Degrees of religion

Larry Moran quotes Jason Rosenhouse disputing Phil Plait:

So, after all, that, let us return to Plait’s argument. He tells us that the problem is too many people perceiving evolution as a threat to their religious beliefs. Indeed, but why do they perceive it that way? Is it a failure of messaging on the part of scientists? Is it because Richard Dawkins or P. Z. Myers make snide remarks about religion? No, those are not the reasons.

It is because these people have noticed all the same problems the scholars of Darwin’s time were writing about. It is because evolution really does conflict with their religious beliefs, but not because of an overly idiosyncratic interpretation of one part of the Bible. It is because the version of evolution that so worried the religious scholars of Darwin’s time, that of a savage, non-teleological process that produced humanity only as an afterthought, is precisely the version that has triumphed among modern scientists. And it is because the objections raised to that version of evolution in the nineteenth century have not lost any of their force today.

It is true that what most theists (usually very far from fundamentalists) of the nineteenth century objected to with Darwin’s view of evolution, or rather the popular version of it presented by writers like the anti-clericalist Haeckel, was the implication that evolution was, as Jason puts it, “a savage, non-teleological process that produced humanity only as an afterthought”. Basically the theist account of intellectual Christians presumed that humans were part of God’s plan, and so the idea that there was no purpose to our existence was, to put it mildly, a stumbling block for the brightest religious of the day. But it was not insuperable.

Almost immediately, theists appealed to a distinction that had a long history in theology: that of a distinction between primary cause (God’s actions creating and supporting the world) and secondary causes (the laws of nature acting as if they were basically mechanical causes. Some, like Asa Gray, argued that God intervenes to make the requisite variations occur (for the causes of variation in heredity were as yet unknown) so that natural selection, a secondary cause, would result in humans, like a cook who regulates the heat in cooking to ensure the right outcome, or as he put it

“that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines,” like a stream “along definite and useful lines of irrigation.” [Quoted by Darwin in his Variation under Domestication (1868) Vol. 2: 432]

Others held that God had foreordained the ways the mechanism of selection would work by choosing the right initial conditions. In effect, God chose this world to make knowing, as he must, that humans would be the result. Much appeal to Matthew 10:29 – that not a sparrow falls with God knowing it – was made.

Darwin, of course, rejected this interpretation:

There is another point on which I have occasionally wished to say a few words.— I believe you think with Asa Gray that I have not allowed enough for the stream of variation having been guided by a Higher power.— I have had lately a good deal of correspondence on this head. Herschel in his Phy. Geograph. has sentence with respect to the Origin something to the effect that the higher law of providential arrangement shd. always be stated. But astronomers do not state that God directs the course of each comet & planet.— The view that each variation has been providentially arranged seems to me to make natural selection entirely superfluous, & indeed takes whole case of appearance of new species out of the range of science. [Letter to Lyell, 1 August 1861]

and he repeated this argument in the Variations chapter above. But the point to be made here is that some religious were able to accommodate Darwinian blind evolution by natural selection as a secondary cause. Darwin is right, I think, to reject Gray’s irrigator model of a divine intervention from time to time to keep things on track. It is ad hoc and certainly not good theology. But Gray was no theologian. Both are scientists trying to do science (one in the context of prior belief; the other dismissing this as beyond a modified monkey’s brain).

So let us return to Rosenhouse’s claim: that evolution, of itself, challenges religion. Secondary causes were discussed as long ago as Aquinas in the 12th century, and he did not invent the idea (Wikipedia has Augustine, in the 4th century, as the originator of this). His mentor Albertus Magnus, no mean naturalist himself, wrote:

In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass. [De vegetabilibus et plants l.2 tr.2 c.1. Some more on Albert as a scientist here: PDF]

This is very like what Darwin said in the Variation: science addresses how things occur by natural law, not by God’s direct intervention. And note that this rather modern view is seven centuries before the Origin. So it is at best rather anachronistic to assert that “religion” could not adopt evolution, when the intellectual resources were not only there in theology, but were in fact the “default” opinion even since the “One Truth doctrine” had been asserted against the Occasionalists and Averroes in the middle ages. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous for Jason and Larry to assert that religion necessarily contradicts Darwinian evolution. The use of this notion has even become the standard Catholic approach to the issue.

It is true that much of the debate about Darwin in the latter half of the 19th century was focused on God’s agency and purpose. However, usually the folk doing the debating were public intellectuals rather than theologians. Often they defended a theological perspective that was at best questionable even within their own tradition (as Dewey said, we do not solve philosophical problems, we get over them. This is uneven and cyclical even within a doctrinal community). And it is true that natural selection undercut the purposiveness of living things that was assumed by natural theology and similar traditions. But natural theology was dying out as Darwin wrote (and not because of him precisely) and even the “God of the gaps” theme now so beloved of exclusionists was invented by a religious writer dealing with Darwin. Henry Drummond wrote in his Ascent of Man (1894):

There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps – gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode? What needs altering in such finely jealous souls is at once their view of Nature and of God. Nature is God’s writing, and can only tell the truth; God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.

If by the accumulation of irresistible evidence we are driven – may not one say permitted – to accept Evolution as God’s method in creation, it is a mistaken policy to glory in what it cannot account for. The reason why men grudge to Evolution each of its fresh claims to show how things have been made is the groundless fear that if we discover how they are made we minimize their divinity. When things are known, that is to say, we conceive them as natural, on Man’s level; when they are unknown, we call them divine – as if our ignorance of a thing were the stamp of its divinity. If God is only to be left to the gaps in our knowledge, where shall we be when these gaps are filled up? And if they are never to be filled up, is God only to be found in the disorders of the world? Those who yield to the temptation to reserve a point here and there for special divine interposition are apt to forget that this virtually excludes God from the rest of the process. If God appears periodically, he disappears periodically. If he comes upon the scene at special crises he is absent from the scene in the intervals. Whether is all-God or occasional-God the nobler theory? Positively, the idea of an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker who is the God of an old theology. Negatively, the older view is not only the less worthy, it is discredited by science. [333-4]

Drummond argues that science’s job is not to final moral purpose in the world; this cannot be done. But its job is to find how things have evolved.

So when we read this comment by Jason, I am left wondering what the reference class of the term “religion” is for him and Larry, and others. I am sure that they would not wish to adopt the parlour trick of Richard Dawkins and say “we are not talking about the god of the philosophers, but the god of ordinary religion” and then slip in conclusions applying to all religion based on arguments against that type only. That would be disingenuous indeed. Certainly that was not how Darwin or Huxley approached the matter.

“Religion” is one of the more slippery terms in modern discourse.The dictionary will not help, as dictionaries are maps to common usage, not a technical definition (unless they also give one or more such technical definitions). And being slippery, one can elide from a more inclusive definition to a specific, and back again, in one’s arguments. This is known as the fallacy of ambiguity. As religious anthropologist James Dowe noted

“Religion” is, in fact, a folk category in Western culture. Comparative analysis can flounder on efforts to use folk categories in scientific analysis. [A scientific definition of religion, p5]


Religion is a collection of behavior that is only unified in our Western conception of it. [p7]

To aver that religion is necessarily opposed to evolutionary theory, when there are so many instances of it not being, is a category error. Jason and Larry might reject the idea that this view is “religion” as they understand it. That would be to put the folk definition in a privileged position, when even the scientists who study the phenomenon do not. But allow that these philosophically minded views are part of religion, at least historically, and you find the claim untenable.

What we need to do is to specify the degree of religion that finds evolution impossible to reconcile with belief, for there surely is some, and a lot of it. I think of a particular religion as a series of concentric circles. At the most broad, one’s religion is label and a set of rituals (including statements of belief) that includes anything that falls under that rubric. “Christian” includes folk beliefs in demons and spirits as well as theologically refined views like Drummond’s or Aquinas’. But folk religion is rarely what the more educated people think, and so the superstitions of religion fall away as you move inwards. The average educated believer knows that somehow religion and evolution are not at odds, but they probably do not know how, and take it on faith the two are consistent. More refined thinkers find ways to reconcile the secondary causation of science and the primary causation of God. A few theologians, not all by any means, give the arguments; the extent of their approach is restricted, but logically coherent.

Now any religious community consists of many theological and philosophical traditions, and they are often at odds. A strand of the Christian community appeals to Aristotelian notions of causation and teleology against what they see as the soulless and mindless actions of natural law in modern scientific theories, to be sure. These thinkers strive to show that Darwinian selection is incomplete, or simply wrongheaded, and apply all kinds of arguments like irreducible complexity or design. But they are not the entirety of the tradition, nor are they, at least outside the United States and Turkey, the majority of religious thinkers. They use the resources of secondary causation to deal with things, and their problem is not whether or not natural selection works, but how it reconciles with providentialist theology (I wrote a paper on this very topic, by the way, giving at least one way this might be done, using Leibnizian multiple worlds). How they do it is not my concern, but the fact that they do do it is itself a counter instance to the claim Jason and Larry make.

Few theologians of any note are literalists, no matter what the tent preacher might assert. Nor is religion necessarily superstitious (unless one holds the a priori view that belief in any deity is superstition, a position I am not inclined to defend). At the least, there are varieties of religious belief that are not anti-scientific. Accommodationism is not yet dismissed. Evolution is inconsistent with some religious views, no doubt about that. But it is not inconsistent with “religion”. To say otherwise is to equivocate. Plait is right, and Jason and Larry are not.

I think this is due, in large part, to the media presence of the fundamentalists in north America, something that is not the same throughout the world. I have never understood why Dawkins adopted the “folk religion is religion simpliciter” approach in The God Delusion. He’s British, for Darwin’s sake! In Britain and other countries like Australia that noisy minority is, in fact a small minority, and forms of religion are not so straightforward as he made out. Larry and Jason I can understand. The “metaphysical purpose with a cup of tea” approach of British and Continental religions is rare there. I used to find comforting the older British style Baptists, and like Larry and Jason I decry the obsessive and combative attempts of the Southern Baptist style of fundamentalism to control public debate. But let us not lose sight of the fact that the majority of theists are not literalists, and they can rather easily find the resources to accept evolution, real evolution including unguided natural selection. It takes a while for traditions to change and catch up, that is all.

Mind, ask me about the problem of evil, and you’ll get a different answer. But we aren’t discussing that here.

Late note: I am mostly arguing against Larry, here, but Jason has cited a number of religious sources where authorities have attacked evolution, and historians have interpreted this. I am particularly fond of Artigas, who he cites, on Catholic trends. My argument, however, is that religions are not of necessity opposed to evolution. His argument is that the reason why evolution is problematic for religion is the loss of moral purpose in nature. We are both correct, and it is not Dawkins’ or PZ Misty’s fault that this happens. We are at one.

28 thoughts on “Degrees of religion

  1. “So when we read this comment by Jason, I am left wondering what the reference class of the term ‘religion’ is for him and Larry, and others.”

    Whatever Jason may have meant, it is clear that Darwinian (and neo-Darwinian) evolution is antithetical and incompatible with a plain or natural (“literal” if you wish) reading of the Bible.

    I would prefer to put it that way (using words like “antithetical” and “incompatible”) rather than use Jason’s word “threat,” which implies some fear. Bible-believing Christians should not fear anything man can do; they are only to fear God who will be their ultimate Judge.

    But a “Christianity” that is willing to compromise and incorporate Darwinian thinking is nothing but an unworthy syncretism, a composite of two worldviews that don’t actually mesh. Theistic evolution is a sad oxymoron.


  2. I had an email exchange with a British sociologist of religion a couple of years ago. He was interested in accounting for the decline in church attendance and other measurable markers of religiosity in Europe over the last couple of centuries in Europe and rejected the idea that the emergence of evolutionary thinking had much to do with it. I mostly agreed with him, but I pointed out that what perhaps did matter was not the success of an apparently godless theory of the origin of species but the failure of the alternative approaches. Scientists of the early 19th Century didn’t expect to find that the Genesis account was literally correct—the so-called Biblical geology was a crank position very early on—but many of them did think that what they would eventually discover would point to a role for something like an intelligence working in nature. I hypothesized that it mattered that that dog didn’t bark and that religion lost support from one important sector of elite opinion that it could formerly count on. The sociologist allowed there might be something to my idea, though, obviously, the effect would have been indirect and surely less influential than other factors when it came to explaining why there are fewer cars are in the church parking lot on Sunday.


  3. “Bible-believing Christians should not fear anything man can do; they are only to fear God who will be their ultimate Judge.”

    As if creation is from God and evolution from man – both are from man.


    1. The truth of creation was revealed by God to men. Evolution is a set of falsehoods formulated by sinful men in opposition to God’s truth.

      To use John’s terminology . . . in order to accept evolution, one must believe in several “silly things.”


      1. It’s ok Richard. Those of us who deny that evolution is incompatible with ALL religion are quite happy to let it be incompatible with yours if that’s the way you want it. And if you like you can even also insist that the (approximate) sphericity of the earth is also incompatible with your religion. It is however possible to be religious in some sense of the term without being completely nuts.


        1. Hi, Alan. No one is suggesting that evolution is incompatible with ALL religion. Evolution is quite compatible with religions having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). For example, liberal Protestants, liberal Catholics, and any others who downplay the authority and historicity of the Bible.

          Now regarding the sphericity of our planet, that is something that’s empirically verifiable, unlike biological macroevolution, an abiotic origin of life, and a “Big Bang.” The medieval church has indeed been accused of retarding the progress of science by teaching that the Earth is flat — but that charge is actually a myth propagated by evolutionist academics (!) who should have known better. Take a look at Stephen Jay Gould’s writeup on this, originally published in Natural History:

          By the way, did you know that the current leadership of the Flat Earth Society are . . . evolutionists?


            1. Interesting questions — and distinct questions, each of which requires a separate answer.

              (1) “What does the Bible say about the sphericity of the earth?”

              (a) There’s no particular requirement that it must say anything. (The earth’s shape is not a “salvation issue,” where our eternal destiny depends on having the correct knowledge.)

              (b) In fact, the earth’s sphericity was ascertainable empirically, and did not need divine revelation for us to learn about it. By the 5th century before Christ, the large majority of Greek philosophers understood the earth to be round. “Aristotle [4th century BC] saw that the evidence of the earth’s sphericity lies in the spherical appearance of the heavens, in the limitation of our view over the sea by the curvature of the earth, in the fact that we see the stars differently depending on our latitude, in the perfect motion of the stars, which implies that they move on a perfect sphere, in that the hull of a ship disappears from our eyes before the mast does, in that the higher one’s elevation the farther one can see, and in that eclipses of the moon are caused by the shadow of the spherical earth.” (Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth, pp. 24f.) Aristotle also had non-empirical reasons for his view, involving aesthetics and symmetry, but the foregoing are all empirically based.

              (c) Not only did the ancients determine the earth to be spherical, but its circumference was even calculated to a fair degree of accuracy — by Eratosthenes in the 3rd century BC.

              (d) As Stephen Jay Gould noted, in an essay discussing Russell’s book, “Greek knowledge of sphericity was never lost, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”

              (e) Having said all of that, there is a biblical text that can be taken as alluding to the shape of the earth. Isaiah 40:22, referring to God, says: “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth ….” The Hebrew word translated “circle” is khug. One of my Hebrew lexicons (Gesenius) says this word means “a circle, sphere, used of the arch or vault of the sky”; another lexicon (Davidson) defines the word as simply “circle, sphere“. So it seems the word is compatible with a three-dimensional globe, but such a shape is not necessarily demanded by the word. (This is something like our word “round” which applies to circles, discs, cylinders, and spheres.) Conclusion: Because of the semantic range of the Hebrew word, and because Isaiah 40:22 is written in Hebrew poetry, and because there is no other text that definitively indicates the earth’s shape, I am not going to insist that Isaiah 40:22 must be understood as referring to a spherical earth.

              (f) For a stronger view (which I think is overstated), that Isaiah 40:22 cannot be taken as referring to a spherical earth, see Robert J. Schneider, “Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth?”

              (2) “Do orbs have corners?”

              (a) “Orb” is synonymous with “sphere” or “globe.” No, they do not have corners.

              (b) This question is different from the first, in that the Bible is not required to explicitly present a spherical earth, but on the other hand it is required not to teach some other shape for the earth, such as a flat disc or square. If the Bible clearly promoted such a shape, that would be a material error, which would overthrow the inerrancy of Scripture, and would constitute evidence that the Bible is not the revelation of an all-knowing God.

              (c) Isaiah 11:12 states concerning the Lord: “He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters [or corners] of the earth.” The Hebrew word translated “quarters” or “corners” is the plural form of kanaph. One of my Hebrew lexicons defines this word as a wing, edge, extremity (Gesenius); another says it means wing of a bird, extremity, extreme part, corner (Davidson).

              (d) Ezekiel 7:2 contains the same expression, including the number “four,” and the Hebrew word ‘eretz which is translated “earth” in Isaiah 11:12. But ‘eretz in Ezekiel 7:2 evidently refers only to the land of Israel: “Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to the land of Israel: The end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land.”

              (e) The expression “ends of the earth” or “edges of the earth,” but without the number “four,” also occurs in Isaiah 24:16; Job 37:3; 38:13. The Hebrew wording is the same as in Isaiah 11:12 and Ezekiel 7:2.

              (f) Because the above passages from Isaiah and Job are all written in Hebrew poetry (contrast with Genesis 1), and the words kanaph and ‘eretz have a variety of meanings within their respective semantic ranges, and they are not intentional didactic passages regarding geomorphology or cosmogony (in contrast to Genesis 1), it seems to me ill-considered to insist that they are clearly teaching error.

              (g) Revelation 7:1 states: “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” (Compare with the similar expression in Revelation 20:8.) The Greek term translated “corners” is the plural of gonia, which, according to my Greek lexicon, can be rendered as angle, corner, obscure place, extremity, or quarter (of the earth).

              (h) Because Revelation is an apocalyptic book, often employing (what strikes us as) lurid, bizarre imagery, and the author is borrowing an expression from the Hebrew Bible which may be translated in different ways, and the Greek word translated “corners” has a wide semantic range, and the book of Revelation is not intentionally didactic regarding geomorphology or cosmogony (in contrast to Genesis 1), it seems to me inappropriate to insist that the cited passages in Revelation are clearly teaching error.

              Thanks for your questions, Michael. In a way, I apologize for the lengthy response, but I hope it’s helpful.


              1. That’s the great thing about believing in a god – everything can be made compatible with it – because of the a priori belief that a god exists. It is entirely circular.


              2. Jeb, you wrote: “For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information;…….”
                Augustine on this matter and how scripture and prophecy suggest one aspect of the story is unbelievable.

                According to the link you provided, Augustine wrote: “. . . it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man.”

                So Augustine did not arrive at his rejection of populated Antipodes from any Scriptural information, but from simple personal incredulity. He wrote: “. . . that is on no ground credible.”

                Now, your own comment regarding Scripture and prophecy is also presented as based on simple personal incredulity: all you write is that it’s “unbelievable.”

                Therefore: as far as your email goes, you are on exactly the same ground as Augustine.

                (By the way, let’s observe that Augustine did accept a spherical earth. And of course, he was not wrong to be wary of what was at that time only a “scientific conjecture.” In hindsight, he just shouldn’t have been so dogmatic about his skepticism.)


              3. Its culturally driven incredulity. As support for the antipodes also appears to be cultural driven (unless John and his fellow Australians are dwarfs or faeries).

                Does seem to be cultural disposition that’s driving adopting what we can retrospectively determine as the ‘true’ position and what seems to be the motivating factor is an entirely fictive folk belief.


              4. p.s Richard. I use the comment system here at times in a selfish way to think as I read. I have no particular argument to make or axe to grind other than I would like to say aspects of the debate presented in an academic manner by both scientist and creationists. I dislike seeing the subject I study presented as little more than a form of popular entertainment used for cheer-leading purposes (The core of my researcher is relationship between medieval and late 17th century “just so stories” in regard to man like apes).

                But I would suspect you are going to have the flat earth thing thrown in you’re face in future and you also make the claim that evolution is a just so story. Good to understand the issues fully.

                I think creationist and sections of the scientific community use these types of subject in a rather rhetorical way. Some of the themes here are very old creatures of satire. In this regard you could say debate is very traditional here and very emotive.

                Really good place to start to understand Augustine’s scriptural concerns is Gabriella Moretti, The Other World and the Antipodes The Myth of the Unknown Countries between Antiquity and the Renaissance, in Wolfgang Haase, The Classical Tradition and The Americas: European images of the Americas.

                Its also a good place to start if you want to make any claims with regard to just so stories in an academic manner. But as an evangelical christian you should find the history interesting. Augustine concerns are rather linked to aspects of you’re contemporary belief. Its also interesting in the way it contrasts the political concerns of Imperial Rome (relationship with Evangelical notions in its imperial ambitions and claims) and its good on the satirical element as well (related to above politics).

                It demonstrates the complexity and range of factors at play that you have to deal with such subjects. Hopefully you can read the relevant section below if you want.



          1. The origin of the just so story is interesting. The history of the belief actually held by people is just as interesting. High point in the U.K seems to be between about 1860 until around the death of Lady Blount (the belief itself is relatively modern).

            You should read something of Lady Blount’s history and her work for the Universal Zetetic Society.

            You would agree strongly with her motives and indeed you use language and an argument which is at times identical (judge and reflect for yourself on that one, I would seriously recommend doing so). Attack was by no means confined to the shape of the earth.

            Science and creationists blogs seem to deal with the myth busting side rather than the actually history of the belief which is late and seems to be a response to developments in science around the end of the 19th century.

            Not referring to her rather unfortunate choice of vehicles to attack what she termed “the religion of science” but when you look at the wider context of her argument she is a part of what you are and where you come from.


            1. Hmm …

              Premise 1: Lady Blount made some arguments based on the Bible.

              Premise 2: Richard Peachey makes some arguments based on the Bible.

              Conclusion: Richard Peachey has to own responsibility for Lady Blount’s views even though he doesn’t share them.

              Rebuttal: Sorry, Jeb, I don’t think so!

              Have a great day.


              1. Richard that’s the second time you have been highly insulting please don’t make it a third.

                “Premise 1: Lady Blount made some arguments based on the Bible.

                Premise 2: Richard Peachey makes some arguments based on the Bible.”

                I would suggest actual reading what she read rather than running with you’re imagination or going with you’re ability to read my mind.

                “Conclusion: Richard Peachey has to own responsibility for Lady Blount’s views even though he doesn’t share them.”

                Well perhaps you disagree with the anti-evolution position taken or the argument used that appears in the publications she was responsible for. That would be nice and a relief for everyone who is patient enough to listen to you’re position.

                p.s Could you please trying avoid inventing you’re own conclusions. Ask for clarity if you are unclear.

                In you’re defense I would note you do not normally engage in this form of insult and mindless response.

                Its very clear you have read nothing of the history of the subject and are speaking from ignorance.

                Please don’t assume other people have the same historical standards. I did suggest you go read the sources for yourself as I am aware you would be skeptical of anything I said, although I thought you would do better than this end of the peer response.

                It comes across as seriously arrogant Richard. You can do much better.

                Please don’t do this again.


              2. P.S Have a reflective day Richard. Pause for a minute before replying to questions and don’t run with the lizard part of you’re brain, wait for the rest to fully engage.

                You assume the worst far to often and make rebuttals that don’t make sense based on the rather generalized perspective you hold on anyone who disagrees with you’re position.


              3. My dear friend Jeb, I’m very concerned that you perceived my brief post to be a personal insult. (I take comfort from the fact that you took one whole paragraph to speak “in [my] defense.”) What I actually intended was a friendly, humorous poke at your suggestion that Lady Blount’s writing has anything to do with me. A gentle mock was all I had in mind, not an insult. So I hope you will accept my apology for coming across to you in an unacceptable way.

                I do not, however, withdraw my rejection of your attempt to connect me with this Lady Blount. If you’re going dispute my own argumentation directly, no problem. But I don’t want someone else’s thinking attributed to me, especially some obscure figure from a century or more ago. (I did not find Lady Blount listed in the index of Ronald Numbers’ The Creationists, nor in the index of Henry Morris’s History of Modern Creationism, nor in the index of Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth.)

                Nor would an evolutionist want all of Darwin’s wrong ideas (of which there are many, acknowledged by evolutionists themselves) attributed to them. So let’s keep the discussion in the arena of current thought.

                Now, contrary to your statements:

                (1) I did actually read some of Lady Blount’s material, but found the disintegrating typography difficult to look at, so didn’t read very much.

                (2) I have actually read about the history of these subjects — i.e., both the Flat Earth myth and the evolution/creation conflict. The books cited above are some of the ones I have read in detail. But I never heard of Lady Blount at all before you mentioned her.

                (3) While rebuking me for being insulting, you label me as mindless, ignorant, and arrogant (not to mention your telling me my brain has a lizard part, which you know I won’t find acceptable!). Well, let’s say we’re even on that score, and move on.

                Having said all that, if you still think I should read more about Lady Blount, please provide a worthwhile link. Perhaps I just didn’t locate the material you had in mind.

                All the best,


  4. I read this post last night. I woke up this morning thinking, oh bollocks.

    My first waking thought was, a source I am using in a paper on Iron age ritual practice may have to be rejected as it strongly looks like it’s ethnocentric. It may tell me rather a lot about how Romans perceived other people, but very little else.

    A common and persistent problem dealing with sources in these subject areas.


    1. In my case, not simply a Roman issue these problems are multi-layered and point to issues in 20th century scholarship and the formation of modern ethnic identities claiming legitimacy from an unsullied and empirically drawn native history free of outside influence.

      I think you have to be highly skeptical of points made in these modern debates, as you would with any other from of similar material from the past.

      Identifying issues of this type is far from easy.


  5. Your point that the “God of the gaps theme now so beloved of exclusionists was invented by a religious writer dealing with Darwin….Henry Drummond…” is really super. I have been thinking about writing a paper on the “god of the gaps” claims one here’s so frequently among the exclusionists. Most of these claims are question begging I think, and, if you’re right, noted before by religionists. It goes to show you just how complex these issues are and the ignorance of many of the new atheists about the history of debates in this area (I’m not meaning to include J. Rosenhouse in this last point).


  6. The problem is almost no one (including religious believers and not just new atheists) understand how complex this is. As soon as someone can explain how theologians find out the truth about gods, then we can talk about inclusionists and exclusionists. I am still waiting for a theologian to adequately explain his or her methodology – my recent foray was to explore the extensive discussion at the Center for Theology and Natural Science and its founder Ian Barbour. More heat than light in my opinion.


    1. My extensive experience of theology extends only to back episodes of Father Ted. So I would understand that the claim that science proves religion to be an invalid and damaging cultural concept and the “mad beast must be destroyed” would be a significant ecumenical matter.

      I don’t see that as being a debate you could seek to exclude anyone from.
      Particularly those who would be effected by it the most.

      And if we are going down the road of could anyone who’s identity is not constructed according to strict scientific principles please leave the building. I don’t think anyone would be left in the room aside from the seriously deluded.


  7. I never said it did. I never said science was the only means of acquiring knowledge. I just don’t think theology is on of those alternatives.


  8. Was not aimed at you in any way Michael. More myself.

    I don’t think you can distance knowledge from emotion and I can see what makes me emotive and irritated here. It also points to a weakness in the way I think about these subjects. Acquiring knowledge, theology not subjects I think about.

    The only science or natural history subjects I touch on are all from a science perspective errors.

    If I was asked asked the moment what made religion successful in early medieval Europe I would give a simplistic answer and say it had nothing to do with religion and everything about land and property ownership.

    Simply because I don’t have a full picture. Serious range of questions that remain unanswered, development of Christianity 6th century onwards mirrors the development of ethnicity for example. Why the difference they both share similar features?

    Danger that these debates focus solely on knowledge side of things and ignore the cultural and social aspects.

    Weakness for me I only think about the cultural/ social side. Reflects my educational background and the perspective that religion develops by chance in response to habitat/ environment rather than by intelligent design.

    I like to identify bias and weakness in my own thought more than I do in other people.

    One of the most common errors to see stupidity as always residing somewhere else.


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