Evolution of God
THE concepts of God and evolution are inextricable. In the beginning God created the Universe. The series of events that followed produced man. This imperfect product needed a higher authority (scapegoat, infallible architect, benevolent headmaster, king of quiz) so before long the concept of God evolved. This God created the Universe. The series of events that followed produced man. This imperfect product needed a higher authority etc, etc.
Christianity and Values
TEN years ago, I spent some time in a small town in Kentucky. I’ve forgotten the exact number of churches there but, as the result of schism after schism, there was one for every 18 citizens. Some few were boarded up as their congregations died off or left town, but most were still attended by tiny hair-splitting groups. Like Christians all over the world, they could not decide quite what Christianity was.
But Dr Mann seems to have embraced the whole amorphous mass on the Road to Damascus and to have decided the future of world civility depends on us joining him in this enthusiasm to take us back to the 1950s and 1960s. Trouble is, Jim Bolger is as devout a Christian as were Walter Nash and Jack Marshall, and old Walter was one of the most sophisticated dissemblers I ever reported. Also, I would guess there are more self-declared and fervent lay Christians involved in politics and business now than there were in Walter’s time. And in business, their record for integrity over the years has been appalling.
But yes, standards of civility and the sense of community have declined and the GNP has gone up. Why? I don’t know. Is the decline of standards related to GNP? Are the declining sense of community and a concomitant increase in self-obsession causes or symptoms? Again I don’t know. But I’m not going to reach for a hand-me-down set of beliefs to save me thinking it through.
Because it is Dr Mann’s next step that offends me — that only Christians have true values and that non-Christians and materialism are inevitably companions. He must walk around with his eyes closed if he thinks that. I am agnostic mainly because my life experience suggests most forms of Christianity become an ideology — a set of beliefs that blots out all others. Communism was like that, as are the beliefs of neo-conservatives and, I might add, those of rabid anti-God rationalists.
Arthur Koestler, near the end of his life, suggested that mankind’s problems were not so much the result of mindless, innate aggression or the deep stain of selfishness but the desire of ideologues to force everyone else to believe as they do. Evangelism, in all its forms, is the ultimate arrogance.
Sorry, Dr Mann, life is difficult but don’t just grasp at any old belief system simply because you took a lot longer than most people, apparently, to understand that science may give us knowledge but not necessarily wisdom. Every one of us has to make millions of decisions and judgements as we grow up and mature. These have to be made with a strong sense of other people of the present and future generations if we and our descendants are to have any sort of freedom from violence, which is the defining evil.
I don’t know how to achieve this on a global scale but maybe it’s a start to try personally to build up a genial tolerance of other people, particularly those you don’t like, a difficult task given the propensity for me, like other humans, to be selfish. I do know, though, that Christianity, like other belief systems, has historically done more harm than good.
Oh, and did you ever look into Jack Marshall’s eyes? Like blue chips of ice, they were.
NEVILLE Ritchie [Skeptic 41] writes, “[Captain Bruce] Cathie is the author of several books on harmonics and related topics”.
So far as I can make out from Cathie’s books, “harmonic” as he uses it (but never defines it) means “if we move the decimal point an arbitrary number of places to the left or right…”. In other words, n 10x, where n is any whole number. Cathie never mentions what x is, or why a particular value of x is used.
I have heard many nice people say “I don’t know anything about mathematics, but he seems to have something”. I wish someone who does know something about mathematics would point out that what Cathie does is a variety of numerology, where any combination of mathematical operations in any order (culminating in “harmonic” to line up the decimals) may be performed to bring two numbers into correspondence.
Cathie ignores dimensional analysis, and the final “correspondence” may be between, say, the sine of the square of the reciprocal of the natural log of one number of miles, and the cosec of the root of another number in degrees. (The speed of light in units per second often gets a look in, too.)
Cathie is a good illustration of what I modestly call Young’s Law: “Pseudoscientists who formulate Theories Of Everything often base them on something peripheral to their former career”. Cathie’s theories have a lot to do with aeronautical navigation and books of three-figure tables.
In Whangarei in the early 1970s, a retired marine engineer claimed to have invented a new electric motor, which — he mentioned in passing — produced more energy than it used. This nonchalant (but never demonstrated) perpetual motion machine was, it almost goes without saying, reciprocating.
Another example is retired dentist Dr Ron Every and his theory that Everything is based on tooth-grinding — bruxism or, as he prefers to call it, thegosis. Some of his views are pretty nifty: humans once bit chunks off each other; we shortened our jaws to give them more leverage; we no longer needed jaw muscles that met over the crown of the head; as a result our brains could expand. Our shorter jaw somehow enabled the tongue to free up, enabling articulate speech. We have since repressed this biting, but it emerges with toothgrinding in sleep.
This theory also illustrates Martin Gardner’s point that pseudoscientists often reverse the conventional wisdom — when you know that conventional Freudian wisdom is/was that aggression resides in the anus, and Dr Every began training as a neo-Freudian therapist with Dr Maurice Bevan-Brown.
His theories seem to have gained a degree of respectability through the Zoology Department of Canterbury University. The last I heard of him was that he was refusing to return some archaic skulls to Canterbury Museum — after 20 years. I don’t know what fines the museum charges for overdue skulls, but perhaps it should threaten to collect.
L.R.B. MANN (NZ Skeptic 42) writes: “It is not widely known that science has never thrived except in Christian societies — with the minor exception of a couple of centuries in some Islamic centres”, and again “The only known basis for a decent society, and in particular the only ethical system under which science is known to flourish, is Christianity.”
Are a couple of centuries of Islam, pagan Syracuse and the enormous contribution to science from Western Judaism the exceptions which, Popperwise, disprove Mann’s rule?
Given that there is an association between Christianity and the flowering of science, is it more than coincidental. If it is, was science nurtured by Christian ethics, or was it spawned by rational revolt against Christian dogma? Should we ask Mann, the Inquisition or Galileo?
Despite my efforts, plants which I do not sow, and which do not flourish in the wilderness, become established and flourish in my garden. Are both science and Christianity fortuitous adventives in the garden of civilisation.
Decline? What Decline?
DR MANN in his article “On the Decline and Possible Resurgence of the Decent Society” mounts a full frontal attack on scientific method. His main technique is dogmatism, the assertive stating of a hypothesis, belief, or dogma without evidence or analysis.
His first paragraph starts with the dogmatic statement:
“The social vision associated with the name of Walter Nash, or for the present purposes Jack Marshall, has crumbled”.
The only supporting evidence for such a sweeping claim is a reference to a book Destroying New Zealand by J.L. Robinson whose “readers need no convincing of these facts”.
The book contains the following assertions:
“By 2020 New Zealand will be a fascist dictatorship”.
“New Right policies lead inexorably to increased income differences, depression, poverty, crime and health problems”.
“New Zealand is within another long depression”.
“New Zealand, together with the rest of the developed world, is in a long term decay phase”.
Is it true that your readers need no convincing of these “facts”?
Dr Mann states:
“The most secure and decent high culture which has flowered for some decades, is now in almost every measure except GNP in rapid decline”.
In a recent BBC Horizon programme “Dodging Doomsday”, the guru of gloom, Paul Ehrlich intoned his dogmas of doom, which were refuted one by one by the evidence. World population is not “exploding”, it is approaching a stable level. Food supplies increase faster then population. Famine and poverty are the result of bad government, or war, not population increase. “Resources are not running out. A participant in the programme, Professor Julian Simon, bet Ehrlich in 1980 $200 for each of five world commodities, chosen by Ehrlich, that would increase in price. In 1990 he collected $1000; all chosen commodities were cheaper.
Professor Simon also challenged all comers to bet with him that they could not find any indicator of general human welfare that is not continuously increasing. If Dr Mann has such an indicator, he could win money.
Dr Mann, who is presumably a trained scientist, sets up an Aunt Sally called “scientism”, a belief that science can solve all problems. No responsible scientist would agree to this doctrine. Science just happens to be the best way of studying problems; but there are some which remain unsolved. It does not help to pretend they are solved by ascribing them to God.
Dr Mann attacks Dawkins but refrains from reading him. The Blind Watchmaker explains very clearly that the belief of Bishop Paley that a living organism resembles a watch, and therefore must have a creator, is false. A living organism derives from a recipe, coded in our genes, not from a blueprint. Evidence of its evolution from earlier forms is everywhere present.
Mann calls the genetic code “a pathetically inadequate idol”. Yet in contrast to all the other idols it explains heredity and evolution, and enables us to cure disease and provide improved crops.
Do we have to believe in Christianity just because Newton did? After all, he also believed in alchemy and astrology.
“Decent Society” Debated
I WOULD like to see less about religion in our journal — can we not confine ourselves to supernatural claims which are testable? However L.R.B. Mann’s confused and overlong article needs a reply. Why should he think his view of “the downward slide of Kiwi civilisation” is shared by many of us? A skeptic faces an unending task in countering nonsense, but there is more nonsense in Mann’s article than in his targets.
“Science never thrived except in Christian societies”. As science in the modern sense arose once, coincidence is as good an explanation as any. Certainly Christianity fought science in every possible way. Obviously Mann has never read Andrew D. White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.
Before we revert to “religiously-based ethics” let us remind ourselves what life was like in Christian countries before the the “Enlightenment” produced a change in moral values. Gregory of Nyassa and Pacian both had a list of the three most serious sins. These were apostasy, adultery, and murder in that order.
Anti-Semitism was a virtue for Christians. True, Luther was a moderating influence; he urged his followers not to kill Jews, instead their houses should be burned and if they were encountered in the street, pig-shit should be thrown at them.
Free speech was the most heinous sin and crime. For this Bruno was burned alive in 1600. Christians knew that the final speech of a man at the stake could be damaging so he was “silenced with an iron gag”. Bruno was taken from prison to the stake with a nail driven in under his chin, through his tongue into the roof of his mouth.
Newton was a Christian according to Mann, but if his contemporary Christians had learned of Newton’s religious views, more than 99% would have denounced him as a heretic. He was a sort of Unitarian as he discovered that the verse 1 John 5.7. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” was a Christian forgery designed and inserted to support the doctrine of the trinity. This had been discovered before, by Erasmus for example, but Christians had managed to suppress the information. If you try to look this verse up in The New English Bible you will not find it because this work of modern scholarship rightly omits it.
This century the Catholic church has only treated one sin (or crime) with severity, the questioning of official doctrine. Hitler was not excommunicated (nor any other Catholic war criminal). Hans Kung was, simply for publishing work of which the Pope disapproved. Others such as Teilhard du Chardin were disciplined for similar offences.
We do not need a return to Christian ethical standards. Those standards were disgusting and repugnant to any person of sensibility. In so far as Christianity is morally acceptable today it is because it was civilised by Voltaire and those other heroes of the enlightenment.
I AM a recent member of NZCSICOP and recipient of NZ Skeptic, and so still assessing the stance and philosophy of the organisation. I must say I was very surprised to see that you devoted some 4 pages of the Summer 1996/97 edition to the views Dr Robert Mann. My knowledge of the history and philosophy of science is not that of a life long academic, but I have read many books on the subject. Religion, and particularly Christianity, has impeded science; Galileo’s recantation to the Inquisition of Rome being one example.
I want to critique one specific section of Dr Mann’s article. His logic goes thus: Newton was one of the three greatest scientists, (no references, so this is presumably his view). Newton was also one of the three greatest mathematicians, (no references again). Newton was a Christian. Faraday was another of the three greatest scientists, (unsubstantiated). Faraday was a Christian. The implication is that being Christian is essential to being a great scientist, ie, non-Christians are not great scientists or mathematicians. It seems to me that Dr Mann is indulging in faulty logic and special pleading. Would any of the great scientists, mathematicians or philosophers, by anybody’s estimation, approve of such logic? Would Dr Mann teach this form of reasoning to students? What really disturbs me about this is that it reminds me of so much of the faulty logic used by Christian creationists.
I support NZ Skeptic publishing articles which deal with key debates of our time. But please, let the quality of that argument be higher than that shown by Dr L.R.B Mann.