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

The scientific revolution and religion

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 Christianityʼs 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 didnʼt 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 societyʼs “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, click here.

Early Christian Hostility to Science, click here for a video, and also here and here.

Science and Medieval Christianity, click here.

Why Christianity Did Not Give Birth to Modern Science, click here.

For Centuries Christians Viewed Curiosity as a Disease or Sin

“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 Augustineʼs 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 Petrarchʼs curious gaze paradoxically contains the seeds that would eventually transform the churchmanʼs vice into the psychoanalystʼs 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 peopleʼs appetite for life, New York Time, February 22, 1998

The [Christian] Vice of Curiosity

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.

Curiosityʼs desire is closed off to its objects relation to God, considered only in isolation, whereas the studious manʼs interest is open to a knowledge of things including their relatedness to God. The second of Jesusʼ three temptations in the wilderness (where Jesus is placed on the templeʼs pinnacle and asked to throw himself down because of the scripture that says Godʼs 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 curiosityʼs gaze from seeing the vestigium aeternitatis, eternityʼs 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 Augustineʼs 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 oneʼs mind to be related to God, in fact, in relation to the Catholic Churchʼs 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 Churchʼs 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 & 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

The Dependency Thesis Fails

Richard H. Jonesʼ two books (that I provided links to a the beginning of this post) 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 bookʼs 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. Itʼs called the “control” hypothesis of how science and Christianity interacted, and itʼs 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 Christianityʼs 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 here 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.

A quotation from Numberʼs 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]”

The authors conclude

  1. that Christianity was not solely to blame for the fact that the science of the classical world didnʼt 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 cuckooʼs 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 lionʼs 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 peopleʼs 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 religionʼs influence. Thereʼs 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 scientistʼs 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.

On the Galileo Myth That Certain Christian Apologists Keep Perpetuating

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 Churchʼs Most Recent Attempt to Dispel the Galileo Myth by 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), a pre-publication copy can be read here.

Coyne, a retired Vatican astronomer, along with some theologians and historians, met to discuss the results of the Churchʼs 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. Coyneʼs paper lists the Churchʼs suppression tactics in Galileoʼs day and discusses the Churchʼs propaganda tactics today. Catholic doctrine still insists on a belief in an historical first couple, a literal Adam and Eve. Catholics from Copernicusʼ day even till today tend to keep their mouths shut concerning crucial questions in theology, and in scienceʼs 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.”

Galileoʼs “Heretical Depravity”
The Adjuration/Recantation Speech He was Forced to Recite & Sign Under Penalty of Torture

Galileo was compelled to recite an adjuration/recantation speech of his heliocentric views while on his knees. I also read 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. After that, Galileo was not allowed to write on heliocentrism again, nor leave his house. He tried writing letters pleading to visit a nearby city, so many letters in fact that he was told in reply that he would be punished if he kept pleading to visit even the nearby city where his friends and fellow thinkers lived.

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

Giordano Bruno was prosecuted by the same Jesuit as Galileo (Bellarmine) and burnt at the stake. Unlike Galileo, Bruno refused to recant his unorthodox opinions in religion or natural philosophy, nor did Bruno have friends in high places as did Galileo.

Below are the words of Galileoʼs adjuration/recantation that was written for him by his inquisitors and which he was forced to sign:

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 Godʼs 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.

Click here for the source.

The Galileo Episode Was Part of a Larger “Culture War” Between the Church & More Secular Ideas

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 Cremoniniʼs 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 Monteverdiʼs masterpiece, LʼIncoronazione di Poppea.

Edward Muirʼs exploration of an earlier age of anxiety in his book, The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera, reveals the distinguished past of todayʼs 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.

What About the Fact That European Universities Were Founded and Led Largely by Pious Christians?

REPLY: Use of the word “largely” implies that one need not be a “pious” Christian to found or lead a university. In fact, where do you think the idea of teachers/schools of education came from? Hellenistic thinkers. Hellenistic schools were founded and led by Hellenists, until Christians closed down such schools because they werenʼt “Christian,” and because Christians at that time saw themselves at war with all forms of paganism and with rival Christian groups. It was a war between God and demons as the Christians saw things back then, and the most essential education involved how to save your soul from hell. Augustine wrote the first detailed defense of hell and eternal punishment. People were forever crossing themselves. Christian Emperors outlawed books by Arius, Porphyry. But humans are curious beings, and even Christianity could not extinguish such curiosity. Books were saved, copied. Enough for western civilization to reboot. I doubt that human curiosity can be completely extinguished. I also doubt that uniformity of thought can be maintained among human beings. Opinions, including religious beliefs, always seem to branch out like an evolutionary tree of life, though in the case of the development of science—with its slow accumulation of empirically based knowledge about the cosmos—more universal agreements come about, since scientists of all religious views or none have duplicated each othersʼ results and continue to build on our knowledge of the cosmos.

As for the way universities naturally seem to lead to questioning authority rather than to pious thoughts one should study the culture wars of the Renaissance, from Leonardo da Vinciʼs questioning of religious and other authorities in the early Renaissance to similar episodes throughout Italy (the Galileo episode was merely part of a larger “culture war” between the Church and more secular ideas). Also check out the book, The Swerve: How The World Became Modern, about how Lucretiusʼs book, On the Nature of Things, written before Christianity was born, was almost lost forever, but a copy was rediscovered during the Renaissance which reintroduced ideas like “atoms/atomism” that helped spark the modern age.

What About Sir Francis Bacon? He Was a Pious Christian and One of the Fathers of the Empirical Method that Preceded the Scientific Revolution

REPLY: Leonardo da Vinci lived a generation before Francis Bacon and sounded like a more thorough empiricist than Bacon. Bacon was a geocentrist and came up with a “doctrine of spirits.” While da Vinci wrote in his notebook that, “The sun does not move,” and also rejected a lot of the so-called “spirit” talk of his day. (Admittedly, according to one biographer da Vinci took the Catholic churchʼs last rites, but other than that, he sounded like an eighteenth century deist and empiricist when it came to the God question). Read more about Leonardoʼs anti-authoritarian stance, along with his defense of empiricism and even his doubts concerning the biblical flood story by clicking here.

What About the Middle Ages & Their Contribution to the Scientific Revolution?

REPLY: What about them? Read this Reformed Christian apologistʼs admissions concerning the state of Europe during the Christian Middle Ages:

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 Huizingaʼs 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

The is No Science in the Bible to Speak of, But There is Plenty of Divination, Witchcraft, Demons…

…and the belief that God directly and personally 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. The same Bible fails to feature scientific views ahead of its time. Click here to read portions of this in-depth book chapter on Israelʼs Theological Worldview (written by a Christian).

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.

Divination in the Hebrew Bible

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 neighbors. 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.


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”

Modern Day Witch Hunts

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

If a Witch Curses Her Enemies Itʼs Called “Witchcraft.” So if a Christian Invokes God to Curse People, Shouldnʼt that be Called “Godcraft?”

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, donʼt 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

When The Bible Says “No Divination” It Really Means…”Some Divination.”

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… didnʼt 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 Aquinasʼs Summa Theologica.

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!

Not Only Did the Hebrew Lord “Play Dice,” But He Also Changed His Mind (Or “Repented” of His Previous Actions). The Bible Says He Did It So Often He Grew “Weary of Repenting.” But if God Knows The Future, Why Should He Ever Have to Change His Mind?

The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.- 1 Samuel 15:35 (But the Lordʼs “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 Abrahamʼs 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 canʼt 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.

More “Godly” Divination: The Urim & Thummim

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?

Behold the Bird of God, Who Takes Away the Mold, Mildew & Leprosy of the World

Weʼve 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 peopleʼs 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 Godʼs 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]

Spit In Yer Eye?

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). Jesusʼs 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)

Those Were The Days!

The days of the cup divination of Joseph, the bronze serpent Moses made that he told people to look at in order to be healed, the consultation of Urim and Thummim by kings of Israel. In similar fashion the Babylonians would consults “tablets of destiny” that they would toss, to inquire of the divine will. The days of casting lots to single people out and parcel out land and determine Godʼs will in the days of Moses and Joshua and Solomon. Jesusʼs own apostles cast lots to pick an apostle to replace Judas.

And hereʼs a nice little reference to arrow divination, or “shuffling arrows” from Ezekiel 21:21:

“The king of Babylon stood in the highway, at the head of two ways, seeking divination, shuffling arrows; he inquired of the idols, and consulted entrails.”

Or there are the small gold figures of mice and hemorrhoids fashioned by the Philistines and sent back with the ark of the covenant to Israel, to try and remove the plague of mice and diseases amongst the Philistines.

Or thereʼs the case of Samson not cutting his hair, for his strength was in his hair.

Or thereʼs the movement of the water in a pool in Jerusalem, moved by angels, mentioned in the Gospel of John (if you were the first to drag yourself into the water when it moved, you were healed).

There is no Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge

For instance, the Bible depicts a Big Splash occurring in primeval waters, not a Big Bang. People who idolize the bible simply ignore the ancient historically known contexts and meanings of ancient words and phrases and imagine they can bend words and phrases here and there to refer to modern scientific discoveries. But none of what they are referring is modern knowledge, but always fits ancient knowledge. For instance they bend “the circle of the earth” phrase which was common among flat cosmos thinkers throughout Mesopotamia, and claim instead that it refers to the earth being a sphere. It does not. Or they bend the phrase, “He stretches out the heavens” to refer to cosmic expansion when other ancient texts use the term to refer to the gods stretching heaven out above a flat earth, usually after the earth has already been created (how geocentric). In fact the Bible doesnʼt even have a decent recipe for soap, though some claim that the use of ash in some parts of Leviticus refers to soap because ash is a very crude form of soap, but it is so crude it also makes dirty whatever it cleans, and those parts of the Bible that prescribe using ash also depict sprinkling blood everywhere to make “unclean” things “clean,” not very sanitary. Makes more sense to interpret the use of ash and blood in the context of ancient beliefs concerning the necessity of animal sacrifice and blood rituals, not as advice from a health and hygiene manual. Nor is there any indication throughout Israelite history that they were especially blessed via either such inspired health advice or Godʼs blessings such that they avoided diseases or that they lived longer healthier lives than their neighbors.

In fact, archeological evidence indicates that in ancient Israel the infant mortality rate was as high as fifty percent, as pointed out by Drorah OʼDonnell Setel, “Abortion,” The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, edited by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford University Press, 2001).

The Difficulty of Reconciling Evolutionary Science with Christianity

Sin and death, letʼs 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. Itʼs 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 & 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?

As For “Sin,” What Is It?

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).

Christianity & Evolution

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).

So I Asked McGrath:

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?

Christianity & Certainty

Recent books by moderate to progressive, emergent & liberal Christians argue AGAINST the need for “certainty.” Itʼs an interesting development and it is affecting how Evangelicals are doing apologetics like Randal Rauser, the “Tentative Apologist.”

The Historical Adam Question

Christians canʼt agree.

Evangelicalism and Evolution ARE in conflict (and thatʼs fine) according to Peter Enns

Click here and here for Ennsʼ pieces.

I would take note especially of these comments:

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 Godʼs 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. Iʼll try to hit at what I think youʼre asking. A few months ago I posted two things that you might be interested in and that gets toward your question. Click here to read the second post, with a link inside it to the first post. 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 arenʼt 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 youʼre 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

“What remains non-negotiable with respect to your sense of the core of Christian theology?” How about the Nicene Creed and/or the Apostlesʼ Creed, neither of which say anything about HOW God created or HOW sin entered into the world? Weʼre just haggling over how to interpret Godʼs Word and Godʼs 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 wifeʼs then mixed with the families and lines into whom they marry and bear children with some degree of mutation. And those offspring 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. Thereʼs really no reason to worry here. If God is having His way in a groaning creation, if Jesus is the first fruits, itʼll 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 [including Christian theology], 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.

Lastly, see

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

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