Saturday, July 18, 2015

How and why did the scientific revolution take place? How much responsibility can Christianity claim for it? ESSENTIAL RESOURCES

TWO GREAT BOOKS that cite all of the major attempts by Christian apologists to try and claim that Christianity was responsible for science (the dependency thesis) and proving in every case that their arguments are questionable/unsupportable, click here and here.

MARVELOUS QUOTATION by John Hick, the noted philosopher of religion on Christianity's relation to science, click here.

Quotations from a book edited by a Christian...

“Modern science rests (somewhat, anyway) on early modern, renaissance, and medieval philosophies of nature, and these rested (somewhat, anyway) on Arabic natural philosophy, which rested (somewhat, anyway) on Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Chinese texts, and these rested, in turn, on the wisdom generated by other, still earlier cultures... This has been called ‘the dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern science’"
--Arun Bala, The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science

The conclusion of the above book is that 1) that Christianity was not solely to blame for the fact that the science of the classical world didn't immediately develop into modern science, and 2) neither should Christianity take credit for developing modern science.

Even more broadly speaking, one might ask just how many of society's "influences" can be traced back to Judaism or Christianity? The ancient Sumerians/Babylonians, whose civilizations preceded Israel and Judaism, taught in their Councils of Wisdom, "Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy." In The Dawn of Conscience James Henry Breasted showed how the earliest known recorded ethics and laws belonged to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, who preceded the Hebrews. There is also the critically acclaimed work, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. And in the book, Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions William W. Hallo lists the debt modern civilization owes to ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian ideas of urbanism, the formation of capital, the order of the alphabet, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, the division of the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees, the coronation of kings, games, cookbooks, and much more. For more ancient influences click here.

On the topic of why science really took off during the fifteenth century, I think the development of fine lens grinding techniques, followed by the invention of the telescope and the microscope opened tremendous doors for observing the natural world and incited tremendous curiosity about the heavens and about microscopic life and matter itself. If the ancient Greeks had had such fine lenses then I wonder what the world would be like today? For instance,

"Fifteenth-century Europe was still essentially medieval, living in a geocentric and finite cosmos, the fixed stars bounding the universe beyond the crystalline planetary spheres [and beyond the fixed stars lay the abode of God and angels, as seen on tidy maps of the entire cosmos ]. No celestial objects invisible to the naked eye were known, nor, at the other extreme, any organisms or structures smaller than the naked eye could see. In the natural world, maggots generated spontaneously from rotten meat, the heart was the seat of the emotions, and the arteries carried air. Less than two centuries on, much of this had become what C. S. Lewis (1964) aptly called ‘the discarded image.’

"The new universe was infinite: Pascal in the seventeenth century felt himself lost ‘entre les deux abîmes de l’infini et du néant,’ terrified of ‘les espaces infinis.’ It was also heliocentric; the earth was terra INFIRMA and God was no longer literally looking down out of heaven at the lowermost unmoving piece of real estate in the cosmos. The sensory horizons were broadened in both directions: Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter, and Leeuwenhoek had seen spermatozoa. Ah, what enormous vistas were opened to the human eye via the careful grinding of clear glass into lenses, boosting human curiosity a millionfold."

SOURCE: THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. general editor Richard M. Hogg, volume iii 1476 to 1776 [with some edits]

Early Christians had little interest in studying nature, since it was their salvation that mattered most, getting to heaven, and also demonizing and crushing Hellenistic gods and philosophers: http://youtu.be/2otjniHgMPk

Early Christian Hostility to Science, click

Science and Medieval Christianity

Why Christianity Did Not Give Birth to Modern Science


"There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn."
--Augustine, The Confessions
On curiosity, compare a passage from another early Church Father, Lactantius 250-325 CE., who claimed that God made Adam the last of his creations so that he should not acquire any knowledge of the process of creation.

Or consider what another early Church Father, Jerome, wrote, "Is it not evident that a man who day and night wrestles with the dialectic art, the student of natural science whose gaze pierces the heavens, walks in vanity of understanding and darkness of mind?"Comment. in Ep. ad Ephes. iv, 17
"For centuries Stoic philosophers and Christian theologians struggled to subdue curiosity as one of the most disruptive, intractable and potentially vicious human traits. According to the 12th-century saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the evil angel fell as a result of curiosity. 'He had peered curiously into what was to come and wanted what he was not allowed to have and hoped presumptuous hopes,' Bernard writes, concluding that 'rightly is curiosity considered the first step of pride; it was the beginning of all sin.' Two centuries later, when Petrarch climbed a mountain in Provence and began to enjoy the view from the summit, he nervously opened his copy of Augustine's Confessions and was stunned by words that seemed to him a direct rebuke: 'And men go to admire the high mountains, the vast floods of the sea, the huge streams of the rivers, the circumference of the ocean and the revolutions of the stars--and desert themselves.'

"Yet the great work that checked Petrarch's curious gaze paradoxically contains the seeds that would eventually transform the churchman's vice into the psychoanalyst's virtue. Augustine himself was far too much in the grip of curiosity to endorse unequivocally its condemnation. If he chastised excessive interest in the world, he directed a virtually obsessive attention to the hidden reaches of his innermost self: 'I have become a problem to myself, like land which a farmer works only with difficulty and at the cost of much sweat.' More specifically, he manifested what was, for the pre-modern world, an unusual interest in his adolescence, from his theft of pears to his gaudy nights in Carthage, and a still more unusual interest in his early childhood, from his infantile rages to his first stumbling efforts to speak."
--Stephen Greenblatt, Curiosity Is Destiny: For Adam Phillips, psychoanalysis is about restoring people's appetite for life, New York Time, February 22, 1998
One of the more remarkable transformations in the history of European intellectual life was the removal of curiosity from the table of the vices and its inscription into the table of virtues. From the beginnings of Latin Christianity in the second century (Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine), curiositas was defined as a vice; but by the fifteenth century it had begun to be considered a virtue, and by the eighteenth century it was simply assumed by most European thinkers to be virtuous.

"It is no exaggeration to say that European thought about curiosity is Augustinian from the fifth century to the fifteenth... Curiosity for Augustine is appetite for nothing other than the ownership of new knowledge." It is a kind of concupiscentia, a disordered desire that guarantees its own disappointment. Curious concupiscence engages in close study and investigation of its chosen objects. "But the curious man is always a fornicator: he perverts study and investigation in much the same way that having sex with those to whom you are not married perverts the gift of the sexual appetite." Thus the curious man is distinguished from the studious man.

Curiosity's desire is closed off to its objects relation to God, considered only in isolation, whereas the studious man's interest is open to a knowledge of things including their relatedness to God. The second of Jesus' three temptations in the wilderness (where Jesus is placed on the temple's pinnacle and asked to throw himself down because of the scripture that says God's angels will permit no harm to come to him) is the paridigmatic temptation of curiosity, says Griffiths, because it offers satisfaction of the experimental appetite. Appetite for novelty is another key element in curiosity, an appetite that prevents contemplative rest and also "prevents curiosity's gaze from seeing the vestigium aeternitatis, eternity's trace, in the things at which it looks." Yet again, curiosity is characterized by loquacitas, a garrulity or chattiness involved in becoming known as one who knows.

But the most important element in Augustine's critique of curiosity, according to Griffiths, has to do with the attempt to own knowledge, "to assert proprietas over it, to make it subject to oneself (sibi tribuere)."... Curiositas, then, is an appetite that operates within the constraints of the libido dominandi, the lust for dominance that ownership brings. Its Augustinian contradictory is studiousness, and this is an intellectual appetite that operates within the constraints of a proper appreciation of givenness, or of what Augustine would prefer to call the gift, the donum Dei.
--Paul J. Griffiths, "The Vice of Curiosity," Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Winter, 2006)
I think the point Griffiths, above, was trying to make, is that Augustine wanted everything in one's mind to be related to God, in fact, in relation to the Catholic Church's ideas and beliefs about God. Hence, one must not be too curious. Knowledge for its own sake might derail the faithful from their prayers and single-minded devotion to God/Church and the Church's mission of "saving" the world. This is borne out by much else that the early Church Fathers wrote concerning knowledge, curiosity, and the priority that Catholic beliefs and teachings must take over and above everything else. Concerning the early Church Fathers and science, the historian, Richard Carrier, has produced some youtube videos and podcasts on the topic that one can google and/or find on itunes. His presentations feature further quotations from early Church Fathers that bear out what I have stated.)


On the Contempt Augustine and other Church Fathers had for Ancient Skeptical Thinking

MacMullen points out the contempt prominent Christians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, Ambrose and John Chrysostom had for ancient philosophy. They denounced Plato and Aristotle by name, and mocked the idea of skeptical study and the scientific attitude. Nor did they stop there. They told stories about apparitions over the battlefield, miraculous cures, the ever present existence of demons, people raised to life by Christians, and dragons turned to dust by the sign of the cross.
--See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

"After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Plato’s books, in Aristotle’s, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings... Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world... Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leaders’ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil."
--Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries



Richard H. Jones' two books demonstrate all the errors in the "Christianity gave birth to science thesis," known as the dependency thesis. Jones questions the popular Christian apologetic that the rise of science was "dependent" on religion. Jones addresses the views of early church fathers as well as Reformation leaders, and modern day Christian apologists like VanTiil, Jaki, Stark, Plantinga and Dembski, discussing each point of the modern "Dependency thesis." All the major advocates are given their due and then their arguments from history, sociology and philosophy are shown to be misreadings (or shoddy special pleadings) concerning the dependency of science on religion. Jones has quotable lines and makes succinct but powerful points throughout. All that in less than 150 pages in volume 1 of his 2 volume set.

The book's first AMAZON REVIEWER gave it five stars, adding: Jones shows conclusively that the thesis of modern science being the "stepchild" of medieval or early Reformation Christian theology is both historically and philosophically wrong. He also shows the sociological grounds for why modern science arose in the West and not in the Islamic world, India, or China. He also proposes a "control model" for the relation of science and religion in the place of the customary "war" and "harmony" models to explain the complicated interaction of Christianity and science throughout Christian history. He argues the role of Christianity in the history of science fits this new model: Christian authorities have been benign or even very supportive of science as long as the science does not impinge Christian theological doctrines, but when science steps out of line -- as with Copernicus, the mechanical model of physics, and Darwin -- religious authorities clamped down as fast and as hard as they could.

Whenever an idea based on the study of nature seemed to churchmen to impinge on their Bible-based interpretations of nature or natural theology, they felt threatened and reacted. It's called the "control" hypothesis of how science and Christianity interacted, and it's defended admirably in two new that are MUST READING, click here and here.

Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, edited by Ronald Numbers

Essays by scholars in that book conclude that Christianity's role so far as the rise of science is concerned was relatively neutral. Other factors unique to Europe were at play. Some of the chapters are online http://www.hup.harvard.edu/resources/educators/pdf/NUMGGJ.pdf but not "Myth 9: That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science," but you can read at least some of Myth 9 via the LOOK INSIDE feature at amazon. Portions of it are also cited and discussed here: http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/christianity-gave-birth-to-science-%E2%80%93-a-myth/

A quotation from Number's book:
“Modern science rests (somewhat, anyway) on early modern, renaissance, and medieval philosophies of nature, and these rested (somewhat, anyway) on Arabic natural philosophy, which rested (somewhat, anyway) on Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Chinese texts, and these rested, in turn, on the wisdom generated by other, still earlier cultures. . . . This has been called ‘the dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern science’ [by Arun Bala in his book The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science]”

So the authors conclude 1) that Christianity was not solely to blame for the fact that the science of the classical world didn't immediately develop into modern science, and 2) neither should Christianity take credit for developing modern science. Personally I think the development of lens grinding, followed by the invention of the telescope and the microscope opened tremendous doors for further observation of the natural world and incited tremendous curiosity about the heavens and about microscopic life and matter itself. If the ancient Greeks had had such investigative instruments then I wonder what the world would be like today?

Professor of religion and theologian, John Hick, remarked that even if the thesis is true that "Christianity" provided the nest in which modern science was born, the nest does not necessarily determine the nature of the egg within it nor what it may develop into on its own once it leaves the nest. For instance science could be compared to the egg laid by the female cuckoo in the nest of some other bird. The cuckoo's egg usually hatches before the other eggs and begins tossing the other eggs or smaller birds out of the nest so the cuckoo alone can receive all of the food brought back. Certainly the sciences receive the lion's share of funding today both from government and corporations. *smile* Therefore the question of what nest "hatched" science might not be as important as the question of what science has grown up to be, which certainly seems to outstrip that of religion when it comes to responding to a host of people's needs (like plumbing, sanitation science, agricultural science, basic health and medical science).

Neither is there a way to directly connect "Jesus" with science. But there are plenty of connections one can trace concerning how one invention or discovery naturally led to another (I mentioned the invention of lenses that led to telescopes and microscopes, but I could add the invention of the printing press which boosted inquiry further by spreading information faster, easier and to a wider audience than ever before)--such connections are fascinating to study in their own right without recourse to religion's influence. There's a few seasons of the TV show, CONNECTIONS, a big hit in Britain, that trace such developments.

Speaking of chemistry, there is evidence that interest in the basic "elements" and their divisions and properties arose from an interest in alchemy. Ancient alchemical texts were preserved by a heretical group of Christians (the Nestorians) and centuries later helped give birth to European interest in alchemy which led to early experiments that became the science known as chemistry. Newton himself wrote tens of thousands of pages on alchemy. So, each branch of science has what one might call multiple roots. Even heretical ones.

Lastly, even if science arose in a Christian civilization, any and all civilizations are practicing science today, regardless of each scientist's religious faith or lack thereof. On the other hand "science" might one day be blamed for helping to sicken and/or destroy life on earth.

A comment on a blog about the idea that "Christian Europe gave birth to science":

Why “Christian Europe?" Why not just say "Europe?" and study the whole range of influences that truly gave rise to the scientific revolution, like the invention of fine glass grinding that produced the first lenses that made the first telescopes and microscopes? Those magnified curiosity greatly all by themselves.


A world renowned biographer of Galileo, Annibale Fantoli, whose longer work is in its third edition, also composed a smaller work, titled, The Case of Galileo: A Closed Question? --a sophisticated analysis of the intellectual milieu of the day, describes the Catholic Church’s condemnation of Copernicanism (1616) and of Galileo (1633), and assesses the church’s slow acceptance of the Copernican worldview. Fantoli criticizes the 1992 treatment by Cardinal Poupard and Pope John Paul II of the reports of the Commission for the Study of the Galileo Case and concludes that the Galileo Affair, far from being a closed question, remains more than ever a challenge to the church as it confronts the wider and more complex intellectual and ethical problems posed by the contemporary progress of science and technology. In clear and accessible prose geared to a wide readership, Fantoli has distilled forty years of scholarly research into a fascinating recounting of one of the most famous cases in the history of science.

See also this paper by a retired Vatican astronomer,

The Church’s Most Recent Attempt to Dispel the Galileo Myth,

George V. Coyne, S.J., published in The Church And Galileo (Studies in Science and the Humanities from the Reilly Center for Science Technology and Values), though a pre-publication copy is located here:

Coyne, a retired Vatican astronomer, along with some theologians and historians, met to discuss the results of the Church's Commission on Galileo, and wound up agreeing that the Galileo "myth" that the Commission promoted was itself a myth, and that the church DID suppress scientific investigation. Coyne's paper lists the Church's suppression tactics in Galileo's day and discusses the Church's propaganda tactics today. Catholic doctrine still insists on a belief in an historical first couple, a literal Adam and Eve. Catholics from Copernicus' day even till today tend to keep their mouths shut concerning crucial questions in theology, and in science's impact on theology, at least until they are retired or quite old. The first historical-critical NT scholars in the Catholic Church had their works silenced around the turn early 1900s, along with the theological musings of father de Chardin. And even Coyne took care not to make any direct remarks concerning the Church that might get him silenced or ex-communicated and tossed out of his Catholic retirement home, at least not yet.

To cite a few lines from the paper by father Coyne: 'Myths are founded in concrete happenings. In the Galileo case the historical facts are that further research into the Copernican system was forbidden by the Decree of 1616 and then condemned in 1633 by official organs of the Church with the approbation of the reigning Pontiffs. This is what is at the source of the “myth” of Galileo and not a “tragic mutual incomprehension.” Galileo was a renowned world scientist. The publication of his Sidereus Nuncius (The Starry Message) established his role as a pioneer of modern science. He had tilted the Copernican-Ptolemaic controversy decisively against the long-held Ptolemaic system. Observational evidence was increasingly challenging Aristotelian natural philosophy, which was the foundation of geocentrism. Even if Copernicanism in the end were proven wrong, the scientific evidence had to be pursued. A renowned scientist, such as Galileo, in those circumstances should have been allowed to continue his research. He was forbidden to do so by official declarations of the Church. There lies the tragedy. Until that tragedy is faced with the rigor of historical scholarship, the “myth” is almost certain to remain.... The publication in 1744 of the “complete works” of Galileo had to exclude the Letter to Christina and the Letter to Castelli [which advocated freedom of scientific research]. Furthermore, the Dialogue had to be printed in Volume IV, accompanied by the 1633 sentence imposed on Galileo, and the text of Galileo’s abjuration, and it had to contain a preface emphasizing its “hypothetical” character... the works of Copernicus and Galileo remained on the Index until 1835...The inadequacies discussed above in the discourses which closed the workings of the Galileo Commission would, almost unanimously, be regarded as such by the community of historians and philosophers of science. In fact, I am indebted to that community, to which I cannot claim to belong, for all that I have discussed thus far.'



Galileo was compelled to deliver a recantation speech of his heliocenric views while on his knees. After that, Galileo was not allowed to write on heliocentrism again, nor even leave his house, though he wrote a number of letters pleading to visit a nearby city, and that he was eventually told to even stop pleading to leave, because they would punish him if he kept pleading to visit even a nearby city where his friends and fellow thinkers lived. What I read was the actual letter Galileo sent and the reply he rec'd.

Does anyone know if Galileo was allowed to use his telescopes afterwards?

I also read in a mainstream scholarly work (not published by an atheist press but published fairly recently) that Galileo was shown the instruments with which he would be tortured if he refused to recant). Bruno didn't recant any of his unorthodox opinions, nor have friends in such high places as Galileo did.

I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, Florentine, aged seventy years, arraigned personally before this tribunal, and kneeling before you, Most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals, Inquisitors-General against heretical depravity throughout the entire Christian commonwealth, having before my eyes and touching with my hands, the Holy Gospels, swear that I have always believed, do believe, and by God's help will in the future believe, all that is held, preached, and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. But whereas -- after an injunction had been judicially intimated to me by this Holy Office, to the effect that I must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center of the world, and moves, and that I must not hold, defend, or teach in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing, the said false doctrine, and after it had been notified to me that the said doctrine was contrary to Holy Scripture -- I wrote and printed a book in which I discuss this new doctrine already condemned, and adduce arguments of great cogency in its favor, without presenting any solution of these, and for this reason I have been pronounced by the Holy Office to be vehemently suspected of heresy, that is to say, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center and moves:

Therefore, desiring to remove from the minds of your Eminences, and of all faithful Christians, this vehement suspicion, justly conceived against me, with sincere heart and unfeigned faith I abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid errors and heresies, and generally every other error, heresy, and sect whatsoever contrary to the said Holy Church, and I swear that in the future I will never again say or assert, verbally or in writing, anything that might furnish occasion for a similar suspicion regarding me; but that should I know any heretic, or person suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor or Ordinary of the place where I may be. Further, I swear and promise to fulfill and observe in their integrity all penances that have been, or that shall be, imposed upon me by this Holy Office. And, in the event of my contravening, (which God forbid) any of these my promises and oaths, I submit myself to all the pains and penalties imposed and promulgated in the sacred canons and other constitutions, general and particular, against such delinquents. So help me God, and these His Holy Gospels, which I touch with my hands.

I, the said Galileo Galilei, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above; and in witness of the truth thereof I have with my own hand subscribed the present document of my abjuration, and recited it word for word at Rome, in the Convent of Minerva, this twenty-second day of June, 1633.

I, Galileo Galilei, have abjured as above with my own hand. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/galileo/recantation.html


In the summer of 1591 students from the University of Padua attacked the local Jesuit college and successfully appealed to the Venetian Senate to intervene on behalf of the university. When the Jesuits were expelled from the Venetian dominion a few years later, religious censorship was virtually eliminated. The result was a remarkable era of cultural innovation that promoted free inquiry in the face of philosophical and theological orthodoxy, advocated libertine morals, critiqued the tyranny of aristocratic fathers over their daughters, and expanded the theatrical potential of grand opera.

In Padua a faction of university faculty, including Galileo Galilei and the philosopher Cesare Cremonini, pursued an open and free inquiry into astronomy and philosophy. In Venice some of Cremonini's students founded the Accademia degli Incogniti (Academy of the Unknowns), one of whose most notorious members was the brilliant polemicist Ferrante Pallavicino.

The execution of Pallavicino for his writings attacking Pope Urban VIII silenced the more outrageous members of the Incogniti, who soon turned to writing libretti for operas. The final phase of the Venetian culture wars pitted commercial opera, with its female performers and racy plot lines, against the decorous model of Jesuit theater. The libertine inclinations of the Incogniti suffuse many of the operas written in the 1640s, especially Monteverdi's masterpiece, L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

Edward Muir's exploration of an earlier age of anxiety in his book, The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Wars-Late-Renaissance-Libertines/dp/0674024818/ref=sr_1_20?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413937372&sr=1-20&keywords=venice+opera , reveals the distinguished past of today's culture wars, including debates about the place of women in society, the clash between science and faith, and the power of the arts to stir emotions.

Speaking of the Christian Middle Ages, according to Reformed apologist, Scott Oliphant:

"Corruption was widespread in the church of the late Middle Ages... Many priests were uneducated, barely able to say Mass, let alone understand it... The defining moment not only for the church but also for the emergence of modern Europe was certainly connected with the Renaissance... The rise of the city was also important. The late medieval city was known as the 'foyer of modernity'... economic improvements, empowerment of the laity [not the church], and secularity of the city, which was decreasingly under the control of the church. In the towns the individual began to have unprecedented responsibility. Social ties were less hierarchical and more horizontal... the printing press played a crucial role in disseminating... ideas... it enabled educated people and readers to discover new ideas... disputations were frequent, but mostly between various understandings of Christian problems. In the sixteenth century the major disputes were internecine. But the seventeenth century we find, alongside the development of post-Reformation orthodoxy, the rise of deism, indifference, Socianism [a type of Unitarian/non-Trinitarianism], and of course the force of the Enlightenment."

"Although controversial, Johan Huizinga's volume, The Waning of the Middle Ages (N.Y.: Doubleday/Anchor, 1954) indicates the number of ways in which spiritual and cultural trends were on the decline in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Europe... In theology confidence in God is diminshed."

SOURCE: Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader, William Edgar, K. Scott Oliphint


On all the actions of nature and history that allegedly take place due to God's personal decisions see Israel's Theological Worldview (written by a Christian).

THERE IS NO SCIENCE IN THE BIBLE TO SPEAK OF, BUT THERE IS PLENTY OF DIVINATION, WITCHCRAFT, DEMONS, and the belief that God guides the constellations in their season and moves the clouds and sends the lightnings, and thunder is his "voice," and God personally sends plagues, famines, droughts, warring armies. See this article on Israel's Theological Worldview (written by a Christian): http://books.google.com/books?id=tO0EsMfyFD0C&lpg=PP1&ots=ALTsEXvsRK&dq=Disturbing%20Divine%20Behavior%3A%20Troubling%20Old%20Testament%20Images%20of%20God&pg=PA145#v=onepage&q&f=false

Today we have astronomers, meteorologists, agricultural scientists, water sanitizing plants, vaccines, antibiotics, and lightning rods. I guess we got all that simply by reading the Bible. Though I suspect natural human curiosity also had something to do with it. I also suspect that the development of clear glass and fine lens-grinding techniques advanced scientific curiosity immensely since it allowed us to see further into the sky and into the microscopic world via telescopes and microscopes.

In the Bible there is divination, witchcraft, demons, along with the belief that God personally guides the constellations in their season and moves the clouds and sends the lightnings (thunder is his "voice") and He personally sends plagues, famines, droughts, warring armies. The same Bible fails to feature scientific views ahead of its time.


Despite officially condemning all magicians and divinatory practitioners, the Bible is replete with references to divination... Examples of native magical practitioners and techniques abound in the Hebrew Bible: kings and priests have access and recourse to magic and divination, for example in their consulting oracles, and casting lots in times of crisis (Jacob in his sneaky manipulation of sticks to ensure the multiplication of his flocks, Genesis 44; David’s oracular consultations in times of military crisis, 1 Samuel 22.13-15, 23.2-4 and 9-12, 2 Samuel 2.1). Moses and Aaron are similarly not above using magic rods in Exodus 7-10 and 14. Ordinary people use them too—notably to aid fertility (for example Leah and Rebekah in their fertility contest, Genesis 30). Dreams, another form of supernatural communication, are dreamt by characters beyond foreign suspicion: Jacob again (Genesis 28), Joseph (Genesis 37.5, 40.9ff.), Solomon (1 Kings 3) and Daniel (Daniel 2). Examples of hepatoscopy,1 rhabdomancy,2 psepsomancy,3 hydromancy,4 and astrology,5 to cite a few examples, are all witnessed in ancient Israelite society. These examples show that the ancient Israelites were no different from their ancient Near Eastern neighbours. Also, we should note that divinatory practices are associated with men whose allegiance to and active participation in God’s plan cannot be faulted.


1 Divination through the examination of the liver: Leviticus 3:3-4.
2 Divination technique involving the manipulation of rods or arrows (belomancy): Hosea 4:12; Ezekiel 21:21.
3 Divination through lot casting: Jonah 1:7.
4 Divination by gazing at the water: Genesis 44:5-15; 1 Kings 1:9; Numbers 5:9-28.
5 Divination from the configuration of the stars: Judges 5:20; Joshua 10:12-13; Amos 5:26; Isaiah 47:12-15.

For an overview of the history of interpretation, see

F.H. Cryer, Divination in Ancient Israel and its Near-Eastern Environment: a Socio-Historical Investigation (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994)

Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (Leiden: Brill, 1996) And see her paper in this anthology: http://www.cosmology-divination.com/uploads/Seeing_with_Different_Eyes_complete.pdf

Link: http://amzn.com/w/11I3DTTNU8QBO

The “witch-hunting” mania continued until the 18th century. In Scotland, an old woman was burned in 1722 after being convicted of turning her daughter into a pony and riding her into a witches’ coven. In Germany, a nun was burned alive in the marketplace of Wurzburg in 1749 after other nuns testified that she climbed over convent walls in the form of a pig. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782. By that time, various scientists and scholars had raised doubt about the reality of witchcraft to bring an end to the madness. [p.78]

A profound irony of the witch-hunts is that they were directed, not by superstitious savages, but by learned bishops, judges, professors, and other leaders of society. The centuries of witch obsession demonstrated the terrible power of supernatural beliefs. [p.79]

James A. Haught, Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990)

For centuries the Catholic Church proclaimed the reality of the crime of “witchcraft,” backed by the Biblical command, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, said about witches, “I would burn them all!”

John Calvin stated, “The Bible teaches us that there are witches and that they must be slain… this law of God is a universal law,” and also pleaded in 1545 that the government of Geneva, Switzerland, should “extirpate the race [of witches] from the land” of Peney.

A few centuries later, after the smoke cleared, the famed Christian evangelist, John Wesley, lamented, “The giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the Bible.” (The Journal of John Wesley, 1766-1768)

The witch text in the Bible remains; the practice of executing them changed. The slavery text in the Bible remains; the practice changed. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the Biblical texts that authorized them remain.

Is it not well worthy of note that of all the multitude of Biblical texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.

Mark Twain, “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice”


In 1928, a Hungarian family was acquitted of killing an old woman they thought was a witch, and as late as 1970s, a poor German woman was suspected of being a witch after the people in the small town ostracized her, pelted her with rocks, and killed her animals. In France, a man was killed for suspected sorcery in 1978, and in 1981 a mob stoned a woman to death in Mexico because they believed that her witchcraft incited an attack on the pope.

W. Sumner David, Th.D., Heretics : The Bloody History of the Christian Church


In 1994 the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, a Washington D.C.-based prayer group, produced a list of twenty-five Democratic incumbents, and urged prayer partners to petition God to bring evil upon the people on that list. “Don’t hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them,” wrote one of the group’s founders, Harry Valentine, in the group’s newsletter. “Imprecatory” means to “call down evil upon.” Such Psalms include: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” (Ps. 109:8,9) “Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into Sheol.” (Ps. 55:15) “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance: he shall wash his own feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Ps. 58:10) (How is this different from sticking pins in voodoo dolls, or whipping up a witch’s brew and mumbling curses? I guess it’s all right for Christians to “curse” people so long as they use a “Biblically sound” method. But, leaving the “imprecatory Psalms” aside, don’t these people realize that Jesus commanded his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”--E.T.B.)

Skip Porteous, “Election ‘94 Observations,” Free Inquiry, Winter 1994/95)

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our New England forefathers. For if it hadn’t been for their amazing wisdom and foresight over two hundred years ago, we’d be up to our asses in witches.

Cecil Wyche & Tom Weisel


According to Deuteronomy 18:10,12, “There shall not be found among you anyone who...uses divination...For whoever does such things is detestable to the Lord.” However, didn’t the Hebrew patriarch, Joseph, practice “divination?” He practiced the ancient magical art of lecanomancy, otherwise known as “cup-divination.”

Is not this [cup] it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?...And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can certainly divine?
- Gen. 44:5,15

By means of cup-divination a person could supposedly foretell the future and find lost objects. Neither was Joseph condemned in the Bible for being a cup-diviner. Go figure.

And… didn’t both the Hebrews and Christians practice the ancient magical art of cleromancy, otherwise known as “casting lots to divine the will of Providence?” (How different is that from tossing Chinese I Ching sticks to find out what Providence has in mind?) As it says in the Bible, “The lot is cast into the lap; but its decision is from the Lord.” (Prov. 16:33) “The lot puts an end to contentions, and decides between the mighty.” (Prov. 18:18) Numerous examples of this magical practice of divining God’s will can be found in the Bible:

The tribes of Israel divided the “promised land” by “casting lots.” (Num. 26:52-56; 33:54; 36:1-2; Joshua 13:6; 14:1-2; 15:1; 16:1; 17:1-2,14-17; 18:6-11; chapters 19,21,22,23; Isa. 34:17; Ezk. 45:1; 47:22; 48:29)

Hebrew kings were chosen and tactical decisions in battle were decided by “lot.” (1 Sam. 10:20-23; 14:41-42; Judges 20:9) Also chosen by “lot” were “governors” for each “ward,” and for the house of God. (1 Chron. 24:5-7,31; 25:8-9; 26:14-16)

Saul, by drawing lots, found that his son Jonathan had eaten honey (1 Kings 14:58)

Jonah, when fleeing from the face of the Lord, was discovered and thrown into the sea by lot (Jonah 1:7)

People were chosen to receive special favors by “lot” (Lev. 16:8-10; Mic. 2:5; Neh. 10:34; 11:1)

The guilt of people was judged and confirmed by casting lots. (Josh. 7:13-18; the Hebrew word ‘lakad’ translated ‘taken,’ means ‘chosen by lot;’ Jonah 1:7)

According to the New Testament, Zacharias was chosen by lot to offer incense (Luke 1:9); and after the apostle Judas committed suicide the early church chose between two replacement candidates by “lot.” (Acts 1:23-26)

Theologians debated the practice of “casting lots” for centuries. The Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, quoted several of their views in his Summa Theologica in a “Question” titled, “Whether Divination By Drawing Lots is Unlawful?” He warned that the practice of casting lots could be relied on too heavily, thus “tempting God;” or, demons might interfere with the outcome if the lots were cast without prior prayer. He found the casting of lots to be lawful in cases where making choices was especially difficult and when due reverence was observed, “If… there be urgent necessity it is lawful to seek the divine judgment by casting lots, provided due reverence be observed.” See Question 95, Article 8, 2nd Pt of the 2nd Pt of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.SS_Q95_A8.html

After the rise of Protestant churches, denominations like the Puritans cast lots to determine God’s will--which made them outlaw less serious uses of “dice” in games or gambling because the casting of dies or lots should be reserved only for divining God’s will. Besides the Puritans, the famed Christian Evangelist and founder of Methodism in the 1700s, Rev. John Wesley, justified his actions as being the will of God on the basis of having “cast lots,” a practice which he later renounced. Tunker Baptists (also known as Tumbler Baptists) were another group from the 1700s who “cast lots,” for example, to determine who should be the church administrator. In the 1780s there were also “Sandemanian” Christians (one famous member being the scientist, Joseph Priestly) who “cast lots” to determine God’s will.

If anyone knows of cases in the twentieth century in which churches have “cast lots” to determine future church locations; church administrators; how best to distribute church funds; or determine the salaries of mega-church preachers, please let me know!

The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.- 1 Samuel 15:35 (But the Lord’s “dice” had chosen Saul to be king in the first place!)

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.- Genesis 6:6-7 (see also Deut. 32:36 & Ps. 135:14)

And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.- 1 Chronicles 21:15

Did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them?- Jeremiah. 26:19

God told Moses He was going to let His people, the Israelites, die in the desert and make a new nation out of Moses’s children alone. But Moses talked Him out of that plan, “And the Lord repented of the evil the he thought to do unto his people.”- Exodus 32:14

Compare the above scene with Genesis 18:23-33, where Abraham gets God to change his mind about the minimum number of righteous people in Sodom required to avoid destruction, bargaining God downwards from fifty to ten. (An omniscient God must have known that He was toying with Abraham's hopes for mercy--He destroyed the city anyway.)

And the Lord repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.- Jonah 3:10

I [the Lord] am weary of repenting.- Jeremiah 15:6
Evangelical Christians of the “Open Theism” school of theology point to the above depictions of God “repenting,” and argue that God does “change his mind” in response to the arguments or actions of human beings. “Open Theists” assert that God does not know everything there is to know about the future. However, the majority of Christians continue to believe that God already knows the future and they explain away the above verses as mere “metaphors” of how God “appears” to act from our point of view. So, these different Evangelical Christian theologians can’t agree on whether to understand the above stories metaphorically or literally. They make their own choice as to what they think the Bible “really” teaches, which is something they blame “liberals” and “humanists” for doing. Some “Open Theism” Evangelicals have even had to leave the Christians colleges where they had been teaching.


Another magical way to divine God’s will was via the “Urim and Thummim.” Those two objects were connected with the breastplate worn by the high priest (Ex. 28:30) but it is not known what the Urim and Thummim were. Were they gems kept in a pouch worn on the high priest’s chest? Were they engraved with symbols that reflected a divine “yes” and a divine “no?” Were they like the ancient Assyrian “Tablets of Destiny” that were tossed to determine the will of ancient Near Eastern gods like Marduk or Bel? We don’t know. But such prominent figures as Aaron (Ex. 28:30) and Joshua (Num. 27:21), and the Hebrew tribe of priests, the Levites (Deut. 28:8), used the Urim and Thummim to divine God’s will.

King Saul consulted the “Urim” but received “no answer.” (1 Sam. 28:6) Maybe the Urim and Thummim were the two most sacred “lots” of Israel, and after you tossed both of them, if one landed on its “yes” side, but the other landed on its “no” side, it was interpreted as God leaving the receiver off the hook?


We’ve all heard the term “scapegoat,” but did you know it was based on holy commands given in the Hebrew Bible? God commanded that a priest transfer the sins of the people onto a goat, and send the goat into the wilderness, thus carrying away the people’s sins. (Lev. 16:20-22) We remember the scapegoat story, but we forget about the lowly scape-bird, a bird that God commanded a priest to transfer “uncleanness” to, then send flying into the sky. (Lev. 14:4-7,48-53) What kinds of “uncleanness” did the scape-bird carry away with it? Would you believe mold, mildew, and… leprosy?

To the ancient mind discolored splotches of mold and mildew on clothing, leather or the walls of their homes, were lumped with that dreaded disease, leprosy. The same Hebrew word was used to describe them all, despite the tendency of modern Bible translators to make modern distinctions and use the words, ‘mold’ or ‘mildew,’ in cases of clothing and walls. The ancient Hebrews made no such distinctions but used the same word to describe a discolored growth on a wall, on poorly stored clothing, or on the skin of a leper. Consequently, the same remedy was required by God’s law.

Get your “scape-birds” here! They remove tough mold and mildew stains, as well as leprosy!

Dave Matson, “God’s Ignorance Concerning Leprosy,” Commonsense Versus the Bible [edited, with added comments by E.T.B.]


Magical spit was widely praised in the world of ancient folk medicine for its healing virtues. So widely known was the spit treatment in fact that two Gospel authors included stories about Jesus employing spit to cure the blind and those with impediments of speech (Mark 7:31-37; 8:22-26; John 9:6). Jesus’s spit miracles mirrored those of his contemporaries and resembled those of a typical ancient wonder worker.

A. J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs (enlarged edition)


Bernie, I have scoured my saved facebook and other posts for my best material on the topic of evolution, science and attempts to reconcile Christianity with both. Below is a long list of such resources, quotations, topics one could put to good use in a debate with someone who tries to claim that Christian dogmas in no way are affected by what science has discovered about the world of living organisms.


"Sin" or Biology?

Is "Death" connected with "Sin?"

Does Christian Dogma Make Sense, Biologically Speaking? Or Does Christian Dogma Require a Large Overhaul Today?

Sin and death, let's compare biological explanations with religious ones

Single cells only experience accidental death, because they reproduce via dividing into two cloned copies, therefore clones of the first single-celled are still around. It's MULTI-cellular organisms that experience short-lifetimes and certain death.

Death is the price paid so that evolutionary changes can take place, so that multi-cellular species can change, diversify, with many of those species becoming extinct over time, leaving others to spread out further. Death ensures that evolutionary arms races occur and lead to species more adapted to other species in both a competitive and cooperative sense of adaptation.

In fact, death is a necessity so that the human species could even evolve in the first place.

Christianity and Evolution, reconcilable?

In terms of the evolutionary history and survival of the human species, having offspring is key, not how much one avoids “sinning.” For instance, Jesus said the “meek” inherit the earth, but we haven’t inherited much from them genetically. Rather, it is the “disproportionate replicators” who left their mark on us, our forebears whose drive and passion got their DNA immortalized into children who would, with enough luck as well as drive and passion of their own, continue down the line. You won’t find many celibate shrinking violets in your ancestry. We are here because we had ancestors who did what it took to survive and reproduce in a world that was filled with competing groups of primates, pain, death and extinction events, long before modern humans arrived. What we inherited from them is not some taint of sin, but the very traits that allowed them to produce you. In other words, we are the genetic success stories of our ancestors’ behavior as well as their bodies. That is what the scientific evidence suggests.

Lamoureux, a Christian apologist for evolution, claims there “is no sin-death problem,” since “Adam never existed, and therefore suffering and death did not enter the world in divine judgment for his transgression.” But he fails to see the implications when he claims that “the divine revelation in Gen 3, Rom 5-8, and 1 Cor 15 is very simple: humans are sinners, God judges sin, and Jesus died for sinful men and women.” But evolution raises one glaring question in response to Lamoureux’s point, men and women are “sinful” because of what? Evidence suggests it is because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species.

Consider the “anger reaction” in vertebrates. We all lapse into angry outbursts from time to time. This is to be expected, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isn’t much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce. Having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response is not our “sinful” fault; it is part of the way our brains evolved to function.

Christian apologists object that such a purely biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domning’s “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologists’ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animal’s lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

On the brighter side, to temporarily get off the topic of the evolution of “anger,” and of how the “meek” were not the ones whose genes gave birth to our species, let’s just be happy that so many members of our species learned the benefits of agreeing collectively on certain moral ideas after coming to live in ever larger, more fixed societies rather than just roaming bands of kin. Aggression and selfishness help the individual or one’s kinship group survive but typically do not promote the flourishing of much larger communities.

Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name “Adam.” These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends.

Having acquired a “soul” that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be “saved,” what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on the walls of caves in France? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Mary’s? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. That’s because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Mary’s zygote. So let’s say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Mary’s chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. We’ve already gone over that.

Or to quote George L. Murphy, “The idea that we are descended from ‘beasts’ is one reason why many people have been repelled by evolutionary theory. And the idea that Christ would share that relationship is especially shocking to many Christians.”

Also, concerning “death,” scientists have discovered that different organisms have different lifespans for biological reasons. They cannot prove such things as divine decrees when it comes to the different lifespans of different species on earth. Take single-celled organisms that reproduce via division, self-cloning. One might say that the first amoeba is still around, it has never died, though plenty of its clones have. So what is “death” in that case? All life is a river that continues flowing and flowering forth from some early replicating molecules according to modern science. But it is also a river of mutation, natural selection, death and a constant process of change made possible by all the deaths of endless rival strains, rival sub-species, rival species, till only some cousin species remain.

Science says that “death” on an inconceivably huge scale was necessary for evolution to occur, and ultimately for the human species itself to evolve. For instance, new strains of DNA, new sub-species and new species are always arising, and the individuals in those strains and species as well as an enormous number of new strains, sub-species, and new species, die after they have spread forth to different environments and experienced different environmental pressures as well as pressures from rival species or even rival sub-species in the same neighborhood, as if a process of natural pressures and selection has been going on ever since the beginning. You can see this vast panorama of death and extinction of new strains, new sub-species and cousins species, via population genetic studies as well as the fossil record. In the case of fruit flies on the Hawaiian islands, they presumably reached those geologically young islands soon after their formation and evolved to occupy niches from forests and valleys to beaches, and today the number of fruit flies on the Hawaiian islands features somewhere about a quarter of all the known fruit fly species on earth, but now that many other insects and flies have reached the Hawaiian islands, competition has increased, and many fruit fly species are going extinct. And so it goes with nature over eons. The world was once filled with different species of apes, around the globe, but those countless ape species (known via fossils) eventually died out, leaving but a few modern day living species of apes, and of course, there are the extinct species of hominids that left behind but a single species of human, and now we are studying the diversity of the human genome around the world.

Here’s a final scientific challenge to the “biblical” view of the origin and destiny of the human species. The stars have enough fuel to last for billions more years (while black holes can exist for countless eons longer than stars), and in some places in our cosmos there are massive stellar nurseries giving birth to baby stars that will outlast all that are currently burning by billions more years (and in other places black holes are probably being born). Our particular species has only popped into the cosmos in the last microsecond of cosmic time, homo sapiens is an extremely youthful species, and we can not predict how little or how much time we have before we become extinct, or our planet grows as hot and desolate as Venus, or is hit by something, or a solar flare devours us, or a nearby nova, or our sun expands with age, or the nearby Andromeda galaxy collides with ours. If our species survives long enough and continues studying genomes and computers, then we might alter our very species into something else, becoming something new once again, humanity 2.0, or we might design androids that live on after our species is gone, or some other species on the planet might evolve consciousness after our species is gone. Cosmological science coupled with paleontological science shows us that species die out all the time, and even the lives of planets, stars and galaxies are limited. And science shows us that nature can be as brutal and filled with “curses” as it is filled with “blessings.” We know that nature giveth, and nature taketh away, for no easily apparent personal, reasons. Nothing personal, it’s just natural law. All of this leaves humanity in a precarious position along with the rest of the living organisms clinging to the quaking surface of this rock flying through space. How exactly the “Bible” is supposed to make everyone feel secure in light of the vision of the cosmos that science has opened up is a BIG QUESTION for theology. Nature does not appear to be moved much by prayers. Not as much as one might think after reading say the Old Testament. How to reconcile that? The scientific view with the biblical view?


Per Christian theology, “sin” is everything one ought to avoid thinking or doing because it offends God, and only secondarily because it offends one’s fellow human beings. While “death” is something that was supernaturally decreed to be a part of creation, and is often connected in some way with “sin.”

But what is a “sin” in a scientific sense, and what is “death,” especially in light of the theory of evolution?

Concerning “sin,” scientists have not been able to find a universally recognized way to measure and agree upon which thoughts or actions offend God (neither do people of different religions agree on exactly what those thoughts and actions are), and scientists are far from discovering how the shedding of one person’s blood in the past “covers” other people’s “sin’s” including future ones, which sounds more like “sympathetic magic” rather than science (for that matter neither do scientists have much to go on when it comes to an ancient ritual mentioned in an ancient Hebrew law book that involved a dove being set free and another bled to death and whose blood is sprinkled inside one’s home, a ritual that allegedly cleanses both leprosy and mildew).


James McGrath (a Christian who accepts evolution), wrote this line, "the observable situation in which humankind finds itself (namely one of domination by sin, alienation from God, and subjection to death)."

I QUESTIONED HIM... How are those "observable?" Death is observable, but the sense in which we are "subjected" to it is interpreted quite differently by theologians and biologists. And what is "sin?" Even if you could define it in such a way to prove to everyone it exists, could you get everyone to agree what actions constituted "sins against God?" As for "alienation from God," again, how do you get everyone to agree that that is observable?


Recent books in which moderate to progressive, emergent and iberal Christians argue AGAINST the need for "certainty" http://amzn.com/w/3GFFCDL8W3OAI It's an interesting development and it is affecting how Evangelicals are doing apologetics like Randal Rauser.


Christians can't agree.

Peter Enns' article,

Evangelicalism and Evolution ARE in conflict (and that's fine)



I would take note especially of these comments that were left for Enns

I ask this question without a smidgen of snark, but I wonder what remains non-negotiable with respect to your sense of the core of Christian theology? I understand--and respect--your argument for a reevaluation of certain time-honored constructs; if truth is God's truth then what have we to fear wherever the truth leads? (yes, a presupposition, I know). But does anything remain trustworthy enough in which to rest besides what seems like another God-of-the-gaps category of the "mysterious and transcendent"? I wonder if you might in a follow-up post elaborate on that reality to which "the Christian story has access" that materialism does not. I cannot contend with your basis for a reevaluation, but might I ask you offer as much a ray of reasonable hope as you do a bone of contention?
October 2, 2013 | Patrick Lafferty

Hi Patrick, I appreciate your honest question. We need to be having conversations like this. I'll try to hit at what I think you're asking.

A few months ago I posted two things that you might be interested in and that gets toward your question. Here is the link to the second post, with a link inside it to the first post. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/06/5-main-challenges-to-staying-christian-and-moving-forward-anyway-part-2/

Let me say that mystery is not the refuge of last resort, but an often neglected yet core element of the Christian faith. When the gospel is about participation in Christ, those aren't just words but...well...mystery. Or perhaps, rather than mystery, we can think of it as an object of childlike trust that transcends our ability to know.

Your question whether anything remains trustworthy enough in which to rest is a good one and needs to be asked. It may not address where you're coming from at the moment, but I would make one small change in your question--is there anyONE trustworthy. God. Questioning, even interrogating the Bible (a good Jewish practice, by the way) is for me not an obstacle to faith but a means.
October 2, 2013 | Pete Enns

Patrick Lafferty, Re your, "what remains non-negotiable with respect to your sense of the core of Christian theology?"

How about the Nicene Creed and/or the Apostles' Creed, neither of which say anything about HOW God created or HOW sin entered into the world? We're just haggling over how to interpret God's Word and God's works.

As Peter Enns mentioned in his blog, "our theologies are provisional . . . which means we may need to restructure and even abandon the “god” that we have created in our own image."
October 2, 2013 | Paul Bruggink

Dr. Enns, You have as much as said this, but I want to accentuate it: evolution demands a new theodicy, not only a new theology. Pauline theodicy is so neat and acceptable. I have no problem with a God who creates over ages, as revealed by science. I do wonder "what is evil?" if death, suffering, extinction, etc. are no longer evil. The theodicies of Origen/Irenaeus are not much better... the presence of evil before humans come on to the scene is a problem.
October 6, 2013 | Susan Gerard

In evolutionary thought, I die because my genotype and thus phenotype may not be adapted for future environments. My progeny will bear much of my genes and heritage mixed with my wife's then mixed with the families and lines into whom they marry and bear children with some degree of mutation. And those offsprings may or may not be adapted for their environments. I die so that change with in life can occur. Change occurs so that life can continue. This is why we die. Sin would be a set of behaviors and part of the phenotype. Behaviors may or may not be adaptive. Maladaptive behaviors have been, are being, and will be less likely to survive. Adaptive behaviors are more likely to continue. Humanity has flourished. Perhaps dangerously so. With seven billion of us, energy-dependent lifestyles and environment change, we have a volatility, at least in the number of us and our current comfortable modern lifestyle. This is the present global angst. Living a cruciform life may well fit into this evolutionary story and present human crisis. The origins and recent trajectories of much of Evangelical theology and culture certainly appear on the surface quite maladaptive. If they are, the dross-burning force of natural selection will have its way. There's really no reason to worry here. If God is having His way in a groaning creation, if Jesus is the first fruits, it'll be fine. The Sower casts the seed everywhere--on the path, in the rocks, on the shallow soil, in the good soil. In every scenario, natural selection applies. Some of the seed may likely survive everywhere. And it will be adapted to those conditions. Perhaps the seed thrown in the nominally good soil will be the weakest of the lot. Yet the Sower sows everywhere and who, if anyone, will be like Him?
October 7, 2013 | Brian P.

Peter, Just to expand on what Patrick was saying, you said we need to take more heed not just about evolution but our further understanding of Israelite faith. Well, why not take this to its logical conclusion? Scholars have come to the conclusion that YHYW is nothing but an Ugaritic diety that the Israelites took. Why are you trusting the Bible that this God even exists if scholarship is telling us something else?
October 18, 2013 | Hanan

Actually, El (not YHWH) is considered of Ugaritic or Canaanite derivation. Origins YHWH are a bit more difficult to discern, but a southern point of origin is supPorted by a few biblical texts (Deut 33:2; Judg 5:4-5) But I do not see how these (tentative) observations suggest that "scholarship" tells that God doesn't exist, only that how Israel came to understand God and how that understanding developed is more complicated than the biblical picture depicts.
October 19, 2013 | Pete Enns

"Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally." You could also say, biologically, it is life's ally. Life has been winning for a very long time - both by changing and by just being. Life-death-life is the biological story of the last three billion plus years. Resources, after all, are severely limited. Life has expanded and adapted by endlessly recycling these resources. Interestingly and sadly, sinful humanity is one of life's greatest enemies (wars, environmental degradation for ex.). Redemption brings with it the challenge and means to be more life giving and life supporting. A biological view of life - enormous fruitfulness in the context of extremely limited resources - must become a much greater part of our theological understanding. The role of the Spirit in all of this needs greater emphasis, as outlined by Amos Yong below.
October 2, 2013 | Bev Mitchell

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Resources Concerning Big Questions: God, Nature, Design, Fine-Tuning Argument...


We don't know if any other set of constants and laws are even possible. It could be that the cosmos is as the cosmos is and does what the cosmos does, and asking why makes as much or as little sense for naturalists as the question of why God is as God is--and does what God does--makes for theists.

We also don't know that the constants can vary independently from one another. They may all be related to one another or to some more fundamental feature. Kind of like saying that maybe you cannot stretch just one characteristic of the cosmos because it is connected with all the other characteristics, so hypothetical cosmoses with different constants can't exist, or, stretching one part a little results in other constants nudging it back into equilibrium, because a cosmos is a single interconnected whole.

Physicists disagree over just how many absolutely fundamental constants there are. We used to think there were as many as 40 fundamental constants, including the boiling point of water. Now we know that this derives from quantum mechanics, and the number of fundamental constants is now down to six or less. So this universe may be the only way it can go. In 2000 Martin Rees wrote Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, the genesis of the universe elegantly explained in a simple theory based on just six numbers by one of the world's most renowned astrophysicists. In 2007 a team of physicist in Brazil whittled down that number to just two (according to this article). Two constants should be enough to explain the cosmos. Their work shows how some constants are more fundamental than others– some are merely useful, whereas perhaps precisely two are indispensable. While others have argued that no constants are needed: that the universe can be described using ratios alone, so that there are no ‘natural’ units.

It may not be that our universe is as special as we think; there could be many others that are special or interesting in different ways. Life could arise through different means or different chemistries or different physical laws, if those even exist.

There may be standard physical mechanisms for producing multiple separate universes with different laws. If so, the existence of one like ours would no longer be unexpected. We might never be able to detect the other universes, but we may able to prove they should be there.
--Richard Smith, a brief excerpt from Scientist-Believers: Troublesome Routes Across the Compatibility Chasm with added edits by EB

Astrobiology Has Not Made the Case for God, Lawrence Krauss, Jan. 24, 2015

Ways in Which a Fine-Tuned Cosmos Might Imply the Truth of Atheism by Cole Hellier, Professor of Astrophysics at Keele University in the UK

The late Victor Stegner had his final reply to the "fine-tuning" argument published in his 2014 work, God and the Multiverse

Astronomer and Christian, Luke Barnes, who specializes in defending the "fine-tuning" argument, provides hyperlinks to "decent critiques of the [fine-tuning] argument" in the last sentence of this blog piece in which he says, "Try Sean Carroll, Paul Davies, Alex Vilenkin, Leonard Susskind, Bradley Monton"

Physicist and Christian, Don Page, is not impressed with the fine-tuning argument, listen here and here

Questions concerning Fine-tuning and Intelligent Design

I.D.ists argue for fine-tuning for "intelligent life," but what does fine-tuning mean exactly? Is "intelligent life" merely a euphemism for the human species, or does fine-tuning predict that other species will arise with higher than average levels of "intelligence" like apes, dolphins, elephants, crows, and grey parrots? Then, what do the vast majority of less highly intelligent forms of life have to do with the goal of fine-tuning? Does fine-tuning also predict malaria and thousands of organisms that parasitize or prey on humans? How specific is fine-tuning really?

Does fine-tuning predict common descent? Does it predict both common descent and the natural limitations of natural mutations and the small ratio of organisms that successfully pass along their genes each generation, and the multitude of species that simply go extinct along the way? What would falsify Fine-Tuning?

If the properties of carbon, water, DNA, and the conditions on the early earth count as evidence in favor of fine-tuning, then does the so-called impossibility of the spontaneous origin of life (as alleged by I.D.ists) count as? Does it could as evidence against fine-tuning?

Is fine-tuning both necessary and sufficient to explain life on earth? If fine-tuning is not sufficient, and additional designing or intervention must be done in many steps over billions of years, does that mean the cosmos was not sufficiently fine-tuned for life? A seeming majority of I.D.ists claim that the major architectural features of life - molecular machinery, cells, genetic circuitry - had to have been added separately one-by-one at widely different times in a manner that violates the genetic continuity of life.

Does fine-tuning mean anything more than the trivial statement that certain properties of matter and energy are necessary for the origin and the existence of life?

--Gert Korthof's questions in his review of Behe's The Edge of Evolution, edited by EB

My own posts on such questions (followed by shorter more recent musings)

On Complexity and the Cosmos. The ability of humans to discover things about the cosmos demonstrates our closeness with the cosmos

Can a fine-tuner admit that their PARTICULAR conception and becoming the EXACT person they are MIGHT be the result of impersonal probabilities rather than finely directed teleological design?

Quotations from Sir Martin Rees and Paul Davies, Handy to have since fine-tuners often selectively quote from Rees and Davies

Prior prejudices and the argument from reason: Is the ability to reason evidence that naturalism is false?

Problems with Reconciling Christianity and Evolution (based on the book, Evolving Out of Eden by Robert M. Price & Edwin Suominen)

Why We Believe in a Designer [satire of the views of those who make such a proposal, loaded with WTF examples from nature]

The Problem of Pain in Nature

Did humans arrive on the earth at the ideal moment in time? Was the time of hunanity's arrival on earth finely tuned?

Mark Twain Questions the Intelligent Design Hypothesis

The Most Provocative Things Ever Said About the way God Designed the Cosmos

The Not-So-Intelligent Designer (Or, The Divine Tinkerer Hypothesis)

On The Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy) & The Bible

Recent Musings

The fact that we have nothing to compare this cosmos with makes the fine-tuning argument problematic. There's our lack of knowledge concerning what preceded the cosmos. And our lack of knowledge concerning how it will end (Big Freeze, Big Crunch, Big Rip, Big Bang Sprouting More Big Bangs, Big Collision?), or how such an ending may relate to the existence or birthing of new cosmoses. Nor do we know whether or not other cosmoses already exist or what any of them are like, or why they might be like they are. In short we have nothing to compare our cosmos with. Kind of like waking up one day with no memory of the past and no sure ideas about the future, looking in a mirror and imagining that the face of the upright ape staring back at you has been fine-tuned to be exactly so. How would you know that for sure?

The fine-tuning argument does not say any species is extinction-proof. The cosmos gives via evolution and takes away via extinction. The most one can say is that at present life and death in this cosmos appear to be in equilibrium with one another, with individual living things existing on relatively teensy time scales (compared with the length of time stars and black holes can exist). Also, living things only seem to flourish in the smallest corners of the cosmos.

Nor do we know what's in store for our own species in the future, how our species may change, split or diversify, or how our future human cousins will view us. We might seem to them like mere upright apes or at best Neanderthals in their eyes, if they have what we would call eyes. Or our civilization and species might devolve and our cranial capacity shrink (speaking of which some of our ancestor's craniums from the Ice Age reveal larger cranial capacities than our species has today), until our species in the future can't speak at all, or becomes extinct and the cosmos burns on without us for eons (it certainly has enough fuel to do so). There might be aliens out there with more advanced technology whose success at focusing on their own long term survival far exceeds ours. Or maybe we (or some alien species) will learn to compliment or enhance our brains via genetics or quantum computer implants, or do the same for cousin species, raising them to our level of consciousness, or perhaps linking our consciousness with theirs.

The odds of the earth staying completely "asteroid-strike-free" diminish year by year, and the sun-earth system can last for at least another billion years during which time any number of purely natural disasters grow increasingly more likely to occur, not just climate change. Even a single solar flare could throw civilization back to the dark ages. And after the next billion or two years the sun will most likely expand as older stars do and devour our planet in flames, or our galaxy will collide with the oncoming Andromeda galaxy. Planet earth may not have been struck by a major-extinction-causing asteroid in a while but the large crater in Arizona was formed by a fairly large asteroid that hit that region about 30,000 years ago, and I read an article that said the earliest humans to reach North America via the land bridge from Asia during the ice age may have been wiped out by meteors that landed in North America at that time because archeologists discovered a gap between the earliest evidence of settlers in North America who died at the time of such impacts, and a second wave of humans who crossed the land bridge into North America. Also, humans only evolved recently but the cosmos has a far longer "sell by" date, billions of years to go, so it's not remarkable that an asteroid has not yet wiped us out, but also watch out for quakes beneath Yellowstone and the super volcanoes elsewhere on the planet the could erupt since there's whole buried forests in the fossil record from past series of such eruptions.

Fine-tuned for what? The cosmos supports all manner of living things, suffering things, and dead or extinct things.

We live in a cosmos just as fine-tuned for living things as for the cancers that arise inside them.

We live in a cosmos just as fine-tuned for mega-viruses as they are for the smaller average-sized viruses that attack the mega-viruses. Hot virus on virus action.

If the cosmos is fine-tuned or designed, then what am I to make of human beings who only seem "designed" or "fine-tuned" enough to be miscarried (happens about 50% of the time to every human egg cell that is fertilized, as even pro-lifers admit).

Other humans only seem "designed" or "fine-tuned" to be the twin in the womb that vanishes (google "Vanishing Twin Syndrome")--about 30% of all single children born used to have a twin in the womb that was either absorbed by the womb or the remaining twin.

Others only seem "designed" or "fine-tuned" to become chronically ill, crippled, deformed, due to malnutrition (through no fault of their own if they happen to live in a place with zinc-poor soil, or iodine poor soil), or their nutritional deficiencies lead to inadequate brain maturation.

Others only seem "design" or "fine-tuned" to be born with genes that rolled out of their parents gonads like a pair of snake-eyed dice, leaving the child to suffer any number of painful or hideous consequences. Including one defect that makes the child's skin blister with pain at the touch of objects and people (epidermolysis bullosa, a virtually untreatable disorder characterized by widespread and constant blistering of the skin, so that there is no part of the body on which an infant can lie without pain).

Others only seem "designed" or "fine-tuned" to be the food for microbes and parasites (not only human young, but the young of all species). In the mid 1700s, the French naturalist, Buffon, remarked that among children who survived birth, half of them died before reaching the age of eight.

For further examples from the natural world see this piece at the Talk Origins Archive:

When discussing probabilities it looks like any number of persons other than me could have arrived on the scene (judging by the numbers of sperm, eggs, different genetics, different upbringings, different circumstances possible). The same thought occurs concerning the particular species of which I happen to be a member. Was it necessary for the human species as we now know it, to have arrived on the scene? Same question applies to all other species of course, not just ours, but every species that arose before ours. How fine-tuned was the entire evolutionary tree of life? Or was chance and randomness a part of the picture from the beginning of life on earth right up to the circumstance of which sperm reached which egg to produce me?

The cosmos also appears just as fine-tuned for evolution as it is for extinction. Life is at best in equilibrium with death throughout the cosmos. And the cosmos is just as fine-tuned for the microbes that eat us as it is for the microbes and other organisms we eat.

"Coincidence" is not a very clear word since it could refer to either planned or unplanned things that coincide with one another. The cosmos at this particular point in time is filled with relatively pleasant coincidences for our species and also many natural horrors that include microbes and parasites that exist by devouring and/our crippling our species which a relatively pleasant cosmic coincidence for them and their species. And who knows how pleasant or not things will be for our species in the near future? Our species is a cosmic newcomer and might vanish soon after our arrival, or devolve, or hopefully find ways to survive. But even if our species becomes extinct the stars and black holes will be around for billions of years to come.

What if the human species vanishes soon? Will "fine-tuners" admit the cosmos was only fine-tuned enough to sustain intelligent life for a miniscule amount of cosmic time?

What can we tell about design from studying nature?

The multi-cellular organisms with the greatest known number of species are beetles and mites. We know of hundreds of thousands of species of each. The number of species of beetles as well as mites might even reach over 1 million according to some estimates as more beetles and mites continue being discovered all the time. (I had a dog once that was suffering from an infestation of mites. Not pretty.)

If the earth was designed with the forethought of an infinitely wise and infinitely resourceful Being, why all the volcanoes, tsunamis, cold snaps, heat waves, large tracts of barely walkable or useable land? Why such a large percentage of humans throughout history never able to obtain all the vitamins, minerals and proteins they require to grow up maximally healthy? To give but one example, there are tracts of land on earth where zinc is naturally deficient in the soil and percentages of children grow up cretinous as result. That's just one example.

And if the cosmos was designed via the forethought of an infinitely wise and infinitely resourceful Being why do things keep bumping into one another? Not just meteors and comets striking planets and leaving behind evidence of such strikes in endless craters, but exploding suns and flaring stars that destroy planets, as well as whole galaxies colliding with one another, and even whole clusters of galaxies colliding with one another. And if the body is so perfectly designed, why the need for medical science to treat us for so many things that can and do go wrong?

One has to wonder. The questions are always there.

Including the fact that a wide range of alternatives that lie between the God of orthodox Christianity and atheism. Speaking of which, how can one tell the difference between a Designer and a Tinkerer? The cosmos includes enormous amounts of pain, death, extinction over time, trial and error, and also jury-rigged systems that arise from attempting to stretch the use of previous designs by reusing them in new ways for which they never were originally intended, or build new designs right on top of old ones. The human body is a kluge. So is the human brain. All of which leads one to at least suspect that any Designer one chooses to believe in was less than infinitely competent.

Only recently in the human drama has science, technology, engineering and medicine allowed large numbers of humans to live in relative comfort and safety, with enough food, well built shelters, treatments for illness, and early warning systems of weather patterns. But for countless years neither our species nor any other enjoyed such comfort and relative peace and safety. We have only recently solved many problems concerning a host of illnesses, discomforts and dangers inherent in life on this rock spinning through space, allowing us to say goodbye to many of the ways the earth was "fine-tuned" for suffering, natural disasters, pandemics, or just plain confusion of languages, let alone confusion of religions and philosophies, politics and sexuality.

During a debate ask the theist if they are experiencing the presence of God right now, or the Holy Spirit. Then ask them to describe in detail what they are experiencing to the crowd, and if there are any explicit messages God or the Holy Spirit is telling them to share? If they can't come up with anything specific to relate then admit you don't appear to be experiencing the presence of God nor hearing any words from Him either, so you're both on equal footing.

"Why do we live just to die?"
A question theist's ask

"Why do we wake up just to sleep?"
Response by atheist David G. McAfee