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Feb 22 2012

The Lame That Would Not Die!

What is The Lame? Unfortunately no one can be told what The Lame is. You have to see it for yourself. No, just kidding. It’s the claim that “Science Requires a Christian Worldview.” JT just blogged that, responding reasonably enough to a repeat of a standard Christian apologetic shibboleth (and, as he callously and shamelessly threatened therein, did indeed email me the link in question as if to annoy me, like the gangster cad that we all know he is; for shame). I realized I should probably collect a resource list of all I’ve written in refutation of it. This is that list.

First, I pretty much kick the legs out from under it with the extensive historical argument (since non-Christians invented science, and that centuries before Christianity even existed, obviously science does not require a Christian worldview) in “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” The Christian Delusion (2010), pp. 396-420. You really don’t have to read anything else on the subject, frankly.

Second, I refute one component of the philosophical case, the claim that the universe must have been designed to be understood or the human brain designed to understand it, in “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed,” The End of Christianity (2011), pp. 279-304 (key pages: pp. 298-302). That’s a short but compact and effective refutation, with references.

Third, I take on the entire Argument from Reason (which is a kind of umbrella argument that includes the claim that science only makes sense if Christianity is true, by arguing that reason would not exist but for God) in an extensive philosophical critique of Victor Reppert’s Argument from Reason. But the most pertinent sections of that are my refutation of the original version of the “Science Needs Christianity” argument from (Surprise!) C.S. Lewis. Those are the sections on where the “Five Axioms of Science” came from, and preceding that, on why “Our Mind Is Reliable Enough for Inductive Logic to Work.” And following both, I refute the more general claim that “Only Theists Can Invent Science” (although I give an even clearer answer to that in the Christian Delusion chapter, item 1 above).

Fourth, I have refuted the claim that the mathematical nature of the universe entails it was intelligently designed, in my critiques of Steiner and Howell. But of those, my refutation of Steiner (Fundamental Flaws) is less fun to read than my refutation of Howell (Our Mathematical Universe), in which I refute Howell’s attempt to rehabilitate Steiner; and really, if you’ve read the latter, you don’t need so much to read the former (unless you are really geeking out on the ontology of scientific theories, which is totally cool if you are).

Now you can add to all that JT’s response, which covers a lot of the most common sense rebuttals. The only weakness of which is that he doesn’t give the best response to the claim that “the atheist worldview cannot account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process.” He rightly points out that an argument from ignorance is a fallacy, and that Christians don’t really believe in the uniformity of nature (remember those miracles they keep going on about?), and if anyone is going to suss this, it’s going to be actual cosmological scientists, not hack armchair theologians.

But there is one argument one can make that kind of dodges those otherwise obvious points: the evidence e is “the uniformity of nature,” and the explanation h “God made it that way” makes e highly probable whereas one might suppose ~h “a god did not make it that way” does not make e highly probable, therefore e is an argument for god. Not that this must be a conclusive argument; having evidence for something is not the same as that something being true. For example, you can have evidence for someone committing a crime that in fact they didn’t commit–like fingerprints on a murder weapon, which could have gotten there in other ways besides having used it to kill the vic. But still.

The real problem is that ~h is a stand-in for all other theories of the evidence. Because h and ~h together must include all logically possible explanations of the evidence. And since h is only one of them (“God did it”); then necessarily ~h contains all other explanations. Many of which do make e highly probable. We don’t have to pick one, either. We can say “I can think up ten different explanations, other than God, which all guarantee that e will obtain” (for ten such examples see below). And if those all have a higher prior probability than “God did it,” then God is no longer the better explanation. In fact, it then becomes one of the worst. Note that we don’t have to know or even claim that any of those explanations is true. It’s still the case that more probably one of them is true, than that h is true, regardless.

I outline several of these possible explanations in Sense and Goodness without God (especially in section III.3 on “The Nature and Origin of the Universe,” pp.  71-96, and most especially, pp. 86-88), and all of them are more plausible than “God did it,” which means, all have a higher prior probability, because all of them are based on established precedents or simpler assumptions (on this point in general see my End of Christianity chapter again, item 2 above, pp. 282-84). Accordingly, I’ll count this as my fifth listed resource.

So there you have it. A complete kit for battling The Lame.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Ben Schuldt

    And don’t forget that the Christian god’s ways are infinitely above and beyond our ways (Isaiah 55:9) and that no one knows the thoughts of this god (1 Cor. 2:11). Since that gap of knowledge is insisted to be infinite (by definition of this type of god) the possibilities from our perspective for how the universe might proceed must be infinite. Hence, the premise, “I know what this kind of god would do with the uniformity of the universe” is being pulled out of their ass. Don’t like that conclusion? Remember, no talking back (Romans 9:20). Christians are therefore standing on the brink of existential chaos every moment of every day just like everyone else.

  2. 2
    Jeffy Joe

    Hmmm. I use modeling (in cognitive psychology) and have even dabbled in Bayesian models. I’m probably serving myself up for a thumping, but I’m not sold that applying the Bayesian concept is useful for problems without defined probabilities. To take just one component that would need to be defined in the problem from the post, we need a likelihood that the universe would be “uniform” (obey consistent laws) if it were created by God. How could you possibly justify ANY estimate of this likelihood? Probability is simply an incoherent concept in this situation. Out of all the universes that God has created, what proportion obey consistent laws? The question doesn’t seem to mean anything, much less have a justifiable answer.
    Bayesian inference is obviously a powerful tool, and is THE correct tool when you are working with probabilistic data and hypotheses (and when you have a model that gives actual likelihoods and some real basis for establishing prior probabilities). I’m just not sold on the value of pretending you can do a Bayesian analysis when you actually have none of the necessary information. This is relevant to my own field too, where we DO have models that define real likelihoods for the observed data (putting us one step ahead of a “theological” Bayes application) but we do NOT have any real way to define the prior probability that a model is correct.
    I’m eager to hear why I am wrong about this!

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      Jeffy Joe: I’m probably serving myself up for a thumping, but I’m not sold that applying the Bayesian concept is useful for problems without defined probabilities.

      No thumping deserved. It’s a common objection. I answer it extensively in Proving History. So you’ll want to check that out.

      Already I provide some analytical examples in The Christian Delusion and The End of Christianity, but you’d have to read between the lines to extract the general principles that explain how we can talk meaningfully about relative priors even when they aren’t precisely defined. Whereas I go straight to the general principles (and then some) in Proving History (although there from the perspective of historical reasoning, it’s easy to see how they apply to philosophy as well).

  3. 3
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Why O Why do you need to equate disingenuous theocratic gangsterism with physical disability.

    The Lame are the millions around the world – like me – who, while technically able to move upright, cannot “walk” without limps, gimps, or supports.

    I’m tired of people saying that it’s wrong to say a TV show is “gay” but just fine to say it’s “lame”.

    This is a FreeThought blog. Are you really thinking when you smear those of use with mobility impairments with this twisted, insidious assertion?

    I don’t find myself twisted or insidious. I’m rarely disingenuous. I heartily disavow gangsterism. And if there’s one thing I most certainly am not, it’s theocratic.

    So why tar me with this brush? Trying to force one’s worldview on another – especially children – through deceit and miseducation isn’t lame, it’s Teh Evil.

    1. 3.1
      Richard Carrier

      Crip Dyke: The Lame are the millions around the world – like me – who, while technically able to move upright, cannot “walk” without limps, gimps, or supports.

      Gimps? You have leather clad sex slaves carrying you around? Who does that? (Oh wait, right, Master Blaster. I forgot. My bad.)

  4. 4
    Jon of Brisbane

    Agreed, Richard.

    I used to be a hard-core Van-Tillian back in the mid to late 90s. Honestly, TAG boils down to a mere assertion: that without God you couldn’t prove anything.

    Oh bullshit.

    Which God? And if you claim the Christian God, which version of the Christian God (and there are quite a few floating around today – see Boyd, Craig, Helm, Hasker, etc)?

    And, Greg Bahnsen used to claim, not only the Christian God as the transcendental to all experience, but, he also claimed the Bible as a whole as the precondition to all intelligibility. I mean, fuck, really??? Well, which Bible? And which theology? And, for example, is “Abraham lived in Ur” a transcendental to human experience? You get where I’m going with this.

    And what of, say, Islam, which could also claim TAG? Or those worldview/religions (using those terms VERY loosely here), that are so similar to Xianity (whatever THAT is) but are different enough to claim their own title, like , say, Fristianity. Why doesn’t a dual God-head makes science possible, rather than a trinity?

    Van Til, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Butler and co. never answered those Q’s satisfactorily – all part of my deconversion process. They merely beat their chest, proclaimed it to be so, illustrated their so-called points with individual point-scoring against this and that religion/worldview (and thus not demonstrating that *only* Christianity provides the preconditions to intelligibility – argument from ignorance, and/or hasty generalisation fallacy), and yelled at any and all detractors.

    So, to any of your presuppers out there: how can you *demonstrate* your chest-beating claims that *only* Xianity can provide the preconditions for the intelligibility of any noesis whatsoever? Or science, logic and morality as Bahnsen so *arbitrarily* claimed. And what *exactly* are we presupposing here? *Which Christian doctrines* and why?

    Finally, How do you know that Xianity (whatever that is) satisfies the TAG / preconditions to all intelligibility )including science) unless you knew what those preconditions were in the firs place, and compared Xianity to them? And here infinite regress problems surface their heads.

    Presuppositionalism, of the TAG sort, is the biggest load of tripe in apologetic history, like ever.

  5. 5
    John W. Loftus

    “First, I pretty much kick the legs out from under it with the extensive historical argument (since non-Christians invented science, and that centuries before Christianity even existed, obviously science does not require a Christian worldview) in “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” The Christian Delusion (2010), pp. 396-420. You really don’t have to read anything else on the subject, frankly.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. Nothing better on the subject has been written.

  6. 6
    Ryan

    Here’s something that may be of interest that I posted on JT’s blog:

    We don’t fully understand the reason that there are generalizations that constantly hold true (laws of physics). However, there are plausible suggestions about why:

    (a) Just as 1 plus 1 always equals 2, the reason some statements are always true may be because they are logically or mathematically necessary. It may not always be obvious to us that these laws are mathematically necessary, but so what? Off the top of my head, it isn’t obvious that the sum of 698 and 497 is 1195, but that doesn’t mean the answer to the equation is not mathematically necessary. (Rick has a similar answer in Sense and Goodness, he says laws may just be necessities based on the geometry of space).

    (b) Scientific laws are statistical averages from a large number of chance outcomes. The behavior of atoms and subatomic particles appears to be very chaotic and random. If atoms and subatomic particles are governed not by laws but by sheer chance, then we could expect to see laws of nature at the macroscopic level. It’s like a casino: what happens in any one game or any individual player is unpredictable, but if you look at all of the players and all the games, things are much more predictable, which is why casinos can turn a profit. Regularity at the large scale is something we could predict statistically from fundamental randomness happening at the small scale.

    If you go to books.google.com and search for “Laws of Nature” the first book result, on pages 310-312, makes the same suggestions I do. I’m currently writing a book about all of these types of claims that will be set up in the same way “An Index to Creationist Claims” is, and when it is done it will be a tour-de-force.

    1. 6.1
      Richard Carrier

      Ryan: Yes, certainly. The classic example is the inverse square law (which describes the behavior of many forms of radiated energy, from light to sound), which is a logically necessary consequence of geometry, therefore every universe with space in it will obey those laws, whether that universe was made by a god or not; and “a universe without space in it” is a logical contradiction (at a very minimum “universe” refers to a space), so in fact every universe will obey those laws.

      But one can still challenge this conclusion in two ways: one is by citing a counter-example, for instance the Strong Force, which seems to contradict an inverse square law (in fact it does not, but it takes some explaining to get someone to understand that); the other is by noting that inverse square laws only obtain if we assume the first law of thermodynamics holds (nothing can be created or destroyed), which is a hidden assumption of uniformity. If photons multiplied each other at random (like a Gemino curse), then light sources would not obey an inverse square law.

      But this can be reduced all the way down to geometry as well (where you can’t get more sides out of a triangle; it’s logically impossible), wherein a photon is just a ripple in spacetime, so to ripple spacetime more requires more spacetime, which doesn’t exist, or taking slack from elsewhere in spacetime, which entails a conservation law.

      What’s most worth saying about this is that these kinds of explanations are vastly more interesting than “God did it” and can actually lead to real advances in science and technology (e.g. if the first law of thermodynamics and the inverse square law both exist because of geometry, then we can explore that possibility to actually learn things, such as why light has the property of polarity and always has a spin constant of one unit; and we can one day use that knowledge to do things, like teleport objects or detect bombs from miles away).

      That’s why I think religion is lame. It kills curiosity and progress by ending inquiry with pat answers you feel no need to prove but just assert. Which is ironically exactly the opposite of what this Christian apologetic argument assumes: that science needs “unproven armchair assumptions” to work, when in fact those are anathema to science. Science does much better when it actually asks why things are the way they are, and actually makes some effort to find out. Which requires not assuming things from the armchair.

  7. 7
    Tinker Bell

    A scholar who claims that one does not have to read anything else on a subject other than their article in an anthology is not to be trusted, frankly.

    1. 7.1
      Richard Carrier

      Tinker Bell: A scholar who claims that one does not have to read anything else on a subject other than their article in an anthology is not to be trusted, frankly.

      That’s lame.

      Obviously a single article can contain a conclusive refutation, therefore one does not need to read further if that’s the case. Otherwise you must believe you have to read infinitely many articles on a topic before you can stop reading. Think about it.

      Why don’t you actually read the article and then tell us why we need to read anything more on the subject. Or jerk off in your chair. Whichever you prefer. Your call.

  8. 8
    Tinker Bell

    Induction works…often…but it is still rests on a fallacy. Bertand Russell demonstrated this long ago.

    1. 8.1
      Richard Carrier

      Tinker Bell: Induction works…often…but it is still rests on a fallacy. Bertand Russell demonstrated this long ago.

      That’s not true. Since an induction is not deductive, it does not commit a fallacy. A fallacy arises only if you convert an inductive argument into a deductive argument, i.e. pretend an inductive conclusion is deductively certain.

      For example, I assume you are thinking of the fallacy of circular argument, in which one assumes a premise of uniformity is true in order to arrive at a conclusion of uniformity. That’s a fallacy if you assume the premise entails the conclusion. But it is not a fallacy if you conclude the premise makes the conclusion more probable; which in fact is what an inductive argument does (each time your shoes get wet when you step in water increases the probability that your shoes will get wet the next time you step in water; you are not presuming the conclusion that our shoes will get wet the next time you step in water, as your premise speaks only of probability, not entailment).

      This is clearer when you step away from temporal sequences and just look at correlation arguments atemporally: if someone filled a bag with only white marbles and you started randomly extracting marbles from it, by the time you get to the thousandth straight run of a white marble, the probability that there are any non-white marbles in the bag is extremely small. This is a logically necessary truth, and therefore requires no circular reasoning.

      You can go one level down and ask if we are presuming the selection was actually random, but of course if it’s not, then necessarily uniformity exists, so either way you have a deductive proof that uniformity exists: either your sample of correlations is random, in which case the uniformity that that sample exhibits has a deductively definable probability of existing for the whole population from which the sample was taken (which probability necessarily increases with the sample’s size, thus the more you learn, the more certain you can be), or your sample of correlations is not random, which entails uniformity exists (just not the same uniformity as one would infer from the previous case, but a uniformity nonetheless).

      Induction can work with both kinds of uniformity (random samples and biased samples), by simply taking into account what is known (e.g. if you actually include the bias in your premises), and admitting that your conclusion only tells you the probabilities given what you know (not the absolute true probabilities). Bayes’ Theorem describes the formal deductive logic of this. And there is nothing fallacious or circular about it.

      The only real issue is regress (the buck stops where?), but when we start with “basic empiricism” we will have no problem with that (see my Epistemological End Game).

  9. 9
    Tinker Bell

    Oh, and please give us those TEN POSSIBLE REASONS for the Uniformity of Nature.

    (And no Begging the Question while you are at it.)

    1. 9.1
      Richard Carrier

      Tinker Bell: Oh, and please give us those TEN POSSIBLE REASONS for the Uniformity of Nature.

      You have to read my many-page discussion in Sense and Goodness without God for the best of them and to understand why they are simpler and based more on precedent than the god theory and why they work. So go there for all that. But for just the list (and these are not necessarily mutually exclusive):

      [1] Brute fact. (Just as God “just exists for no reason,” uniform nature “just exists for no reason”; simpler because it posits only one entity, which is fully in evidence and thus not hypothetical, while God posits two entities, one of which is not in evidence, and not only not in evidence, but possessed of properties without any established precedent.)

      [2] Random event in a multiverse. (In any system of randomly generated universes, regions of uniformity are a logically necessary outcome, in the same way that long runs of 6s are inevitable in any long enough series of die rolls, and obviously life will only arise in those regions.)

      [3] Random event in an early universe. (In any single system of randomly interacting elements, regions of uniformity are a logically necessary outcome, so the Inflationary Era would have inevitably produced some, and obviously life will only arise in those regions.)

      [4] Random event in universe selection. (Any randomly selected universe from among all possible universes will have uniformities, to an extremely high probability; because having no uniformities is only one possible outcome, whereas there are infinitely many more possible outcomes each of which are full of uniformities, so any random selection among them will produce a system with uniformities to a probability of effectively 100%. This actually better fits the observation that the universe is also full of non-uniformities; see item 7 below.)

      [5] Ontological necessity. (There being a single, entirely non-uniform nature is logically impossible: see End of Christianity, pp. 408-09, n. 20)

      [6] Geometric necessity. (If Superstring theory is true, and all particles and therefore all forces and therefore all laws of physics are nothing more than vibrations of collapsed but contiguous regions of space-time, then all existence is simply a giant geometrical shape, in which uniformity is an inevitable product of any geometry. This is simpler because it posits only one entity: space-time; which we have proven exists and therefore is not hypothetical. With space-time you have geometry, and geometry deductively entails all the facts of Superstring theory (if Superstring theory is true).)

      [7] Logical necessity. (Really, nature is full of non-uniformity, we just choose to talk about the uniform bits of it, whereas having no uniform bits would entail logical contradictions, therefore it is logically impossible to have a universe that doesn’t exhibit enough uniformity for us to talk about it being uniform.)

      [8] Temporal inevitability from core physics. (On established and proven physics, there is a nonzero probability of a randomly structured Big Bang occurring anywhere; that probability just happens to be absurdly small; but on any indefinite timeline, all nonzero probabilities approach 100%; therefore eventually–perhaps trillions of trillions of trillions of years from now, but however long it may be, inevitably–a random Big Bang event will occur; and again after that; ad infinitum; this is cosmologically necessary, because any random universe has only three possible histories: collapse [causing a kinetic Big Bang], stasis [causing a quantum Big Bang], or runaway acceleration [causing an atomic Big Bang, i.e. the energy of space-time itself becomes so great that every point of space-time collapses and kinetically explodes]; such a sequence will be eternal and therefore will eventually produce universes of every kind of uniformity. This conclusion requires the assumption of a stable consistent physics underlying the entire metaverse, but the set of physical assumptions necessary for this is extremely small, extremely simple, and every single one of them is in evidence and thus not hypothetical but known to exist. Unlike God.)

      [9] Temporal inevitability from no core physics. (Assuming no fixed physics underlies the metaverse, how what exists will behave will be completely random, a chaos; any completely random chaos will eventually form uniform structures given unending time, as a logically necessary fact of probability; as uniform structures form, over time one of them will inevitably contain the core physics of item 8 above; therefore, we don’t even have to assume that core physics as a brute fact.)

      [10] Ontological euthyphro. (How can God create uniformity if he is not himself uniform? So where do the uniformities in God come from? He can’t have started as a chaos and then “chosen” to pull himself together, because that requires enough uniformity to think and choose, much less choose correctly, and thus presupposes uniformity; we can’t say God has always been uniform as a brute fact, as then positing a uniform nature as a brute fact is a simpler hypothesis, per item 1; that leaves the conclusion that a certain uniformity is an innate property of existing in and of itself, in which case it will be the innate property of everything that exists, whether a god or anything else; therefore no God is needed to explain why everything that exists exhibits a certain measure of uniformity.)

      And remember, I don’t need to know or claim that any of these are true. All I need to know is that each of them has a higher prior probability than “God did it” or “God exists,” which entails the prior probability that at least one of them is true is many times higher than the prior probability that God did it. And since all of them produce the observed result to the same 100% probability as “God did it” does, Bayes’ Theorem entails “God did it” is the least likely explanation of uniformity in nature.

    2. 9.2
      Ryan

      Hi Tinkerbell,

      in a previous comment I showed how there could be laws of physics without a god (Victor Stenger has also done some work on this in his book “The Fallacy of Fine-tuning”).

      It is of course a separate question about how we are justified in believing in laws after arriving at them inductively. Let me offer you a quote from the draft of my forthcoming book:

      “Logically we can prove that induction tends to produce correct conclusions. For example: Imagine you walk up to a gumball machine but cannot see the contents within the machine. You put in a quarter, and out comes a pink gumball. Suppose that you take the time to put in 100 quarters to receive 100 gumballs, and all of them are pink. Is it probable that the next turn of the gumball machine will produce a pink gumball? Yes. This can be demonstrated: Finding every one of a hundred gumballs to be pink is not likely unless most or all of the gumballs are pink. If most or all of the gumballs in the machine are pink, then any single gumball is likely to be pink. If any single gumball is likely to be pink, then the gumball you will receive upon your next turn is likely to be pink. The mathematics that validates this reasoning is discussed in McGrew, 2001.”

      The McGrew reference can be read here:
      http://homepages.wmich.edu/~mcgrew/kyburg7d.htm

      Please note the fact that the author, Timothy McGrew, is a devout and conservative Christian. He didn’t write this in order to grind an axe for my worldview.

  10. 10
    Tinker Bell

    I asked for your “ten reasons”.

    1. That is not a reason, by your own admission.

    Two through Nine Beg the Question and I think that even you know that by No. Eight you are laying smoke.

    Ten is not a reason either.

    But thanks for trying.

    1. 10.1
      Richard Carrier

      Tinker Bell: I asked for your “ten reasons”. 1. That is not a reason, by your own admission.

      Yes, it is. “It just does” is a possible reason uniformity exists, just as “He just does” is a possible reason God exists.

      Two through Nine Beg the Question

      No more than “God did it” does. That’s the point. On begging the question vs. infinite regress as just as much a problem for theism as atheism (and therefore not an argument either can use against the other), see Sense and Goodness without God, pp. 71-74.

      I think that even you know that by No. Eight you are laying smoke.

      No more than saying “God did it” does. Again, that’s the point.

      Ten is not a reason either.

      Again, yes it is, just as much as “God did it” is. Which is, yet again, the point.

    2. 10.2
      Ryan

      What about my answer to that question, Tinkerbell?

  11. 11
    Clarissa

    Richard, that raises a question. How do you establish “the uniformity of nature” without an inductive argument?

    1. 11.1
      Richard Carrier

      Clarissa: How do you establish “the uniformity of nature” without an inductive argument?

      I’m not sure what you mean. On its face it sounds like you are asking “how do you establish something without an argument?” which looks like a dumb question (why do you think it’s logically possible, much less desirable, to establish something without an argument?).

      I can only assume you mean to ask “How do you establish the UON without assuming the UON as a premise in an inductive argument?” Which question I answered in my comment upthread.

      To which I could have added my previous discussion of this point in my Critique of Reppert, although there the “circularity” I am speaking of is that of rejecting Cartesian Demon hypotheses. For instance, even God could not logically be certain he was not the victim of a Cartesian Demon, because even God’s belief that he was omniscient could be a deception arranged by the Demon, which God could have no non-circular way of refuting. Faced with this “skeptical threat challenge,” circularity is avoided only by rejecting certitude and replacing it with probability.

  12. 12
    piero

    Due to my ignorance, this may be an extremely stupid question. If so, I apologize.

    Could it be argued that Christianity in some sense favoured the development of science as we know it today because it gradually made God an ever more abstract entity, and hence unwittingly undermined its own secular authority? I’m thinking of a comparison with China, or Japan, where the Emperor was a God; in Europe, it was the Emperor’s power that came from God, but he was not himself a deity. Could it be argued that this created a more favourable context for argument and disagreement?

    1. 12.1
      Richard Carrier

      piero: Could it be argued that Christianity in some sense favoured the development of science as we know it today because it gradually made God an ever more abstract entity, and hence unwittingly undermined its own secular authority? … Could it be argued that this created a more favourable context for argument and disagreement?

      Because real science existed under the Roman emperors (and before them), the answer is obviously “No.” Pagan Greece and Rome were already a favorable context for argument and disagreement (and instrument-building, and experiment-designing, and mathematical-physics-developing, and so on).

      However, there are many ways in which Christianity obviously changed over the course of the Middle Ages which made science acceptable again (otherwise, it never would have been revived). But that was a return to a status before Christianity; it was thus, in effect, just enough of a de-Christianization of the culture to let science back in.

      I don’t see abstractifying god as one of those things, however, because god was always just as abstract for Christians (at least most Christian intellectuals), including the Christians who for a thousand years pooh-poohed science and did nothing to get it started again (see my past blogs on this: Science and Medieval Christianity and Flynn’s Pile of Boners).

      But there are things that did have that effect. For example the Reformation created a power vacuum and a market for intellectual competition that made just enough religious freedom possible to start rethinking how to think about things. This even affected the Catholics, who couldn’t just suppress any intellectual endeavor they felt threatened by anymore, because that could just feed Protestant propaganda or cause a “brain drain” from Catholic to Protestant countries; there’s a reason the conservatives who had it in for Galileo couldn’t get the Vatican to finally just kill him already; the whole Galileo affair really just illustrates how much power the Church had lost, and how torn its own interests were between the self-defeating nature of total autocracy and losing the ability to control doctrine.

      But already before that the Church’s power was weakened by economic success in cities beginning around 1000, where the authority of the Church could be increasingly defied. The curriculum controversy of 1210-1277 at the University of Paris illustrates the Church’s weakness in the face of urban power centers: it tried to stop freedom of inquiry but had to give in because it really wasn’t going to be able to maintain the control it wanted, so it had to choose between saving face and maintaining some control, or losing all respect and control. Universities were not the Church’s idea. They formed out of independent economic forces and interests, and all the Church did was try to assert some sort of control over them so that they didn’t become secular and a threat to religion. This is an example of how the culture and economy was getting out of control, the Church was just trying to react. The inevitable outcome was sporadic effort at suppression and assertion of control, but overall a decline in actual power to control anything, and so ideas of intellectual liberty started gaining traction against what was originally Christian hostility to the idea. It was just a matter of time (short of the Church instituting a Stalinist plan of absolute dominion) before this “crack” in Christian culture let in a “flood” of old pagan ideas back into the culture.

      Modern science was the eventual result.

      Christianity wasn’t “defeated” by this process, obviously. Because in the battle to make pagan ideas respectable and less offensive, intellectuals had to still promote themselves as Christians and not infidels (i.e. criminals), and they had to find “Christian” reasons to back the pagan ideas being brought back in, and thus market them as if they were biblical all along. Thus modern science did arise because Christians found ways to “dink” with Christianity to fit the “software attachments” of pagan intellectualism back into it. This can look like Christianity “caused” it when really it didn’t. I talk about this aspect of the development of modern science in my chapter for The Christian Delusion.

  13. 13
    Skarphedin

    Speaking of ancient science… I’ve been waiting not very patiently on your books on science in the early Roman Empire. Is there a date we can look forward to?

    I think I’ve read all your public writings on the subject (not the thesis), and I imagine that you are going to argue for the time period having much more science going on than is commonly taken for granted – kind of turning Russo’s book on its head?

    Anyways, as you can see I’m fishing for details.

    1. 13.1
      Richard Carrier

      Skarphedin: Speaking of ancient science… I’ve been waiting not very patiently on your books on science in the early Roman Empire. Is there a date we can look forward to?

      Since my fans paid me to do the Jesus historicity thing, all my hist. sci. work got shelved for that. Proving History is the first result, and On the Historicity of Jesus Christ I expect to be completed in April (production track then takes maybe six months, so it will probably release in 2013, but I’ll have the rest of 2012 to get cracking on my hist. sci. book). In the meantime, I got that useful summary on ancient science (vs. Christian apologetics) out in the last chapter of The Christian Delusion.

      However, my first volume of the science books, Science Education in the Early Roman Empire, is actually finished and is already at a publisher for consideration, so it could conceivably be out in 2013 (or, if a miracle occurs, late 2012; publishers drag their asses in a serious way, though, so miracle unlikely). That’s because it didn’t require much updating (so I could quickly fix it up from my dissertation chapter on the same, it didn’t require as much hard core work as the next one will).

      I think I’ve read all your public writings on the subject (not the thesis), and I imagine that you are going to argue for the time period having much more science going on than is commonly taken for granted – kind of turning Russo’s book on its head?

      Russo actually does argue for “more science going on than is commonly taken for granted,” he just sleights the Roman period. Illogically, IMO; but his one radical (and IMO implausible) thesis, that the Hellenistic scientists discovered Newtonian physics and planetary theory, requires him to argue that the Romans forgot everything and didn’t do any science–otherwise, their silence refutes his thesis; thus, he dummies the evidence as much as possible to make his thesis survive that obvious refutation. But if you read even his book carefully you can see he has no case for Roman ignorance of Hellenistic science (indeed, almost all his evidence for the latter comes from the former!). I’ll make the case clearer in The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire. So on that point, you are right. Science Education in the Early Roman Empire won’t really address that issue (it only covers the education issue, and thus will be too generic to “refute” Russo; it instead refutes Christian medievalists who insist ancient science education sucked compared to the middle ages).

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