Friday, November 30, 2018

Evil Christianity, Again

I respond to five familiar points from a poster on Unbelievable: 

* 1. "Christianity perpetuated slavery for centuries."

Slavery didn't need to be "perpetuated:" it was a money-making operation.  Slavery existed in most ancient civilizations and continues today in some Muslim countries.  It was Christianity that inspired the world-wide liberation of slaves, however.  

The poster could more accurately have said, 

"While the teachings and example of Jesus inspired some early Christians to express doubts about slavery, and undermined the cruelty and ruthlessness which is needed to treat other humans as mere instruments at every turn, slavery didn't die out for several centuries after Christianity took power, and was then revived with a vengeance by people who ignored imprecations against slave-trading (including in the Bible), until zealous Bible-thumpers let a world-wide movement against the institution."

Hmmm.  I do see the beauty of the poster's version, from a skeptical point of view. 

* 2. "Christianity held women back for centuries. Women gained rights despite what the Bible says. Women had to fight Bible thumpers to gain their rights."

Again one needs to tweak this claim slightly to bring it more into accord with the facts.  Let's see, maybe something like this: 

"Women have been placed in a subservient position in most civilizations at most times, as can be seen in much of the literature of the Middle East: Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome.  Indeed, one can barely find a heroic personality in any Egyptian literature.  All this changed dramatically with the Old Testament, which features dozens of heroic women, giving sage advice, engaging in enterprise, even leading armies and nations.  An even greater revolution occurred with the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, who treated women with startling, unprecedented compassion and respect, healing, protecting, praising, saving from death.  Nothing transformed the status of women around the world over the next two thousand years more than Jesus' life and teaching, liberating billions of women around the world."

"However, some post-Christian thinkers, both feminists and anti-feminists, proved that men (and women) are still mad about sex, and undermined this revolution of love at every turn with their daft ideas, from Schopenhauer to Mill to De Beauvoir.  The battle still rages on."

"300 page book to follow proving every point above and much more in copious detail."  
I can see this poster and I are going to agree a lot!  Like, one should treat women nicely!  I hope he does that.  Most modern young men need to learn from Jesus how to treat women.  

3. "Atheism has done a lot of good by promoting free thinking as opposed the Christian anti-science/magical thinking."

Just a few adjustments here: 

"Aside from the perhaps 95% of atheists who have been enamored of God-hating cultists like Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Kims I, II and III, Ho, Pott, Ayn Rand, Sigmund Fraud, etc, etc, and practically destroyed human civilization a few year ago, along with killing tens of millions of people.  Other than that, LOTS of good.  And don't hang out in an elevator with a New Atheist.  

"As for "free thinking," I haven't noticed many atheists yet who seem free to engage in that activity in a very open manner, but I have come across two or three, who seem 'not far from the Kingdom' at times, however." 

* (4) "There is no quality about atheism that led despots to murder millions of people. There are other reasons why those regimes were so deadly."

Slight tweaking again:

"Marx and Engels said communism 'abolishes all religion, all morality, all eternal truth.'  As David Aikman proved in his doctoral dissertation on Atheism in the Marxist tradition, the relationship between rejection of God (whether or not one calls it atheism) and death and destruction was intimate, deep, and multi-variant.  As I showed in Jesus and the Religions of Man, however, self-worship in atheism was ultimately only one pernicious form of idolatry that flows across religious boundaries.  It was not merely that atheists rejected God which led to mayhem: it was that they crowned themselves gods in his place, as atheists so often do today as well."  

But we agree on the poster's second sentence.  Atheism was a deeply important factor in all that death and destruction, but it wasn't the only factor, and in some ways, disbelief in God might even have been a front.   

* (5) "The happiest, most successful countries in the world today have high atheist populations."

I answered this argument briefly in my debate with Phil Zuckerman.  (Zuckerman is the Pitzer College sociologist who has popularized it.)  I also answered it in detail on this site.  

First of all, surveys that claim Scandinavia is the happiest part of the world are usually rather slippery: they don't actually measure happiness, but other social goods.  

Second, Scandinavians themselves say their moral values come from the Gospel: Zuckerman himself often cites them saying that. 

Third, the Bible predicts that when things go well, people will fall away.  Jesus predicts it.  Why should Jesus being right again, be an argument against Jesus?

Fourth, Zuckerman worries about the future of post-Christian Scandinavia, because of too few babies.  (And maybe too many Muslim immigrants.)

Fifth, Scandinavian-Americans are more religious and also seem pretty well-off.  

Sixth, secularism didn't make Scandinavia prosperous.  It became prosperous first, then secularized.  

Our friend the poster managed to overlook a few facts, it seems!

But I expect all of these facts will have little effect on the consciousness of this poster.  Like many atheists, he praises "free thinking," but does not seem free to recognize how the Gospel of Jesus revolutionized life on this planet, even though he is no doubt its beneficiary in many ways.     


Gary said...

It is true that many of the great advances in human well-being have occurred in the West, but is this due to Christianity or other factors unique to the West, such as ancient Greek philosophy?

I believe that the only way to determine whether it was Christianity that produced the many advances in medicine, politics, economics, science, and social justice that we now enjoy in the modern world is to evaluate the reaction of Christianity to each new advance in medicine, scientific discovery, medical discovery, and social justice movement. Did the advance in question occur because of Christianity or in spite of it? Everyone can do this exercise on their own. Pick a modern advance, then check out how Christianity reacted to it.

Loren said...

Here's a linguistic clue. Where do many of our technical words and word parts come from? Not Hebrew, but Latin and Greek. The First Scientific Revolution was in Greece and Rome, and as Richard Carrier noted, it went a long way before it was cut off by the Crisis of the Third Century, with all its strife. The Second Scientific Revolution was started off by rediscovery of the works of the first one in the Catholic parts of Europe, complete with trying to make that revolution theologically acceptable. It did not happen for a thousand years after Constantine, and it did not happen in the Eastern Orthodox parts of Europe, despite the Byzantine Empire being much richer and much more stable than most of the rest of Europe. John Philoponus was very exceptional, and he got in trouble for advocating a conception of the Trinity that the theologians disliked.

Where is there anything like scientific methodology in the Bible? Consider Francesco Redi's classic experiments about the spontaneous generation of flies. He'd been studying insects quite a lot, and when he turned his attention to flies, he noticed that rotting meat attracts the same sort of fly that emerges from rotting meat. Could flies be like large animals in being produced only by other flies? He experimented, and his experiments are classics of experimental design. Keeping flies away from rotting meat keeps flies from being produced from it, even if that meat's smell is allowed to escape and attract flies. He also tried putting dead flies on rotting meat. No flies. Only live flies make flies, he concluded.

Or how Benjamin Franklin invented lightning rods. He had been researching static electricity when he noticed that lightning looks like giant electric sparks. So he flew a kite in a thunderstorm and noticed that it got electrically charged. That gave him an idea for protecting against lightning. He knew that electricity likes to travel through metals. So he got the idea of putting up a metal rod. Lightning would prefer to travel through it instead of through a building, and the building would be safe.

What did the theologians prefer? Often ringing church bells: "Vivos voco / Mortuos plango / Fulgura frango" - "I call the living / I mourn the dead / I break the lightning" (Friedrich Schiller, my translation) But that got a lot of bell-ringers killed by (you guessed it) lightning. A certain Rev. Thomas Prince argued that God had gotten so frustrated by lightning rods in Boston that he caused some earthquakes. Defenders of lightning rods tried to argue that they were not heretical and that using them was no different from protecting against any other sort of bad weather. Many owners of churches were reluctant to put up lightning rods, and they only gradually relented. In Brescia, Italy, there was once a large quantity of gunpowder stored in a church. But one day it got hit by lightning, and ... BOOM!!! Much of the city was devastated and many people were killed or injured. The Catholic Church stopped objecting to lightning rods after that.

David B Marshall said...

Loren: Numerous historians, scientists, and philosophers of science have explained the important role Christian thinking played in the dramatic reemergence and development of science in the late Middle Ages. (Beginning far earlier than many secularists credit.) If you've read those works, you should credit or otherwise deal with their arguments. If you haven't read them, you should. Four works are cited here, Stark's overview in For the Glory of God is also worth reading:

As for your question, "Where is there anything like scientific methodology in the Bible," that's easy to answer. The Bible is full of instances of verification and falsification by experimental evidence. The cases of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and Gideon and the sheep skins, come to mind immediately. But one could easily write a book describing the many instances in the OT and NT. Indeed, our True Reason does a bit of that, including my chapter in the New Testament, which you might like to read.

Loren said...

Why did it take a thousand years? Why did it happen only in the Catholic parts of the Xian world and not the Orthodox parts? It must have been something other than Xianity. I suspect that it was (re)discovering the works of philosophers like Aristotle, with the curious side effect that many academics became Aristotle-thumpers, almost as if Aristotle's works were some additional books of the Bible.

It also seems like those Xian apologists were making those late-medieval philosophers in their likeness. Much like making the Bible in one's likeness, presenting it as completely agreeing with what one claims.

David B Marshall said...

Obviously the historians, scientists, and philosophers of science I mentioned (not "apologists," let's read correctly, please) ought to take the intuition of random Internet skeptics more seriously when they offer historical arguments. Their bad.