Red pill or blue pill.

Here’s another dichotomy that I’m waiting for someone to dispute.

One is either:

a) An atheist


b) Does not fully understand evolution or the scientific method (or selectively chooses not to apply their understanding of these things).

I really don’t see an option c) here. Yes, I do realise that that comes across as smug, but I’m being genuine. If one understands how life can arise through natural means, and that the world looks exactly as we would expect it to look if its existence was purely natural, then one would apply Occam’s Razor and poof, the need for any kind of supernatural deity disappears. The only reason I can see for holding a religious belief is that one has not had an adequate scientific education. (Note: I’m not trying to sound all blame-y, here. I think science education desperately needs a re-vamp, even in countries where evolution is taught as part of the curriculum).

I’m sure most intelligent religious people are those who do understand how evolution works and have (consciously or unconsciously) made the decision not to follow that understanding to its logical conclusion. I have no idea why they would make that decision, though. Hmm.


These thoughts brought to you by a commenter on another blog who wrote:

“If your reasoning faculties are the result of mere chance + time, and not order, how can they be relied on?”

1) Evolution through natural selection is not the same thing as “mere chance”. I mean, seriously? Try reading a book at some point. An introductory high school biology text book would do. Yeesh.

2) Reasoning faculties can be relied upon precisely because they are the result of evolution. If they were not reliable and not useful, then humans would not have evolved to have them. How does this basic logic just… sail over peoples’ heads?


Alright. Next post will be about something less frustrating, I promise.


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kirjava
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 16:51:11

    I hope some “intelligent religious people” respond to this! 😛
    But seriously, I wanna know how they explain it.


  2. Jen
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 17:06:06

    So do I! I think my dichotomies come across as just me being a wanker… but I’m honestly curious!


  3. Matt Martin
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 04:25:27

    Hi there! I thought I’d venture a response to your query, though I normally abhor online discussions of religion. There is an unfortunate tendency for them to spiral down into mind-numbing depths of antagonistic stupidity on all sides. I find it quite disheartening that both sides are so quick to assume the other is either ignorant or dishonest or both. It seems far more likely that theism and atheism have remained espoused by seemingly-intelligent and well-credentialed men and women for thousands of years due to an underdetermination of evidence rather than to a significant portion of humanity simply being too stupid to grasp the “obvious” conclusions at hand.

    Before I start, though, a self-disclosure: I too am a humanities student. I have no formal training in the sciences beyond what I studied in freshman-year science courses, though I have spent 6 years studying philosophy (mostly classical and analytic) at the undergraduate and graduate levels (M.A. Hons. University of Nottingham, focusing on philosophical aesthetics). I also teach modern (analytic) philosophy at the college level. Hopefully then I might not be dismissed out-of-hand as another ignorant fundamentalist boob (let’s let my arguments determine that).

    The key statement of your post, I think, is as follows: “If one understands how life can arise through natural means, and that the world looks exactly as we would expect it to look if its existence was purely natural, then one would apply Occam’s Razor and poof, the need for any kind of supernatural deity disappears.”

    I would like to examine two points in the above paragraph, before I move to explore the implicit logic of your dichotomy.

    First, as a Catholic Christian I confidently can state that for us too the world is exactly like we expect it to look, horrendous suffering and all. If you want to get into my theological explanation of this, feel free to ask, but otherwise I’ll turn to my second point.

    Specifically, I want to address the much-used-and-abused heuristic, Occam’s Razor. You link to Wikipedia for Occam’s Razor, and yet you gloss over the nuances mentioned there and which are inherent in utilizing OR as a heuristic device. As your link notes, “all other things being equal”, “among two competing explanations” if one explanation can explain a phenomenon with fewer ontological commitments, then it is more justifiable (though not necessarily “more accurate”) than one that demands greater ontological commitments. Aside for the “all other things being equal”, the caveat on accuracy is significant, because it demonstrates that OR is functioning not as a metaphysics referee for determining what is true and what is not, but rather as a methodological guide for judging between degrees of epistemic justifiability. Attempts to use OR to claim God doesn’t exist (which you don’t make, though many others do) are misuses of OR. It’s not a metaphysical tool, but an epistemological one.

    More importantly, however, is the portion–usually omitted by non-philosophers–that states that OR sides with ontological simplicity only in cases where we cannot trade ontological simplicity for greater explanatory power. The question, then, is whether or not any given religion can provide greater explanatory power for the whole of our scientific, philosophical, social, aesthetic (etc.) experiences. OR therefore is not the silver bullet against supernaturalism it is often presented to be by some atheists. From my studies and personal experiences, I believe religion does have greater explanatory power, not as a scientific hypothesis, but as a “metanarrative” through which we seek to understand the whole of our experiences.

    This brings me to another point about OR. As your linked page states, lex parsimoniae is to be applied among competing theories. Mythological cosmologies (such as Genesis 1 and 2 or Tolkien’s The Ainulindalë) aren’t competing theories with science, because they were never meant to be doing the same thing! Myth is investigating an entirely different (though no less true) register than is science, and mythic cosmologies aren’t meant to be proto-scientific textbooks! For example, let us take Genesis 1 and 2. As many atheists point out, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are “conflicting” in their accounts of creation. Why do you think that is? Do you really think the compilers of Genesis were such incompetent boobs that they didn’t notice a blatant contradiction in the order of creation in the two different narratives? Of course they did! They didn’t care precisely because they were not writing scientific treatises! Mythology, and much of religion, deals not with scientific truth but (particularly) with aesthetic, theological, and philosophical truth. This is not some new understanding of mythology and religion forced upon religious thinkers by the incursion of modern science. If you look at ritual and sociological uses of these texts in history, as well as today, they were functioning this way since their inception. Genesis 1-2, for example, are poems that were sung in the Hebrew liturgies, rather than scientific texts studied by school children.

    Tolkien’s use of mythology, as a present-day example, is most instructive of all in understanding this functioning of mythology. If you haven’t already read it, I would suggest reading Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories”, which is short and accessible online. In it, Tolkien lays out how he understand myth (in his case, mythic fantasy and romantic legend) to be functioning. If I might be forgiven a lengthy excerpt from a paper I am working on for this very topic:

    Alison Milbank shows that both G. K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien (to which this paper will add C. S. Lewis) understood fantasy literature specifically as being able to fill an investigative gap left by science and philosophy by allowing us to approach and explore, in a subjective-cum-objective way, unique aspects of reality….Mythopoeia, in this light, is to be seen as an exploration of just that—the Real….[In our having rejected this mode of investigation] Natura and anthropos have become fragmented to the point of conceptual extinction. Much of post-medieval thought is operating under a condition of traumatic fragmentation that is born witness to by a rising tide of philosophical terrorism. This terrorism takes one of two essential forms as either Holocaust or Suicide: as holocaust of the objects of experience in radical idealisms (or even fanatical strains of phenomenology), or as suicide of all subjects in extremist (scientistic) realisms. Both are symptomatic of an anterior rupture in Being–of a laceration if not amputation. This rupture will be–indeed, it already is–the “Abolition of Man”, or, of life tout court. Without suturing of this amputation, we are already dead, but is such a suturing possible? It is possible, but only through a recovery of what Caldecott calls our “poetic imagination” and Carnell our “imagining intellect”, or Sehnsucht. This is a recovery–or rather, a resurrection–made possible only by a realization of “mooreeffoc”. It is found in the realm of Fantasy, or, that is to say, the Real. In exploring the questions from the perspective of this realm, this paper will explore a hoped-for via media that takes into account the whole of our scientific, religious, philosophical, and aesthetic experiences and intuitions.

    My point here is to attack a current movement of “scientism” in philosophy. I will return to this below, but for now I would merely note that, most fundamentally, your dichotomy rests on an unfortunate understanding of the function of religion and myth. I can certainly see why you understand it as you do, as both atheists and many misguided religious folk in the laity and in less academically-intensive Christian sects (non-denominational Protestants, specifically) promote such a view.

    Indeed, the notion that science and religion are incompatible is an exceedingly bizarre historical claim. As the atheist historian Tom Jones (University of Minnesota) points out, religion served as the grounds out of which much of our art and science grew (see From the Tigris to the Tiber, 24-25). The contributions of religious scientists–be they deists, Muslims, or what-have-you–throughout history is incontrovertible. The oft-cited conflict between Galileo and the Church was not over a scientific fact, but over authority of scriptural interpretation, and the laughably-bad “Scopes Monkey Trials” are nothing more than a specific (and terribly naive) Christian fundamentalist sect in North America itself not understanding the function of religion and its relation to science. Unfortunately, the latter incident especially seems to become the standard model for interpreting the interaction of religion with science, while far more normative examples are ignored or mis-represented.

    I have no doubt that this is largely the fault of many religious people themselves. With the growing prestige of science in the modern world (manifesting illegitimately as scientism), there were efforts by well-intentioned but misguided folk especially in the 18th and 19th century to “conform” religion to science. What I mean is that they forgot how religion always functioned historically, as I discussed above, and the type of truth it aimed at, and rather sought to “demonstrate” that religion is perfectly amenable to science. Unfortunately, this took the form of monopolizing scientific method in areas where it is illegitimate (look at social darwinism for an example of illegitimately expanding a biological theory into a sociological context). In this process, religion became a competitor to science because, in trying to become science, it started offering “scientific” theories that conflicted with actual scientific theories (such as biological evolution or the “Big Bang”). The religious folks themselves in these cases illegitimately appropriated their own texts in a way those texts were never meant to be used! Interestingly enough, I would say that the problem is not religious people misunderstanding science, but rather (some exceedingly vocal) religious people misunderstanding religion! Now we have the situation we have today…. (If you’re interested in the historical nature of this development, see especially Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, as well as the general works of Alistair McGrath).

    The situation is not helped by atheistic and scientistic philosophers and scientists abusing their own disciplines. There are two chief abuses against science today. The first is that of scientism, to which I now turn.

    Most crudely, the logic of scientism seems to operate something like this:

    1 – Every truth claim must be verifiable
    2 – Verifiability entails verification solely via the scientific method
    3 – God(s) as a truth claim is not verifiable
    4 – Therefore, it is not justifiable to believe in God(s) (weak claim) OR Therefore, God(s) doesn’t (don’t) exist (strong claim)

    The strong claim of 4 obviously does not logically follow from 1-3, though the weak claim of 4 does, provided 1-3 are validly-reasoned. We need to examine 1-3, then.

    The weakest point, I argue, is 2. This is a classic exemplification of scientism (as opposed to science). This is a catch-all for a variety of philosophical positions (see Dennett, Brassier, Meillassoux, Churchland, and Quine) that, most importantly, make the strong epistemological claim that scientific empiricism is the only path to knowledge. Art, philosophy, religion, etc. are all subservient to science as scientism. Scientism is not the same thing as science, nor scientific theory. Rather, it is an epistemological and metaphysical movement within philosophy that is seeking to give an absolute claim by science to be the exclusive source of knowledge. Furthermore, in so being, it has absolute authority to pass final judgment on every other discipline. We see this for example in Brassier and Meillassoux, who understand philosophy itself as a “handmaiden of science”, as well as in Freud (psychology) and Danto (art). For these thinkers, directly or indirectly, the other disciplines existing only to provide metaphysical and epistemological grounding for science (Danto subjects art to philosophy, but philosophy then comes to subservience under science for such as Brassier and Meillassoux, so the end-game is still the same).

    Scientism is not a necessary condition of scientific theory, but a philosophical add-on. Moreover, scientism is hardly a point of agreement among philosophers (even atheist ones). It plays exclusively on the empirical and realist side of the philosophical spectrum, dismissing current debates and theories in rationalist and idealist philosophy. Moreover, not even all empirical realists would claim that empiricism is the ONLY means of acquiring knowledge. There is nothing “anti-science” in challenging scientism, nor is there any inherent or necessary challenge to religion from science itself. This is opposed to scientism, which seeks to illegitimately expand scientific method into philosophy, art, and almost every other human endeavor. If this is the case, it would be the proponents of scientism that are misunderstanding the appropriate application and function of scientific method.

    As for that method, of course scientific method cannot verify the existence of the supernatural! That’s why it’s called supernatural. Scientific method deals with the natural. However, that is not the same thing as saying that religion and myth present truth claims that are unverifiable tout court. Tolkien, Caldecott, and Carnell, for example, argue that we can verify non-scientific truth claims via what Carnell calls Sehnsucht, or the “imagining intellect” (which he discusses in detail in The Bright Shadow of Reality, and is an attempt at a reintegration of human imagination, sensibility, and rationality). Religions throughout the world provide variously-delineated paths to encountering the reality of the truth claims they are making. The Orthodox practice of hesychasm, for example, provides a clear path to seeking experience of God.

    The problem, of course, is that these pro-offered paths are anything but simple. “Come, taste, see that the Lord is good” may be true, but it requires great risk, because it demands tremendous commitment that cannot guarantee a “return on investment” from the get-go (much like love). The atheist may cry “foul!” because some religious truth claims are not immediately verifiable, but let us stop claiming that religions provide no ways for verifying its claims. Not being scientifically verifiable is different from not being verifiable period. The difficulty of verification, or the means by which it is pursued, has no logical relation to the truth or falsehood of the claims, provided there are paths to verification.

    Let me be clear about what I am NOT saying. I am not saying science cannot pass judgment on any religious truth claims. I am not trying to move all religious claims from the purview of scientific method. Healing claims, for example, are certainly open to medical investigation, just as they should be. Scientific investigation helps protect us from religious charlatans (of which there are a great many!) The attempt to lift religion beyond the purview of science period is illegitimate, not to mention a defeatist concession to scientism. Neither am I saying that scientific knowledge is an inferior or incompatible mode of knowledge to religious or myth knowledge. What I am saying is that there is a bizarre fragmentation of human thought and discipline that seeks a tyrannical authority for a single mode of human inquiry over all other forms, and an absolute priority of one form of human interaction with the world over all other forms. Historically speaking, the sources of this bizarre turn are varied and complex. In the history of philosophy, this turn of events can be traced largely to strains of thought originating in the late Middle Ages (Scotus, among others) and passing through Hume, Berkeley, and Kant to today. Politically, it arose largely out of the revolutionary mindset of 17th-20th century Europe, which (understandably, though misguidedly) associated all religion with the Ancien Régime and bourgeoisie. Tracing that development, though, is best left for book-length works and not blogs.

    That is the first great abuse of science today. The second, more simply (if not relatedly), is a failure to distinguish between explaining and explaining away. Science, both natural and social, as well as philosophy, rightly are interesting in explaining as much of the natural and rational world as they possibly can. This includes explorations into human psychology, social interaction and philosophy of mind. Unfortunately, in so doing, there seems to be a confusion between providing an explanation for something, and providing the explanation for that thing. From this confusion three 18th-19th century arguments against religion–arguments which I almost invariably encounter in such discussions–have arisen. These might be crudely summarized as follows:

    Religion functions in society as a primitive pseudo-science, the necessity of which vanishes once actual science provides better explanations for experienced phenomenon. (Your position)
    Religion is a psychological crutch (Freud/Feuerbach)
    Religion is an instrument of socio-economic and political oppression (Marx’s famous “opiate of the people” remark)

    What is common to all these approaches is that because they have provided explanations (highly suspect historically, in the case of Marx and Freud especially) of the sources of religion, they have explained it away. Freud theorized that God-as-Father-worship arose in primitive patriarchal tribes in which the male elder had exclusive sexual access to the women. His sons, envious and bitter at this arrangement, not only rose up and killed him, but may even have eaten him to boot! However, their guilt at this patricide got the best of them, and in psychological compensation, they invented a “Sky Father” to worship in his place.

    Seriously? I can provide as much historical, archaeological, or anthropological evidence for Prometheus’ theft of fire as Freud can give for that hypothesis. The same is true for Marx, whose purely functionalistic explanation for the origins of religion are so historically simplistic as to ask us to believe that economic competition is the sole driving force of human history. That is aside from the fact that Marx’s predictions of what we would see if this theory were correct–the disappearance of of religion under Marxist regimes, most specifically–utterly failed to manifest. Most importantly, though, even if Marx or Freud were correct, it says nothing about the truth of religion, but only comments on one of its historical functions or origins. In other words, a’la Socrates and his dialetic partners, we are returned to the distinction of property versus essence.

    I could say more, but I’ve already said more than you’d ever care to read, I suspect, and much of what I have said has been said poorly, I fear. The ultimate question here–whether or not any theism can provide greater explanatory power on the whole than atheism–has been left unresolved, largely because the scope and detail of such a discussion would be beyond the capability of a blog as a useful medium of discussion. In this context, though, the most important issues to address were those of underlying presuppositions, and hopefully to show the issue is not quite so black-and-white as your dichotomy suggests it to be.

    Before I shut up, though, I would return to the beginning, and appeal for all of us to treat one another with the respect that (some) of us on both sides deserve. Your dichotomy is rather presumptuous (especially for a humanities major!), insofar as it out-of-hand dismisses ALL religious scientists as either misunderstanding evolution or the basic logic of empirical science, or as being intellectually disingenuous. If it were true that all religious scientists are so base, it would be quite incredible! I am not talking about “creationists” or even “Intelligent Design” theorists, but rather religious scientists who find no incompatibility between faith and (if you want to focus on it) evolution as understood by mainstream evolutionary biology. If interested, you can see “Science of God” (Alistair McGrath, Oxford doctor and former atheist with D.Phils in molecular biophysics and historical theology), “Finding Darwin’s God” (Kenneth Miller, biologist and prominent opponent of creationism and Intelligent Design, Brown University), and “Darwin’s Pious Idea” (Conor Cunningham, philosopher, University of Nottingham). None are creationists or intelligent design theorists, and probably have far more nuanced understandings of science and religion that you are accustomed to encountering in such debates. Be that as it may, however, my case must rest on something other than pointing to other (far more intelligent) men’s books (as must yours, if you feel inclined to point me to the works of Dawkins, Dennett, Quine, Churchland, et. al.). Therefore, I’ll stand by what I wrote above, rather than resting my arguments elsewhere.

    I doubt anything I wrote will be persuasive of you, especially in light of your comment to the CNN article regarding Leah Lebresco’s conversion to Catholicism. But while I strongly disagree with Ivan, I certainly can respect his position! “It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.” I leaned in my studies of theology that the truly important question is not if God exists, but rather what kind of God He/She/It is. Perhaps Ivan is right, but my fervent–and I believe reasonable–hope that Alyosha has the best of it.



  4. Matt Martin
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 04:48:59

    Hmm, somehow I copied and pasted the draft rather than the final version. Oh well! I had stated in my conclusion, however, and wanted to state it here, that I appreciate your sincere desire to question, and God bless your inquisitiveness and your desire for truth!

    In Peace,



    • Jen
      Jun 26, 2012 @ 11:54:09

      Hi Matt,

      Wow! While I appreciate the level of thought and detail you have put into your response, when a comment is 3 times as long as the blog post itself, in the future I would recommend making a blog post of your own and perhaps leaving a link to it as your comment.

      As a short response, I can only say that religions make many scientific claims about the world and its origins, and thus one shouldn’t be surprised when people judge them using scientific methods of understanding. If religions are only ‘myths’ then I would be happy to treat them as such. The problem is that many religious people do not see their religion as a “metanarrative”, they see it is divine and literal fact. When religion claims one thing and science proves it is not true, there is only so much hand-waving and “oh, that’s a metaphor” that one can do before people start to question which parts of religion AREN’T a metaphor.


  5. jay
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 11:53:10

    What about Dr. Francisco Ayala? He knows more about evolution than most anyone on the planet and is a Christian theist. Problem solved…


  6. Nick
    Jul 04, 2012 @ 01:26:18

    Nice work on the reply Matt 🙂 Jen and I share a philosophy student as a mutual friend and I am well used to having my preconceptions dismantled by more thorough research, but I’ve never been so completely humbled by a blog post! The breadth of literature referenced goes far beyond my own minimalist foray into this topic and I will admit I am not in a rush to catch up to six years of philosophical study. Of course that won’t stop me from adding my two cents 😉

    I’ll take a paragraph to first respond to Jen’s comment before coming back with my question for you Matt
    “The problem is that many religious people do not see their religion as a “metanarrative” ”
    Many scientific people once thought projectiles traveled in straight lines and the Earth was flat. Why waste time arguing with the narrow minded and deal instead with those that present the best arguments?
    “which parts of religion AREN’T a metaphor”?
    Again, rather than fixating on the parts of the text you have already made up your mind that you disagree with, try instead to refute the text for which we have the greatest historical validation of any text in human history (aka the New Testament). And whilst reading it, take a note of how many of the teachings of its central figure (aka Jesus) you find fault with. Whilst it is not the only noteworthy text with such teachings, there are clearly some ideas there that are far from metaphorical and lend credence to the text as a whole. If you can scientifically argue against the ideals of compassion, charity, forgiveness etc.. then by all means do so. I’m not putting this forward as a case for divinity, I’m just pointing out that “most intelligent religious people do understand how evolution works” but also realise that there is a little more to religion than a creationist vs evolutionist dichotomy.

    Back to your reply Matt, perhaps you could take the time to expand a little further one of your points that leaps out as one of my greatest points of contention with faith (myself sharing Jen’s atheistic viewpoint).
    “The atheist may cry “foul!” because some religious truth claims are not immediately verifiable, but let us stop claiming that religions provide no ways for verifying its claims.”
    I will admit to being more than a little guilty when it comes to scientism. But having read over your response I find little in it that elaborates as to what you see as being an alternative means of verification. I’m open to the idea that the scientific method is not the only tool at our disposal for understanding the world around us, but I guess it comes back to the question “whether or not any theism can provide greater explanatory power”. You have pointed out this remains largely unanswered in the above, would you recommend those texts in the second to last paragraph as place to explore this question?


  7. Jen
    Jul 04, 2012 @ 10:24:35

    Re Nick:

    “Again, rather than fixating on the parts of the text you have already made up your mind that you disagree with, try instead to refute the text for which we have the greatest historical validation of any text in human history (aka the New Testament).”

    Historical validation for miracles? … Right. I don’t feel the need to refute something that has never been proved, and the onus for evidence certainly doesn’t lie with the atheists.

    Why bother refuting the rest of the text when so much of it is flawed? The ideals of “compassion, charity, forgiveness etc.” – yes, great, wonderful. But so what? The Bible’s hardly the only or even the first novel to promote these ideals. And the fact that the Bible has some nice ideas doesn’t make God any less fictional.

    I know you know this already, so I’ll stop now. 😛


  8. Anonymous
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 11:46:31

    I think you’re making too many presuppositions . Um, in detail, I think you would be
    1. Supposing Paley-style design arguments are the only legitimate arguments for theism, whereas I would say (as a kinda-Thomist) Paley-style teleolgy is already bad theology, and bears no resemblance to classical teleological arguments, and this is not even mentioning the wealth of other natural theology (then again, Barth tells me natural theology is all silly, so yeah.)
    2. There seems to be some strain of the Draper-White thesis at work in your logic, and I’m pretty sure any decent historian of science will tell you Draper and White have been long discredited.
    3. The only “true” forms of religion are reactionary, unsophisticated religion, and any “sophisticated,” comparatively “liberal” religions aren’t really religions? (Of course, there’s the whole mess of defining religion, and I would point to people like Talal Asad and Tomoko Masuzawa to outline the problems entangled with the concept of “religion” anyway.)

    I think these underlying assumptions weaken your argument sufficiently; I just don’t think these are tenable premises. If you could provide cogent argumentation for these; I would be amenable to accepting your dichotomoy, but as it stands, it seems overly flawed, sorry.


  9. Anonymous
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 11:53:12

    Oh, also, drat, I forgot, and sorry for the double post: I also think you’re also assuming the only “right” reading of Genesis is a literal one, with scientific consequences. I would probably drag in Augustine here (I disagree with Augustine a lot but even a stopped clock and all that) as well as a whole lot of other people to point out non-literal interpretations can be historically and theologically grounded much better than the literal alternative. You could dispute this point, but then I think we’re back on Point 3 territory.


  10. Jen
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 15:34:04

    That’s some impressive name-dropping there! But unfortunately I don’t have the time or patience to read and absorb the mental gymnastics of theologists. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the tenacity of philosophers, but it’s not my cup of tea. I approach these things as simply as possible. If there is both a simple answer and an insanely complicated answer to a question, I personally think the simple answer is more likely to be correct.

    In terms of ‘liberal’, non-literal interpretations of the Bible… you either believe that God exists, or he doesn’t. I don’t see much wiggle room, there. I agree that definitions of ‘religion’ are always hopelessly prone to shifting goalposts, though, so it’s admittedly a tricky discussion.


  11. Anonymous
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 21:12:23

    I took some umbrage at your “mental gymnastics” remark which seems to be a petitio principii shrouded in rhetoric, but I’ll elide comment, and I think my points stand even without an acquaintance with Barth and Thomism. Draper and White aren’t theologians – probably the opposite – and I think they lurk in the backgrounds of every kind of this debate; they and the history of science scholarship around them are certainly worth investigating. Paley’s notorious watchmaker argument, similarly, lurks in the background, and I’ll deal with it quickly. I would say is only one line of philosophical thought that eventuates in theism, and not even a particularly good one, even before Darwin (or Hume, who actually got there before Darwin, though philosophically, not scientifically.)

    As far as simple answers goes, it seems to me I’d be better off reading say, the latest scientific journals to get a handle on theoretical physics, rather than introductory textbooks or science magazines. Quantum mechanics as far as I know is amazingly complex, and it seems to me a caricature of it to go “It says a cat be dead and alive at the same time! What stupidity!” Who knows, it could be Schroedinger’s famous thought experiment can be summarized that simply, but I doubt it. It does seem, following J.B.S Haldane, “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” And this I think, also definitely would apply to God, if She’s out there. And I haven’t even dragged in apophatic theologies, which add a whole other layer of headaches to the complexity surrounding the question of what is meant by “God.” (Apophatic theologies are theologies about silence, about unsaying what can be said about God, because human language is taken to be inadequate to deal with the transcendental divine.)

    For liberalism – it seems you’re conflating hermeneutical and ontological issues, though admittedly not without warrant. On one hand, there are (not-exclusively) modern conceptions of God, a kind of super-entity, a great disembodied ultimate being that can do whatever he (it’s always a he) wants. This is, I think, a travesty of theism, an idolatrous conception of God, and not coincidentally, a doctrine of God that facilitates the intellectual abomination of creationism and its sibling intelligent design. I would probably turn to other conceptions of the divine, back to the Scholastics for the metaphysics, maybe some Tillich, some Bonhoeffer and the feminist/queer/liberation theologians for the politics – but I’m namedropping again, sorry; I’ll end that line of thought here. My point is that there are conceptions of the divine that are quite comfortable with evolutionary theory (and as a corollary, quite inimical to creationism and ID), and these more sophisticated theologies tend to dovetail nicely with similarly more sophisticated hermeneutical strategies that do less violence to a text as complicated as Genesis. In sum, there are shades of nuance you’re missing in this area, and this, combined with a chronological parochialism at work in your logic, is seriously hampering the cogency of the dichotomy.

    (Oh, and about the last sentence shifting goalposts – seriously, I would really encourage you to read Asad, Masuawa, Russell McCutcheon, Timothy Fitzgerald on “religion” and “religious studies.” They’re fantastic. In a nutshell, they help show how the “secular” is a Protestant construct with roots in Western imperialism and colonialism, not nearly as ideologically neutral as we would want – thought this isn’t to disparage the idea of the secular, but to help craft a new secularity that avoids these (Christianity-inherited) problems. I’m oversimplifying hugely, but they are seriously great, and they’re not even theologians, you can read them with a clear conscience.)

    Lastly, I am rather sorry for this wall of text. It was meant to be a comparatively small comment, but it got away from me.


  12. Jen
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 10:30:11

    Hmm… I think if the world looks exactly as it would if it was natural (i.e. as if no ‘God’ was involved), then adding the theory of ‘God’ on top of that is superfluous. God is unecessary. I don’t see any shades of nuance there. The “sophisticated” theories of God that are “quite comfortable” with evolutionary theory seem redundant, to me. I apologise, but I can’t really engage with your ideas much more than that. When the simple introductory science textbook can answer a basic question more than adequately, I struggle to find the motivation to consult tomes on quantum physics. I hope I don’t sound snappy… it’s just, to me, it really is that simple. No matter how hard I squint at the question, I can’t see any reason for inventing complications that aren’t there.

    It’s okay, I know I’m never going to convince many sophisticated theologians on this basis. 😉


  13. Anonymous
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 11:29:11

    That’s fair, i suppose, if you drag it down to the level of basic intuitions. I guess I would still take issue with your assumptions of naturalism as the default metaphysical stance, given that naturalism struggles with teleology, infinite intelligibility, universal contingency, &c. But there I’m getting myself way ahead of my expertise; they’re areas I really haven’t read up enough on to justify another long-winded comment. Thanks for the dialogue.

    (Though, yes, you’re completely right about God and evolution, any “sophisticated” theory of God would have to be absolutely essential and thus absolutely redundant for evolutionary theory (not to mention all other science) – if you move an inch away from that paradox (or is it a dialectic?) you end up with that terrible amalgamation of sophistry entitled Of Pandas and People.)


  14. Nick
    Nov 18, 2012 @ 19:31:27

    “I have no idea why they would make that decision, though. Hmm.”

    I think you and I have probably both struggled to follow more than one word in five of the above so Anonymous has certainly proven this point 😉

    I like Jen reject arguments for God on an intuitive basis. I’ve previously tried unsuccessfully to challenge on other grounds, but dialogues like yours above have proven repeatedly that I have neither the knowledge or tenacity to debate these types of topics through to defensible conclusions. For this reason I no longer challenge the ‘religious’ beliefs of others except to determine if their beliefs are their own (ie they’ve thought about what they believe, not accepted by rote), and they do not use those beliefs as justification for harming/repressing others.

    I do however have a passing interest in what science is discovering of the ever increasing complexity of the universe, at least to get a layman’s understanding at any rate. I could always resort to Wikipedia but perhaps you could recommend a slightly more reputable source of literature to pursue these topics of “teleology, infinite intelligibility, universal contingency”?


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