Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Science and Secularism

I was reading PZ Myer's blog. In a recent post, he did something he frequently does, and that many atheists do, which is give this universal primacy to science in the scientific method. Says he: "Faith says that the way to get answers is by revelation, accepting authority, and dogma. Science says that the way to get answers is by examining the evidence critically, testing hypotheses with experiment in the natural world, and by constantly reevaluating and revising our ideas to make them more accurate."

Indeed, he was responding to this: "The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths."

Both of them conflate reason with science. Anyone with passing interest in my blog and writings know that I am very pro-science, but I think that . . . well, I understand that the theists do want to try to limit the damage that the secular world is doing to them. But I am finding it increasingly disturbing that the atheists approach the subject of addressing religion in such a one note way. As if the fight is a brawl over scientific facts, alone!

But it isn't, and science is not the only field to use reason and philosophical materialism to address it's subject matter. Another area -- and this is another key area when discussing matters religions -- is history. History attempts to explain human events without the slightest hint of the supernatural. It is not a science, but all the core elements of history are similar to science, and they are based on the same sort of philosophical materialism of science. You look for data to create an increasing accurate view of the past, and ideas that aren't supported by the data are generally discarded.

History is also one of the most powerful tools that an atheist can use -- and secular historians are definitely under a sustained attack by religious people. Still, it is useful to be able to debunk religion by pointing out not only how none of the supernatural events of various religious works are supported by historical works but also all the other religions that are dead, to be able to talk about how religions are formed and die, the plethora of would-be messiahs and gods whose works have been exposed as frauds, and often the complete lack of a historical record about the existence of these people, and how that record is at variance with religious works.

I know this is true for me. I can be talking with a Christian about Simon Peter and they'll be disturbed at what I'm writing about. That is, after all, part of the point of me writing it. They'll get disturbed and say that I'm factually wrong about things and they'll use what as their sole reference? If you didn't guess "the Bible" then where do you live so I can go there where it isn't know that Christians have a grand total of one reference about everything, hmm? Yes, the Bible. So, I can start talking about historical events and other religions of the period and I'll almost always draw a blank stare. So, you say that Christianity is just Roman Mithraism with a Jewish coat of paint, and that various solar religions with stories similiar to Christianity were all over the area for centuries, Roman, Persian, Greek and Egyptian, the general response I get is a blank stare. Despite Mithraism being the official cult of several Roman legions, including some in the area, and Mithraism's similarity to Christianity, and it predating Christianity by about 200 years, Christians are ignorant of Mithraism.

And that's just one of the gems that can be dropped on Christians from history. The Christian narrative, like all religious narratives, simply can't stand up in the face of the historical record. When a person is able to contextualize a religious story in the broader panoply of history, the stories don't seem as urgent. A Christian reading the Bible can easily feel that what is going on in those stories must have been the most important thing in the universe -- but when compared to the larger story of the Jewish world, the Roman Empire and it's struggle with Persia, the vastness of Indian and Chinese history, all occurring at the same time, it becomes a lot less impressive.

Of course, history isn't even the only additional discipline. Politics is another. Now, politics won't be able to combat the truth or falseness of religion, but when a person has studied politics in any capacity, it becomes painfully obvious that the best sorts of governments are those without church interference. The correlation between a secular government and the well-being of the people under that government is nearly absolute. It is harder to promote religion in society when a person has a good knowledge of politics.

Of course, all of these things are related to some extent. Science and religion share many techniques, and politics and history have interesting interconnections, and they all make use at various stages mathematics and statistics. But the notion that science is the only way to addressing the foolishness of religion is something that needs to stop, I feel.


concerned citizen said...

Hey Chris! (it's just me L>T :) I'm doing a blog for some townspeople before I leave the burg, so I'm back temporary, as "concerned citizen".

Excellent post! (I really miss this stuff :(
I am realizing more & more that history is important to having a well rounded perspective on an issue.
This is one of the places we Godless heathens have an advantage. We aren't afraid of it.
Politics...well, I'm leary about jumping into that myself. How to approach it? Not emotionally, for sure. History is a good way to examine politics, also.
Mathematics makes my head hurt. But I struggle along like a girl.
Philosophy! Yeah!

You are right. It's more then science.

Chris Bradley said...


Yay! Someone to post, hehe.

I think that we've been TAUGHT to be afraid of history and the like by religious people. I think that they mounted an extremely insidious assault. Some of this verges on conspiracy theory, but it should (I think) be kept in mind that it is demonstrable today that the religious folks in America have actively and consciously shaped the science agenda according to their religious mythology.

But this is what I think: I think the common narrative is that leftie liberals destroyed basic liberal arts education in America because they wanted to teach inclusiveness, which means that you can't teach anything offensive, and everything that is a classic work is gonna offend SOMEONE. There is enough truth to that to make it seem plausible, but this is what I think caused the destruction of elementary liberal arts education in America: religion.

Take history, for example. History does not support the Biblical narrative of much of anything. If a person studies history side-by-side with the Bible, what comes out of it? That most Biblical people -- including Jesus and the 12 disciples -- have very little or no historical basis in fact, and that many of the purely historical events of the Bible (such as the census in Luke) are pure fabrication, and nonsensical in light of history. What Christian wants to come home and find their kids going, "The Bible is ahistorical"? Very few.

Same with critical thinking. Critically analyzing religion, especially as youths, must be discouraged because the regular findings of reason are contrary to religious belief. What parent wants to come home and find their children talking about the innumerable contradictions in the Bible?

Liberals might have wanted to change the curricula, but it was religious conservatives who insured that those changes were void of content.

Yona said...

Denmark has the completely opposite approach. In the 70s, the Hippie generation invaded all levels of education and started throwing their weight around. By the end of the decade, ’Christianity’ lessons in primary school were replaced with ’Religion’ (and Jehovahs Witnesses had to be exempt, otherwise they might accidentally learn something). Even in TV, children’s shows, overnight, became areligious to the degree that the traditional 24-part Christmas shows couldn’t mention Christmas, religion or even Santa Claus. The original activists have since lost their grasp of the media, but their hold on education is still pretty strong.

Chris Bradley said...


Unsurprisingly, I consider that state vastly preferable to what we've got in 'Merica. ;)