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Christian Propaganda? Problems with Rodney Stark


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Initial post: Apr 23, 2009 1:46:07 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 23, 2009 1:49:35 AM PDT
In my local library I stumbled across "The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success" by Rodney Stark. Since he seems to be a popular writer among some Christians who contribute to this forum, I thought I would take a look.

In his book, Stark argues that Christianity is responsible for reason, freedom, and science. He says that "the success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians." In a startling counter-factual claim, Stark announces: "had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls". Stark adds that if it wasn't for Jesus, we would live in a world where "most infants do not live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth".

These are pretty strong claims for Christianity: the success of the West rests ENTIRELY on religious foundations, and all the people who brought it about were DEVOUT Christians. For Stark's thesis to stand, he needs to address several challenges to it, and unfortunately I think his book does not satisfactorily address those challenges.

1.
The first challenge facing Stark's thesis is the need to explain away the accomplishments of pre-Christian classical European civilisation - the achievements of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Stark ascribes freedom, individualism, democracy, science and technology to Christianity, yet these concepts are not promulgated in the New Testament, but ALL of these concepts are strongly and clearly advocated in pre-Christian Ancient Greek thought.

The Ancient pre-Christian world of the West produced Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Sophocles, Archimedes, Hippocrates, Euclid, Galen, Cicero, Plautus. It somehow managed to do all of this without Jesus and without the Bible.

Personally, I do not recall much praise of intelligence in the Gospels. In contrast, Ancient Greece's leading thinkers were notable for their defence of reason, perhaps in contrast to the New Testament, which frequently instructs people to embrace "faith".

Stark's grasp of the achievements of the Ancient world is tenuous. He says that "Ultimately, Greek learning stagnated of its own inner logic [what does that mean?] . After Plato and Aristotle very little happened beyond some extensions of geometry". But some of the greatest work in Greek science, e.g. Ptolemy in geography and astronomy and Galen in medicine, took place over the four hundred years after Plato and Aristotle. How can Stark leave out Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Plotinus, Galen, Hipparchus, all of whom were writing in the centuries after Aristotle? Most historians of science give the Greeks precedence in science, but Stark says he knows of no real Greek achievements after Aristotle, which is when much of the greatest Greek work in science took place. If one wanted to be harsh, one could say that this level of ignorance disqualifies Stark from being taken seriously.

2.
The next challenge for Stark's thesis is to explain why Christian Medieval Europe was not obviously superior to the other great centres of Eurasian civilisation at that time, such as China, India and the Muslim world. Stark would also need to explain away the accomplishments of these non-Christian civilisations, which happened with little or no influence from Jesus or the Bible.

During the Middle Ages (from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century to the beginning of the Early Modern period in the 16th century) Christianity dominated European intellectual life. One could argue that the civilisational accomplishments of Europe in this era were inferior to those of the Ancient European era that preceded it, as well as to the Modern European era that followed it. In fact, before the spread of the water-mill after 900 AD, Medieval Christian Western and Northern Europe contributed hardly anything in terms of innovation - and even between 1000 and 1450 the flow of philosophical ideas and technological innovations was predominantly from the Muslim world (and elsewhere) to Christian Europe, rather than vice versa. The reason for this? The non-Christian centres of Eurasian civilisation frequently had more to offer Christian Europe, than Christian Europe had to offer them.

To take the most obvious example, Medieval China was technologically more advanced than Christian Medieval Europe. China had invented the iron plough, matches, the compass, gunpowder, paper, printing - many of these technological advances only became known in Europe towards the end of the Christian Middle Ages. China's naval power was also superior to that of Europe during this period. All in all, China's cultural achievements (Confucianism, Taoism etc.) had not been noticeably inferior to those of anywhere else. China managed to accomplish all of this without Jesus and without the Bible.

Nevertheless, the Christian world did have some accomplishments during the thousand years of the Middle Ages, and it would be churlish not to recognise them. But it would also be churlish not to recognise that, when these accomplishments occurred, many of them were very strongly influenced by non-Christian sources. For example, the greatest Christian thinker of the Middle Ages (Aquinas) owed much to the pagan Aristotle and the Muslim Averroes - so much so that in his writings Aquinas referred to the former as simply The Philosopher, and the latter simply as The Interpreter. Aquinas's cosmopolitanism and open-mindedness to non-Christian sources is a refreshing contrast to Stark's blowhard "it-was-all-down-to-Jesus" nonsense.

Another point: if the West's supposed "innovation" and "superiority" in the Middle Ages can be attributed to Christianity, then why were the same "advances" not realised in the Byzantine east, where Christianity also reigned? In other words, any unusual advances (if they occurred) in Medieval Western Europe need to be explained by factors other than Christianity, since Byzantine Europe was also Christian.

Posted on Apr 23, 2009 1:47:06 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 23, 2009 2:05:55 AM PDT
More problems with Stark's thesis:

3..
The next challenge facing Stark's thesis is to explain why Europe's rise to genuine global predominance after 1500 coincided with a marked DECLINE in Christianity's hold over European intellectual life. From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, European technology and ideas advanced at such an exponential rate so as to virtually dominate the entire world. According to Stark the rise of Europe to global predominance was largely due to Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. But by the end of the Middle Ages, Christianity had been dominating Europe for over a thousand years, and Europe had not risen to global predominance.

What happened in the time after 1500? What happened was that Modern Europe emerged. The intellectual life of these centuries was marked by:
- the emergence of humanism
- the weakening of Christianity's intellectual authority
- the placing of pre-Christian classical learning on a more equal footing with Christian theology
- the emergence of secularism
- the increasing focus on naturalism
- the strengthening of science
- the increasing political separation of church and state
- the Enlightenment revolution in thought
- the notion that reason should be the source of authority rather than revealed religious texts, or church hierarchies.

It was during THIS period that Europe really did storm ahead of its competitors in terms of wealth, culture, science, and technology. And THIS period was marked, as I have said, by an increasing secularism and by the undeniable weakening of Christian intellectual authority in Europe.

4.
Yet another problem for Stark is the RESPONSE of Christianity to these new Modern European developments after 1500. Frequently it left a lot to be desired. The Catholic Church's index of banned books from this time almost reads like a Who's-Who of great Enlightenment thinkers: Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Hume, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Kant. In every case, the Catholic church banned all or some of their books. Other people on the list of banned books include Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus.

And what about the Protestant Christians? Calvin's Geneva had very little freedom of any sort, and was not a hotbed of modern innovation. As for Luther, his contribution to the defence of reason was to announce that "Reason is the Devil's greatest whore ... it ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed ... Reason should be destroyed in all Christians ... Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason."

So the most influential Christian thinker of the last 500 years was a vehement opponent of reason - this hardly strengthens Stark's case that Christianity is responsible for the "victory of reason".

The Christian churches often did what they could to retard the development of Modern Europe. In my opinion, they were for the most part a reactionary force - they defended superstition rather than reason. Many argue that the advances of Modern Europe after 1500 occurred IN SPITE of Christianity, not because of it. In my opinion that is something of an overstatement, but Stark's case for Christianity really is comically overstated.

Overall, one might say this: during the Modern period, in so far as Christianity made itself compatible with the Enlightenment, Reason, Humanism and Science, then it did not retard European development. In so far as Christianity REJECTED Enlightenment, Reason, Humanism and Science then it did, indeed, try to retard European development.

CONCLUSION:

One well-known professor of sociology, Alan Wolfe, has described Stark's "The Victory of Reason" as "the worst book by a social scientist that I have ever read". Perhaps this is a bit extreme. But unfortunately Stark's bias and prejudice are obvious. This is not a balanced or objective work of history. Indeed, it is not intended to be balanced or objective. It is an exercise in vulgar Christian apologetics, and its appeal will be limited almost entirely to insecure Christians who need to be told that they are better than everyone else.

The rise of Modern Europe to global predominance was largely caused by more prosaic factors than those put forward by Stark. For those interested in the real reasons, I would recommend Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" and Michael Cook's "A Brief History of the Human Race".

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 7:23:20 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 7:58:19 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 5:47:16 PM PDT
EEL,

Thanks for the enlightening post. I've heard Stark's name offered in high regard as well by theists on this site, but you did the yeoman's work of actually checking into it. Indeed the claims he makes for Christianity are incredible, and credibly falsified. You are right on every point. Europe went through the Dark Ages of stagnation during a period dominated by Christianized Platonic rationalism. It was ancient pagan texts introduced into Europe from the Muslim world that made empiricism once again respectable, and nudged intellectuals ever so gently in the direction of what later became science. And it is quite absurd to suggest that significant advancement in science and technology in the ancient world ceased with Aristotle.

Descartes understood the importance of getting God out of the picture if scientific inquiry was to prosper. He declared in his Fourth Meditation that God could not offer any explanations to natural phenomena. He was careful to throw out a compliment: that we as finite beings could not possibly be so bold as to think we could understand the purposes of an infinite being. But the point was clear nonetheless.

I've been reading Nietzsche on Christianity recently, since I'm teaching him at the moment, and he claims that Christianity is filled with vanity. He had a tendency for blanket statements, but Stark appears to be a good example.

When these sort of claims are made, I find the same sort of fallacious logic behind them all, and I'd be interested to hear your comments as to whether you found this in Stark. The inference goes as such: Person P made a certain advancement in learning, and P was a Christian, therefore Christianity was the motivation for the advancement. This is such a wonderful example of non sequitur that it would be ideal for a logic class. I've been regaled at times by lists of brilliant people who historically were Christian, with the idea that simply that makes the case. It is indeed voodoo logic and makes for the most unnuanced, and simply stupid, sort of history.

I'll give Christians some credit when they happened to started a university, or happened to support astronomical studies (principally because they needed the dates of the religious holidays settled). But this blanket crediting to Chrisitianity every significant historical development is positively antihistorical.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 7:56:38 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 23, 2009 8:00:00 PM PDT
calmly says:
Wow, Richard, as a Christian atheist, I find this attack on Christianity offensive. So are you really saying that:

1) Because I am an Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer thereby arguing help to advance the learning of some Amazon customers who may buy the books I rate highly, for example the book this forum is for, "The God Delusion", or Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation".
2) Because I am a Christian atheist so I am Christian.
3) Therefore, it cannot somehow be reasonably concluded that Christianity was a motivation for possible advancement, i.e. that Christianity has was a motivation for anyone who may have bought "The God Delusion" or "Letter to a Christian Nation" and may have learned something significant thereby?

Voodoo logic? A stupid sort of history? This is the kind of bigotry against us Christians that seems rampant in this forum. I am wounded if you are also implying that my contributions to Christianity in writing those reviews of "The God Delusion" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" are to be discounted as "fallacious logic".

So Stark seems to be filled with vanity? How much of his work have you read? He's a leading sociologist of religion. Even Michael Allen Williams, in his "Rethinking 'Gnosticism' turns to Stark for support, for example for Stark's estimates and projections on the rate of growth in early Christianity. Christianity filed with vanity? Just because you are teaching Nietzsche and reading him on Christianity and he thinks that? So vanity seems some explanation of Stark? The next thing you will be writing is that vanity explains me because I am Christian.

Richard writes: "I've been regaled at times by lists of brilliant people who historically were Christian, with the idea that simply that makes the case."

You aren't trying to imply that I am not brilliant, are you? First you knock my religion and now my intelligence. "Unnuanced"? "Positively ahistorical?". Is this the way you non-Christian atheists think? And you talk about a logic class?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 7:59:05 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 8:18:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 7:49:47 AM PDT
calmly says:
Yes, Richard, I agree completely with Marshall. He's read Stark. Just as he read Carrier. Why would you doubt Marshall on this?

Marshall writes: "Whereas I show in detail that even more sweeping generalizations from a far more marginal scholar (Carrier) are bigoted nonsense (and yes, the adjective is entirely appropriate), and you give him all the latitude in the world, don't hold his feet to the fire in the slightest."

Yes, entirely appropriate! Bigoted nonsense (how appropriate that adjective is to describe someone who dares to defend metaphysical naturalism and slander the Christian faith that sustains Marshall and I!). Nails in the coffin, as Marshall noted about handling Carrier's arguments, and now feet held to the fire: we must defend the faith in all the historically well-tested ways. [Edit: Even in jest, I'm uncomfortable going along with these images Marshall presented of nails in coffins and feet held to to fire. ]

So I also find your post disappointing, coming from you. I hope it will not be representative of future posts by you. Until now, I've been impressed by your lack of bigotry and hope you are not being influenced by those who traffic in bigotry or nonsense. Keep in mind that EEL obviously only "leafed through" just one book of Stark's and did not comprehensively read the works of an opposing scholar, as Marshall did with Carrier's "Sense and Goodness without God".

P.S. Carrier's book has shipped. Somehow I forgive the poor soul for his "sweeping generalizations". He's a "marginal scholar" and deserves our Christian compassion: I am sure that Marshall agrees. After all, Carrier is young (and looks younger!) and his bold and ambitious ways are not so unlike those of Marshall back when he was, as he admitted, a "silly fundamentalist".

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 8:28:23 PM PDT
Actually you're right for once, Calmly. Carrier and I are both "marginal scholars" compared to Rodney Stark.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 8:50:22 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 10:12:25 AM PDT
calmly says:
Marshall writes: "Actually you're right for once, Calmly."

I'll treasure that acknowledgment.

Marshall continues: "Carrier and I are both 'marginal scholars' compared to Rodney Stark."

If Carrier is indeed marginal as a scholar, you're not even, in my opinion, on a page: Carrier's papers in "The Empty Tomb" seemed reasonable in terms of the scholarship; your book on the New Atheists seemed shoddy [in terms of the scholarship] as my review of it indicated. I grow tired of your attacks on Carrier: I'm looking forward to reading "Sense and Goodness without God" and may read "Not the Impossible Faith", which I see Richard Field has reviewed quite positively. Carrier's web site also contains much I have not yet read.

Too bad Wikipedia reveals that, no matter how well Stark may be regarded as a sociologist of religion, he's a fruitcake when it comes to evolutionary science:

"Stark published an article in 2004 criticizing Charles Darwin and Evolutionary Theory. In 'Facts, Fable and Darwin', Stark criticized the 'Darwinian Crusade' and suggested that governments 'lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin's failed attempt as an eternal truth.' Stark further writes that 'today it is a rare textbook or any popular treatment of evolution and religion that does not reduce "creationism" to the simplest caricatures.'"

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rodney_Stark&oldid=259189055

The article Wikipedia refers to may be found currently at:

http://www.meridianmagazine.com/ideas/050210darwin.html

"I believe that one day there will be a plausible theory of the origin of species. But, if and when that occurs, there will be nothing in any such theory that makes it impossible to propose that the principles involved were not part of God's great design any more than such a theory will demonstrate the existence of God. But, while we wait, why not lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin's failed attempt as an eternal truth?"

"Popper's tribulations illustrate an important basis for the victory of Darwinism: A successful appeal for a united front on the part of scientists to oppose religious opposition has had the consequence of silencing dissent within the scientific community."

Stark may want to talk to Ken Miller or the Vatican to learn about theistic evolution: Stark's assumptions about evolutionary science and atheism are ignorant. Many Christians including many Christian scientists accept evolution. Perhaps Stark does not accept that the Pope is Christian.

As to Popper's views on evolution, I see that the Wikipedia entry on him addresses that. It includes (with citation): "When speaking here of Darwinism, I shall speak always of today's theory - Darwin's own theory of natural selection supported by the Mendelian theory of heredity, by the theory of the mutation and recombination of genes in a gene pool, and by the decoded genetic code. This is an immensely impressive and powerful theory. The claim that it completely explains evolution is of course a bold claim, and very far from being established. All scientific theories are conjectures, even those that have successfully passed many severe and varied tests. The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested, and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly even from one single organism. "

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Karl_Popper&oldid=285835282

Popper's concerns about the testability of natural selection seem in no way at all to rise to the level of Stark's assessment "that high school texts enshrine Darwin's failed attempt as an eternal truth?" As it is, natural selection is only a mechanism for explaining evolution and with it the diversity of life: Popper himself acknowledges above that "[t]he Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested, and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly even from one single organism. " and added (see the Wikipedia entry) that "the doctrine [as he calls it] of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme. It raises detailed problems in many fields, and it tells us what we would expect of an acceptable solution of these problems. I still believe that natural selection works in this way as a research programme."

If and when natural selection no longer is useful in this way or some better enhanced or alternative explanation is found, the scientific community and its methodologies would be ready: Stark's expectation that any "plausible theory of the origin of species" must be such that "there will be nothing in any such theory that makes it impossible to propose that the principles involved were not part of God's great design" seemed an unreasonable demand by a theist. Why not be open to whatever science finds? Methodological naturalism has been of great benefit in the sciences and does not demand one be an atheist by any means. Stark may have let his feeling about Dawkins and other "militant atheists" confuse him.

Stark sounds in this article like he was interviewing for a job as a fellow of the Discovery Institute: "The battle over evolution is not an example of how heroic scientists have withstood the relentless persecution of religious fanatics. Rather, from the very start it primarily has been an attack on religion by militant atheists who wrap themselves in the mantle of science."

So Marshall's fondness for Rodney Stark may go beyond Stark's work on historical Christianity. But Marshall's interview with Stark found at Marshall's web site does not seem to go into "Darwin's failed attempt". Perhaps a future interview at Marshall's web site will be with both Behe and Stark?

Posted on Apr 24, 2009 10:26:31 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 11:21:13 AM PDT
calmly says:
Whatever the limitations of Wikipedia, it's value as a resource seems tremendous, especially when citations to sources outside of Wikipedia are provided. Anything can be faked (and I've read of some problems in Wikipedia, although from what I understand other resources have had problems noted as well) but no one has pointed out to me credible evidence that the Wikipedia references I've made or the external sources in them were falsified. Reading what seems to be an article by Rodney Stark himself was a big help in assessing EEL's concerns about Stark: for all of Stark's contributions on the growth of early Christianity, Stark seems more than extreme in his assessments of what life without Christianity would have been like and in his assessment of science texts. So I wonder if, overall, Carrier isn't a better scholar than Stark. Stark seems to have floundered.

Thanks very much, EEL, for bringing Stark more to my attention. It's one thing to have concerns about science and science teaching but Stark appears to be caught up, whether ignorantly or otherwise, in anti-evolutionary propaganda. U.S. science education is weak enough as it is: we demand heavily on foreign scientists whether abroad or having relocated here. What's Stark stake in raising questions about the fossil record or whether the scientific community is open to new research? Would he have science do away with its reliance on methodological naturalism? It seems from that article that he is offended that atheists can find a home in evolutionary science as it is now understood. Is it offensive to him that Roman Catholics also find a home in evolutionary science today?

Once again, note that Stark wrote in that article: "But, if and when that occurs, there will be nothing in any such theory that makes it impossible to propose that the principles involved were not part of God's great design any more than such a theory will demonstrate the existence of God"

But the current theory does allow that "God's great design" was involved, as the Roman Catholic church itself agrees. That doesn't mean that the Pope agrees with Dawkins. I wonder more about just what kind of Christian Stark is (in the interview with him Wikipedia cites he is not specific) and just what he himself means by "God's great design" or to what extent his views have changed since he babbled about "eternal truths" being in science textbooks.

He may have allowed his religious beliefs to have biased his more recent views on Christianity and on science (and science education) to the point that his credibility will be (if it has not already been) undermined. That may not at all reduce the value of his work on the growth of early Christianity (and shouldn't if its scholarly) but how to value him as highly as I did last week? Even if EEL's evaluation of him is biased, there's that very article Stark wrote on evolutionary science.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 1:51:00 PM PDT
Calmly: If you're tired of my accurate appraisal of Dr. Carrier's work (not having even attempted to come to grips with any of the facts I cite), then don't read it. You weren't able to refute anything in my "New Atheism" book, but that didn't stop you from a series of tendentious, phony, and mostly personal snipings. Neither you, nor Carrier himself, was able to refute any of my critiques of his book. Them as can't argue, whine.

I showed that Carrier got big things dramatically wrong; neither you, nor any other critic on Amazon, has been able to show as much on any important point in my book. But if you think you're up to it now, give it a shot.

Of course you won't, knowing full well that you can't.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 2:19:44 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jul 22, 2011 2:41:35 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 3:38:51 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 3:39:35 PM PDT
Paul: I don't at all think Dawkins or Carrier are stupid; but I do think they're often in way over their heads, and too arrogant to admit it.

You should read Stark, Paul. He's one of the most important thinkers of our time, IMO. You'll learn more reading his books than just about anything else. For the Glory of God and Discovering God are especially good. Helpful of Brian to bring the subject up. :- )

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 3:44:15 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 4:40:22 PM PDT
calmly says:
Marshall: We will have to agree to disagree. It gets tiresome so I may indeed be moving on finally. Carrier has the good sense not to hang around and it seemed a good lesson.

I had gone to the trouble to re-read "The God Delusion" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" before reading your book and studying orthodox Christianity more to better understand your perspective.

I believe I raised some serious issues with your book. I didn't see that even a single one of your responses was a meaningful "refutation": I saw ad hominems and red herrings mostly. I wasn't even looking for clear errors but when I pointed out your misrepresentation of the Dawkins-Swinburne incident, you responded with an entire thread of obfuscation, somehow shifting the burden over to Dawkins and only deep in that thread acknowledging you had misrepresented the incident and "maybe" would correct that in a future book. But the effect of your representation, even if unintentional, was to leave Dawkins looking bad. Just as your talk on New Atheism did at Christ Memorial Church. You also denied that.

I didn't order Carrier's book with the intent of evaluating your review. I've been impressed by his work and, even if he didn't opt for the utmost diplomacy, I was impressed by his responses to your review. His papers in "The Empty Tomb" and at infidels.org seem far and away more scholarly than your New Atheist book and what I've read overall at your Web site. Some of it may be but I don't think that is entirely a matter of bias. Good scholarship stands out.

Marshall writes: "Of course you won't, knowing full well that you can't."

Is this how a good scholar and author behaves, hanging out in a discussion forum, with remarkable rhetoric such as:

"Them as can't argue, whine."

This is silly. I did respond to significant points in your book. You seem to me to be in denial as you have been with Dr. Carrier's feedback and that of others, such as Ken. For a year now I've readily responded to you in many cases. Of course, I'm not a literalist or a soi-disant scholar so my evaluation of what is important differs significantly from yours.

Tendentious? As if you are not. Phony? It's not a charge I sling around, nor do I sling around charges of bigotry or hatred, although, given that you have raised the issue of bigotry often, I've begun looking for it in others. But it's hard to assess. If you read my review of your book without assuming motives, find any ad hominem if you can: I made an effort to review it fairly even though I did find it alarming as I shared. Having known you from the discussion threads, I had concerns but as I had written, some of your papers, such as your China Trip Report seemed (extremely) well done. And I'm aware that forum exchanges can get heated (which is one reason that even, if literary, the allusions to nails in the coffin, a stake in someone's heart, and burning feet disconcerted me) so I wanted to give one of your books, where you had a chance to make a considered presentation, a chance.

So I've found what Ken and others found, that you seem to deny or minimize any error and to attack critics as if other points of views were not tolerable, as if any review or differing opinion in a discussion had to be "refuted".

It wasn't my impression at all that Carrier got "big things dramatically wrong". As even Fritz conceded, even if all of your 14 points were correct, it may not much difference for the book overall. Fritz wrote:

"I will leave you with the plausible defense of Carrier that perhaps the points made here do not seriously impact his argument."

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3TWI1DVBR3L0R/ref=cm_cr_rev_detmd_pl?ie=UTF8&cdMsgNo=133&cdPage=14&cdSort=oldest&cdMsgID=Mx2ZKASI8ST791C#Mx2ZKASI8ST791C

Based on Richard Field's feedback and that from Carrier, it sounds like you set up strawmen in at least two cases (the two you started a new forum thread on having to do with the sword and elimination of competition). It's hard to say until I read myself. I did notice in your review you appeared to use more than one ellipisis and not in brackets, which makes it hard to tell if those were Carrier's ellipses or yours. I prefer to use "[...]" to help make it clear the ellipisis is mine. It seems hypocritical in responding to my review, in which I used one ellipsis (and in brackets) and with intent not to alter meaning of that excerpt and even giving page number to make it easy to check the passage I excerpted from:

"As to '1) David Marshall writes in the section "Darwin to Hitler?" (chapter 11, page 194): "What caused the Holocaust? Simple. Having rejected Christian morality, some of Darwin's followers derived their ethics from evolution [...]'"

And you responded:
"Here, for example, no decent scholar would attack someone based on half a quote, out of context, as Calmly is doing."

And yet your review of "Sense and Goodness without God" is full of partial quotes, with sometime multiple ellipses per quotation. It seems grotesquely hypocritical. Anyone who goes to your book can see that I did not distort your meaning. As to why you paint every criticism as an "attack", I don't know. Nor
do I understand, when I address the specific content of your book in my review and not you, why you would respond with ad hominems:

"Calmly has been criticizing my work for many months now. Our conversation began when I read a review he posted of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion which made unfair (it seemed to me) generalizations about 'theists.' I criticized his comment. When he learned that I was a writer, he began to research me with the evident aim of 'digging up dirt' about my character, or, if possible, the political danger that I posed to the American Republic."

You "criticize", I "attack"?

I didn't need to see your approach to Carrier's book, which you seem to have set up since last September, to know your response to my review was troubled. I read your replies in the review thread, full of the argumentum ad hominems directing Amazon readers not to the substance of my review but your story about me. I read your bizarre "Calmly Burning Witches" thread in this forum as well as your obfuscations ad absurdum "Dawkins vs Swinburne" thread.

Enough is enough. You "lost" to Dr. Carrier. You've even "lost" to Ken, Jay, Dorothy and I - and others who have more or less given up on this forum. Maybe it is better for you that you don't realize that. You may mean well.

I'll keep in mind your words of wisdom:
"Them as can't argue, whine."
It seems somehow different than some other wisdom I read somewhere:
"Being called to act as the 'light of the world,' it is a Christian's duty, we believe, to conduct our ministry as well with integrity and compassion, treating both fellow believers and unbelievers with respect and honesty."

Something must have gotten lost in translation. Somehow I've missed often in your posts the effort to "show the world that Jesus does indeed fulfill and deepen the truest elements of all human cultures."

It may be that being right isn't everything. Otherwise, why didn't Jesus just hold debates and refute and refute and refute - and do nothing more. He must have known something about what it means to be Christian that has gotten lost for some.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 5:12:50 PM PDT
Calmly,

I quite honestly don't see how you get your argument out of my post.

I have not commented at all on your posts in my post above. You are drawing incorrect inferences. But I have found others on this site the grossly exaggerate the historical influence of Christianity, and if EEL offers a representative characterization of Stark, then I find him guilty of such exaggerations as well. No historian of any credibility could possibly justify such a wild historical counterfactual as "had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls." Unless EEL is misquoting, this in itself raises deep suspicions concerning Stark's historical scholarship.

I don't believe all Christians are filled with vanity. But to claim that everything of any good in western civilization was due to Christianity is indeed an expression of vanity. And that he's a sociologist of religion doesn't impress me. Bright people offer stupid arguments.

You completely misunderstand the quotation you take from my post. It had nothing to do with you, but the historical argument.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 5:31:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 5:36:15 PM PDT
Well, this thread is shot.

Calmly: Your criticism of my book was transparently phony. It was obvious you were just looking for any dirt you could throw on me, which you'd been doing for half a year already, and that was the best you could come up with -- not being able to find anything real to complain about.

You complained about my citations, even though I give four times as many per page, and of far better quality, than Dawkins, whom you praise. You praised Dawkins, who levies vile and sweeping attacks on Christians, and criticize me for measured and courteous responses. You criticized my research on American religion, but not Dawkins,' though I obviously know the subject exponentially better than he does. You claimed I made "sweeping statements" about atheists; but I did no such thing -- and you were unable either to show where I did, or admit your lie. You accused me, bizarrely, of making positive statements about William Dembski -- which was both untrue, and rather weird.

As for my review of Carrier, I demonstrated at least 12 or 14 of my points. Carrier even admitted a few of them, in a backhanded way; Landon was man enough to admit one, more directly. I didn't "set up a straw man" -- I quoted Carrier directly, accurately, and in context. (As with Dawkins, as every serious reader has admitted.) If I used ellipses, I took care to make sure I was in no way distorting either gentleman's words -- and do not.

By contrast, you took the "evolution" quote badly out of context, changing its meaning. Put it back in context, and the meaning is quite different.

On the Carrier thread, after complimenting me on keeping my cool, Fritz (who was bending over backwards to be as fair as possible with you) told me:

"(Calmly) has politely disagreed with me in the past on a number of topics ranging from investment strategies to Darwinism, but I have never seen him so hostile as he was in the posts I read towards the end of the discussion on your review. He seems way off topic and his comments simple literary allusions were just bizzarre."

I've had to put up with that kind of crap from you for a year now, "Calmly." "Whine" is a mild desciption of your general demeanor. On the rare occasions that I responded to your constant smears, you gathered your skirts around you with indignity and shouted, in mock righteousness, "Well, I never! And from someone who calls himself a Christian scholar, too!"

What hypocrisy. You've worn your own hatred and bigotry on your sleave; but apparently I'm just supposed to take it, telling you the truth about your sorry behavior is "un-Christian."

Read your own sneering posts in this thread, Calmly. How can you stand it?

Fritz tells me that you might not be well. Maybe that explains your behavior. If so, I wish you a speedy recovery.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 5:35:14 PM PDT
David,

I've been offered these sorts of arguments before by Paul Boire on this site. If any scholar makes the historical counterfactual claim that "had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls" they have some sort of an agenda, since the claim is quite honestly ludicrous. Would you defend this statement David? I would hope not. I have been trying for the last twenty minutes to think of any historical claim that might be made that would be as absurd, and my imagination fails me. If Carrier makes this sort of claim, tell me and I'll renounce it.

If as you suggest Stark offers other influences on the development of western culture, then I'm glad he recognizes the obvious. The reintroduction of pagan philosophy opened up western Europe to empiricism in the high Middle Ages, which started the push towards what eventually became modern science. There is no evidence that I know of that Christianity was a motivating force behind this.

The books of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo were all placed in the Church's Index of Forbidden books. This doesn't sound like Christianity being supportive of science.

David, I'm sorry to be so blunt, but I've known plenty of instances of bright scholars who go off the deep end at some point. The totalizing claim of the above quotation is enough for me to make this judgment with respect to Stark.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 5:45:04 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 5:48:15 PM PDT
Richard: I am not sure that it's a ludicrous statement, unless you regard the development of science as inevitable. I somewhat doubt it's a true statement, either. What I am sure, is that Stark deserves to be read, and his claims evaluated in the light of the evidence and reasoning he employs to back them up. (Which do NOT appear in Victory of Reason.) As I told Calmly, Stark has earned the respect of a full and fair hearing, far more than relatively young, unprove scholars like Carrier or I have.

Here are two historical statements from Carrier (p. 264) that I find utterly ludicrous -- far more so than Stark's claims that Brian quotes:

(a) "Christianity was spread, quite literally, by the sword . . . "

Carrier makes it clear that he means this as a generalization, as I show in the dedicated forum on the page for his book -- to which no skeptic has responded, yet.

(b) "Christianity only truly flourished when it had the ability to eliminate the competition . . . "

I show why both statements are simply, demonstrably, and grossly untrue, in that forum.

Here's a third that also seem about as bad:

(c) (referring to Christianity and Islam): "The two most widespread religions in the world today are the most warlike and intolerant religions in history."

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 5:51:12 PM PDT
Calmly,

Carrier's material so far as I have read it is not bigoted nonsense. He shows considerable acumen as a scholar. I confess I only read through a portion of "Sense and Goodness without God." But I responded to David's counterarguments against Carrier on the book's website since on most points I agree with Carrier. His "Not an Impossible Faith" shows significant scholarship. Just because he's young, and has taken an unusual road for a scholar, doesn't mean his work is discredited.

You seem to think that I'm making some blanket assault on Christianity. I have not. I have objected to an absurd statement by Stark because it is an absurd statement. Such statements are no doubt popular, and sell books in the US that is predominantly Christian. So I commend Stark on his sales tactics. But that doesn't make the claim any less absurd.

If my objection to Stark's claim is evidence of "bigoted nonsense" then so be it. I myself call it honesty.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 6:15:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 6:21:11 PM PDT
calmly says:
Hi Richard,
That post of mine was entirely meant in jest. I'm sorry if somehow that was not clear. I thought it was so over the top that it would be obvious. The misunderstandings were intentional. I had been in that thread of Marshall's review of Carrier's book and his recent posts and those of Fritz Ward seems so weird, I just thought I would enter into the spirit of the madness.

With all that in mind, you may want to read it over if you have time. Take care.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 6:18:14 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 24, 2009 6:38:04 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 6:24:03 PM PDT
David,

The development of science was not inevitable, but Christianity offered no push in that direction. It was pagan philosophy and science that offered that initiative. If you want to say that Christianity offered a living, materially, to allow early protoscientists the leisure to pursue empirical pursuits, I won't quarrel with that. They did. But nothing even vaguely suggests the Christianity had to provide this inevitably for science to arise. There are other possibilities, such as if there was no Christianity, and a continuation of science and technological advancements in a pagan culture, which indeed did occur for millenia before Christianity came on the scene. So much for Stark's wild counterfactual.

I renounce Carrier's claim (a), although as I suggested Carrier renounces it, it appears, in his "Not the Impossible Faith" where he doesn't refer at all to swordsmanship in explaining the advance of Christianity.

Claim (b), while perhaps perhaps too bold, has some elemant of truth. The push against heresy in the 2nd century had the effect of unifying Christianity. And I don't see Constantine's Edict of Toleration as so insignificant as you do.

Claim (c) as well is defensible, in my view. What of tolerance is suggested in the combat against heresy in the early Christian Church? What of tolerance is suggested in the violence of the counter-reformation? What of tolerance is suggested in the condemnation of Galileo? What of tolerance is suggested in the Inquisition?

I heard a story recently. Five years ago and this year we've had Tibetan Buddhists visit our campus. The story I heard was of a student who asked one such Buddhist why they were not evangelizing and trying to win converts like Christians do. The answer was that we Buddhists don't wish you to be Buddhists, but to find inner peace whatever your religion might be. This is hardly the sort of answer one would get from Christians, historically or even today.

David, I've found you reasonable in your posts. But I too have troubles with your failure to renounce Stark's incredible claim. And I have trouble with any Christian who doesn't admit that historically there has been problems of intolerance, of a violent sort, in Christianity. Be Christian! I have no problem with that! But don't change history for the sake of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 6:29:27 PM PDT
calmly says:
Hi Richard. One last comment. I thought the way I began that last post would clue you in that I was kidding:

"Yes, Richard, I agree completely with Marshall. He's read Stark. Just as he read Carrier. Why would you doubt Marshall on this?"

I enjoyed our discussions.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2009 7:21:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2009 7:23:55 PM PDT
Richard: Stark is not the only person who has argued that Christianity played an important intellectual role in the development of modern science. Many very eminent scholars, who know more about the subject than I think any of us here, have made that argument, and seem to offer some pretty cogent reasons. Maybe they're all wrong; and I will admit that the form of Stark's claim that EEL found in VOR is probably a bit overblown. But it is ridiculous to dismiss a simple and plausible (modern science did, after all, arise in a largely Christian society, so there is at least that much a priori plausibility) historical claim without first reading it. I appear to be the only one here who has done that.

The spread of Christianity is something I know a great deal about -- more by far, I think, than Richard Carrier. I have been a missionary, and have been intimately involved in missions, and in the history of missions, for decades. I know the history of Christianity pretty well. Claim (b) is, in my considered opinion (and Stark sheds a great deal of light on this subject, too) more nearly the opposite of the truth, than the truth.

But read my analysis on the site for Carrier's book, please.

I think you're misreading (c). Carrier did not claim, "Christians have sometimes been intolerant and bloody." If that's all he'd said, of course I would agree. Of course I do agree with your paraphrase, "historically there have been problems of intolerance of a violent sort in Christianity." But that's not what Carrier said -- and what he said is not true.

The Tibetan Buddhist story is unfortunately rather typical. The Dalai Lama also claims that CHristians who went to Tibet were treated with tolerance. This is ahistorical nonsense. Christians were KILLED in Tibet. I've visited a Catholic Church in Tibetan China that had to move because of persecution. And the history of Tibetan Buddhism, like all histories, is bloody. That's part of the nature of human beings, no great reflection on Buddhism per se, IMO.

But Stark's actual arguments are far more subtle, and revealing, than the outtake EEL quoted . . . As a philosopher interested in religion, you owe it to yourself to read the originals.
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Discussion in:  The God Delusion forum
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Total posts:  48
Initial post:  Apr 23, 2009
Latest post:  Apr 28, 2009

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The God Delusion. Richard Dawkins
The God Delusion. Richard Dawkins by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - May 1, 2007)
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