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Tuesday, 21 August 2007


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When I looked at the article, the top comment was

Concerning Aerogel, I assume that this is yet another in the long list of exotic technologies 'acquired' as a result of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence?

I always assumed that nobody outside of the X-Files or with a filled prescription thought that way....

The mode of perpetual and all-encompassing gratitude is indeed something which the monastic life is supposed to enhance -- that's true in the salvationist Buddhist traditions as well -- but it's not unknown to lay believers, and I'd agree that it's indeed expressed to shame the godless. Which is not an attitude which usually derives from the true experience of monism, but most people can only parrot the platitudes.


Twain doesn't even mention, at least there, that God also created the disease that He later found the cure for.


Er, except that that's probably what "which has been working for God" means. My bad.

Karl Steel

No one outside a monastery thinks like this, right?

Well, they do. That comment thread is proof enough. And I was raised Xian Fundy: those people really do think like this, at least when they're thinking.

Country Mouse

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Karl here. Yes, people outside a monastery do think like this.


Ahistoricality, the thread there reads backwards from what we're familiar with -- fuckin' Brits -- but I see your point. Yes, there's an insanity there unexpected in civil discourse. What I want to know is whether it's a full-felt insanity, or a sham-insanity, feigned for the sake of the unbelievers who don't realize the extent of their apostasy.

Tom, rest assured, he does, and boy does he ever.

Karl and CM: I just can't see that thread as proof, inasmuch as it employs what I think is feigned rhetorical outrage. I mean, I grew up amongst southern Louisiana fundamentalists, and I never heard such a thing. The wife was raised in a Mississippi branch of Assemblies of God, and she found that thread off-putting. I'm still leaning towards the "it's a shaming" principle.


Great post SEK. It's definitely a shaming. The idea's incoherent. Among other things, if nothing is made except by god then where do the posts come from? From god, clearly, including the posts made by those who 'arrogantly' claim to have made things. And if god chooses to make them then who are these arrogant falsely righteous folk to question god's choices? Etc. I think it's just a hop and a skip from a theodicy.
take care,


I understand about the thread order thing, I was just pointing out the obvious: that a lot of people express ideas in these forums that they'd be at least a little less likely to blurt out in polite company.

What I want to know is whether it's a full-felt insanity, or a sham-insanity, feigned for the sake of the unbelievers who don't realize the extent of their apostasy.

I'm not sure the difference is meaningful in this case. Whether they feel that way or not, they clearly believe that one ought to feel that way, and probably shame their faith-fellows (and themselves in the privacy of their own prayers) with the same rhetorical cat-o-nine (discounting, of course, for their self-righteousness at bringing the truth to the unbelievers, etc., etc.).


Hey, don't blame the fucking Brits. Blame the fucking Times. It's the only site I know that does its comment threads like that.

I blame Rupert Murdoch.


Wow. You all don't get out much, do you? There seems to be a lot of vitriol in this comment thread toward Christians who are expressing what has roughly been the general theistic understanding (for centuries, if not millenia) of God's interaction with the world.

I'm guessing that for those of you getting in your jabs at the "fundies", there must have been a Christian, somewhere, sometime, who done you wrong. But that doesn't mean they're sitting around dreaming up ways to "shame" the atheists and agnostics they encounter. A goodly number of theists of all flavors believe (at least in principle) that God not only created everything but is in control of everything as well. Why does acknowledging a basic tenet of theism immediately lead to imputing sinister motives to certain Christians (provided, of course, such Christians can be trusted to construct a coherent thought at all--I'm looking at you, Karl)? Can ideas that take theism seriously ever be expressed without you assuming that the goal of the theists is to make you feel guilty for not agreeing with them?

Now I certainly can't speak for (nor am I attempting to defend) Christendom as a whole, but the idea of both God and man having agency--of both proximate and ultimate causes being operative--has been around for quite some time (longer than Christianity, in fact) and it fits quite easily into a Christian worldview. Granted, a couple of the commenters you evoke seem to have missed that point and thus have taken umbrage at perceived slights toward God. But for you all to ignore the quite robust philosophical and theological underpinnings of Christianity in order to flog a strawman seems kinda...ignorant.

Frankly, the idea of God being responsible for the orderliness of the world in which humanity operates, as well as granting humanity his mental and physical faculties, was important to the development of science as we know it. As near as I can tell, the modern worldview of scientism that labels such faith as "insanity" is simply living off the intellectual capital borrowed from its theistic predecessors.


Frankly, the idea of God being responsible for the orderliness of the world in which humanity operates, as well as granting humanity his mental and physical faculties, was important to the development of science as we know it.

No: it was an important rhetorical strategy to keep theists from shutting it down entirely. Deism (in its early philosophical forms) was an important step away from Catholicism, a faith that had produced no notable scientific progress since the Hellenistic age passed away under the sword of Constantine.


You present an interesting possibility, Ahistoricality. I agree that Deists probably had to toe the line in their rhetoric in order to get their work past the religious authorities. The Church certainly doesn't have a terribly good record in that regard--plenty of theists got into trouble as well (though many times not solely for their scientific stances, as is often the stereotype in the science vs. religion storyline).

I think the way to know for sure whether or not theism per se was central to the development of science is to look at the relative contribution of both theists (who meant what they said about Divine control of the cosmos) and Deists (who, you assume, did not, but had to use the "right" words anyway). History and philosophy of science is only a hobby of mine, but off the top of my head I can think of scientists like Kepler, Copernicus, Mendel, Boyle, and Newton, whose theology motivated and informed to at least some degree the methods of doing science that they handed down to us. I'm not as familiar with the specifically Deist strains of early modern natural philosophy, but perhaps you are...?

More importantly, I think your assumption of a nice clean divide between theism and Deism is faulty. Notice that I didn't give theism (and only theism) the credit for the development science; rather, I said that "the idea of God being responsible for the orderliness of the world" was "important" to science. Even supposing that the Deists were the ones responsible for rescuing the West from the Church, it is worth noting that, on the issue of Divine Providence and superintendence of the cosmos, they had much the same view as theists. So it's really rather moot whether any particular adherent to this theology of science was a theist or a Deist--my point still stands. From what I can tell, the "scientism" that I referred to in my earlier post would find Deism just as problematic as theism.


You're shifting the goalposts by broadening your claims (I love the "moot" line towards the end, particularly: nothing like hand-waving to prove a point!): the Renaissance philosophical tradition of a mechanistic universe was a step away from Catholic (and Protestant) theism, and it's only by stepping away from them that science could develop. Science in Europe develops more or less in direct proportion to the distance from theism: the less God, the better the science.

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