Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Aquinas’

Steve Bannon’s Admiration for French Fascist and Nazi Collaborator

March 20, 2017

The more you find out about Steve Bannon’s views, the clearer it is that he’s a real Fascist, who should be kept as far away from government, and decent society, as possible. In this piece from TYT Nation, the host, Jeff Waldorf, talks once again about Bannon’s love of the French racist novel, The Camp of the Saints, and how he views the wave of immigrants that entered Europe from Syria through the prism of its narrative.

The book was written in the 1970s by Jean Raspail, and describes an armada of boats carrying 800,000 poor immigrants from India, who come to France to overthrow White, Christian civilisation. The immigrants are described in scatological, pornographic terms, and their children are also described as diseased, ‘like spoiled fruit’. They are welcomed into Europe by a corrupt liberal establishment, including a liberal pope from Latin America. The book’s hero, Calgues, is a White supremacist, who kills both these immigrants and the White liberals, who have allowed them in and help them. After murdering a hippy, Calgues reflects on how these young people have been ‘culturally cuckolded’ and deprived of the sense of knowing that they belong to the superior civilisation.’
I’ve put up a piece about this before, when one of the other left-wing YouTube news presenters did a segment about it.

But Bannon’s admiration for French Fascism seems to extend beyond this novel, right back to the French monarchist and Fascist, Charles Maurras. Maurras was the founder and editor of the extreme rightwing newspaper, Action Francaise. He was bitterly anti-Enlightenment, a view that Bannon also shares. Bannon has also said that he wants the Enlightenment to end. Maurras was bitterly anti-Semitic, and was prosecuted several times for urging and demanding the assassination of Jewish politicians, including, in 1936, the then president, Leon Blum. During the Nazi Occupation and the Vichy Regime, he wrote articles supporting the deportations and the arrests of resistance members, Jews and Gaullists. Indeed, he went so far as to recommend that if the Gaullists themselves could not be found and arrested, then their families should be rounded up and shot. Waldorf shows how this parallels Trump’s own views on the arrest and torture of the families of terrorists suspects.

It doesn’t surprise me that remotely that Maurras was anti-Enlightenment. There was a very strong element of this in European Fascism generally. After the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler wrote that the shame of 1789 – the year of the radical phase of the French Revolution – had been undone. So strong was this element, that many historians viewed Fascism as an entirely anti-Enlightenment movement, until later research showed how Fascism had also taken on elements of Enlightenment thought. The religious right also despises the Enlightenment for its attack on Christianity and organised religion. Here again, the situation is rather more complicated, in that recent historians have pointed out how European Enlightenment doctrines built on earlier philosophical attitudes and religious concepts. The doctrine of democracy and equal human worth are two of those. The idea that humans all have equal value and dignity ultimately comes from the Christian doctrine that everyone is equal before God, though medieval philosophers like Thomas Aquinas were quick to point out that this did not apply to their functions in earthly society. Similarly, the doctrine that people have inalienable human rights is also a metaphysical, religious doctrine, in the sense that it is not immediately obvious. It seems so to us, because it is so much a part of our culture. Nevertheless, it rests on a series of arguments and attitudes that are not self-evident, and have to be demonstrated.

Bannon is already notorious for his White Supremacist and anti-Semitic views. This adds further details on them. Waldorf also notes that Bannon has described himself as a ‘cultural Leninist’, which he equates with Bannon’s economic populism. This isn’t quite right. Bannon is a ‘cultural Leninist’ in that he shares Lenin’s goal of destroying the state, and then reconstructing it to serve his movement and ideology. Which makes Bannon very dangerous, indeed.

And it isn’t just America, which is in danger. Hope Not Hate has also published articles on Breitbart’s role in supporting UKIP, and their plan to create an even more extreme, anti-immigrant, racist party. Among the various Breitbart columnists in this country is James Delingpole, who also used to write for the Spectator. It has also given space to the bigoted rantings of the right-wing troll, Katie Hopkins. I gather she’s got a column in the Scum. The fact that she is also being embraced by real White Supremacists like Breitbart, whose leader admires such overtly racist works and individuals, should disqualify her from having her racist nonsense published in the mainstream press, even one as low as the Scum.

Bannon himself is only one of a number of a racist ‘basket of deplorables’, which includes Richard Spencer, the founder of the Alt-Right. All of them should be cleaned out of government as quickly as possible, before they can bring even more misery to America’s working people and people of colour, and export their vile views and policies over here.

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Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

Shock! Horror! Gallup Poll Shows Majority Muslim Countries Less Likely to Support Attacks on Civilians

December 23, 2015

This is another really interesting piece by The Young Turks, and one that should be taken on board by everyone concerned with the spread of terrorism and the War on Terror throughout the world. It’s a report by Cenk Uygur on the findings by Gallup that 74 per cent of the population of Muslims countries wanted the introduction of sharia law. However, the vast numbers of Muslims wanting to return their countries to theocracies did not coincide with support for deliberately killing civilians. Only 14 per cent of Muslims in Muslim countries supported deliberately killing civilians, as opposed to 33 per cent in Britain and 50 per cent in America. In fact the leading nations supporting attacks on civilians are America, Israel and Haiti, and New Zealand.

The poll revealed that poorer countries suffering from internal violence tended to support attacks on civilians much more than richer, more stable societies. The exceptions to this pattern were Egypt and Lebanon, whose inhabitants overwhelmingly rejected attacks on civilians. Uygur argued that fact shows that we need to concentrate more on increasing aid and development for these countries, not because we’re great humanitarians, but because it means they’ll become more peaceful and support attacks on civilians less.

Uygur was also surprised to find that in Europe and the Middle East, people who made their religious faith an important part of their lives were less likely to support attacks on civilians. This surprised him, as he’s an agnostic, and would have believed the opposite: that people of faith, whether Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or whatever, were more likely to support attacks on civilians. It doesn’t surprise me. in Christianity, Christ is the ‘Prince of Peace’, and there are numerous passages in which Christ tells people not to return violence for violence. ‘Turning the other cheek’ is just one of these. There is also the ‘Just War’ tradition going right back to St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, which debates the circumstances under which war is justified, and which states that non-combatants should not be attacked.

In Islam, Muslims have been very keen since 9/11 to stress that Islam is a religion of peace. There are also rules under sharia law, which also forbid attacks on women, children, the sick and other non-combatants. Similar rules have been developed in the Sikh religion, while Hindus in the Middle Ages also debated what constituted a righteous war, and the proper rules under which it should be fought.

Now I also think that probably a very high proportion of people in organised atheist groups would also probably reject attacks on civilians. Those who join Humanist groups do so in order to find a secular alternative to religion, including a concern for morals.

Uygur notes, however, that in America, there’s only a slight, statistically insignificant difference between religious and non-religious people over the deliberate killing of civilians.

The Gallup poll also notes that there is also generally no connection between how militarised a country is, and its support for killing civilians. Countries that have a very high military expenditure don’t, as a rule, support attacks on civilians. They don’t need to. They have an army to protect them. Also, there’s no statistical relationship between the status of women and gender disparities, and support for attacks on civilians. Very sexist societies, where the status of women is low, such as in much of the Developing World, don’t support the deliberate killing of civilians. You don’t have to go back very far to see that this was also the case in our society. In the Victorian West, the status of women was very much lower than men. Despite this, there was also a tradition, stressed by Victorian social reformers, of gallantry to women, and attacks on women, children and non-combatants in general was loathed by the public at large. There was a notorious demonstration of this in London during the premiership of Viscount Palmerstone. General Heynau, an Austrian officer responsible for atrocities, was jostled when he toured a London brewery. He was reviled in the press as ‘The Hyena’. Palmerstone then went a turned this into a diplomatic incident by making a speech declaring his support for the British worthies, who made the old butcher’s visit uncomfortable.

So, contrary to what we might expect, the public in Britain and America are far keener to kill civilians than Muslims.
Here’s The Turks’ report:

The Republicans in America and the Conservatives and New Labour cheerleaders in Britain are leading us backwards. In the case of Trump and the other Islamophobes, they are making us worse than the Muslims they despise. Cameron and the Tories in Britain are dragging the whole country down to the same level as the Islamists, to whom they claim to be superior. For the sake of the moral health of our society, as well as win over the hearts and minds of the Muslim world against the efforts of the Islamists, we need to kick them out.

The Medieval Church on the Duties of the Rich to the Poor

February 21, 2014

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, who has attacked fellow Catholic Iain Duncan Smith's benefit cuts as a "disgrace". [Image: Liverpool Echo]

Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Bishop of Westminster

Last Sunday, the Roman Catholic bishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, criticised the government welfare reforms for their attacks on the poor. Needless to say, this annoyed the Prime Minster, who has now declared his belief in the essential morality of the government’s welfare reforms. Previous churchmen, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have criticised the government’s attacks on the poor and vulnerable. Dr Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, criticised Margaret Thatcher, as has his successor, Justin Welby, attacked Cameron. I can also remember the Church of Scotland looking mightily unimpressed when Thatcher addressed them on St Paul’s text, ‘If a man does not work, he shall not eat’. There’s a lot of theological discussion about that text, and it certainly is not a pretext for denying the unemployed benefit.

There was considerable debate during the Middle Ages about the moral status of wealth, whether the unemployed should be given alms to support themselves if they were not working, and the relationship between the rich and the poor. There was a belief in the Middle Ages that the rich had the moral duty to support the poor, with damnation as a possible consequence if they did not.

One of the major Middle English texts that debated this question was Dives and Pauper, a dialogue between a rich and poor man. In it, Pauper says

All that the rich man has passing his honest living after the degree of his dispensation it is other mens and not his, and he shall give well hard reckoning thereof at the doom… [the Last Judgement] For rich men and lords in this world be God’s bailiffs and God’s reeve to ordain [=provide] for the poor folk and for to sustain the poor folk.

The Fathers of the Church believed that superfluous wealth belonged to the poor. The great medieval theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, stated that

According to natural law goods that are held in superabundance by some people should be used for the maintenance of the poor. This is the principle enunciated by Ambrose … It is the bread of the poor you are holding back; it is the clothes of the naked which you are hoarding; it is the relief and liberation of the wretched which you are thwarting by burying your money away.

St. Basil, in his sermon ‘On Mercy and Justice’, stated that if the rich did not making offering to God to feed the poor, they would be accused of robbery. This was reflected in another of Pauper’s statements

Withholding of alms from the poor needy folk is theft in the sight of God, for the covetous rich withdraw from the poor folk what belongs to them and misappropriate the poor men’s goods, with which they should be succoured.

Ambrose went further and stated that those, who did not provide food for the starving killed them. Pauper also made the same statement when he referred to the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.

If any man or woman dies for lack of help, then all who should have helped, or might have helped, or knew the person’s plight, but who would not help are guilty of manslaughter.

Mrs Thatcher herself was personally very generous, and part of her argument was that private charity could provide better relief to the poor, that state support. She also believed that it was more moral, because there was an element of choice involved. Now Albertus Magnus, Aquinas’ predecessor, believed that almsgiving should also be a matter of personal choice, but that this only involved donations beyond the moral compulsion to provide for the poor out of superfluous wealth.

Unfortunately, at various times during its history the Church has not lived up to its moral responsibility to provide for the poor. This was certainly the case during the Thirteenth century, when a number of churchmen attacked their clergy for taking the money provided for poor relief. The result was that in many parishes the lay congregation put up ‘poor tables’ in parish churchyards, on which bread was to be doled out to the poor. There was a feeling amongst some churchmen that the poor had rights. Just as a vassal had the feudal right of diffidatio, or rebellion against an unjust overlord, so the poor could also spiritually rebel against the rich. Johannes Teutonicus declared that a pauper had the right to denounce a rich man publicly and excommunicate him. By the 16th century the belief had developed that God paid particular attention to the prayers of the poor against the rich. If a pauper was refused alms, and so prayed to God for His help or judgement against the rich person, who had refused him, his prayer would be answered answer the rich miser suffer as a consequence.

Nor at various periods in history was almsgiving entirely voluntary. In France during the 17th century it was compulsory for parishioners to donate to poor relief in their parish. In England giving was supposed to be voluntary, but it was strongly urged by the clergy in their sermons.

Cameron has maintained that his welfare reforms are moral. I’ve reblogged a piece by Mike over at Vox Political, which shows that Cameron and his wretched policies are morally bankrupt. As for the statement of Ambrose, Basil and the rest of the Church Fathers that refusing to support the starving makes a person responsible for their murder, it should be borne in mind that so far as many as 38,000 per year may have died as a result of being refused benefits by Cameron and the Coalition. The poor are very definitely being denied their rights. In this argument between His Grace the Bishop of Westminster and Cameron, the moral authority and traditions of Fathers are very definitely on the good bishop’s side, not Cameron’s.

Let the wailing, grinding and gnashing of teeth at Tory Central Office now begin.

Six Arguments for the Existence of God

June 20, 2013

I’ve posted below six arguments classic and interesting arguments for the existence of the Almighty. The list isn’t exhaustive by any means. Thomas Aquinas produced five arguments, of which the Prime Mover, taken from aristotle, and the Uncaused Cause are only two. They don’t prove that God exists, as there are objections to them, and objections to the objections. Most philosophers consider that the arguments for and against God’s existence are very finely balanced. For a good historical overview of the debate on the existence of God from ancient Rome to the present day, with extracts from the original works, see Paul Helm’s Faith and Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999). What these arguments do is demonstrate that it is rational to believe in the Lord. It is not simply a case of blind faith, as is frequently alleged by atheist polemicists such as Richard Dawkins. I’ve kept the description of the arguments simple, htough many of them are already quite straightforward, so that they can be printed out on a single sheet of paper for use in a service or meeting, and can be easily used and memorised.

6 Basic Arguments for the Existence of God

1. God is ‘Prime Mover’ – first put forward by Aristotle.

Everything in the universe is in motion. Something must have originally set this all in motion. This must originally have been God.

2. God as ‘First Cause’ or ‘the Uncaused Cause’.

Everything in the universe has been caused. Therefore there must originally have been a first cause, which itself was not caused by anything else before it. This cause is God.

3. Kalam Cosmological Argument – First put forward by Muslim philosopher Al-Kindi, revived by William Craig Lane

Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe has a beginning, because it would be impossible to traverse the infinite amount of time to get to the present if it had no beginning. This cause must be immaterial and outside the universe, as it created the universe. This cause is therefore the Lord.

4. Ontological Argument for the Existence of God – by St. Anselm of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury under William Rufus.

God is the most perfect being. Anything that is the most perfect cannot not exist, as non-existence is imperfect. Therefore, God exists.

5. The ‘Sensus Divinitatis – ultimately from St. Paul, revived by Reformed philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga

The human race has an intuitive sense that God exists, implanted by God himself in the human race. For Alvin Plantinga, this sense of the existence of God comes from one’s own knowledge of one’s own existence. It is properly basic, which means that it is automatically correct knowledge.

6. Every Culture that has Existed has had Gods – first put forward Lord Herbert of Cherbury, 17th century.

Every people throughout history and around the world has believed in gods. Therefore, belief in God is rational and natural.

P.Z. Myers on Science and the Irrationality of Religion

June 16, 2009

Several months ago, Wakefield made the following remarks on P.Z. Myers’ view of religion and theology, and wondered about a response to them:

‘Second, I wanted to follow up from where he’s written elsewhere that in his mind there is no real methodology to religious belief. For something to hold water and muster, it must be rigorously researched and demonstrable. Failing this, Myers places things in the “Creationist” box, which (apparently) is a rather large
residual category for every idea or notion (certainly faith qualifies) that does not meet with scientific rigor to this man’s liking. His many defenders of course would claim these rules supercede Dr. Myers and despite Dr. Myer’s antics, still apply to science at large, whether we religious types like them or not.

Observe, that when “Creationists” (meaning anyone believing God had something to do with the Known Universe, and not just “literalists”) get “cornered” on the “facts” of biology and life and the failures of prayer, whatnot:

(Quoting verbatum from Jim Lippard’s blog honoring PZ’s many insights)

They resort to,

Key features:

1. Conspiracy
2. Selectivity
3. The fake expert(s)
4. Impossible expectations
5. The metaphor
6. The quote mine
7. Appeal to consequences ’

I’m sorry I’ve taken a while to get round to answering this. However, let’s examine some of these statements and the underlying assumptions.

Firstly, Myers seems to make the Positivist assumption that science is the supreme method for acquiring knowledge about the world, and that it is indeed the only true form of knowledge. However, there are real problems with this. One major criticism of the Positivist position is that science, by itself, cannot prove that only science alone provides true knowledge of the world, contrary to the claims of philosophy. Indeed, in order to demonstrate that science provides true knowledge of the world, it requires philosophy and metaphysics, which Positivists like Von Carnap in the 1920s rejected and denounced as ‘disreputable’. So in these, areas, the Positivist claim for the unique ability of science to provide information about the true nature of the Cosmos fails.

There is also the problem in that science is merely one of a number of different methods of acquiring knowledge about the Cosmos, and that there are areas of knowledge and experience where its methods are inapplicable. For example, in history the primary method of investigating the past is through the study of texts. Now clearly science can and does add immensely to the study of history. Psychology can provide insight into the minds and motivations of the people involved in the events of the past, and archaeology has provided immense information on the development of past societies, the way they lived and their culture. The primary source for history is still historical texts, as one cannot recreate the great events of the past in a laboratory. Moreover, the philosopher Mary Midgeley has also pointed out that other areas of human culture, such as poetry, will also produce great insights about the nature of the Cosmos before or apart from those of science. So there are areas of human knowledge, investigation and experience, where science cannot be the primary method for discovering truth.

Now let’s deal with the statement that religion is somehow wrong, because it doesn’t use the methods of science. This attitude is mistaken, because it attempts to promote the scientific method, or judge one area of human experience and culture, by scientific methods that may not apply to it. As philosophers of religion such as Martin Buber have pointed out, at the heart of religion isn’t the attempt to provide a coherent, rational description of the universe, but the sense of a personal, transcendent presence within its phenomena or beyond it. Thus the ancient Egyptian religion included a number of different gods, some of whom, offered different explanations for the phenomena they observed. Yet this did not lead to friction within the religion as the religion was based on a personal experience of these deities, not whether they simply provided a rational explanation of the Cosmos.

Now religion is a highly complex phenomenon to the point where it is difficult even to give a precise definition of it. Despite this, there are certain forms of religion – or religious investigation – that may be highly rational. For example, Neoplatonic philosophy in ancient Rome attempted to use reason to lead one into the contemplation of God, described as ‘the One’ or ‘the Good’. It was a philosophical school, but has been described as ‘the mind’s road to God’, and in this sense it could be described as a philosophical religion. So, in the case of Neo-Platonism, there certainly was a rational method of inquiry and investigation at the heart of a form of religion.

Furthermore, different religions do possess different rules governing experience and observance. Subsequent revelations or statements from transcendent entities may deepen the basic revelation at the heart of that religion, but they may not contradict it. In the Mosaic Law, any prophet who demanded the worship of any other gods than the Lord was to be rejected, as this violated the basis of Judaism in monotheism, and the revelation that there was only one God. Similarly, St. Paul recommends that Christians test every spirit they encounter, because not all spirits are from God, and some of those spirits encountered may deliberately give wrong information to mislead Christians. Judaism, Christianity and Islam also developed distinct methods to govern the interpretation of Scripture and religious worship and observance. Thomas Aquinas discussed whether theology was a science, and concluded that it was, as it possessed a distinct methodology of its own. In fact, during the Middle Ages theology used the very same methods that contemporary scientists also used in their studies – Aristotelian logic, and discussions of natural theology very often included discussions of scientific subjects and phenomena. Thus in the Middle Ages, at least, science and Christian theology certainly did possess some of the same methodology and features.

Theologians have also used science to ascertain whether some religious phenomena – miracles – are genuine. In the 18th century, the Roman Catholic clergyman leading the official investigation of reports of miracles, Prosper Lambertini, later Pope Benedict IX, compiled a handbook for their proper examination. Lambertini stipulated that this should include an examination of the miracle and the evidence for it by scientists and doctors, and his handbook has remained one of the standard, if not the standard text for the investigation of such phenomena by the Vatican until today.

Thus, while religion is a completely different area of human experience to science, nevertheless it also possesses its own relevant methodology and may include science and its methodology in order to discover the truth about some phenomena, which may be considered supernatural.

Now let’s deal with the list of seven features Myers and Lippard feel are typical of Creationists.

1. Conspiracy

This probably refers to the tactic of some Creationist groups of using two different approaches to have their views accepted by secular and religious schools. For example, some of the Creationist groups produced two different versions of their textbooks according to whether they were to be used in the public, state schools or by Christian schools. Those for use in the state schools stressed the scientific aspects of the case against evolution, but did not contain any references to the Bible, while those intended for use in Christian schools did contain references and arguments from Scripture. I suspect that Myers and Lippard consider this a conspiracy in the sense that the Creationist groups who adopt such a tactic are deliberately disguising their true intentions to reintroduce an explicitly religious doctrine into schools. Now, while some Creationists probably would like to see religious education re-introduced into schools, other Creationists traditionally didn’t, preferring that their children should be taught a view of the creation of the world and its creatures based on a literal interpretation of Genesis outside of school. These people distrusted attempts to establish a particular religious view through legislation. Thus, such tactics are only used, or have traditionally only been used, by some, but not all, Creationists.

It’s also the case that some groups critical of Darwinism have stated that they don’t want a particular view of Creation taught in schools. Members of the Discovery Institute, for example, have repeatedly stated that Intelligent Design makes no statement over who the Designer is, and don’t want a literal view of Creation taught in school or even see Intelligent Design itself taught, just the arguments against Darwinism presented alongside those for it. Now clearly many supporters of Intelligent Design are religious, but that does not mean that the arguments for it are necessarily flawed, or that their reasons for questioning the philosophical naturalism in some textbooks are unreasonable.

2. Selectivity.

This probably means the deliberately use of specific examples from biology and palaeontology to challenge the general Darwinian account of the development of life, without discussing or excluding the evidence for it. The problem with this is that while there are undoubtedly some texts that may be highly selective in their presentation of information and arguments, there are other that present a variety of arguments and information from a number of different approaches and sources. Michael Denton’s book, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, which inspired the Intelligent Design movement, presents a number of arguments against Darwinism, as well as various examples from biology, where it could be argued that Natural Selection is inadequate as an explanation.

3. The Fake Experts

I’ve absolutely no doubt that there are a number of Creationist writers, who have little scientific expertise and who present spurious information and arguments to the public. A number of them have been strongly criticised by various Christian groups and writers on the net, who maintain websites attacking them and their views. This does not, however, mean that all the experts who reject Darwin are fakes. Some of the scientists who rejected Darwinism are extremely distinguished, such as Dr. Duane Gish, Wilder-Smith and Dr. Leonid Korochkin of the Institute of Developmental Biology of the former Soviet National Academy of Science.

4. Impossible Expectations

This looks like an attempt to counter the criticism of Darwinism that there isn’t enough supporting evidence for it. The assumption here is that people have too high expectations of the amount of evidence required to support Darwinian evolution. However, while there is indeed a vast amount of evidence to support Darwinism, some scientists have remarked that the evidence for it is not as complete or as strong as it has appeared, or was expected by scientists themselves. Thus, while some people doubtless expect too much from the evidence for Darwinism, there may indeed be real problems with it. Michael Denton, in his book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, indeed presents statistical arguments that there is a genuine lack of evidence for evolution, rather than the evidence exists, but has not been discovered yet.

5. The Metaphor

This might refer to the way people of faith, and particularly Creationists, view the world as an artefact created by the Almighty, often in terms very much like the way a human craftsman makes their products. However, merely because this view metaphorical does not mean it is incorrect, and that the world does not possess some of the characteristics of an artefact through its creation by an intelligent creator, in the same way that humans, who participate in God’s intelligence, also create artefacts.

6. The Quote Mine

This probably refers to use of quotes by Creationists by scientists discussing the lack of evidence, or apparent lack of evidence for Darwinism by various scientists, who may then go on in the following passage to address this problem. However, that does not mean that there isn’t a problem with the evidence for Darwinism, even if the view taken of this by a Creationist is different from that of the scientist addressing it.

7. The Argument to Consequences

This refers to the criticism of Darwinism and evolutionary theory by Creationists and other people of faith on the grounds of some of what they consider to be the social consequences of evolutionary theory. These include eugenics and the development of a worldview that apparently devalues human life, based on the view that if humanity is solely the product of evolutionary forces, then there are no transcendent values. For many people of faith, this worldview has resulted in a nihilistic culture that promotes abortion and divorce. Now the consequences of such an atheist interpretation of evolutionary theory does not mean that the theory itself is incorrect. It does, however, mean that the attempt to base morality purely on evolution, with no regard to the existence of objective, transcendent moral values, is severely flawed.

God and the Comprehensibility of the Cosmos

June 7, 2009

A few months ago, Wakefield made this fascinating comment:

‘Ooops.

Meant to add that link, which is at
http://wakepedia.blogspot.com/2008/07/whats-so-great-about-christianity.html

Also, in another conversation with Doctor Logic, whom I note is also contributing now to Rational Perspectives (see
http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/doctor-logic-on-the-argument-from-reason/)
, he asked me later on and I did not have an answer at the time for the following:

And why do we need to assume a God, assume that God is orderly, and assume that he would make an orderly universe we can comprehend, instead of simply assuming the universe is intelligible?

This comment was apparently in answer to my suggestion (as you have posted also)
that genetically (by which I mean linkage, not genes per se physically) the history
of science indicates that along with Western society, culture and morals, it is the
inheriter of values and methods bequeathed to it from Christianity. Rodney Stark and
some others like yourself have commented on this, as you did in your article at RP
on the myth of the war of science and faith, in addition to you articles on the
development of democracy in Europe in no small part due to the influence of
Christianity. That was the context.

Of course DL did not take kindly to this. Thus the query. My attempt was NOT to
demonstrate that a linkage of Christianity and modern science (also argued well in a
book called The Soul Of Science, N. Pearcy) meant that God exists, but that the
feeling among scientists and theologians at the time indicated they thought God was
orderly and would have made an orderly Cosmos, and this more than much else was the main impetus for thinking the rest of the universe was comprehensible. This stood in stark contrast to the “animistic”, “magic” realm of what so much had passed for
explanation in centuries earlier.

Nevertheless, it is a good question he poses. To say that the universe is orderly
and to say that this order had to come only from God is what the early scientists
you’ve referenced too, along with many theologians, believed and worked from. And
perhaps it meant the development of what we call modern science. But to say this
does not count out other forms or sources of order. Right? DL points out that mere
comprehensibility is NOT the same as saying it had to have a source that is
supernatural, or beyond human knowledge, or that a god was behind it all. That is
another issue. But how to proceed?

My thinking is that the very fact that order is present and that apparent “rules”
(though in the strict materialist sense rules imply oversight and intelligence, not
mere patterns that just happen to happen) indicates an Author behind the “rules” of
the game.

Your article at RP
http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/09/19/cosmic-fantasies-by-numbers/
touches on some of this with the “fine tuning” issue that some, like Hugh Ross, have touched on. But the secular scientist answer has been to date that with Big Numbers, we have in our universe virtually infiniate chances for the coming together of the most unlikely of life-giving or life-allowing parameters on things like planetary size, rotation, periodicity, photosynthesis, life evolution, etc, etc, etc. The idea being that with the trillions of systems likely to exist similar to ours we have a higher chance of evolving by random shuffling the parameters you wrote might be fantasy. After all, lucky people win the lottery here in the USA every year and get to retire with millions in chance rangers of one in billions in some cases?
Right?

In any case, many continue, as DL does, to say for example that reason and faith are eternal enemies, and that the Christians are the ones who suppressed science and created the Dark Ages, etc.’

Thanks for the link to your review of Dinesh D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great About Christianity? It’s a great review of a work by one of the brightest Christian apologists around today, who has defended Christianity with some extremely effective arguments. Thanks also for recommending the book, The Soul of Science, by N. Pearcy. That sounds like an extremely useful work for attacking the common atheist belief that somehow Christianity was an opponent of science responsible for the ‘Dark Ages’.

Now let’s tackle Dr. Logic’s view that the existence of an orderly, intelligible universe does not have to be explained as caused by the existence of God, who possesses an orderly intelligence that is expressed in the profoundly orderly structure of His creation. Now Dr. Logic’s view is based on a number of assumptions that are themselves open to criticism.

Firstly, it assumes that the intelligibility of the Cosmos is in itself nothing particularly exceptional or surprising. Indeed, the intelligibility of the Cosmos is such that it can, without too much difficulty, be assumed as a given, rather than be considered as something profoundly remarkable that requires explanation.

Secondly, there’s also an implicit assumption that human intelligence is not remarkable and the ability of humans to understand the deep structure of the universe, and see similarities between its order and that the operations of their own minds, isn’t remarkable either, but the product of chance and coincidence.

Thirdly, it assumes that chance itself is sufficient to account for the universe and the objects within it. This has itself been criticised by theist philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas based his critique in Aristotelian philosophy, but some of these arguments regarding the first creation of matter are still relevant in modern Big Bang Cosmology.

Let’s examine these assumptions. Firstly, many scientists, including atheists, have expressed profound amazement at the utter intelligibility of the Cosmos. Sir Arthur Eddington, who was an opponent of the Big Bang theory stated in the 1920s that science pointed to the existence of divine Creator more strongly then that it before. His view was clearly based on the fact that the universe was rational, and obeyed orderly, predictable rules. Furthermore, some scientists have stated that they find it remarkable that beauty is an intrinsic part of the Cosmos. Mathematicians and physicists, for example, have remarked on the beauty and elegance of the equations that model the laws governing the Cosmos. Now aesthetic appreciation is part of human intelligence. It’s possible that if the universe were the product of chance, it wouldn’t necessarily be as comprehensible as it is to humanity, or have the very high level of order and mathematical elegance within it.

Moreover, if the laws that govern the cosmos were set at its very beginning, then clearly the evolution of the Cosmos isn’t a product of chance in that its development is not random, but proceeds according to those rules. This does not necessarily mean that the universe’s evolution is totally deterministic and that every phenomenon within the cosmos was predetermined at the very beginning. Nevertheless, it does indicate that the phenomena that constitute the Cosmos were shaped by a distinct set of parameters that determined their emergence and operation. In this view, the universe is not solely the product of chance.

Now if that view is taken, then the development of stars, galaxies and habitable planets are a necessary development from these initial laws, and even if there is nothing remarkable about the development of intelligent species, nevertheless the fact that the universe appears designed to allow the emergence of intelligent life in general, rather than humanity in particular, indicates that the Cosmos was designed to produce intelligent beings.

Then there’s the problem of human intelligence. As I said, part of the view that the universe is the product of chance assumes that human intelligence is itself not remarkable, and the ability of humans to understand the Cosmos is a coincidence that does not require further explanation. But as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, according to the Darwinian view, intelligence developed purely for survival, not for a more profound understanding of the universe that may not have any immediate survival value. After all, there have been millions of species on Earth that appear to have developed and survived without possessing an intelligence like humans, and there is no guarantee that creatures like humanity would develop elsewhere in the Cosmos. Scientists such as James E. Oberg have remarked that many stars are not suitable for life, being the wrong spectral type, or having life-spans too short for life to emerge. In this view, intelligent species are likely to be extremely rare in the universe. Indeed, it could be considered that rather than an unremarkable feature of the universe that requires no explanation beyond the operation of physical law, the emergence of humanity is profoundly remarkable and our ability to understand the Cosmos a feature that goes beyond mere mathematical coincidence.

Then there is Thomas Aquinas’ view that the creation of the universe from nothing necessarily meant that chance could not have been involved in its creation. For Aquinas, matter was subject to chance. However, as the universe was created from nothing, chance could not have been involved in the production of matter. Now Aquinas’ argument is contradicted somewhat by modern Cosmology, as Aquinas believed in the creation of a fully formed Cosmos with the different creatures, objects and phenomena within it specially and individually created. Modern Cosmology sees this more as a process of separation and distinction, in which the Ylem, the plasma created after the Big Bang, cooled and separated into normal matter, which then coalesced to form stars and galaxies. Nevertheless, as this process followed the rules established at the Big Bang, this process of separation, distinction and development was not the product of chance.

Similarly, Aquinas believed that the good order of the individual parts of the Cosmos, and the way they were put together to form a supremely good whole, was due to the distinct nature of the individual parts of the universe. This in itself, he argued, demonstrated that the good of the universe existed as a final cause of its production, the creation of its individual parts and their orderly relation to each other. This was supremely good, and was therefore not the result of chance.

Thus, the profound intelligibility of the Cosmos and its order, operating according to rational laws, and having been created from nothing, argues against chance as the ultimate cause of the cosmos.