Religulous Atheism

“You’d think if you were one of Christ’s biographers, [the virgin birth] would be sort of an important thing not to leave out. Oh, God, he was also born of a virgin. They don’t notice the virgin birth. You know, I think that is something if you were any sort of reporter you’d put into the story. What editor looks at the facts and goes, ‘Yeah, but take out the thing about the virgin birth. That’s not interesting.’”

This is one of Bill Maher’s quotes in the docu/mockumentary Religulous. I already mentioned this film in a previous post (Religulous in Barcelona), but I wanted to examine it a bit further. So I made a video compilation that tries to reveal some of its prejudices on religion and religious people.

Click the following to watch the movie A closer look at Religulous:

(for a transcript of the video, including dialogues – click here;

voor een Nederlandstalige transcriptie van de video zonder de dialogen, klik hier)

CLICK TO WATCH:

One of the main prejudices is the idea that the way biblical stories are written, is comparable to the way we write history in modern times. Hence Bill Maher’s above mentioned remark on the birth of Jesus. He clearly expects the two stories about the birth of Jesus (in Matthew and Luke) to contain historical ‘facts’ in the modern sense, or at least he believes that’s what they claim. In that sense he imitates his religious counterparts – who are fundamentalists –, and he reads the Bible like they do. He just comes to different conclusions.

Moreover, in trying to differ himself from his adversaries, Bill Maher seems to resemble them more and more. The ‘final solution’ he proposes to solve the problem of violent religious groups says it all: “The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live.” He makes religion (and religious people?) overall an enemy for mankind, and considers it as the source of all evil. He believes that getting rid of that source (sacrificing religion) will ‘save’ us and will lead us to a better, ‘paradisiac’ future (remember John Lennon and his song Imagine, with the line ‘and no religion too’?). Well, ‘getting rid of it’ is exactly what some of his religious counterparts believe must happen to ‘secularism’ and ‘infidels’. History shows that the battle for the so-called ‘ultimate Truth’, for ‘Paradise’ and ‘Peace’, be it claimed by religionists or secularists, always ends in bloodshed… An atheist like Stalin, who violently oppressed Christianity in the Soviet Union, really is a ‘mimetic double’ (as René Girard would call it) to some of his dictatorial religious predecessors. Indeed his actions are a mimesis (i.e. imitation) of the so-called evil enemy he’s trying to destroy, and by doing so he regenerates this evil. He maintains violence, because he tries to destroy the possibility of violence by violent means…

The question is whether there’s a way out of the dilemma created by the opposition between ‘radical secularism’ and ‘religious fundamentalism’. I think there is. I think we need to educate ourselves in becoming ‘spiritually literate’. E.g. concerning the question how to read the Bible, more specifically the stories about the birth of Jesus, I’d like Bill Maher and his religious counterparts to consider the following observations.

The two stories about the birth of Jesus don’t ‘match’. Matthew’s story is very different from the one by Luke. For example, the story in the Gospel of Matthew begins in Bethlehem and ends in Nazareth, while the story in the Gospel of Luke begins in Nazareth and ends in Bethlehem. If the compilers of the New Testament would have considered these stories conveying historical facts as we understand them, then they probably would have chosen one of the two and not both of them. Disparate reports on the birth of the Jesus you’re trying to ‘sell’ to the outside world just don’t add to the credibility of your story… Unless, of course, those disparate reports are not historical in the modern sense of the word. I do believe the stories on the birth of Jesus try to express something about the historical experience of people with Jesus, but the stories themselves are not ‘historical’. They are comparable to ‘poetic’ expressions. For example, Jesus was experienced as a liberator by many people, in one way or another. He freed people from oppression, social exclusion, anxieties, … As said, I believe this personal experience of the ones who knew Jesus is real, is historical. However, to express this experience, people turned to well-known mythological images and stories, ‘formulas’ one could say. Hence Matthew and Luke portray Jesus in typical stories which their audience understands as conveying the personal, experiential and historical truth that Jesus is a savior and liberator, comparable – in some ways at least – to the prophet Moses, or to king David.

Sometimes the poetic and mythological images used to express a certain experience will contradict each other, but this doesn’t mean that they exclude each other. They may simply refer to other experiences, or to different aspects of the same experience. A contemporary example may clarify this. Many songs in the English speaking world make use of ‘the car’ or ‘the road’, and everything associated with them, as metaphors to express different (aspects of) life experiences. In the song It’s my life Bon Jovi sings “It’s my life, my heart is like the open highway…” to express he feels free, or that he desires to be free. His heart is, of course, not literally a highway. Meat Loaf, on the other hand, expresses the longing for freedom slightly differently, in his song Objects in the rear view mirror, may appear closer than they are: “And if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car…” It’s no use asking who is ‘correct’, Bon Jovi or Meat Loaf. It’s no use asking: “Well, now, is the heart a highway, or is life a highway?” We understand these somewhat conflicting images and the common experience they refer to, because we are part of the culture which uses them… Both the experience of Bon Jovi and Meat Loaf is true and historical, albeit personal. And the image of the road or the highway is omnipresent. James Hetfield, of heavy metal band Metallica, sings “And the road becomes my bride…” in the song Wherever I may roam… Once again, not to be taken literally, but we normally understand what he’s referring to.

It’s a bit more difficult to understand the images used two thousand years ago, so we might need to study to get there. Considering the ‘false’, but often vehement conflict between ‘secularists’ and ‘religionists’ I described above, it might be a necessary study though. Karen Armstrong traces the origins of this conflict back to the period of the Enlightenment. According to her, a confusion arose around that time in the western world concerning mythology. Mythology was considered a primitive form of science by many intellectuals of the modernist era. Hence an opposition arose between those who held on to a ‘mythological truth presented as historical fact’ and those who embraced modern science as carrying the keys to the ultimate truths about life. Research, however, points out that the modernist assumption about mythology (and science for that matter) is false. Mythology and ‘poetic images’ never functioned in the way modern science functions, even to this day…

The distinction between mythology and modern science is actually quite simple: mythology tries to express and to ‘mold’ human experiences and offer different perspectives on them, while science tries to explain human experiences. The example I give in the film to make this distinction clear, is about the mythological story of Cain and Abel. This fictitious story reveals an existential truth about our existence: sometimes we are all too heavily consumed by envy. Furthermore, it tries to answer the question what to do with these envious tendencies – where we should direct them, if it belongs to our ultimate goal to be guided by envy… These are questions which science cannot answer. Science can maybe explain how we become jealous, and that jealousy is a natural tendency in man, but it cannot answer the question whether jealousy is a good or a bad thing. This last question is an existential one, more specifically a moral one.

So, in short, there should be no conflict between modern science and mythology because they try to answer different questions. Once you realize that religion belongs to this mythological, poetic, indeed ‘spiritual’ realm which deals with existential questions, it becomes a genuine, reasonable and sensible force that undermines the certainties of every ‘ideology’ – be it religious fundamentalism or the radical atheism which opposes it, indeed ‘doubles’ it. Understood as poetic and spiritual images, religious texts open up dialogue and different perspectives on a Reality which, ultimately, is ‘not in our control’. A Reality, in other words, which ‘transcends’ us – as we didn’t create the world we inhabit.

There’s a lot more to discover on the distinction between scientific and existential questions. For example in the works of philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), who makes a distinction between ‘problems’ that can be solved technically, ‘scientifically’, and the mysteries we are confronted with which are ultimately unsolvable (they allow for different ‘attitudes’).

To read a paper by Karen Armstrong on

FUNDAMENTALISM AS A TYPICALLY MODERN MOVEMENT, CLICK HERE (PDF)

Enjoy exploring!

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~ by erik buys on August 25, 2011.

30 Responses to “Religulous Atheism”

  1. This was very interesting reading. I agree with the points you’ve made here. But I’ve never heard another believer of the faith EVER say such things as this. So I usually keep my understandings to myself. By this I am referring to the poetic / mythological aspect of certain bible stories. I almost want to say, “are you for real?” For lack of another word.. what ‘doctrine’ or discipline is this that you speak from, and whom do I look up to read more about it?
    p.s. I hope you don’t think I’m a kook for asking. ;)

    • Well, I consider myself to be a Catholic Christian… I can recommend you the works of Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong on the issue of mythology. Or Mircea Eliade, or G.S. Kirk on Greek mythology… Then there is René Girard, who makes a distinction between Judeo-Christian ‘mythology’ and ‘classical’ myths. Concerning theology I should recommend you the works of Raymund Schwager (a Jesuit theologian) and James Alison. The work of Alison had a profound impact on me. And no, you’re no kook for asking :).

  2. If only voices such as yours were not in a minority! There would be a lot less conflict in the world. I’m sure, though, that we both would agree that for most Christians and Jews the Bible is literal truth. While I do come across people calling the OT allegorical, I find very few indeed claiming the same for the NT.
    I disagree, however, with the idea that moral questions cannot be answered by science, that is the doctrine of NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria). I have found some scientific answers to moral questions, even though they are not as complete or as final as religious answers to the same. But that is to be expected since science asks us to make our own deductions rather than hand them down to us as unquestioned truth.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m still in doubt about your claim on science answering moral questions. Even science never starts ‘out of the void’, from a completely ‘objective’ perspective.

      For example, Richard Dawkins gives one of his books the title “The Selfish Gene”. Well, to call ‘the’ Gene selfish is to give a certain meaning to it that cannot be derived directly from the studied object itself. Why not call the Gene ‘relational’ (since only understood in a relationship the Gene can be called selfish). A whole different set of associations arises when you define something in another way. Science can never be completely objective, it will always be dependent on hypothesis and presumption, on ‘language’ (and ‘meaning is use’). Hence morality derived from science can never be ‘objective’ as well. If you ask me, Jesus of Nazareth is a prime example of someone who is willing to question ‘the truth’ at all times, be it religious or scientific or… whatever…

      Btw: I know plenty of religious people who think in the same vein like me, as I do know atheists who are open to ‘the ultimate questions’ which have no ‘ultimate answer’. However, I think our educational systems need to invest more in promoting the awareness of different kinds of ‘speech’… We all do use different ‘registers’ to communicate in our daily lives, yet we seem to mix them up at some point – with disastrous consequences: people fighting over each other because they think they own the certain, indisputable ‘truth’. Instead of being guided by fear which makes us believe we can make ‘certain’ (‘scientific’, ‘objective’?) claims on issues where there is no certainty, we ought to accept that our capacities and knowledge are limited…

  3. I’d like to add two remarks:

    1. You say that ‘jealousy’ for instance cannot be answered by science because it is a moral thing. That may be true, although I don’t share your meaning about this, but even if it were, there is no reason to assume that it therefore needs to be answered by religion only. In short, religion is not a necessity, it is a choice. Furthermore, it is a choice one should never impose on another.

    2. I agree that the stories from the Bible should not be taken literally, not by fundamentalists, not by scientists (who, if they really are scientists, don’t care about the Bible anyway).
    However, you only talk about the New Testament. What about the old one? There is much more factwriting involved there. According to it, the all-good God murders 2.476.636 people (more realistic estimates go to more than 24 million people), including a lot of so-called innocent infants and children. I’ve often wondered how religeous people explain the ruthlessness and selectiveness of “his lordship”. I don’t see how you can explain this as a ‘poetic expression’.

    • First of all, thank you for your comment!

      I think there are some misunderstandings regarding this post. Please allow me to clarify some of the issues you’re mentioning.

      1. Regarding your first remark: I never said a phenomenon like ‘jealousy’ cannot be ‘answered’ by science. What I make clear in the video compilation is that science, on the one hand, can explain jealousy (how it comes to be etc.), but that, on the other hand, science cannot answer the question ‘Is jealousy a good thing?’. This last question is a rational one, and we all know that rationality cannot be reduced to ‘scientific rationality’. Conscious discussions on how to define something, for instance, are philosophical enterprises – and although the philosophical enterprise always is a rational one, it is not a scientific one per se. There’s a distinction between ‘mathematics’ and ‘physics’… I think I made it very clear in my video that rational questions beyond the confines of science are treated by our philosophical, mythological, epic, poetic and religious literature. True, rational questions like moral questions should not necessarily be treated by religion, but the fact of the matter is that the moral question remains a philosophical one. Depending on the criteria one chooses to take as a starting point, one will reason in a certain direction and maybe come to the conclusion that, for instance, jealousy is a good thing. Someone else, however, can take other criteria and come to different conclusions regarding the same phenomenon. Both have been rational, yet don’t agree. Science cannot answer all rational questions because of the non-objective, ‘paradigmatic’ aspects of our knowledge. I don’t see any ‘reason’ to disagree with people like, say, Karl Popper, Ludwig Wittgenstein or Martin Heidegger on these issues. I thought the works of these and other thinkers already freed us from the misconceptions of positivism regarding the abilities of scientific knowledge.

      I agree that religion is not a ‘necessity’, and that faith is something you cannot ‘impose’. However, I do think we need to educate people so that they are able to make a choice (‘for’ or ‘against’ religion). Religious fundamentalism is a problem when it becomes violent (although it isn’t necessarily violent; as Karen Armstrong makes clear in her well-documented, scientific study on fundamentalism ‘The Battle for God’, only a tiny proportion of the fundamentalists take part in acts of violence). Osama Bin Laden and Anders Breivik are fundamentalists who sadly make clear what can happen when people are not able to ‘read’ and ‘interpret’ religion according to the basic hermeneutical principles necessary to ‘decipher’ religious texts. I think we should teach people the basic ‘grammar’ and ‘vocabulary’ of religion, like you teach a language. You cannot force people to read great literary works, like you cannot force people to believe something. But you can teach people a language so that they are able to read great literature, as you can teach people how to read religious texts – and this ‘how’ should be scientifically argued (based on facts and research providing basic information, for instance on how religious texts were first created, received and interpreted in a non-literal way). Then people are able to make up their own mind, avoiding the pitfalls of a simplistic religious fundamentalism and an equally simplistic radical atheism (which, by the way, shares the premises of religious fundamentalism, only to come to different conclusions – my point in the video is that the shared premises of both fundamentalists and radical atheists like Dawkins are highly debatable, rationally and scientifically).

      2. Regarding your second remark. I must say I’m a bit disappointed on a few inconsistencies and inaccuracies here:

      You say that stories from the Bible should not be taken literally, yet you consider the stories from the Old Testament wherein God murders (or ‘orders’ to murder) so many people as ‘factwriting’. You seem to give in to exactly the premise of religious fundamentalism, which also considers these mythological stories as ‘factwriting’. The way historians of Antiquity wrote and were interpreted, is far different from the way we write and interpret history nowadays. This is true for the Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians etc. I don’t know why we should all of a sudden make an exception for the Jews and their Tanakh. The first fundamentalist Christian movements, who originated and flourished during the 19th and 20th century in the United States, didn’t know how people from Antiquity and the Middle Ages read the Bible, but we have enough research ‘under our belts’ nowadays that we should be able to avoid their mistakes. I think you know better than to present the mythological history of the Old Testament as ‘factwriting’. We should make a distinction between ‘fictional’ elements and the ‘factual’ realities they try to express. The fiction department of our literature has further divisions: the stories from the Old Testament are not ‘poetic’ in the first place, they belong to the ‘epic’ genre of literature. Epic expressions indeed also refer to universal, existential truths. In mythology, the word ‘God’ is used as the name of one of the main characters in the story. The story itself expresses a human reality, an anthropological truth – the biblical stories you refer to unveil the violent tendencies in human culture, something which other mythological traditions often ‘hide’ or ‘soften’. So, these stories not necessarily unveil the character of ‘his lordship’, but of humanity itself – since all mythology first and foremost ‘mirrors’ humans and what they’re capable of (good and bad). When you consider ‘mythological stories’ as ‘descriptive language’, you can only come to the conclusions you draw – but, once again, then you’re mistaken about the nature of those epic stories, and then, once again, you interpret these stories like the fundamentalists do (only to come to different conclusions).

      Your remark between brackets on ‘real’ scientists reveals one more of your prejudices. As I show in the video compilation, radical atheists like Richard Dawkins are convinced that religious people can only be religious because they are dumb in a way, not intelligent, critical, open or smart enough to ‘accept’ the ‘fact’ that there is no God. Well, whenever I have conversations with fundamentalists, that’s exactly what they say of ‘irreligious’ people: religious fundamentalists also believe that atheists are not intelligent, open or critical enough to accept the ‘fact’ that there is a God. This argument ad hominem is, in both instances I think, unhelpful. As an argument ad hominem it is in fact not a ‘real’, i.e. rational argument. Furthermore, when you say that ‘real’ scientists are not concerned with the Bible, you seem to make an arbitrary distinction between ‘real’ and ‘false’ scientists which resembles the dangerous extreme right-wing discourse on ‘purity’ of race, culture etc. (you know, like one says there are ‘real’ Germans versus so-called ‘false’ ones, ‘pure’ Flemish people versus ‘impure’ ones…). Your definition of ‘real’ scientists excludes Richard Dawkins (who writes about what fundamentalists believe and make of the Bible – and seems a bit obsessed by it), but also Christians like Blaise Pascal. Was Pascal less of a scientist and mathematician because he was also a Christian? To refer to 20th century and contemporary scientists: Georges Lemaître was a phenomenal, brilliant scientist, one of our greatest ever here in Belgium, but he was also a Catholic priest; Alister McGrath is a molecular biophysicist who turned from atheism to Christianity, but this doesn’t mean he’s not a ‘real’ scientist anymore, does it? In fact, many a great scientist displays a genuine interest in religion and in the Bible; Albert Einstein, for example, also approached religious matters and theological questions in a nuanced way.

      Last remark: you say that I’m only referring to the New Testament. That’s not true. My reference to the issue of ‘jealousy’ in the video is derived from a story from the Old Testament, namely the story of Cain and Abel. I’m very willing to have conversations on religious matters, but I must admit I find it a bit tiresome when you misrepresent ‘the facts’. Scientific minds alike, we should be able to have them sorted out. Otherwise we might end up in situations where the only argument remains the ‘argument’ of the ‘freedom of speech’, where we consider our ‘own’ opinion as indisputable, even when that opinion, after scientific research, appears to be wrong.

      Anyway, I hope we continue to give each other ‘food for thought’.
      Kind regards!

      • Hi Eric,

        Thank you for your reply. I’m sure you would like to read my reply…

        1. I understand and I agree. However, the question whether jealousy is a good thing or not is quite irrelevant as there are many degrees and types of jealousy. Whole books have been written on the matter and the discussion is indeed a moral one.

        I am surprised (well, and not at the same time) that you put Dawkins in the same position as the religious fundamentalists. Dawkins’ starting point is science and logic and there’s actually little room for debate, simply because you cannot argument against him unless you use metaphysical or religious arguments. And these arguments are irrelevant in a scientific discussion (or at least, they are irrelevant to me – this is a personal belief).

        2. I did not say that the whole of the Old Testament is factwriting but bits and pieces are. The Jews were indeed slaves in Egypt, king David did exist (there have been recent excavations which seem to prove this), etc. Of course the ‘killing’ by God did not happen literally. Then again, please tell me how we should interpret the ‘killing’ by God (for instance the cities of Sodom and Gomorra) other than that God in all of his goodness exterminated thousands of people, including infants and children. I’m very curious about your assessment of this story.

        3. I admit that my expression of ‘real’ scientists was a poor choice of words. What I meant was actually what you meant, that ‘real’ scientists don’t care for the Bible because it is only a work of fiction and not a true story collection.

        Finally, I would like to add one item to this discussion. I believe that discussion on God is mostly irrelevant, the reason being that before you take on such a discussion (which can be fruitful but only on one condition) you need to agree what you consider to be God. Do you see him as a man with a long beard, as a supernatural being deciding on the lives of all of us, as the whole of nature (so no individual), or as some type of energy, …
        Depending on the way you see God, the discussion can vary greatly. And depending on the way you see him (or her?), I may agree with you more… or less.
        You will see that scientists who are religious may see him differently from how laymen see him.

        So basically, without setting some parameters, any religious discussion is useless – then again, the discussion on the parameters can be fun ;-)

        One last personal word to you Eric: please don’t see it as if I’m attacking your belief (which I am not). Also my choice of words may be lousy sometimes. In this type of discussions, correct wording is of an essence, something not entirely easy in a language which is not one’s mother tongue (and not easy in the mother tongue either).
        I merely state my own conviction which sometimes clashes with yours, sometimes not. Feeling differently about religion, however, does not mean we cannot live together and have a good connection with one another (there can even be beautiful friendships between religious and non-religious people). If only more people in this world would see it that way…

      • Hello Herman,

        Thanks! Again there are a number of things in your comment which seem not very rational, not very consistent to me.

        1. Your first remark on the question of jealousy, for instance. You say that it is an irrelevant one because of the complexity of the phenomenon. Well, isn’t the complexity of a phenomenon a criterion to measure the relevance of a (set of) question(s)? Let me put it by way of some examples/analogies.
        First example: A quizmaster asks: “What city is the capital of France?” A quiz candidate answers: “Paris.”
        Second example: Doctors of Medicine are confonted with a new disease. In trying to explain it and in trying to cure it, they come up with all kinds of hypotheses, asking different questions, looking at the problem from a variety of viewpoints.
        Third example: Someone grieves the death of a dearly beloved one. She goes to a friend and asks for help, for guidance and support in dealing with her loss. The friend has no clear cut ‘solutions’ to her ‘problem’, but is willing to just ‘be there’ for her…
        Now let me ask you this question: which type of question is the more ‘relevant’ one? Your remark seems to imply that the more complex a question is, the less ‘solvable’ a question is, the less relevant it becomes. But how can we ‘gain’ new ‘knowledge’ and ‘insight’, also ‘wisdom’ if we only consider questions we already know the answer on? What’s the use of asking a question when you already know the answer to that question? That’s an irrelevant question, no?!

        You’re really mistaken on the work of Richard Dawkins. His starting point is not ‘scientific’, and I don’t think he presents it that way. His starting point is philosophical, indeed logical/rational to some degree, or, for lack of a better word, ‘metaphysical’. How could it be something else? I think I clarified this already in my answer to your first comment. I also stated, and I can argue this, that his starting points are highly debatable, both rationally AND scientifically. Of course one can argue with Dawkins. He’s not presenting the world of religion as it ‘is’. He’s only representing a certain part of that world and the whole of his argument is based on that representation. If Dawkins presents this representation, the philosophical viewpoints and choices he made, as ‘science’ or ‘mere facts’, he would indeed take a ‘fundamentalist’ approach. Then again, I don’t think he does that.

        2. & 3. You’re saying two things here. In 2 you consider bits and pieces of the Old Testament as factwriting, while in 3 you consider the Bible as a whole as a ‘work of fiction’. The Bible is about real human experiences, universally human experiences, and these experiences are always ‘historical’ (yet personal). Furthermore, the Bible expresses these experiences in a variety of ways – mythological, epic stories are just one of those ways. I feel like I’m repeating myself here, nevertheless: one should always distinguish between the ‘historical’ facts and the ‘fictitious’ metaphors, allegories etc. which refer to, express AND interpret these historical facts. To put it by way of analogy: the play and film on W.A. Mozart, Amadeus, doesn’t really give me an overview of ‘historical facts’, it’s not history in that sense, but it does try to convey something of Mozart’s ‘character’, how he was experienced… and it does so in an ‘imaginary’ way. And though the play and the film are not ‘historical’, but works of ‘fiction’, the experience they refer to is a historical one (with the historical figure Mozart). In the same way we have ‘mythological history’ around ‘historical figures’ in the Old and New Testament.

        3. In your third point you’re saying that you mean what I mean. That’s not true. I believe every scientist cares about what the Bible is talking about, because every scientist is a human being and is concerned with what he himself and his fellow human beings experience (to give some examples: questions of poverty, violence, how our natural environment influences us, etc.). I know that not every scientist is able to interpret the Bible as a collection of books that is concerned with the issues he’s studying himself, but this doesn’t mean we can not ‘educate’ him. Osama Bin Laden was a scientist, an engineer, but clearly he was kind of ‘illiterate’ in dealing with religious texts. Again, I really do think we need ‘religious’ education so people are able to avoid the pitfalls I already mentioned (simplistic fundamentalism and equally simplistic radical atheism).

        As for your question on Sodom and Gomorrah, I’d like to refer to this link: http://girardianlectionary.net/year_c/proper12c.htm. There you can find how Catholic thinkers and theologians read and interpret the story (in distinction with a protestant theologian like Karl Barth). My reading of the story is similar. I agree with this Catholic reading, and I’m a Catholic myself, because I’ve come to the conclusion it’s rationally AND scientifically more plausible than the way fundamentalists or people like Dawkins and Bill Maher read and interpret the story…

  4. Hi Eric,

    I’m afraid you all too often read in people’s reaction what you want to read, not what they write.

    On jealousy for instance, I said you cannot simply say whether jealousy is good or bad because there are different types and degrees of jealousy. That’s all I’m saying, nothing less nothing more. All the addings you write are your addings alone, not mine.

    On Dawkins: if there’s one thing he is not, it is metaphysical. We leave that adjective to religious people, alternative medicine believers and believers in the paranormal.

    Thirdly, the Bible. You may not realize it, but the way you see the Bible is the way of a tiny minority of the people. Most believers take the Bible a lot more literal. What you, I think, are trying to do is to find a compromise between science and religion. In my view this is impossible, at least if your religion is metaphysical (which it need not be but in most instances it is).

    I read the information on Sodom and Gomorra (which was only one of many examples), but it is not satisfactory. The bottom line is that God killed thousands of people, including presumed innocent children and infants. The ad hoc theory that the destruction was natural and was afterwards attributed to God is hilarious. In that case the rest of the story is worthless because even if the people of those cities had been good, the calamities would have happened.

    We are never going to agree, Eric, let alone find an honourable compromise. I can lead a very happy and moral life without being dependent on some religion – this is no criticism to you, mind you. I can enjoy and be baffled about the wonders of nature and of the universe without having to believe in a being that supposedly created it all. This ‘conviction’ also has its disadvantages, but I prefer it to a belief in things you cannot prove. I might as well believe then in the flying spaghetti monster…

    • Hi Herman,

      I’m sorry if I have misinterpreted you, but could you please explain what you mean when you write “the question whether jealousy is a good thing or not is quite irrelevant”? What do you mean with this question being “irrelevant”? Why is it “irrelevant”?

      On Dawkins: well, I guess we once again have a different understanding of a word – this time the word “metaphysical”. I thought you were using the word in the way philosophers understand it. This is clearly not the case. But maybe you could clarify your understanding of the word?

      I don’t think I belong to a tiny minority. Maybe it’s because I’m misjudging the situation from my own experience, but I’ve met plenty (indeed, ‘plenty’) of people in my life who interpret the Bible in a similar way like me. On the internet I think you can find fundamentalist approaches as well as ‘academic’ approaches, in equal quantities… When you read theologians from the past (Antiquity and the Middle Ages), you’ll be surprised how ‘rich’, nuanced and complex their interpretations are… To me, they’re simply wonderful. Anyway, ‘quantity’ is but an arbitrary criterion to judge the value of something. When Darwin first wrote his theories on evolution not many of his contemporaries agreed with him immediately. As Bill Maher puts it, “Even if a billion people believe something, it can still be false…” That’s true for religious and atheist people alike.

      Have you read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? And have you really read the complete link I sent you? The ad hoc theory is not an ad hoc theory. Natural events were always interpreted – not only by Jews, but by people of Antiquity in general – as having something to do with ‘the gods’. Why do you call this ‘hilarious’? It’s just the way people interpreted natural events then… Don’t you know that the ancient Greeks or Scandinavians thought, for instance, that ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning’ could be attributed to certain gods? Moreover, I think, from your remarks, that you still don’t understand ‘myth’, you seem to keep on reasoning on a ‘descriptive’, ‘factual’ level, no? Sorry if I’m misinterpreting your words here…

      I’m not looking for a compromise between science and religion because there’s not really a conflict. They’re dealing with different aspects of the same reality, trying to answer a different set of questions. And yes, I know you don’t ‘need’ religion. In fact, religion to me, and Christianity more specifically, has to do with ‘what I don’t need’. But it’s not because I don’t ‘need’ it that it’s not important. For instance, the good Samaritan (from the famous parable of Jesus) didn’t ‘need’ the victim he encountered along his way ‘to be happy’. But the Bible isn’t just concerned with the question ‘how to become happy’, it’s concerned with the question of love for one’s neighbor (which surpasses ‘romantic’ notions of love, or sentimental feelings like ‘empathy’). Hence the Bible is concerned with the question ‘what does my neigbor need?’, sometimes even more than with the question ‘what do I need?’ Love doesn’t necessarily make you ‘happy’, it doesn’t necessarily ‘comfort’ you, but it opens your eyes for the needs of others. Once again, I agree with you that you don’t need religion to be concerned with the question of love and the question of the needs of others… However, the Biblical Scriptures are very often a grand and beautiful inspiration to tackle these issues :).

  5. Hi Eric,

    The jealousy thing is quite simple: if one is jealous about one’s success, this can lead to this person doing great things in order to also get success – in this case jealousy is good. But if one is so jealous that one starts to hate the person with success, then jealousy is bad. If you are a little jealous of your wife who has contact with other men, then this shows your love for her and this can be good, but if you are very jealous so that you smother her and restrict her freedom, then jealousy is a bad thing.
    And as a matter of fact, this is the case with many things. People usually discuss about things in absolute words. The same can be said if someone asks me whether I believe in God – I will not answer yes or no straight away, I will first ask what that person believes God is and depending on that answer I will be able to reply.

    I use the word metaphysical literally: beyond the physical (and therefore not measurable, verifiable, empirical, etc.)

    I believe you do belong to a minority (which is indeed, as you put it, not necessarily a bad thing because you are correct when you say that quantity does not count – many people believe in homeopathy and acupuncture while in reality it is bollocks). If you would ask the average church-goer about his belief in the stories of the Bible, you will surely notice that many people believe that they happened as descripted.

    Well, the reason I call the explanation of natural occurrences by acts of God hilarious is that while I do understand that people thousands of years ago used that story as an explanation for things (because they did not know any better), using that explanation now, with all the knowledge we have, is rather pathetic. One would think that with all our knowledge mankind would finally be beyond it, but unfortunately it happens all too often. There are plenty of examples, e.g. the reaction of the Haitians to the earthquake catastrophe last year. They saw this as a deed of God they could nothing do about (while the voodoo people saw it as proof that there is too much catholicism in the country – hi) and instead of looking into why this happened and do something about it (e.g. make stronger buildings), they simply continued as before, believing nothing could be done against the o so mighty God. Well, that is indeed hilarious, although ‘sad’ would be a better word.

    As to the difference of science and religion, I don’t agree. Both try to explain ‘reality’ (the origin of life, life itself, death, …) but the answers are quite different.
    If you find your answers to life questions in the Bible, then by all means continue to do so. Each one of us should look for answers in the environment (s)he finds most comfortable. I find my answers in a beautiful piece of music, in nature, in my family, in friends and people I like.
    I prefer humanism to religion but I’m not in a position nor would I ever want to criticize your position. I simply give my comments and points of view, not to convince you of them, that would not work, but to give you insights on them, just as you try to give me insight on your beliefs and points of view.
    And basically, that is the whole reason for this discussion, isn’t it? ;-)

    • Hello again!

      You still didn’t answer why the question of jealousy is irrelevant, but okay… Are you suggesting that your answer is the ‘definitive’ answer? What is your criterion to judge whether a question is relevant or not?

      Glad you could clarify some things, although you didn’t answer all my questions… Concerning your remark on the word ‘hilarious’ in the context you’re referring to: the reasoning of the theologians is not hilarious then (because they simply say how people interpreted natural events), but the way people interpreted natural events in Antiquity is. Again, your claim that those theologians used an ‘ad hoc theory’ is a mistake, no? The people who interpret natural events in that particular sense (i.e. they attribute those events to ‘the gods’) have an odd ‘reasoning’, not the theologians you read…

      Last remark: if science and religion would all the way try to answer the same type of questions, I would become irreligious immediately… But the fact of the matter is, certain questions cannot be answered by science, and although religion is also not ‘necessary’ to answer them, they still remain philosophical and rational questions which surpass the ‘physical’ realm…

      You know, Herman, I really sympathize with Richard Dawkins’ atheism on many points, although you might not expect that. But, whenever I read his work I’m always a bit disappointed. I guess it’s just not rational enough for me. Maybe rational criteria are too important for me, I don’t know… It’s actually mostly on the basis of rational criteria that I converted to Christianity… I’m sure, though, that Dawkins will work further, correcting some of the inconsistencies in his books. After all, he’s a critical thinker, willing to question his own ‘assumptions’…

      I often wonder why Richard Dawkins assumes, for instance, that Christianity is what fundamentalists make of it. Sure Dawkins must be able to make up his own mind about Christianity, yet he just takes over the fundamentalist approach (and rejects it). To be honest, I’ve always found this a bit naive. I think we should never blindly copy what others are saying, whether we are ‘theists’ or ‘atheists’. Again, I’m convinced that we can overcome different kinds of ignorance and naivety, and that scientific study can help us to overcome our own, uncritically held opinions. If only Richard Dawkins would take on a dialogue with a Christian thinker like René Girard, or Sören Kierkegaard, or C.S. Lewis, or Blaise Pascal, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or James Alison, or… That would be, I guess, a very interesting dialogue! When he talks to Christian thinkers now, Dawkins all too often takes over the fundamentalist approach to Christianity, and the conversation then depends on that approach. Many times, after such conversations, I’m left with the impression that, actually, nothing ‘fundamental’ has been said. Herman, you know a little about mimetic theory – wouldn’t it be interesting if Dawkins got acquainted with the Christian traditions this theory originates from? Indeed there are a lot of parallels between Dawkins’ scientific work and mimetic theory – some insights of Dawkins are even implemented in this theory. Eric Gans, one of Girard’s first students, formulates an atheist viewpoint based on Girard’s mimetic theory (‘based on’ meaning that he disagrees with Girard on certain points). You can find a link to ‘Anthropoetics’ (and the ‘Chronicles of Love & Resentment’) in the ‘Links’ department of my blog. Anyhow, for an atheist, I think the following is very interesting reading (and to be honest, to me an atheism based on the work of Gans and others is much more interesting than the atheism proposed by Dawkins): http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/views/vw356.htm. Have fun, I’d say!

  6. Hi Eric,

    Well, in this case, asking whether jealousy is a good thing or not is irrelevant because the answer cannot be given without knowing a lot of more parameters (what type of jealousy, the degree of jealousy, etc.).

    As to your remarks on Dawkins, I’m afraid I must give it a miss. To be honest, my knowledge on the matter is way too limited in order to provide a satisfactory answer.

    There’s one thing I cannot understand: how can rational criteria turn one to christianity? For christianity, and for any religion for that matter, one does not need ratio but faith. Faith is the center of all religions, not ratio.

    I don’t believe there are questions that science cannot answer, but there are questions that science cannot yet answer. Then again, I don’t see science as the holy grail of life. To me, my own convictions, feelings and thoughts are the things I lead my life by. They concur regulary with science but it is they who lead my life, not science. Nor does science dictate my life. And that, dear friend, is exactly the difference with religion.

    • Hi Herman,

      Before I go on any further, actually my name is written with a ‘k’ – but maybe it’s because we’re writing in English ;).

      Ever heard of “intellege ut credas, crede ut intellegas”? You might get a different idea of religion then :). I don’t agree with your understanding of religion, and I certainly don’t agree with your understanding of science. I don’t know of any serious scientist or academician today who still believes science will eventually answer all questions. The central question of ontology, as put forward again by Martin Heidegger, is a question that can never be answered by science – on a principal level! Now to treat this ontological, purely rational question as a scientific one is to misunderstand it – and this happens all too often. Some people believe religion can answer all questions. They are wrong. But if you believe science can answer all questions, then you’re equally mistaken – see my first answer.

      From my book Vrouwen, Jezus en rock-‘n-roll (p.23-24): “Verder biedt de wetenschap geen antwoord op waaromvragen of zinvragen, zoals: ‘Waarom is er een kosmos die ontstaan is uit een Big Bang , waarin zich leven ontwikkeld heeft volgens bepaalde (darwinistische) wetmatigheden?’ Ook een religieuze traditie geeft niet automatisch antwoord op zulke vragen. Zelfs als ik geloof dat God op een of andere manier de wereld ‘schiep’, heb ik nog altijd geen antwoord op de vraag waaróm die wereld en die God er (moeten) zijn. [...] Er gaat een bijzondere kracht uit van het menselijke vermogen om de waaromvraag te stellen. Wetenschappers worden er niet altijd graag mee geconfronteerd, want louter wetenschappelijk beschouwd is er geen zin in de kosmos te ontwaren. Voor wie veel, zo niet alles verklaarbaar acht, moet het bijzonder confronterend zijn om de ontwapenende, kinderlijke verwondering te lezen in de vraag: ‘Waarom is er een kosmos waarin, wetenschappelijk gezien, geen zin valt vast te stellen?’ De wetenschap zwijgt bij het horen van de zinvraag. Allerlei mogelijke ‘werelden’ blijven daardoor buiten haar gezichtsveld. Zelfs als ik wetenschappelijk kan verklaren hoe het komt dat mensen de waaromvraag stellen, heb ik nog altijd geen antwoord op de vraag zelf. Ieder mogelijk antwoord erop kan slechts voorlopig zijn. Op die manier behoedt de waaromvraag ons voor allerlei vormen van dogmatisme (wetenschappelijk, religieus, politiek, cultureel…). De zinvraag is dan ook een gevaarlijke, want telkens weer grensverleggende vraag. ‘Waaróm is deze wereld er zoals hij is’, klinkt immers evengoed als ‘Móet deze wereld er zijn? Het had gekund dat hij er niet was’, en als ‘Zou deze wereld, zoals we hem kennen, ook niet ánders kunnen zijn?’ In het menselijke vermogen om deze vragen te stellen, ligt de kiem van alle creativiteit en verbeeldingskracht, zowel op het vlak van kunst als op het vlak van wetenschap. [...] ‘Verbeeldingskracht is van meer belang dan kennis…’, en dat leren we van Albert Einstein (1879-1955).”

      Do you really think that there’s a difference between my faith ‘dictating’ my life and your convictions ‘dictating’ your life? I have my convictions and you have yours. I don’t know why I should be less free than you are. As a matter of fact, my personal experience is that my faith liberated me from a lot of illusions – one of those illusions being the conviction that I’m a so-called ‘independent individual’.

      Have you read the link I sent you (the text by Eric Gans)? It’s interesting, isn’t it ;)? It’s such a shame Dawkins only has this naive idea of religion…

    • Herman,

      You say: “Well, in this case, asking whether jealousy is a good thing or not is irrelevant because the answer cannot be given without knowing a lot of more parameters (what type of jealousy, the degree of jealousy, etc.).”

      In the case of the Cain and Abel story, the parameters are clearly given: it’s about an obsessive kind of jealousy. Besides, the story shows what jealousy ultimately amounts to. It shows the nature of a life dictated by jealousy.

  7. Hi Erik,

    Sorry for the typo in the name – must indeed be language related.

    Then again, ‘intellege’ should be ‘intellige’ ;-)

    Anyway, I believe we can conclude that we agree to disagree, which is no problem. Different convictions and opinions are normal.
    And please accept the fact that I respect your opinion and conviction, even if it is contrary to mine.

    One last thing, though: you say that science does not give an answer to the question of the purpose of our world, our universe. Well, actually it does and it simply says there is no purpose. And I agree to that. There is no real purpose to our being here, it is a mere biological and cosmological fact, nothing more, nothing less. We need to leave the very arrogant idea that man is the center of the universe and has a purpose. Just as in my latest book, to be published in a few weeks, I would like to quote Michel Houellebecq, who stated that we are “but a temporary alignment of molecules”.

    Cheers!

    • So you agree that the question of the purpose of our world is not a scientific one per se !! It’s not because science says there is no purpose in the universe that there is no purpose… Science does not say ‘everything’. Actually, I wrote that in the quote from my book: I write that science answers the question on the ‘purpose of the universe’ simply by saying there is no purpose. Why do you say that I denied there is a scientific answer?

      ‘Intellege’ should be ‘intellege’ (not intellige), as Augustin uses the verb in Sermon 43, 9; Ex Corde Ecclesia, 5.

      By the way, the question whether there is a purpose or not has nothing to do with arrogance. To believe that science can answer all questions is something that cannot be proven ‘scientifically’ (which means that science indeed cannot answer all questions). To think your ‘faith’ is ‘fact’, that’s arrogant I think!

      What’s the title of your new book? You mean you have written it yourself or that you translated an existing book by another author? What’s it about? I’m actually quite curious…

      Question to Houellebecq (thank ‘God’ he’s alive :) after his disappearance): If we’re but a temporary alignment of molecules, why should I care about anything? People die every day – hunger, diseases, war… are killing millions. Should I care if it doesn’t affect my personal life? Should I even care about my personal life if science tells me we’re but a ‘temporary alignment of molecules’? Seems to me the purely scientific world view is a very poor one, indeed…

      Still I enjoy life!! No matter what science tells me, ‘objectively’…

      Cheers indeed! :)

  8. Hi Erik,

    This discussion is fun ;-)

    Again, whether I agree depends on the meaning you attribute to the word ‘purpose’.
    There is a biological purpose of us being here (see the theory of evolution), that is something science can tell us all (even though some people do not agree and dismiss evolution).
    Whether there is a “higher” purpose as it were, that is of course a completely different matter. I believe there is none, but everybody’s entitled to his/her own opinion of course.

    As for the Latin, I have always found the expression written as this: “crede ut intelligas et intellige ut credas”, but then again my Latin has become a bit sturdy ;-)

    As to my arrogance, it exists solely of only wanting to accept things that can be verified. If that is arrogant, then I have no problem being arrogant. If a fact has been established a fact, then it is indeed a fact. If something is proposed as a fact while it has not been established that way (scientifically that is), then it is no fact to me.
    But that has nothing to do with faith, but is a way of life.

    For my new book, which this time is no translation but has been written by myself and has been ‘embellished’ by a co-author, please refer to my personal web site (www.hermanboel.eu). I’m pretty sure you will like it. It holds only three religious topics but I am absolutely sure you will agree to all that is written about them. (I’ve said it before, despite of our differences, I know for sure that there are loads of things, more important things, we do agree on wholeheartedly – eager to discuss them.)
    I’d like to tell you more about the book, but we can reserve that for when we see each other some time (e.g. when you come and play badminton or so). I hope that happens soon! :-)

    • Hi Herman,

      There’s a contradiction in what you’re saying. You only want to accept things that can be verified. Well, to believe science ultimately holds all the answers is something that can never be verified. Why do you accept this when it cannot be established as a ‘fact’ (in the scientific sense)? See, you do accept things that cannot be verified!

      If you’d allow me; I found this definition of scientism (a faith system you clearly seem to sympathize with) on http://www.skepdic.com: Scientism, in the strong sense, is the self-annihilating view that only scientific claims are meaningful, which is not a scientific claim and hence, if true, not meaningful. Thus, scientism is either false or meaningless. This view seems to have been held by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1922) when he said such things as “The totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science…” He later repudiated this view.

      I already spoke of Ludwig Wittgenstein in one of my previous answers. He indeed embraced scientism early on, only to come to the conclusion, later on, it was a logical impossibility. That’s why he ‘repudiated this view’.

      As for the Latin: I refer to the text by Augustin (see the references I gave in my previous answer), and he indeed writes ‘intellege’. See: http://www.augustinus.de/bwo/dcms/sites/bistum/extern/zfa/textevon/aphorismen/crede.html

      Maybe we should meet, indeed, because there’s a lot of my questions you don’t seem to answer because of ‘limits in time and space’ here…
      See you! :)

  9. Touché – you do indeed have a point there. I may need to modify my position.

    The reason for not answering all of your questions does not always have something to do with time and space – there are times that I simply don’t have an answer.

    I must admit that with all of my activities (being self-employed, having a family, hobbies, etc.), there is little to no time to read the no doubt very interesting books by all of those authors (and when I do have time to read, I prefer it to be fictional for entertainment).

    And instead of giving answers that lead to nowhere, I prefer to admit that I don’t have an answer – I prefer only giving answers on things I believe I know sufficiently about to be able to provide a valid answer. And some of the items you mentioned are indeed beyond my knowledge. But that also is better tackled when we meet ;-)

    • Wow! How come you all of a sudden agree with something I have been saying over and over since this conversation first started? Could it be because The Skeptic’s Dictionary says the same thing ;)?

      Well, I must admit I’m also sometimes guided by ‘preferences’ rather than ‘ratio’. We all too often look at the messenger and sometimes dismiss valid messages because of that. Maybe you were convinced I was too much of a ‘Christian’ to be ‘rationally, logically sound’? You know, many atheists dismiss René Girard’s work because he openly admits he’s a Christian, while some of Dawkins’ scientific work as an evolutionary biologist is more or less in line with Girard’s mimetic theory. As I told you before, some of Girard’s avid students are atheists. ‘Truth’ transcends the contexts it originates from (be it a ‘religious’ or ‘non-religious’ context). And so you see that, on a rational level, there’s a lot we can agree on!

      See you later, alligator ;)

  10. Hi Erik,

    No, it’s not because you took something from the Skeptic’s Dictionary. You simply made a valid point, and who am I not to recognize that?
    I don’t hold on to my opinions if there is good and valid reason for them to be changed.
    You are quite right about the messenger part. Many of the problems in our society (and also politically by the way) are caused by not wanting to accept something from someone who is seen negatively, even if wat (s)he says is very valid. It is very hard for people to look at the message without looking at the person giving the message. I’ve made that same mistake in the past myself. Then again, I guess that is … human. ;-)

  11. Dag Erik,

    Puik werk dat je zo grondig in debat gaat. Veel van wat je doet overlapt met mijn interesses (zij het dan niet vanuit Girard) en ik zou echt wat meer moeten reageren…

    Voor vandaag een kleine opmerking:

    “You’d think if you were one of Christ’s biographers, [the virgin birth] would be sort of an important thing not to leave out. Oh, God, he was also born of a virgin. They don’t notice the virgin birth. You know, I think that is something if you were any sort of reporter you’d put into the story. What editor looks at the facts and goes, ‘Yeah, but take out the thing about the virgin birth. That’s not interesting.’”

    In de laatste aflevering van Jan Leyers’ “In de schaduw van het kruis” is er een quasi analoog discours. De context: JL staat te kijken naar de historische kern van Jeruzalem en vraagt aan zijn Joodse gids wat die er nu eigenlijk van denkt, zo al die verschillende godsdiensten die dezelfde heilige plek claimen. De gids aarzelt en ietwat beverig geeft hij dan toch zijn -naar zijn eigen aanvoelen erg ruimdenkende en niet politiek correcte- interpretatie, maar wordt onderbroken door een onbekende orthodoxe jood die voor de camera begint te tieren en te roepen dat als het zo belangrijk was voor de moslims om de Al’Aqsamoskee op te eisen, dat Mohammed dan maar een toepasselijk regeltje in de Koran had moeten zetten…

    Erg gelijkaardig van argument, met een heel andere omgeving, maar even kortzichtig.

    Groeten,

    Arne

    • Dag Arne,

      Dat ik zo grondig in debat ga, heeft onder andere te maken met een ergernis omtrent een infantilisering van en polarisering in het gesprek tussen gelovigen en atheïsten – what’s in a name, we blijven allen mensen. Ik betrap mij er op dat ik, vanuit een apologetische reflex, soms zelf in de val van die polarisering trap. Ik werk eraan :).

      Het voorbeeld dat je aanhaalt uit “In de schaduw van het kruis” komt mij bekend voor – ik meen het al eens gezien te hebben. De grote spirituele geschriften en getuigenissen van de mensheid zijn zó inspirerend, invloedrijk en verruimend dat het jammer zou zijn als ze niet aan het licht kunnen treden omwille van misvattingen omtrent de eigen aard van het religieuze discours.

      Wat de mimetische theorie betreft: het blijft voor mij een springplank, een weg, een middel naar andere oorden; handig om in dit tijdsgewricht allerlei fenomenen in gesprek te brengen met elkaar.

      Ben jij nog steeds even gedreven bezig met Pascal? En een tweede vraag: de wiskunde brengt je voorlopig niet meer in de buurt van het Aalsterse? Een interdisciplinaire mathematicus is altijd welkom!

      Beste groeten,
      Erik

  12. Hey Erik,

    Die infantilisering is inderdaad ergerlijk tot en met voor wie een beetje verder kijkt en weet wat er op dit gebied al gedacht en gezegd is, niet in het minst in ons Belgenlandje. Zonder te willen denigrerend doen over het intellectuele niveau van Amerika vind ik dit toch wel één van de punten waar wij niets te leren hebben van wat overgewaaid komt in de massacultuur. Ik vermoed dat het relatieve succes van Dawkins, Dennet en co enkel verklaarbaar is vanuit twee generaties verwerpen van doorgegeven religieuze erfenis, en al het denkwerk dat in die traditie gebeurd is. En éénmaal de stereotiepen beginnen te vliegen is het moeilijk om kalm te blijven, dat ken ik ook maar al te goed…

    Wat je vragen betreft: nou, eerst de feiten:
    ? Pascal ? Pascal is nooit een echte grote interesse geweest, de “Pensées” ligt ergens midden in de grote stapel boeken om “ooit eens te lezen”. Maar misschien dat ik mij er indertijd positief over heb uitgelaten, dat kan. Ik ben indertijd bij jullie vertrokken om te doctoreren in filosofie, waar ik een beurs voor 4 jaar had gekregen. Mijn domein is wetenschapsfilosofie en ik probeer iets te doen rond geloof en wetenschap, waarbij ik wetenschappelijke inzichten over de ontologische structuur van de wereld probeer te mis/gebruiken om iets duidelijker te zijn wat betreft wrijvingspunten tussen theologie en wetenschap… In het bijzonder vraag ik mij af hoe ik Gods “werk” in deze wereld (“divine action”) kan denken op dit scharnierpunt.
    In de praktijk is dat niet zo eenvoudig ;-) en de beurs is voorbij maar het doctoraat nog niet! En om terug kaas op mijn boterhammen te kunnen leggen geef ik terug les in een ASOschool in het Brusselse, met een Schaarbeeks publiek. Veel immigrantenkinderen, de multiculturele samenleving ten top, en veel vragen over de rol van religie in dat model. Erg interessant! Maar ondertussen probeer ik nog wat te werken aan dat doctoraat ook hoor.

    Voor wat betreft de tweede vraag, dat is iets moelijker. [Knip! Ik merk dat ik je vraag verkeerd heb gelezen!! Ik heb gelezen: "brengt de wiskunde je in de buurt van het Hogere" Nou nou... Goed, ik laat het gewoon staan ;-) ] Ik heb bewust gekozen om geen filosofie van de wiskunde te doen, omdat je dan eigenlijki heel de tijd logica enzo moet gaan doen en daar had ik geen zin in. Toch blijft één grote vraag in mij telkens weer naar boven komen: waar komt die wiskunde, met zijn ongelofelijk rijke en te ontdekken structuren vandaan? Ontdekken we wiskunde of vinden we het uit? Was het er al voor wij er waren of niet? De ontzagwekkende verwondering en de weergaloze ontdekkingen die je in de wiskunde vindt wijzen op het eerste. Zo zou je dan een metafysisch argument kunnen bouwen naar de klassieke scheppergod toe. Op momenten van inzicht en bevlieging als je iets inziet is dat echt niet moeilijk! Maar strikt genomen zijn er nog andere mogelijkheden, en misschien heeft wiskunde wel degelijk een oorsprong in de manier van denken of de ervarings-organisatie van menselijke wezens. En dan valt die brug weg. Waaruit ik dan concludeer dat mijn zogezegd metafysische argument eigenlijk niets anders is dan de manier waarop ik naar de werkelijkheid kijk. Kortom: het kan, zeker, maar ik ben erg voorzichtig in dit soort argumentaties…

    En dan de echte vraag: ik kom niet veel in het Aalsterse, vooral wegens gebrek aan concrete gelegenheid… Helaas helaas!

  13. There is certainly a great deal to find out about this issue.

    I really like all the points you made.

  14. Hi Eric, great post, as usual. I had missed this one.
    Bill Maher confuses science with wisdom. Although science and religion are not “trying to answer the same questions”, they are both trying to provide a “sense” of order. The sense that everything has an explanation, gives us a comforting sense of power and control.
    But I don’t see Bill Maher as attempting to substitute science for faith at all. What I see is a man who has nothing to believe in, not even science and consequently, nothing to comfort him. I see an envy of those who are comforted by their faith and that is the reason he needs to dissuade others from their comfort.
    If Bill was a man of science, he would be doing science and not comedy, not satire and not film.
    You point out that Bill has taken the role of becoming the mimetic double of the fundamentalist Christians. But we can be fairly certain that Bill DOES understand epic literature (he’s well read and intelligent), so why would he pretend that he cannot? Because he envies the faith that gives them comfort.
    I had the “privilege” of living with a psychopath for 25 years and I observed the ways in which psychopaths sabotage – everything. He tried to undermine my faith in God by asking me to pray for the well-being of our 5 cats, then murdering my favorite cat and telling me that he found him hit by a car. The point was to make me lose my faith in God because he envied the comfort that I get from my faith. It’s a comfort that he can’t feel.
    It’s not that he doesn’t believe in God. I found a letter he had written to God, begging to be healed. But I believe that he can’t FEEL God, he gets no comfort from God. He believes in God because what he does feel is demonic and he can only explain it through the supernatural. His belief in God is by default: if the devil exists then so does God.
    On the other hand, I also see the fundamentalists doing the same thing from the other side. Insisting that the myths are true is an example of what is called a “false flag operation”. This is where you make an ass of yourself while wearing the flag of the opposite side. Eventually, when enough people join the false flag attack, it undermines the credibility of the real opponent.
    The psychopath used the false flag method too. He liked to approach his liberal friends, pretended to be like them by mirroring them and then as the discussion progressed, he would pose questions in ways that they couldn’t answer and, in that way, undermined the strengths of their convictions. He said that in the end he could always get them to change their point of view because they were “weak”.
    I understand your desire to educate others toward becoming spiritually literate, but I propose that someone who cannot feel, is a hopeless cause – only God can save them. An atheist, on the other hand, can be open to the wisdom of the scriptures. My friend, an atheist who coincidentally is also Belgian, found much wisdom in Jesus’ life story after her encounter with a psychopath.
    http://180rule.com/the-idealizing-devaluing-and-discarding-of-jesus/

    • Hi Skylar!

      I’ve yet to comment on your friend’s post, but I need some time to sort things out. It’s a very interesting entry and you can expect me joining the conversation some time soon.

      Thanks for your comment; I had never heard from the “false flag operation”. I always learn something from your posts :).

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