Thursday, January 11, 2007

Objections 8–10

Here’s the first in the series in my response to the pamphlet by Chaz Bufe called 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity.

(The text in blue is from Mr. Bufe’s pamphlet. I have used ellipses to show where I have condensed the original.)

8. Christianity is anti-intellectual, anti-scientific. 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…. 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…. 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…. 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.

While I will concede that many Christians are anti-intellectual, I would argue that Christianity (along with Judaism) formed the foundation for rise of science. The resistance to new discoveries during the Middle Ages was not a direct result of the teachings of Christianity. It was a result of the human drive to acquire and protect power. One could argue that the conversion of Constantine was not a postive development for the Church.

Dallas Willard has
an interesting take on the conflict between science and religion. His position is that they will always find themselves in conflict. This is not because they cannot be reconciled, but because human nature causes science to relegate religion to the group of things that have nothing to do with what is real.

Mr. Bufe assumes that the correct definition of miracles is "physically impossible events." This "definition" contains several assumptions that could be labeled either arrogant or naive (or both).

  • Reality is entirely described by what can be observed by the senses.
  • If science cannot "operate" on something, it is not real.
  • If the current level of scientific understanding cannot explain how an event could happen, it cannot happen.
  • Science requires belief in materialism.
I wonder if Mr. Bufe is familiar with the unpredictable world of quantum physics. A world where

  • things can suddenly appear out of nothing
  • light can be a wave and a particle at the same time
  • two subatomic can be connected in a mysterious manner known as quantum entanglement
It appears that faith is in the heart of the observer. It seems odd that scientists can produce scholarly articles about the entire universe being generated from a quantum vacuum, about the spontaneous generation of life from this gratuitous matter, and about multiplying universes that never interact and cannot be detected, and yet the idea that the universe could have been created by an eternally existing being is considered an "entirely unsupported myth" and dismissed out of hand as manifestly silly.

9. Christianity has a morbid, unhealthy preoccupation with sex. For centuries, Christianity has had an exceptionally unhealthy fixation on sex, to the exclusion of almost everything else (except power, money, and the infliction of cruelty). This stems from the numerous "thou shalt nots" relating to sex in the Bible. That the Ten Commandments contain a commandment forbidding the coveting of one’s neighbor’s wife, but do not even mention slavery, torture, or cruelty—which were abundantly common in the time the Commandments were written— speaks volumes about their writer’s preoccupation with sex (and women as property). Today, judging from the pronouncements of many Christian leaders, one would think that "morality" consists solely of what one does in one’s bedroom.

From my perspective, it is not the Bible or Christianity that has an unhealthy preoccupation with sex. In the biblical view sex is a significant aspect of human life to be enjoyed in a proper manner and protected from abuse and misuse. It is the modern view that seems to consider sex all important.

I will admit that the Church has its share of prudes. But the libertarian view has clearly been shown to be bankrupt. If something is valued, its use is generally restricted.

10. Christianity produces sexual misery. In addition to the misery produced by authoritarian Christian intrusions into the sex lives of non-Christians, Christianity produces great misery among its own adherents through its insistence that sex (except the very narrow variety it sanctions) is evil, against God’s law…. Given that human beings are by nature highly sexual beings, and that their urges very often do not fit into the only officially sanctioned Christian form of sexuality (monogamous, heterosexual marriage), it’s inevitable that those who attempt to follow Christian “morality” in this area are often miserable, as their strongest urges run smack dab into the wall of religious belief.

Who is the miserable person? Is it the one who enjoys the intimacy that can only flourish in a long-term exclusive relationship? Or is it the one who sleeps with a different person every night never finding intimacy?

Is happiness achieved by surrendering to every bodily urge? Is the potty-trained child somehow dimenished by his or her parents unable to enjoy true freedom?

I realize that these answers are incomplete. What would you add? What do you take issue with?

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


daniel the smith said...

Re: #8:

I think Mr. Bufe is not being honest about/recognizing his presuppositions. Science makes certain presuppositions (and arguably depends on them to function), and science happens to be a great way to figure out about and improve the world we live in-- BUT that doesn't mean that those presuppositions are actually, in fact, true, or the best set of presuppositions that can be made. It just means they are a good way to approach the world (from a utilitarian standpoint) if you want to cure a disease or walk on the moon.

But they aren't such a great way to approach the "big" questions. Actually, starting from those presuppositions, I think one can argue that religion "evolved" for a reason and contributes to the well-being of those who believe it (i.e. offers a survival advantage)!

Even given his presuppositions, he's making some mistakes though. As an example, ball lightening is known only anecdotally (though a couple days ago a lab might have FINALLY reproduced it), and miracles presumably are an even rarer occurrence, and considering that if Christians are correct, God probably doesn't feel the need to prove himself on demand, probably aren't reproducible at all.

One more thing on miracles: If I create a computer simulation of something, I may pause it at any time, go into the computer's memory, change something, and then let it continue. Thus I can make it do things that cannot possibly be "done" by an actor in the simulation. By analogy, if God created the universe, then he presumably inhabits a "larger" reality and has means at his disposal to do things that will never be possible for us to do given the rules of our universe. Hence miracles do not need a scientific explanation, and cannot be said to be ruled out by science.

After reading NT Wright some (like you suggested), it seems reasonable to think that the existence of the church is one of the best evidences possible for a miracle.

As for the anti-intellectual charge-- I think he nails a lot of fundamentalistic evangelicalism. But much of Christianity escapes that criticism.

I have thoughts on the other points too but this will do for now. Glad you made it to italy safely!

Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

I agree with this post. True Christianity has often been a great bastion for scientific discovery.

Pastor Rod said...


Welcome. Thanks for taking the time to share your opinion.


Pastor Rod said...


Good points.

The miracle thing is frequently misunderstood by both sides, I think.