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Homily: Sin and the Meaning of Christmas (plus Tweets)

There’s a tweet below in the “Christmas Tweets” section that links to a YouTube video about how fast Santa goes when he’s delivering the gifts annually. (It’s pretty funny – don’t skip it.)  At the start it says, “According to St Augustine Jesus chose the shortest day of the year, so symbolically he was lifting up from the bottom.”

For goodness sake. Yet more evidence of loony apologetics. I’ve never heard that one before, but you can understand why it’s not one the religious would want to trumpet.

1. 25 December is not the shortest day. As everyone is aware, that’s 21 December in the northern hemisphere.
2. In the southern hemisphere, it’s the middle of summer. So here, Jesus is symbolically sending us to the bottom? Far more appropriate given what religion does to the brain!
3. Or, did Jesus, who is God, who supposedly created it all and besides is omniscient, not know the earth is round and orbits the sun on a tilted axis?
4. And what’s all that stuff about shepherds watching their flocks by night? That happens in the summer, not the middle of winter.

The truth is that Christmas was co-opted from the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was held for two weeks in mid-winter. There were orgies of various kinds including food, drink, and, of course, sex. The Christian Church wanted to moderate the behaviour of their followers. They made up a celebration of the birth of Christ to divert Christians away from enjoying themselves. Before that, there was no annual celebration of Christ’s birth – just his death and resurrection at Easter.

The Christian Church made the celebration of Saturnalia, and all that goes with it, sinful. Making something a sin is an ideal way to control people, especially when that thing is a natural impulse they can’t control.

Feeling sexual attraction towards another person is a perfectly normal thing. It’s often wrong to act on that attraction, and learning that is part of growing up. However, to the Church the (uncontrollable) feeling itself is a sin requiring confession, absolution, and penance. That, in my opinion, is one of the things that makes religion sick.

Many Christians believe the Seven Deadly Sins are part of scripture and so feel it’s important to avoid them. Religion doesn’t disabuse them of this notion because it makes their followers easier to abuse.

The Seven Deadly Sins – pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth – were made up by a fourth century Greek monk named Evagrius Ponticus. Wikipedia describes him as:

One of the most influential theologians in the late fourth-century church, he was well known as a thinker, polished speaker, and gifted writer.

The point is, even if you’re a devout Christian, there’s no scriptural requirement to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins. They’re just made up. They are largely things it would be better to avoid, but you’re not committing a sin if you slip up from time to time. You’re just a human being with your own set of natural follies and foibles.

 

Political Tweets

Now the truth comes out. There’s video of Trump promising wealthy people tax cuts. What was that he said about all the wealthy people hating him because his tax plan would cost them? They sound pretty happy with him here.

 

I may not agree with all this man’s positions, but I admire him for being a man of principle.

 

“I wasn’t ready for a woman president.”
(Via Ann German.)

 

And you thought it couldn’t get any worse …

 

Mueller Time Tweets

Knock, knock. Who’s there? …

 

I think cooler heads will prevail, and they will stop Trump from firing Mueller. In the event I’m wrong, these next two tweets are important.

 

 

Reality.

Human Rights Tweets

Charlottesville killer charged with first-degree murder.

 

BLOODY HELL!!! Bunch of sick gits. And no, it’s not a sign of the times. It’s a sign they don’t respect women as people, whatever the times.

Gun Safety Tweets

He’s such an a$$hole. Which one? Good point. Both of them.

 

Healthcare Tweets

One of the best videos I’ve seen on this topic. A must watch!

 

History Tweets

🎶 Dancing in the street! 🎶

 

Religion Tweets

FFS.

 

This looks promising.

 

Good on him.

 

Christmas Tweets

Wait for the line that starts at 4:21! It had me laughing out loud! I won’t spoil your fun – you have to listen for yourself! This is pretty funny.

 

Weather Tweets

Dorothy could be in that one!

 

Environment Tweets

Good on you Ireland!

 

Geography Tweets

Fascinating article.

 

Science Tweets

Ha ha.

 

Scenic Tweets

Gorgeous autumn scene.

 

Another place I want to visit.

 

I’ve never seen this view of it before.

 

Architecture Tweets

Wow!

 

 

Optical Illusion Tweets

I think I may have put this up before. Never mind. It’s cool!

 

NOTE: People are too obsessed with Trump and Mueller and Tax to get diverted by animals today it seems, so I struggled to find even these!

 

Other Animals Tweets

Otters are cute, even when they have guns. (Yes, I know it’s a water pistol.)

 

And I just have to present this one again!

 

The pudú is adorable!

 

This is a new one on me!

 

Very sweet!

 

Bird Tweets

Ducklings are so cute!

 

Dog Tweets

Awww!

 

This corgi looks like a rabbit in the snow!


 

Cat Tweets

Cute kitties!

 

Getting ready to play!

 

These mountain lion cubs are just gorgeous!

 

Count the kittens!

 

What a cool looking cat!


Ha ha!

 


 

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125 Responses to “Homily: Sin and the Meaning of Christmas (plus Tweets)”

  1. j.a.m. says:

    Get over it and get a life, sore losers. A year is enough.

  2. j.a.m. says:

    A sin is a voluntary and deliberate act. An involuntary feeling or impulse is not in itself a sin.

    • nicky says:

      Hence we may conclude that Mr Trump’s tax plan, deliberate as it is, is a sin.

    • I didn’t write that bit very well at all, and your point is fair and correct, The focus of the paragraph was supposed to be how things are made to feel like a sin when they’re not. All the time, priests are getting confessions because people feel guilty about involuntary acts. It’s perhaps an advantage of modern Catholicism that they have confession because the priest them explains the point you made to them. Without confession and therefore explanation, the guilt remains,

    • David Coxill says:

      No such thing as sin to begin with .

  3. Yakaru says:

    Trump’s account of his disgust for blood and detached fascination with watching someone die reminded me of Robert Hare’s chilling description of the normal mental state of a psychopath.

    “Here’s a scene you can use. You’re walking down a street and there’s an accident. A car has hit a child. A crowd of people gather round. You walk up, the child’s lying on the ground and there’s blood running all over the place. You get a little blood on your shoes and you look down and say, ‘Oh shit.’ You look over at the child, kind of interested, but you’re not repelled or horrified. You’re just interested. Then you look at the mother and you’re really fascinated by the mother, who’s emoting, crying out, doing all these different things. After a few minutes you turn away and go back to your house. You go into the bathroom and practice mimicking the facial expressions of the mother.”

    (From Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test)

  4. Lee Knuth says:

    That tweet of Trump proved again the man has no empathy. Loved the Santa video. Thanks for sharing.

  5. nicky says:

    The Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’ visits the houses the evening of the 5th of December (or during the night from 5 to 6). Children put gifts of carrots (for the horse, see below) in their shoe in front of the hearth. Pete (see below) or Santa will put the gifts in their shoes.
    Sinterklaas is a tall, rather thin man, with an impressive white beard and dressed in red (like Wotan) . He rides a white horse (like Wotan) over the rooftops and sports a golden staff. He does not live at the North Pole but in Spain (leftover of the 80 year war with Spain?). Accompanied by “Black Pete” or “Black Petes”, not elves. Good children get sweets and tangerines, but the naughty ones get caned with a bunch of branches (needles to say none of them really are that naughty) by Black Pete. The latter also carries the goodie-bag.
    It is a big occasion, for the children at least, in Dutch tradition.
    For the older children (that know he’s just a wood-believe), the evening consists in giving gifts anonymously (well, by Sinterklaas or Pete), accompanied by poems teasing the recipient with his/her bad habits. Often these gifts are ‘dressed up’ to resemble something else, preferably also mocking the recipient. And the special sweets such as eg. ‘pepernoten’, ‘taai-taai’ , and tangerines of course, remain essential ingredients of the evening.

    • Jenny Haniver says:

      Interesting to learn about Dutch Christmas traditions. Thank you. I found a Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas, which provides a lot of fascinating information about the figure of Sinterklaas and the history of the celebration. There I learn that we get our Santa Claus directly from Sinterklaas.

      For no special reason, my interest was particularly piqued by these similarities to Odin:

      Sinterklaas rides the rooftops on his white horse which has various names; Odin rides the sky with his grey horse Sleipnir.

      Sinterklaas gives chocolate letters to children, like Odin gave the rune letters to man.

      Sinterklaas carries a staff and has mischievous helpers with black faces, who listen at chimneys to find out whether children are bad or good and report to Sinterklaas; Odin has a spear and his black ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who report what happens in the world to Odin.

      • nicky says:

        Yes, I was trying to be concise. Note that Sleipnir had 8 legs, while Sinterklaas’ horse has only four.
        There are certainly more syncretic motives.
        Thor (also in red, and also known as Donar) brought gifts to the poor, not specifically children, in midwinter. He rode a chariot or sleigh drawn by two goats (not reindeer) through the skies. Sounds familiar?
        There is also an old tradition of the ‘Klausemann’ in some areas of Germany coming into houses in midwinter, but (AFAIK) he was more an impish figure, but wearing a pointed red hat.
        [Odin aka. Wodan or Wuotan must have been an important God. He gave us 2 days of the week in Germanic languages. Odin’s day aka Dinsdag, Dienstag, Tirsdag, Tisdag, Tuesday as well as Wodan’s day aka Woensdag, Woonsdaghes, or Wednesday. (In Scandinavia it is called Onsdag, which related more to his Odin name). Four out of seven days are named after Germanic gods, sun, moon and only one Roman god on Saturday.]
        I knew about the letters in chocolate (in older times they were made of pastry), but did not make the connection to the runes given to mankind by Odin/Wotan. Thanks for that.
        Note that Sinterklaas, contrary to Odin/Wotan, has still both eyes.
        I think the black faces of his helper(s) are a ‘contamination’ of going through chimneys and black Africans

        • nicky says:

          Sorry. A ‘contamination’ in addition to Odin/ Wotan’s black ravens, of course. Left that out, but the connection appears clear. More so since in traditional folklore animals taking human shapes and vice-versa are common.

      • nicky says:

        Interesting Wikipedia page. I always wondered where this “Kris Kringle” came from. Never made the connection with “Christkindl” (Christ Child).
        As a child, I saw God as the Big Boss, and Sinterklaas as his earthly incarnation. After all, the Good Saint was judging good or bad behaviour too. In my (semi-)Calvinistic upbringing, that appeared all that religion was about anyway.
        I remember physically fighting with children who contended he (Sinterklaas) did not exist (blasphemy!) when I was about 7 or 8.
        I wonder if the Netherlands is one of the most atheistic countries because of Sinterklaas. For me, the realisation that he was made up, was instrumental in asking myself if God was not made up too (see the connection above). Nevertheless, it took me several years before I definitely dared to say “God does not exist, He does not exist, it is all a made up f’**k up” aloud. Only much later I came to learn about evolutionary biology, which profoundly consolidated my pre-existing atheism.

        • j.a.m. says:

          I’m always struck when people say they embraced atheism as children, but then never realized what a childish ideology it is.

          • nicky says:

            In fact it is the opposite: as a child I believed in both God and Santa: childish ideologies,as you say . By around 8-9 I knew Santa was fake, As said, it took me several years to extrapolate that to God. Started seriously doubting around puberty. Only in my twenties I got to evolutionary biology that solidly nailed it.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Okay, adolescent then. The point remains: If you are now a grownup, then why even mention the immature understanding of an immature mind? And how did evolutionary biology “solidly nail it”, unless you are some kind of creationist?

            I respect your right to your views, but as I said, I’m just struck by how often one encounters atheists who are unselfconscious about how shallow their atheism is.

          • David Coxill says:

            Really ,you don’t think religion is a childish ideology ?

          • j.a.m. says:

            @DC: Some is, some isn’t, just as some music is dreck and some sublime. In either case, the category is just too broad for categorical judgements.

          • David Coxill says:

            How come the reply thingy whatnot is not shown on some comments?

          • There’s a limit to the number of back and forth replies the system can handle. To add to the same thread, just go up to the last reply button in the thread, or start again below by making it clear who you’re responding to.

        • Federico Bär says:

          Apologies for this short comment because it is specifically addressed to nickY and, perhaps, any other readers who happen to know Dutch:
          I would like to share with you a 6+ minutes’ video I stumbled upon recently; hope you will also enjoy Toon Hermans’ humor on Sinterklaas.
          Cheers.-

  6. nicky says:

    Mr Mueller:
    – Purple Heart
    – Bronze Star for Valor
    – Vietnam Gallantry Cross
    – Marine Corp Commendation Medal

    Mr Trump:
    – Bone Spur

  7. Ann German says:

    Thanks you for all of the delightful items . . . although I can hardly look at anything with pussygrabber in it and the pastor’s “God doesn’t believe in atheists” nonsense. FFS is right. Happy holidays!!!

  8. Steven in Tokyo says:

    And I am astonished by how shallow your non-atheism is. What do you imagine you would be if you were born in Iran? Or Thailand? Or Israel? Doesn’t the geographical limitation of your religion cause you to wonder? Or are you oblivious to this overwhelming fact, the fact that reveals without a doubt that religion is man-made and culture-specific? Yours is the view of the immature, of the non-thinker.

    • Steven in Tokyo says:

      That, of course, was a comment intended for jam.

      • j.a.m. says:

        Truth can be expressed in culture-specific terms. Needless to say, language itself is culture-specific.

        Math and science are “man-made”, yet they reveal truths that are not.

        So what is your point, exactly?

        • What mathematical and scientific facts aren’t the truth for goodness sake? You’re not going to turn into a creationist on us are you?

        • Obviously, I once again didn’t express that last comment very well, but you know what I mean.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Okay, I guess I did not express myself clearly, either.

            Math and science are “man-made”, yet they reveal truths that are not “man-made”.

            In other words, humankind has the capacity to devise tools, methods, or disciplines that serve to enlarge our understanding of the truth. The mere fact that they are “man-made” does not discredit them. If you want to discredit religion, you need a stronger argument than the mere fact it is “man-made”.

          • Religion bases itself on stuff that’s made up. There is no support for its hypotheses.

            In science there is an hypothesis, and that hypothesis is tested. If it’s proven it’s kept; if not, it’s discarded.

            In religion, there is no proof and belief in its hypotheses are via faith.

            When science is done the same way as religion, as it was in communist Russia sometimes for example, millions of people died of famine. (See Lysenkoism.) You can’t use faith as a basis of truth.

            Those who believe stuff like creationism are proven wrong all the time by science, so they deny the truth of science.

            More sophisticated believers believe in a “God of the Gaps”. God is in the places that science hasn’t explained yet. However, the gaps are constantly receding as science explains more and more. As that happens, religion has to modify itself. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t deny that’s what it’s doing. Science admits that an hypothesis for any particular gap in knowledge might be “God did it,” but that is pretty unlikely. So far, whenever a gap is explained, the answer is not, of course, a god.

            We call ourselves atheists, though most of us admit that we are in fact agnostic. It’s just that the likelihood that God is real is so small, we may as well say we’re atheists. It’s like instead of saying 0.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999+ we just say 1.

          • j.a.m. says:

            If you can quantify the likelihood that God is real, then I must say you have a much more precise idea of who God is than I have.

            As we’ve discussed before, however, I suspect your idea of who God is must be off, since you give it such low odds.

            What if you were to adjust your idea of God, in order to give God at least an even shot, i.e., a 50/50 probability of being real? How would your idea of God be different?

            But beware the catch-22 that happens when someone will not come to know God unless they are first convinced He is real, but can’t ever be convinced He is real without first coming to know Him.

          • There is no precision in my odds, just that the odds are infinitesimally low.

            There’s not enough likelihood of God being real to adjust the odds.

            Your last paragraph doesn’t make sense to me. And anyway, which god? Once that’s worked out, which religion?

          • j.a.m. says:

            “There’s not enough likelihood of God being real to adjust the odds.”

            Well, that’s rather the point: To improve the odds of God being real, you need a better definition. Can you imagine a definition that would result in better odds, say 50/50?

            “Your last paragraph doesn’t make sense to me.” Okay, try this:

            To affirm that God is real requires some knowledge of God.

            If you do not yet have enough knowledge of God to affirm that God is real, and for that reason you are unwilling to gain any further knowledge of God, then you’re caught in a bind — i.e., possessing insufficient knowledge, and with no means to gain more.

          • I have plenty of knowledge of God. I was a Christian with a deep faith well into adulthood, though I was anti-religion from a very young age because I didn’t believe a god of love, as I imagined God to be, would allow so much hate, misogyny, racism, inequality etc in His church. I thought all religions had what God wanted wrong. I also couldn’t imagine that there were any circumstances in which I would lose my faith.

            And, in fact, it wasn’t circumstances that were the problem – it was knowledge. One day, while watching a Richard Dawkins documentary about evolution it just clicked: there is no God or gods. It was the culmination of a lot of things that made me realize He isn’t real. It was quite a profound realization and it had a strong positive effect on my attitude to life.

  9. j.a.m. says:

    Of course there is a big difference between a conviction formed at a mature age, versus during childhood or adolescence. This is one of the points I was trying to make. One can muster more respect for a mature decision than a juvenile one.

    One must say, though, it seems odd that a mature person would be swayed by the likes of Dawkins, who himself freely acknowledges being stunted in theological adolescence. And as I commented to Nicky, I don’t see what evolution has to do with it, unless one is coming from a hardcore creationist stance.

    Obviously, my experience is quite different. The justifications I hear people come up with for atheism just strike me as so shallow, I can’t imagine them leading to a better life.

    Yes, there are no “gods”. But that’s no reason to be an atheist.

    • Steven in Tokyo says:

      “Yes, there are no “gods”. But that’s no reason to be an atheist.”
      Writing that tells me that you have no real understanding what atheism is.
      And the fact that you have completely misunderstood Nicky (in fact, assumed the opposite of what she clearly implied) tells me that you are not very good at understanding other people’s viewpoints. You challenged my view of religion as “man-made and culture-specific” by refuting the “man-made” element, but the operative word was “and”. Mathematics etc. may be man-made, but they certainly aren’t culture-specific.
      Can you give us a reference for what you call Dawkins’ acknowledgement? I would like to check it.

      • j.a.m. says:

        If you can clear up my misunderstanding of what it is, by all means please do. I would appreciate it.

        ‘As a 13-year-old Richard Dawkins would fantasize about praying at an altar then seeing an angel dramatically appear in a burst of white light. Yes, one of the world’s most strident atheists communed with God – “but God never actually did get through to me for some reason”.

        ‘Dawkins’ religious fervor lasted about two years…’

        https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/13/richard-dawkins-atheist-fantasy-commune-god-edinburgh

        • Steven in Tokyo says:

          Thank you for the reference. I will check it out, and think about whether it really means what you say it does. In the meantime, however, work calls.
          I think many of us would appreciate it if you could make an effort to understand what Nicky was saying. I, for one, had no trouble understanding her viewpoint, and your misinterpretation seems intentionally malicious. I apologize for using such a strong word, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment. Must rush.

        • Steven in Tokyo says:

          I thought I’d wait a little while to see whether the tone of this message from you indicated some sort of change of heart, but with the attitude you have since displayed on other, newer threads, you can forget about getting any help from me.
          Sometimes I worry about you. Do you have a problem with drink, or some other drug? Otherwise it is very difficult to understand the venom with which you reacted to this thread (and many others). Or is the sweet tone of this particular message just you being your usual disingenuous self?

  10. nicky says:

    @jam, “And how did evolutionary biology “solidly nail it”, unless you are some kind of creationist?”
    It nailed my atheism, gave it a more solid basis than just an ethical one.
    It changed my worldview to a more ‘scientific’ one. It thought me that science and its requirement of evidence is the only way to obtain answers that are not ‘just so’.

    • j.a.m. says:

      The paradox is that your belief that “evidence is the only way to obtain answers that are not ‘just so’” is itself “just so”, if by that you mean an assertion that can neither be proved nor disproved.

  11. Steven in Tokyo says:

    Thanks, nicky!
    @jam: Does nicky’s answer satisfy you? I cannot understand why you misunderstood in the first place.

    • j.a.m. says:

      I did not misunderstand. Nicky confirmed my surmise that he was essentially a creationist. He avoided my question as to how a knowledge of evolutionary biology would “solidly nail” atheism for someone who’s not a creationist.

      • Steven in Tokyo says:

        You really are a _nasty_ piece of work. Intentional misunderstanding, and then more!

        • j.a.m. says:

          Okay, yeah, I’m intentionally misunderstanding. So can somebody actually explain what it is I’m misunderstanding?

          • Steven in Tokyo says:

            Oh, go away.
            The Japanese have a perfect word for someone like you, kakushin-han, in its new meaning. Someone who knows exactly what they’re doing, and then pleads complete innocence when called out. The word used to mean “prisoner of conscience,” but that meaning has gone out of use since there are lot more people like you than there are prisoners of conscience.

          • j.a.m. says:

            And Latin has a perfect term for a fallacy like yours, argumentum ad hominem, in its modern meaning: attacking an interlocutor’s character or motive rather than offer a substantive rebuttal.

            It’s not about me. It’s about being honest with yourself.

          • Steven in Tokyo says:

            I’m finished. You’re not worth my time.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Have a good time.

  12. j.a.m. says:

    “25 December is not the shortest day. As everyone is aware, that’s 21 December in the northern hemisphere.”

    That’s a bit of an oversimplification. We’re speaking of an astronomical occurrence that follows its own laws, not human calendars, let alone the Julian calendar of Augustine’s time.

    “It is pretty clear, then, that the date of 25 December was understood as being the winter solstice, and was marked as such at least in the fourth century onward.

    “…The [astronomical] solstice moves, even under the Gregorian calendar, and only astronomers in antiquity would have been measuring it exactly….But the end result of all of this seems perfectly clear; in the 4-5th centuries, Christmas day was on the day of the winter solstice, as far as anyone knew, and Christ was born with the new sun, as the Sun of Justice, Sol Iustitiae.”

    http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/12/26/christmas-day-on-the-winter-solstice/

    • That quote is someone making it up to fit their beliefs. The winter solstice was not 25 December in the 4-5 centuries. it was more like 13 December. And if Christ was born with the new sun, all those Bible stories are wrong. The date of 25 December was copied from the birth date of multiple earlier gods. Like much of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, stuff was copied from other religions.

      • j.a.m. says:

        I’m disappointed you didn’t read the article, as it’s meticulously sourced and simply addresses the question of where on the Julian calendar the solstice was commonly thought to fall. It has nothing to do with scripture or the “literal” birth date of Jesus.

        The below article (penned by an atheist fwiw) agrees that “when the Julian calendar was first devised, the solstice fell on December 25.” Most people at the time presumably were unaware that the actual solstice crept a few minutes earlier each year thereafter. December 25th remained the date for observing both the Nativity and the solstice, even as the Church made Easter a moveable feast based on the vernal equinox, and even as Pope Gregory instituted the calendar we now use. Thus December 25 was the shortest day, as far as Augustine knew. In any case, he was speaking as a theologian, not an astronomer. The “literal” date of the solstice — like the “literal” birth date — are irrelevant.

        http://www.miltontimmons.com/SolsticeandChristmas.html

        • j.a.m. says:

          And of course while Orthodox Christians also observe Christmas on December 25th, they follow the Julian calendar, so their observance falls on what would be January 7th as reckoned by the Gregorian calendar. Thus both dates mark the solstice, and both dates are Jesus’s birthday.

        • “Literal” is always irrelevant when it doesn’t suit religion. What is real changes as we learn more about reality. God made us until evolution was discovered, then he just oversaw the process (except for those who just ignore the science). God is in the ever-diminishing gaps.

          • j.a.m. says:

            No, “literal” is always irrelevant, full stop.

            By using our God-given intellect to advance human knowledge, we respond to God’s invitation to deepen our relationship with the truth — and with Him, the eternal source of all that is, the source of every truth that we can know or discover.

            Knowledge cannot limit God. Only ignorance can do that.

          • You know perfectly well that’s not the way all religion approaches knowledge, and it’s not that long since your own religion was one of those trying to limit access to knowledge. One of your church’s rules was to kill lay people who read the Bible in the vernacular, or questioned a priest’s interpretation.

            But once the cat’s out of the bag, they had to adapt and change, Point made.

          • j.a.m. says:

            I don’t recall making a point about religion. Although I fear that’s another topic about which you’re grievously misinformed, for the sake of argument let’s stipulate that organized religion poisons everything. That changes nothing in my previous comment.

  13. j.a.m. says:

    Here’s another amusing example of the deep thinking that seems to be typical among popular Internet atheists:

    “I was in high school when the Sgt. Pepper’s album came out. I was lying on my parents’ couch listening to this new album and all of a sudden it just popped into my mind that everything I’d been taught about God and religion had no evidence behind it. I started sweating, but not because of the heat. I always thought there must be an afterlife. And the sudden realization that that probably wasn’t true made me start shaking and sweating. Ever since then I’ve been an atheist.” — Jerry Coyne

    • You think you’ve made a point you haven’t.

      As you are well aware, a personal attack on a friend of mine who isn’t in a position to respond is a sure fire way to get yourself banned. Please don’t do it again. You have been warned.

    • This is Jerry’s latest talk about why science is a source of truth and religion isn’t. There’s no sound at the beginning, but that’s just someone else introducing Jerry, so isn’t important. Sound cuts in just past 3 mins iirc. Jerry’s talk starts about 8 minutes in, then goes for c. an hour. The remainder is a question and answer session. Most of the questioners are Hindu and don’t agree with Jerry’s take and ask him questions in that vein so you may be interested in that part too. He gave this talk three days ago in India.

      • j.a.m. says:

        Thanks for the heads up. I took a look at the video (as you know, I already am acquainted with your friend’s views). I hope I can offer a few comments without it coming across as an attack.

        In this latest talk Coyne takes on philosophy and the arts, not just religion. This is useful, because it clears the stage for his main claims to stand or fall on their own, without the distraction of God-talk.

        As we’ve discussed before, Coyne’s fundamental error is his claim that all truth can be reduced to a collection of empirically-verifiable facts. Anything that can’t be observed, weighed, measured and tested is not true. Philosophy, poetry, painting, drama, music — all no better than religion, because they don’t produce “factual statements about the universe to which every rational person can assent”. This conveniently science-friendly definition of truth is no surprise; when the only tool you know how to use is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

        Coyne highlights a few works of art or literature, and assures us they’re devoid of truth because (a) they’re lacking in verisimilitude; and (b) people interpret them differently. The notion seems lost on him that truth emerges from the dialog or interplay of an artist’s insights with obervers’ diverse interpretations and perspectives.

        One of the artists Coyne mentions, Andres Serrano, has said: “I distrust [any artist] with a message. The best artistic intentions are usually cloaked in mysteries and contradictions. It wouldn’t be interesting for me if the art were not “loaded” in some way. I always say my work is open for interpretation and that’s why I prefer not to read many of the “interpretations” out there. Suffice it to say, the work is like a mirror, and it reveals itself in different ways, to different people.”

        Coyne interprets Serrano’s “Piss Christ” as being intended “to mock religion, to show that it’s a foolish thing to do”. However, Serrano says: “The only message is that I’m a Christian artist making a religious work of art based on my relationship with Christ and The Church. The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to death, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if ‘Piss Christ’ upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning.” We don’t get a pat answer — but then again, a wise person would not expect the truth to arrive in pat answers.

        What Coyne misses is that “factual statements about the universe” only get you to the starting line, not the finish line. Scientific methodology produces information and explanation, not wisdom or understanding. Science serves a valuable role in the life of the mind, but it is only one role, one domain, among others.

        Of course, Coyne directs most of his opprobrium at religion. I regret to say he has not revised his familiar but erroneous ideas on that topic. In the talk, Coyne claims that the scientific “toolkit” includes a “constant, overweening criticism and questioning of yourself”. If Coyne ever were to practice what he preaches, and actually seek out evidence to disconfirm his biases, perhaps he’d be singing a different tune.

        • You’ve just agreed with Jerry. The problem is that your definition of a universal truth isn’t the usual “facts that can be verified and agreed upon by all reasonable people.” You consider your own beliefs, interpretations, feelings etc to be universal truths. They are not. They are true to you, and that’s fine. You are free to believe what you want. But you cannot take your personal truths and insist they’re universal truths.

          Jerry interprets Piss Christ in his own way. He doesn’t claim that his interpretation is the truth. That was his point. We all interpret art, music, literature, etc in our own way. The reason his greater focus was on religion is because, as he said, it makes truth claims. Most people don’t claim that their interpretation of an art work is the only one. People do claim their religion is not only the truth, but the only truth. Jerry points out that there are mostly no facts to back those claims up.

          Many of the people at the talk joined Jerry and his hosts for tea afterwards and the discussion went on for some time. The people arguing the case for religion were Hindus on this occasion, but the arguments were the same ones when the same thing happens in the US.

          • j.a.m. says:

            I would respectfully suggest you’re missing a couple of vital points.

            One, as I noted, Coyne isn’t just criticizing religion, he’s talking about philosophy more broadly, the arts, and indeed all of human life and culture outside of the science lab. Many if not most philosophers and other thinkers, especially in the humanities but even many scientists, regardless of their religious views, take strong exception to such a severely reductionist approach.

            Contemplating the nature of truth has occupied humankind for millenia. It’s great that your friend thinks that his personal opinion concerning the nature of truth is itself the one and only “true” and correct one. But the truth is, it remains just another armchair philosopher’s opinion.

            Two, Coyne’s criticism of religious “truth claims” only has purchase when he and the person making the claim are speaking the same language. For instance, a literalist assertion about the age of the earth would meet his definition of a testable empirical fact. However, when it comes to theological truths at the heart of a faith, Coyne’s opinions are completely meaningless. As I commented above, there’s no evidence that he takes his own advice to try to prove himself wrong, in order to truly comprehend the opposite position.

          • 1. Jerry isn’t criticizing those things. He personally loves music, art, and literature. His published papers include a joint one in a leading philosophy journal. What he is saying is you can’t determine empirical truth from them. And he’s right – you can’t.

            2. There is no such thing as a theological truth. There are things people believe are true. They cannot be proven. You choose to call them the truth. It’s fine for you to believe them, but you cannot claim they are the literal truth, They are not. You’re arguing the same thing all the people who argued with Jerry did. He is not telling you or anyone else what to believe. He’s just saying you can’t prove it’t the truth. For example, as I’ve said before, it may be true that God is real but there is no proof. Unless it is proven, He’s not real.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Happy New Year.

          • Happy New Year to you too! 🙂

          • j.a.m. says:

            1. Of course it is the case that the truths revealed by a poem, story, painting, drama, or philosophical reflection are not empirical. But it is NOT the case that empiricism is the only path to truth. That is simply Coyne’s parochial belief (wishfully and fervently held though it may be; loudly and stubbornly repeated though it may be). One cannot simply assert that empiricism has a choke hold on the pursuit of truth (it’s self-defeating anyway, since the assertion itself can not be justified empirically).

            Precious little of what matters in this life can be established empirically. It’s absurd to pretend otherwise. We have to venture forth anyway, and it would be a sin to fail to use the power of reason and conscience and the full capacities of the marvelous mind God gave us.

            2. Okay, if you prefer, substitute the phrase “truth claims” for “truths”. The point is that these are philosophical and theological propositions, not “factual statements about the universe”. Hence Coyne’s criticisms are baseless.

            Moreover, to repeat myself, and contrary to Coyne’s professed standards, there’s no evidence that he’s subjected his own thinking to “constant, overweening criticism and questioning”

          • It’s not some special definition of Jerry’s. Try looking up truth in the dictionary. You’re the one who needs truth to mean something more than it actually does in order to accommodate your worldview.

          • j.a.m. says:

            It’s not something you just look up in the dictionary. If Coyne didn’t go any deeper than that, it would help explain the misunderstanding. (I’ve included a few links below that go beyond dictionary definitions.)

            For our purposes, a better term might be something like “settled conviction”. A conclusion reached empirically (e.g., the age of the earth), does not reflect absolute truth, inasmuch as it is always subject to revision. With the passage of time, however, unless seriously challenged, it becomes more or less accepted. Similarly, a conclusion reached through reason and reflection does not reflect absolute truth, inasmuch as it is always subject to revision. With the passage of time, however, unless seriously challenged, it becomes more or less accepted.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth
            http://www.iep.utm.edu/truth/
            https://www.britannica.com/topic/philosophy-of-art/Art-as-a-means-to-truth-or-knowledge
            https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/
            https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Truth

          • j.a.m. says:

            In the video Coyne says the following:

            84:12 I mean that’s why scientists are
            84:13 religious because they’re indoctrinated
            84:15 and brainwashed into religion when
            84:17 they’re young and by the time they get
            84:19 to be head of the National Institutes of
            84:21 Health they can’t give it up because
            84:23 it’s too comforting to them

            Aside from the sheer pettiness of sneering at distinguished (“brainwashed”) professionals and colleagues, this quote exemplifies my point about Coyne’s failure to practice his own preaching about “constant, overweening criticism and questioning of yourself”. Rather than engage any of these colleagues in open-minded and open-ended dialog, rather than sincerely and humbly seeking to understand, he sneers. (It’s sad and astonishing when you think about it: Coyne goes out of his way to call out and denigrate the man who led the Human Genome Project, who went on to direct the National Institutes of Health.)

            I am sorry to criticize your friend, but I honestly believe he would benefit from it.

          • You would only be satisfied if he came to believe in your God and you think any other decision is wrong. As the saying goes, it’s all very well to be open-minded, but not so much your brain falls out. You seem to believe he hasn’t thought deeply about these issues because of a few comments he’s made.

            So let me ask you: Is there anything that would make you lose your belief in your God? If the answer isn’t “yes”, You’re the one with the problem because you’re the one who doesn’t have an open mind. Jerry (and I, and most atheists) would believe God was real if truth were provided.

            And if you can’t say yes, this conversation is over.

          • j.a.m. says:

            My interest really isn’t in the professor’s personal beliefs. You invited your readers to take a look at this talk. I did, and decided to comment on what I see as arguments that don’t hold up.

            That judgement isn’t based on just a few comments. I listened to the entire talk and Q&A, and took notes. I’ve read his book and other writings, and have viewed several other talks.

            My own personal beliefs are beside the point, so that feels a bit like a diversionary tactic. But since you posed the question as an ultimatum: Yes, I’m more than happy to repudiate any or all of my beliefs if you can suggest better ones.

            At any rate, Coyne himself says the question of God’s “existence” is meaningless unless one specifies what they mean by God (52:30 in the video). So it’s fair to ask, just what do you mean by God? Is there anything that would make you lose your unbelief?

            (FWIW, it’s interesting to note a bit of a role reversal in the last couple of comments: I’m advocating that Coyne go out and investigate the real world and talk to real people; you’re justifying his opinions because he has “thought deeply”.)

          • j.a.m. says:

            “…in the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence I gather that God is life, truth, light. He is love. He is the supreme Good… God to be God must rule the heart and transform it… This can only be done through a definite realization, more real than the five senses can ever produce… It is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within… Such testimony is to be found in the experiences of an unbroken line of prophets and sages in all countries and climes. To reject this evidence is to deny oneself.” — Mahatma Gandhi

          • None of that is fact. It is the feelings of one person. His feelings may resonate with others, perhaps millions, or tens of millions. That doesn’t make what he says real of the truth. There is nothing wrong with him or anyone else feeling that way, it’s just that it’s not a verifiable truth. That is what I’m talking about.

            I have deep emotions when I gear certain music, or read certain things, or look at certain art etc. Those feelings are real for me. The fact that they are not verifiable truth takes nothing away from them. It’s also not my right to force my opinions onto others and insist they feel the same way I do.

          • j.a.m. says:

            It is not merely an emotion. Gandhi calls it a “definite realization.” It is not a fact, but it is a truth, corroborated by the testimony of “an unbroken line of prophets and sages in all countries and climes.” It’s infinitely more than one person’s emotion.

            Facts are only one mode of truth (the least interesting kind). Gandhi explicitly says that you do not arrive at this particular truth empirically, yet it is “more real than the five senses can ever produce”.

            I can’t imagine how one can read anything into that passage about forcing one’s opinions onto others. I would say that even when you deem something to be a fact, you still must respect others’ right of conscience.

          • A “definite realization” is not the truth. It doesn’t matter how many wise men agree with you. Without facts to back it up it remains just a feeling. Being true to you, no matter how strongly you feel it, doesn’t make it fact. Until you’re able to recognize that truth, we’re at an impasse.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Gandhi’s “definite realization” is a conscious, rational idea. Calling it a “feeling” is not accurate. He quite reasonably cites the universality of this idea as corroborating evidence. Yes — it means something when many wise men from many epochs and cultures attest to it. That does not make it absolute truth, any more than a science experiment yields absolute truth. But upon reflection, study and dialog, over time a valid conviction emerges.

            And note that Gandhi makes no “factual statements about the nature of the universe”, as Coyne claims about religious discourse. Quite the contrary, there’s no evidence that constructing a pseudo-scientific explanatory system has been a dominant or central concern of religious communities over the ages. St. Albert the Great understood the difference back in the 13th century: “In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may…show forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass.”

            In any event, what exactly is to be gained anyway by arbitrarily denying Gandhi’s insight? How is anyone better off if their heart is not ruled by Supreme Good, as Gandhi puts it?

            Again, I would agree that a strongly-held opinion cannot of itself be called a “truth”. But the same holds for a conclusion reached by empirical means, since that conclusion too is provisional. It seems quite impossible that any of us will know absolute truth in its totality in this life. (Of course, that statement itself is but a “definite realization” that cannot be “proved” empirically.)

            Consider these statements: Everybody has the the same rights. Honesty is the best policy. Free speech is the best policy. Hate speech and other things I don’t like should be banned. It isn’t wrong if nobody notices. It’s wrong even if everybody does it. it is better that one hundred [one thousand?] guilty men go free than an innocent one be punished. It isn’t terrorism because [blank] is/was an oppressed group. Monarchy is still a legitimate system. Empiricism is the only path to truth.

            You may deem some of these statements true and some false, but you cannot “prove” empirically that any of them is definitely, finally true or false.

            Empiricism produces information, explanation and prediction. It does not produce wisdom or understanding. It gets you to the starting line, not the finish line.

          • This is why I feel like I can’t have this argument with you. You agree with me, then say that means the opposite to what I’m saying.

          • j.a.m. says:

            We can’t gain perfect knowledge in this life — not empirically, and not otherwise. We form the best judgements we can according to the circumstances. If a question is tractable by empirical means, go for it. But that leaves many (most) important areas of life where empiricist fundamentalism is unavailing. Empirical knowledge is necessary for a good life — and self-evidently insufficient.

            Gandhi’s insight, for example, obviously is the fruit of mature philosophical reasoning and discernment. It is not a mere opinion, much less an emotion. That it can’t be put under a microscope is quite beside the point.

          • 1 +1 = 2. Water is made up of two hydrogen molecules and one of oxygen. Evolution is true. We know how babies and chocolate cakes and cars are made. The Earth is c. 149.6 million km from the Sun. These things are true. They are proven. Whether knowledge of them is necessary for a good life is completely irrelevant.

            Gandhi’s personal insights are expressions of his emotions. Other people may also find them personally valuable. That’s fine for them. That doesn’t make them true, or even more important. They are not empirical knowledge. It makes no difference how mature a person’s philosophical judgement is. That is no guarantee it is true. You are appealing to authority. That is not an argument for truth.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Once more: No, philosophical reasoning is not a matter of emotion. It should be obvious that that’s a contradiction in terms.

            A judgement or conclusion arrived at through reason, reflection, inquiry and discernment is not absolute truth, any more than we find absolute truth in the trivia examples you cite above. We don’t have access to absolute truth, nor do we know that there is such a thing, nor do we know what the nature of truth really is (see the articles I cited earlier).

            Science does not claim to “prove” anything logically. The conclusions of both scientists and philosophers are provisional. (The words “truth” and “proof” clearly are getting in our way here, as are “feeling” and “emotion”.)

            Yes, the whole point of pursuing knowledge, understanding, and some small degree of wisdom — the whole point, in other words, of philosophy — is to be better equipped to examine and enhance one’s own life. If that’s not a central concern for you, then that’s probably the real nub of our disagreement.

            And yes, you learn wisdom from the wise, in the same way you learn piano from a pianist. It’s not automatically “true” because Gandhi said it, but it is well worth considering because he knows whereof he speaks.

          • So for you, truth has nothing to do with facts. Which, imo, is ridiculous. We can’t have a discussion if we can’t even agree what truth means.

          • j.a.m. says:

            That’s why I suggested we avoid the word “truth” and agree to disagree on that score. I’ve done my best to explain why I hold that empiricist fundamentalism is an impoverished basis for one’s philosophy of life. You may be unpersuaded, but I hope at least you get the point.

          • No, we can’t do that because it was the whole point of the discussion. You’ve shifted around so much you’ve forgotten.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Is it true or not, for example, that all people have the same rights? And what is your conclusive empirical “proof” that every true statement is empirically verifiable?

          • Of course it’s not true. It can be proven it’s not true. I’m sure you don’t believe it’s not true in your weird way of assessing truth either.

          • j.a.m. says:

            I consider it a true statement, i.e., I subscribe to the Enlightenment view that every person is possessed of the same innate inalienable God-given rights. I’m sorry to hear that you (with George III) take a different view. For Jefferson and me, it is a settled conviction, a valid judgement, a “definite realization”, a self-evident, eternal and utterly non-empirical capital-T-R-U-T-H.

            As for the “whole point of the discussion”, I call your attention to the fact that your buddy uses the word “provisional” five times in his talk, and acknowledges (exactly as I have done here), “In science we have no absolute truth”. Same goes for the use of reason to reveal non-empirical truths: We fall short of perfect knowledge, but provisional assent is warranted when a reasonable conclusion withstands scrutiny over time.

            (On the other hand, Coyne points out that science is really useful if you want to know what causes bubonic plague or earthquakes. Got it.)

            Here’s another question for you: Is it true that the English language exists? Where may I examine it? If the only artifacts are found in books, songs, speech, and thought, exactly how does that differ from evidence for God? Do extinct languages exist? Is it a true statement that I exist? If you are willing to believe that I exist, why is that, when you have much less evidence for my existence than for God’s? Now, what if I tell you that this is God speaking? Are you still willing to believe that I exist?

          • Now you’re even misquoting your own founding documents to try and make your point. What happened to truth? And are you now trying to assert that George III was an atheist? Are you trying to tell me the Founding Fathers thought all people were equal? Or don’t women, slaves, Native Americans etc count?

          • j.a.m. says:

            The question is not about what the founders think, but rather what you think. We have to assume there’s a reason you’re tap-dancing.

          • I’m not tap dancing. I’ve made it perfectly clear what I think. Otoh, I find your position very unclear. You seem unable to establish paremeters and definitions. You have your own meanings for words with established definitions, you often change them mid-conversation, and insist we use your confusing meanings. I find it impossible to discuss the topic under those conditions.

          • j.a.m. says:

            We have a philosophical difference. Finer minds struggle to grasp the real nature of truth and knowledge, and I’m not sure what we can add. Neither of our respective philosophical preferences cannot be “proved” — no matter how convinced you may be that you and your friend are right. (And as I already noted, since the statement, “Only empirically verifiable statements are true”, cannot be empirically verified, it contradicts itself.)

            The point remains that if one doesn’t buy into Coyne’s epistemic ideology, then his impugning of non-empirical knowledge is so much yammering.

            Further:

            – Evidence does not support Coyne’s claim that a dominant concern of religious discourse historically has been to provide an alternative explanatory system with “factual statements about the nature of the universe”.

            – There’s no justification for taking his claim seriously that he engages in “constant, overweening criticism and questioning” of his own beliefs. It wouldn’t take a great deal of sincere effort on his part to learn that much of what he says is at variance with the facts.

          • I came to my conclusions independently before Jerry and I became friends.

            It is indeed true that religion makes factual claims that are not true. The Bible starts off that way, and is full of claims about reality that are wrong.

            You think atheists are wrong because they don’t agree with you. Unlike us, you don’t seem to have considered that you might be wrong. You look at everything with the assumption that your version of your God is real. We look at things from the assumption that for you to do that, you first have to prove your god is real. You have never done that, and nor has anyone else. You have a powerful belief. It is true to you. It is not a verifiable fact.

            If there is proof of your god, I will accept he is real. Until then, I won’t. You do not seem capable of accepting the reality that there is no proof for your god beyond your own belief and those who share your beliefs.

          • j.a.m. says:

            The double negative in the third sentence is erroneous. Should read “Neither…can..”.

          • j.a.m. says:

            I think weak arguments are wrong because they are weak arguments, not because I disagree with them.

            I have fully acknowledged that either or both of us may well be mistaken about many things, or everything. However, you’ve put forward no reason for me to believe that I am mistaken, beyond simply reiterating your own firmly held opinions. You have strong beliefs and assumptions. That doesn’t make them so. Nor has Coyne evinced any inclination to challenge many of his own views.

            I noted above that your and Coyne’s core belief — namely, that empiricism is the only path to enlightenment, and that all true statements are empirically verifiable — is self-contradictory. You offered no rebuttal. I pointed out that some statements that reasonable people deem to be true — e.g., everyone has the same rights — are not empirically verifiable. Again, no reply.

            Nor is this just about religion. In his talk Coyne harangues about the arts and philosophy as a whole, and by implication most of human knowledge and culture.

            Of course when it comes down to religion, Coyne suffers from a particularly stubborn blind spot. He claims that a dominant concern of religious discourse over all these centuries (to say nothing of the subjective experiences of billions of believers), rather than dealing with spiritual matters, has to do with developing some alternative “explanatory system” centered on the physical universe. Aside from his tedious complaints about creationism (which is not even an asterisk in the history of religions), there’s not much to this line of rhetoric.

            Coyne manages to get one thing right: He acknowledges that any question of God’s “existence” is meaningless unless one can say what she/he means by God (52:30 in the video).

            So far you’ve declined to say what you do mean, or what you would count as “proof”. So it’s fair to ask, just what do you mean? What would prompt you to examine your own beliefs?

            As I’ve commented before, I suspect I would agree completely that your version of God is not real and is not worthy of belief. Perhaps better versions are possible?

          • This is pointless. It’s like I’m arguing with someone who is ignoring everything I say. How about God riding in on his Wing’d Chariot and saying, “Here I am.” Whatever, you’d think an omnipotent being could come up with something.

            No one is denigrating things like art, music, literature etc or even religion. Just saying that they are subjective. Only objective truths are reliable. That should be obvious.

            And creationism isn’t a footnote as long as a majority of your countrymen believe it’s true.

          • This is pointless. It’s like I’m arguing with someone who is ignoring everything I say. How about God riding in on his Wing’d Chariot and saying, “Here I am.” Whatever, you’d think an omnipotent being could come up with something.

            No one is denigrating things like art, music, literature etc or even religion. Just saying that they are subjective. Only objective truths are reliable. That should be obvious.

            And creationism isn’t a footnote as long as a majority of your countrymen believe it’s true.

          • j.a.m. says:

            “Whatever, you’d think an omnipotent being* could come up with something.”
            [*Being, not “a being”.]

            Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? He did.

            “Only objective truths are reliable.”

            This is just another restatement of your opinion. Is Mathematics reliable? It’s based on assumptions, not objective truths.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mathematics

            “And creationism isn’t a footnote as long as a majority of your countrymen believe it’s true.”

            I would guess that very few creationists see it the most important feature of their faith. At any rate, you’re comparing at most a few million people over a course of decades to billions of people over the course of millennia. A footnote. Hardly worth the fuss.

          • Where is this proof for God you speak of?

            Are you denying that 1 + 1 = 2?

            There are more people alive today than have ever been alive since we became human. (It’s another reason reincarnation can’t be true.) Are you seriously telling me that since the beginning of Judaism and Christianity most Jews and Christians accepted evolution is true? That has not the case before Darwin came along, and in your country I’d be very surprised if it was ever the case. It hasn’t been since statistics were maintained, so there’s a very short window where it’s possible.

  14. David Coxill says:

    At least Dr Coyne didn’t see an image of Charles Darwin in a paint stain to become an atheist.

  15. j.a.m. says:

    If 1+1=2, then that knocks down your cherished opinion that only empiricism is reliable, inasmuch as mathematical proofs, unlike empirical arguments, rest upon self-evident or assumed statements (proofs involving the addition of natural numbers being among such proofs).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_proof
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proofs_involving_the_addition_of_natural_numbers

    Obviously nobody accepts an idea before it exists, but neither do they reject it. By creationist we mean anti-evolutionist, someone who makes a point of rejecting evolution on religious grounds, and for whom it’s a central concern. In the total history of world religions (recall that Coyne attacks religion categorically), no, anti-evolutionism is barely a footnote, even though it manages to keep Coyne going. And as noted above, no less than a doctor of the Church taught back in the 13th century that the causes of natural phenomena should be sought in nature.

    I can’t improve on the Gandhi quote above, so I recommend it again. The “proof” for God is in your heart. If you honestly and sincerely seek the truth, God will be unavoidable. The only question is whether you will be willing to recognize him.

    • Feelings are not proof. You think that your feelings are better and more important than everyone else’s facts. The arrogance of that is appalling.

      You do the same with creationism. Because you personally have moved on from it, it becomes unimportant. The statistics do not support your feelings on that. And nor do Jerry’s feelings. He receives ongoing personal attacks from those who believe in creationism. There are groups that are set up to promote creationism. The vice-president touted creationism on the floor of your Senate, advocating for its inclusion in the curriculum. Religious groups set up schools so they can teach it instead of evolution, or at least as well as. Religious people get elected to state senates with the purpose of changing textbooks in their state to reduce, or preferably eliminate, the teaching of evolution. Your country made a criminal of a teacher for teaching evolution, which prevented others from doing it for years. There is still a constant attempt in southern states to have creationism taught equally with evolution as though it has scientific validity. There are even religious scientists in your colleges still attempting to teach creationism. The only way they can be stopped is the First Amendment, and they believe SCOTUS has always interpreted that wrongly and are actively trying to change it. The movement to get creationism back into your science curriculum has billions of dollars behind it. Imagine if that money went to doing real science instead, or helping the poor, or multiple other more valid causes?

  16. j.a.m. says:

    “…in the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence I gather that God is life, truth, light. He is love. He is the supreme Good… God to be God must rule the heart and transform it… This can only be done through a definite realization, more real than the five senses can ever produce… It is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within… Such testimony is to be found in the experiences of an unbroken line of prophets and sages in all countries and climes. To reject this evidence is to deny oneself.” — Mahatma Gandhi

    He’s not talking about feelings. He’s not talking about evolution. He most certainly is not talking about me.

    Wisdom does not come from a lab. You won’t find truth under a microscope. Realizing this takes nothing away from the benefits of empirical investigation. However, this realization helps us see that the divine milieu far surpasses what we think we can, in principle, observe.

    • Gandhi is not talking about evolution. He is talking about a meme. Just because previous generations felt the same way he does, and you do, does not make it evidence. I have no wish to denigrate your personal feelings. They are very real to you, just as my feelings are real to me. That doesn’t make them verifiable facts.

      Truth and wisdom are not the same thing. You can know all the facts in the world and not be wise – I’m sure you’d agree with that one at least.

      Like you, Gandhi is beginning with the premise that God is real. Before I believe God is real, I need proof, though even if God turns out to be real, I still won’t worship him if he bears any relation to the God worshiped by every religion I’ve encountered so far.

      • j.a.m. says:

        “You can know all the facts in the world and not be wise – I’m sure you’d agree with that one at least.”

        Indeed — that’s one of the very key points I’ve been trying to make.

        Since every theology you have encountered so far is unsatisfactory, what does a better theology look like? Wouldn’t it make sense to ask that question, so that you’d be more likely to know the real thing if you happen to stumble upon it?

        What would God’s presence have to be like, for it to be worth acknowledging? Seems like that would be a more fruitful question than simply, “Is God there”?

        • I looked a lot for many years. Don’t make assumptions that my “failure” in your eyes is due to ignorance, not trying hard enough etc.

          They all see those outside their tribe as “less” in some way. Almost all of them see women as secondary to men. The rest see men as secondary to women. All are about controlling behaviour in at least some ways that have no effect on the wellbeing of others and are therefore unnecessary. Those three things are enough to put me off.

  17. j.a.m. says:

    It’s hard to know what you mean, since you still haven’t explained what you are trying to say when you use the word God.

    There are no gods. God is the source of reality.

    He is not real because of anything that I do, but rather he is real because it is his essence.

    • It’s those who claim that God is real who have to explain what He is. I find none of your attempts at doing that convincing. And then because you can’t adequately explain, that somehow becomes a failure on my part to understand. I’m not sufficiently in touch with how YOU feel, so I’m inadequate. Everything you say can be explained without invoking God. Until you can prove that God makes a difference in reality and not just in the minds of believers, you have nothing to offer.

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