Monday, July 13, 2015

Science vs Religion

In a social group that I am part of, we had a science vs religion debate. Here are a few points that were raised.
  • Humans can use science just as much as religion to spew venom.
  • Religion causes more harm than good. However, we can't attribute all the ills done in the name of religion, to it. If not for religion, in most cases people would just use another tool.
  • Science is the perpetrator of more ills now, than religion.
The assertion seemed to be that science and religion are equally good or bad. I wanted to address that here.

Firstly, let me acknowledge that yes, we can use science for good and bad. The fruits of science, the nuclear bomb for instance, are a testament to how science can be wielded to cause evil. Yes, religion can also be wielded for good (e.g., religious charities) and bad (e.g., crusades, 9/11).

Secondly, there are political aspects to religious wars. Human greed for power and wealth is certainly a cause. However, religion does not get a free pass.

I'd think these are not controversial points.

What I take issue with is equating science with religion as if to say they are equally good or bad. The suggestion seems to be that, somehow one justifies or exonerates the other. This is a fallacious argument. Even if science were purely evil, religion does not get a free pass. If religion is bad, if it causes evil, we should try to reform it or get rid of it. One does not justify the other.

The comparison between science and religion is also an invalid one. The argument against religion is not just that it causes evil. The argument against religion is multi-pronged.

  1. The primary argument is that it makes fallacious claims about this universe. It makes assertions that cannot be demonstrated or justified. It is demonstrably false (e.g., the claim that prayer works) or unfalsifiable (e.g., god cannot be tested, god does not interfere in this universe).
  2. Even when religious beliefs and dogmatic requirements are well intentioned, and they often are, the baggage they come with taints then. We do not need bad reasons to do good. And to reiterate, bad reasons come with bad baggage. An example - catholic charities in Africa do much good. Yet they refuse to side with condoms and birth control and are culpable for exacerbating the spread of HIV and AIDS.
  3. We can do good, we can be charitable, we can love our neighbors, all without needing a religious dogma mandating that we do. The Scandinavian countries are a testament to this.

In short, religion is false and unnecessary for a healthy society. The more we reform religion to shed its baggage and its fallacious claims, the more it looks like, well, humanism and atheism.

Now let's turn to science. The knowledge of the universe that science gives us can indeed be used for good and bad. However, the similarity with religion ends there. Without the rise of modern science, we would be left behind in the middle ages or worse the stone age. Are we arguing that we are better off staying in the middle ages?

Science itself is a tool and is neutral. Science does not have a mind of its own. It does not force or coerce us to do good or evil. What it is used for is entirely in the hands of the one wielding it.

Science, unlike religion, is a tool for better understanding the universe. It is not false. While it is often wrong, it is self correcting. Again, unlike religion.

Science is why the society we live in has made progress, to a great extent conquered disease, and eradicated famine.

If we remove religion and religious dogma from our lives, we still can live healthy, peaceful, ethical and happy lives. We can live without fear and superstition.

If on the other hand, we remove science, we cannot overcome disease and poverty. Our evolving ethics is informed by science (e.g., homosexuality is a natural human expression and is not harmful) and we are all better off thanks to that.

In other words, science is nothing like religion and the comparison just does not hold. We need one; we need to move away from the other.

  1. I have made a series of assertions in this post without rigorously defending then so that this post is not too long. But I believe each of these are quite defensible.
  2. The term religion is used quite broadly to include belief systems that refer to the supernatural.

Friday, June 27, 2014

On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt

For the Historicity-of-Jesus debate enthusiasts:

Richard Carrier's long awaited book "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt" is now available on Amazon! It is also available for order from the publisher
Sheffield Phoenix Press.

I will be collecting reviews of the book here.
Carrier will be collecting links to his responses here.

Let me know of any reviews not listed here, via comments.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Ehrman - Carrier Spat - Round 2?

Ehrman seems to be revisiting the "ill-tempered Richard Carrier's review".

Ehrman revisits his point about not having any Roman references to Pontius Pilate. Here is what Ehrman actually wrote (on Huffington Post):
"It is true that Jesus is not mentioned in any Roman sources of his day. That should hardly count against his existence, however, since these same sources mention scarcely anyone from his time and place. Not even the famous Jewish historian, Josephus, or even more notably, the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate."
However, in Ehrman's latest retelling of this spat, 'Roman sources" become "any (non-Christian/non-Jewish) pagan sources". He seems to be forgetting that Carrier referenced this point when reviewing his Huffington Post article, not his book.[See update below.] Ehrman writes:
"The following is in reference to my point that we do not have any references to Pontius Pilate in any (non-Christian/non-Jewish) pagan sources of the first century".
I am getting some popcorn!

Update: It looks like Ehrman does clarify in his blogpost that he is aware that Carrier was reviewing his Huffington Post article. As mentioned on the Biblical Criticism & History Forum, here is what he wrote:
Now to be fair to Carrier, his comment was posted on his blog about a short piece that I wrote for the Huffington Post. In that (very!) condensed version of my views, I pointed out that Pontius Pilate is not mentioned in any “Roman sources of his day.” This sent Carrier ballistic: we have the inscription! We have Philo! We have Josephus! Ehrman is an idiot! But if he had simply waited to read my book before blasting off at me, he would have seen what I meant
Ehrman seems to be agreeing that he made a mistake (without calling it one). Perhaps, Carrier should have pointed that out with a smile! :)

[Disclaimer: I am not a subscriber of Ehrman's blog. So, I have only read the teaser.]

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Catholic Hell

Where is the Hell and what can we expect when we get there? What does the catholic church teach us about the hell? Here are your answers, courtesy, the Eternal Word Television Network.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Adam, Eve, the Original Sin and the Catholic Church

If you (like me) move in liberal Catholic circles, you have quite possibly heard the refrain that the Genesis when properly understood, is not in conflict with science. The creation myth that we see in the chapter of Genesis, for instance, is to be understood as a myth, an allegory - a story told to teach us that God created us. It is only people who misunderstand the real purpose who interpret it literally. The catholic church's teaching is quite consistent with evolution and science.

At least, that is the claim. Let's see how the claim stands up to scrutiny.

The story of course is that God created Adam and Eve the man and woman on this earth. All of us are decedents of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command and were banished from the Garden of Eden. This was the "original sin" which the Catholic Church teaches us, is passed on to all of us at birth.

The Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus in his work, "Antiquities of the Jews" (93 or 94 AD) recounts the history of the Jewish people up to the Jewish War. He starts with Adam and Eve and recounts the history as in the Hebrew Bible. Josephus was no Christian but he seems to have taken the Adam and Eve story quite literally.

St. Paul (writing around 50 AD, probably) considers Adam, the "First Adam" and Christ to be the "Last Adam". He has no issues with taking literally, the story of the first parents and the original sin. Here is what he says for instance in Romans 5:12-14,
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) in "The Literal Meaning of Genesis" and his other works makes it clear that the creation account can not be taken completely literally. For God to say "let there be light" at the beginning of creation makes no sense, for instance. While Augustine could look for allegorical meanings, he clearly inferred a literal Adam and Eve.

The Council of Trent (fifth session, 1545–47) in its decree concerning the Original Sin, insisted on a literal Adam and the original sin. Here is a sample.
If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema.
The Council of Trent's decree on justification which is considered nothing less than an infallible extraordinary conciliar decree has this to say:
The holy council declares first, that for a correct and clear understanding of the doctrine of justification, it is necessary that each one recognize and confess that since all men had lost innocence in the prevarication of Adam, having become unclean, and, as the Apostle says, by nature children of wrath, as has been set forth in the decree on original sin, they were so far the servants of sin and under the power of the devil and of death, that not only the Gentiles by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated or to rise therefrom, though free will, weakened as it was in its powers and downward bent, was by no means extinguished in them.
At the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), Pope Pius IX on his way to declaring  papal infallibility, had this to say.
I embrace and accept the whole and every part of what was defined and declared by the holy Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.
The encyclical "Humani Generis" of Pope Pius XII (1950):
For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.
Yet, Pope John Paul II in his "Message To The Pontifical Academy Of Sciences: On Evolution" (1996) said,
In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points.
Was the pope reading a different encyclical, one wonders. The Pope, in this message also goes on to say:
Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God. (Humani Generis)
As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.
This assertion, rather than showing Catholic theology to be consistent with the theory of evolution instead suggests that they are rather inconsistent.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (as it reads today) states:
The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.
The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice". This grace of original holiness was "to share in. . .divine life".
The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the "reverse side" of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ.
While Catholics may not take all of the Bible to be literally true, while they have since the beginning of their religion seen allegory in some of the passages, the orthodox view has been to take Adam and Eve to be literally the first humans on this earth. To say otherwise is a massive rewrite of history.

The Catholic romance with the theory of evolution is a very recent phenomenon. And as we see in what the Popes in the last century have said about it, this romance has been a very bumpy one.

The theory of evolution tells us that humans evolved from more primitive primates such as the homo erectus over a period of time. There is no single point at which homo erectus turned into homo sapiens. There is no single parent, no single point to grow a soul and no single point at which the original sin could be committed. Without the original sin, the theology behind the sacrifice of Christ is called into question. Catholic theology is, most certainly in conflict with the theory of evolution.

More importantly, Catholic theology over the centuries, as we have seen, considered Adam and Eve to be the literal first humans as revealed by the Bible. To say otherwise is simply, ignorance of Catholic history!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Who am I to judge?

Pope Francis set off a storm a few days ago. Addressing journalists aboard a flight from Rio de Janeiro on July 28, the Pope had some kind words for the gay people. He declared, “Who am I to judge them?

Progressive Catholics who are already awestruck by this Pontiff were left gasping for breath. Finally, we see some acceptance of the gay community!

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Let's take a look at what the Pope actually said.
When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem ... they're our brothers.
The Church's teaching, in the recent past at least, has been that homosexuality is not a sin. Homosexual sex, however, is indeed a sin. Any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman are sinful as well. Within a marriage, any sexual activity that excludes procreation is also sinful. In plain terms, using condoms is sinful.

Nothing has changed here. NOTHING. Pope Francis is merely deferring to his boss in heaven (a.k.a God) to do the judging. The Church he heads just tells us what the rules are. And make no mistake, the rules have not changed!

Pope Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI had a harsher way of stating things. Back in 1986, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he co-wrote that even the homosexual inclination should be seen as an objective disorder. Here is what he wrote:
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
The Pope has not disavowed this pronouncement. But he has promised not to judge!

The Pope who does not judge was not too scared to judge back in 2010. The Pope (Cardinal Bergoglio, then) spoke forcefully against same-sex marriage and adoption of children by same sex couples in Argentina. Here is what he said:
“Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
While the Pope may have declined to judge, history may not be so merciful!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Ten Commandments, all twenty of them!

The Ten Commandments that God gave Moses and the Israelites are something akin to the crown jewels of Judaism and Christianity. All Christian kids are taught these commandments at Sunday school. I know I was!

The story of the commandments is very interesting. The God of Israel, Yahweh, rescues the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and leads them them to their promised land - the land of Canaan.

En route, on Mount Sinai, Moses receives the Ten Commandments directly from God. On returning with the commandments, Moses finds the Israelites disobedient and indulging in idolatry. Angry, Moses breaks the tablets on which the commandments were written by God.

God once more gives the commandments to Moses. Here is where the story gets tricky. The second set of commandments are completely different and rarely repeated. We'll see why shortly.

The first set is the one that is cited all the time. Here they are, verbatim (from the New International Version of the Bible). I have marked in red, the important lines. But the interesting ones are in the second set below.

First Set Exodus 20:1-17 (NIV)
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Now, we fast forward fourteen chapters for the second set - Exodus 34:10-28 (NIV). The interesting ones are highlighted.
Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
Do not make any idols.
Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.
No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.
Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.
Yeah, if anyone asks you, the tenth commandment is this: “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.

Now you know why Christians do not mention this second set. God sure is very mysterious in his ways! :)

Note: The first set is repeated with minor changes in Deuteronomy 5.