certainly the case that the Bible describes the Canaanites as continuing to exist alongside the Israelites centuries later, despite God’s commands for the extermination of certain Canaanite tribes, such as the Amalekites.

    Thanks for a different perspective on the extermination of the Canaanites, however, which is one I’m sure some Christians would find extremely helpful.

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