Stuff I Care About

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reason #2- The Explanations of the World in the Bible Were Given to Us By Slave Holding Goat Herders

I borrowed this passage, and I think that it explains it the best;

For over a millennium Christianity arrested the development of science and scientific thinking. In Christendom, from the time of Augustine until the Renaissance, systematic investigation of the natural world was restricted to theological investigation—the interpretation of biblical passages, the gleaning of clues from the lives of the saints, etc.; there was no direct observation and interpretation of natural processes, because that was considered a useless pursuit, as all knowledge resided in scripture. The results of this are well known: scientific knowledge advanced hardly an inch in the over 1000 years from the rise of orthodox Christianity in the fourth century to the 1500s, and the populace was mired in the deepest squalor and ignorance, living in dire fear of the supernatural—believing in paranormal explanations for the most ordinary natural events. This ignorance had tragic results: it made the populace more than ready to accept witchcraft as an explanation for everything from illness to thunderstorms, and hundreds of thousands of women paid for that ignorance with their lives. One of the commonest charges against witches was that they had raised hailstorms or other weather disturbances to cause misfortune to their neighbors. In an era when supernatural explanations were readily accepted, such charges held weight—and countless innocent people died horrible deaths as a result. Another result was that the fearful populace remained very dependent upon Christianity and its clerical wise men for protection against the supernatural evils which they believed surrounded and constantly menaced them. For men and women of the Middle Ages, the walls veritably crawled with demons and witches; and their only protection from those evils was the church.

When scientific investigation into the natural world resumed in the Renaissance—after a 1000-year-plus hiatus—organized Christianity did everything it could to stamp it out. The cases of Copernicus and Galileo are particularly relevant here, because when the Catholic Church banned the Copernican theory (that the Earth revolves around the sun) and banned Galileo from teaching it, it did not consider the evidence for that theory: it was enough that it contradicted scripture. Given that the Copernican theory directly contradicted the Word of God, the Catholic hierarchy reasoned that itmust be false. Protestants shared this view. John Calvin rhetorically asked, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?”

More lately, the Catholic Church and the more liberal Protestant congregations have realized that fighting against science is a losing battle, and they’ve taken to claiming that there is no contradiction between science and religion. This is disingenuous at best. As long as Christian sects continue to claim as fact—without offering a shred of evidence beyond the anecdotal—that physically impossible events occurred (or are still occurring), the conflict between science and religion will remain. That many churchmen and many scientists seem content to let this conflict lie doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Today, however, the conflict between religion and science is largely being played out in the area of public school biology education, with Christian fundamentalists demanding that their creation myth be taught in place of (or along with) the theory of evolution in the public schools. Their tactics rely heavily on public misunderstanding of science. They nitpick the fossil record for its gaps (hardly surprising given that we inhabit a geologically and meteorologically very active planet), while offering absurd interpretations of their own which we’re supposed to accept at face value—such as that dinosaur fossils were placed in the earth by Satan to confuse humankind, or that Noah took baby dinosaurs on the ark.

They also attempt to take advantage of public ignorance of the nature of scientific theories. In popular use, “theory” is employed as a synonym for “hypothesis,” “conjecture,” or even “wild guess,” that is, it signifies an idea with no special merit or backing. The use of the term in science is quite different. There, “theory” refers to a well-developed, logically consistent explanation of a phenomenon, and an explanation that is consistent with observed facts. This is very different than a wild guess. But fundamentalists deliberately confuse the two uses of the term in an attempt to make their religious myth appear as valid as a well-supported scientific theory.

They also attempt to confuse the issue by claiming that those nonspecialists who accept the theory of evolution have no more reason to do so than they have in accepting their religious creation myth, or even that those who accept evolution do so on “faith.” Again, this is more than a bit dishonest.

Thanks to scientific investigation, human knowledge has advanced to the point where no one can know more than a tiny fraction of the whole. Even the most knowledgeable scientists often know little beyond their specialty areas. But because of the structure of science, they (and everyone else) can feel reasonably secure in accepting the theories developed by scientists in other disciplines as the best possible current explanations of the areas of nature those disciplines cover. They (and we) can feel secure doing this because of the structure of science, and more particularly, because of the scientific method. That method basically consists of gathering as much information about a phenomenon (both in nature and in the laboratory) as possible, then developing explanations for it (hypotheses), and then testing the hypotheses to see how well they explain the observed facts, and whether or not any of those observed facts are inconsistent with the hypotheses. Those hypotheses that are inconsistent with observed facts are discarded or modified, while those that are consistent are retained, and those that survive repeated testing are often labeled “theories,” as in “the theory of relativity” and “the theory of evolution.”

This is the reason that nonspecialists are justified in accepting scientific theories outside their disciplines as the best current explanations of observed phenomena: those who developed the theories were following standard scientific practice and reasoning—and if they deviate from that, other scientists will quickly call them to task.

No matter how much fundamentalists might protest to the contrary, there is a world of difference between “faith” in scientific theories (produced using the scientific method, and subject to near-continual testing and scrutiny) and faith in the entirely unsupported myths recorded 3000 years ago by slave-holding goat herders.

Nearly 500 years ago Martin Luther, in his Table Talk, stated: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.” The opposite is also true.

Chaz Bufe


  1. If you're interested, the historian Richard Carrier goes into detail in how Christianity stultified the enlightenment process. It's worth looking at, since he's specifically debunking Christian claims that Christianity upheld reason and education... as we all know, it did not. It lead to the Dark Ages.

  2. If you "borrowed" this passage, you really should cite it and give the author their due credit. I'm curious to know who wrote this.

  3. Yes, your right I should. The author is a guy named Chaz Bufe. He is an obscure guy, anarchist writer, and I cannot remember which of his publications that I pulled it from. Pretty good, he says it way better than I ever would.

  4. I was tired last night. Apparently, very tired. I put it up now.

  5. Thank you. It's important, IMO, to do things like that.

  6. Yes, I know... I usually do. Actually, I thought that I did initially, but I was wrong. I love what he says, so right.

  7. Scruffy looking nerf herders?

  8. For over a millennium Christianity arrested the development of science and scientific thinking

    This is the most monumentally stupid thing that I've read in at least one week. Let's see here, I can only name....

    ""Antiseptic surgery, Joseph Lister

    Bacteriology, Louis Pastuer

    Calculus, Dynamics, Isaac Newton

    Celestial Mechanics, Johannes Kepler

    Chemistry, Gas Dynamics, Robert Boyle

    Comparative Anatomy, Georges Cuvier

    Computer Science, Charles Babbage

    Dimensional Analysis, Model Analysis, Lord Rayleigh

    Electronics, John Ambrose Fleming

    Electrodynamics, James Clark Maxwell

    Electromagnetics, Field Theory, Michael Faraday

    Energetics, Lord Kelvin

    Entomology of Living Insects, Henri Fabre

    Field Mechanics, George Stokes

    Galactic Astronomy, Sir William Herschel

    Genetics, Gregor Mendel

    Glacial Geology, Ichthyology, Louis Agassiz

    Gynecology, James Simpson

    Hydrography, Oceanography, Matthew Maury

    Hydrostatics, Blaise Pascal

    Isotropic Chemistry, Willam Ramsey

    Natural History, John Ray

    Non-Euclidean Geometry, Bernard Riemann

    Optical Mineralogy, David Brewster

    And on it goes. All of these founders were Bible believers...."

    D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe; What if Jesus had never been Born? pgs. 101-102

  9. This is the most monumentally stupid thing that I've read in at least one week.

    All the names you listed were post-dark ages scientists, all prominent long after the rediscovery of the knowledge of the Greeks. The quote you were responding to was referring to the dark ages, which many believe were directly attributable to Christendom.

    Rather than a laundry list of names of scientists, how about addressing the claim that the dark ages were directly attributable to Christendom?