“This Will Always Be So” (Or Not)

Some readers may recall a post from a little while back featuring Richard Dawkins appearing on MSNBC’s weekend “Up” program where he floated the provocative idea of taking politicians to task for some of their kooky religious beliefs… Well, guess what? It seems that someone did precisely that the other day at one of Mitt Romney’s “town hall” events…

Asked if it’s a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black woman, needless to say, being the gutless douchebag he is, Romney reacted to the question as if he’d just been tossed a red hot BBQ charcoal. “No” was his emphatic response before quickly turning to the other side of the crowd for a more scripted inquiry.

But wait, how can that be?
Evidently, the God-inspired, yet indisputably racist proclamations of the Mormon religion’s “second prophet” (you know, following the grifter with the magic top hat) are currently null and void. That whole thing Brigham Young declared about “the penalty, under the law of God” as regards to whites conjugating with blacks being “death on the spot”… Well, not so much now, I guess.

I think we may well have a better insight into why Mitt Romney is, as one of his former rivals memorably said, such a “well-lubricated weathervane.” Seems Dawkins may have been onto something here after all when it comes to better understanding a political candidate’s mindset via their religious beliefs.

28 Replies to ““This Will Always Be So” (Or Not)”

  1. Religion in the United States is for “show-purposes” only. Putting on appearances, playing a part, currying favour with clients …. that is the real public face of religion in the United States.

    The sincerely religious (mainstream religions – Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalians, Presbyterian, & regular Methodists) are too busy being normal and doing small good works to care about these kooks.

    Southern Baptists, Mormons, and all Assemblies of God Fundamentalists are members of cults – pure and simple.

  2. But then again, the USA is “the land of cults.”
    So … no surprise there.

  3. ATY: No doubt that in American politics it’s for show, but also for place and win! 😉

    As an atheist I’m loathe to get into preferences when it comes to the relative merits of different religious sects — they’re all kind of nutty in my opinion, so then it really just becomes a matter of degree, which is really sort of a pointless differentiation.

  4. I suppose I could point out there are a lot of faithful Jews who don’t believe in stoning adulteresses, but harebell would just show up to pronounce them hypocrites and insist the stoners were “more honest”.

    I’m only sorry Dawkins isn’t running. It would be fun to see someone ask him on national TV: “Do you believe in an infinite number of unseen, unproved and unprovable universes for which there is no evidence, together with an infinite number of variations in their physical, chemical and biological laws, and if you do, why do you fulminate so much about anyone who claims to believe in Heaven and Hell”?

  5. now, i couldn’t say whether or not dawkins BELIEVES in multiverses, but i suspect, if confronted with your question, he might refernce the compelling mathematics which , when combined with other principles, makes for a compelling case, one which requires further exploration.

    the mathematics for god? not so compelling:


  6. Kev:

    I understand the theoretical math underlying the Landscape as much as harebell understands St. Augustine, which is to say not much. Whether the math of which you speak is compelling or not I cannot say, but respected, award-winning physicist Paul Davies wrote a very good book on how physics has been distorted to the point of near-manic compulsion by desperate attempts to come up with wacky, supposedly “natural explanations for exisitence that avoid the dreaded “T” word–Teleology. Other expanations include self-generating universes, replicating universes and the matirx. These are given desperate intellectual respect within the Brotherhood without a shred of evidence, while anything that smacks of underlying purpose is sniffed at as belonging in Appalachia. He’s not alone.

    Not that I an capable of arguing this, but in what sense does theoretical mathematics consist of “evidence” as that term is used by Dawkins and most scientific materialists?

  7. Oh I am so looking forward to the accelerating rise of scientific skepticism is Canada.

    It will be fun watching universities try and justify the continuation of government funding for science departments. Next up departments of medicine – that’s science too. Then engineering – hey, anyone with an eye for a pleasing shape can build a bridge. No one needs to study the stars – just look at them and marvel at the brilliance of the ghost in the sky.

    Fucking hell…what a wonderful thing to live in a time when almost every underpinning of human civilization in the western world since the Enlightenment is being slowly and carefully undermined by largely covert religious fanaticism disguising itself as reasoned dissension.

    And modern liberal humanists are much too civilized, oh yes much, to fight back effectively.

  8. No … the liberal humanists have been co-opted by the forces and proponents of trans-national capitalism ….who are really calling the shots as fools argue sideshow issues like abortion, creationist “science” etc ….

    As George Grant pointed-out many years ago, as as Chris Hedges has discovered with respect to American reform liberalism, it is hard to counter a force when you you benefit and share much of the same workdview.

  9. Peter: I think you’re being more than a little disingenuous in your argument here.

    To the best of my knowledge, Dawkins (or anyone else for that matter) has never taken the multiverse theory (to use your example) as being an article of faith.

    There is an enormous difference between that which may reasonably be inferred as a matter of speculation based on available scientific data and something that is merely asserted to be “true” and “absolute” via supernatural revelation.

  10. You can do better than that, Red. Forget revelation, we are talking about a cosmological theory grounded in abstract mathematics (not “available scientific data”) that, leaving the largely inaccessible math aside, faces a lot of philosophical objections from within the scientific community, starting with the fact that a theory that purports to explain anything and everything, including everything we don’t know, doesn’t explain much and ending with the fact that infinity is a merciless taskmaster and that an infinite number of universes leads to some very bizarre conclusions, such as there is no reason to believe our own is not fake and that science itself cannot be taken seriously. I hope I’m not so arrogant to believe I’ve solved the riddle of creation, but I simply don’t understand why those who are scathingly and angrily dismissive of religious explanations give respectable deference to a theory that requires something called a “universe generating mechanism”. Now that’s what I call faith!

    But if, like Dawkins, you feel our democracy would be healthier if candidates were put to an inquisition by the media in order to drive the religious out of public life, I can only give a host of cautions based on history, a prediction that secularists will also end up under Klieg lights and a warning that such radical causes usually end up swallowing their own, or at least the “modern liberal humanists” Dana so obviously despises.

  11. The problem is not with those in public life who profess to be some religious faith; the problem is with those in public life who use religious faith as cover to mask an different agenda.

    I would rather have true confessional parties in Canada (like their once existed in Europe), rather than parties that profess some adherence to religious doctrine and then undertake policies that are counterethical to said doctrine.

  12. Peter: You can quibble all you want, but there is no respectable scientist claiming that physical cosmology is a matter of revelation. As you well know, it’s based on particle physics (which I’ll confess is a complete mystery to me, but then so is the math governing even more basic physics) and observational astronomy. When I said “available scientific data” that’s what I was actually referring to.

    I think you seem to be addressing the speculative realm of metaphysical cosmology which is another matter altogether and – to me at least – more akin to philosophy or religion than it is to what’s commonly regarded as science.

    As to those who “give respectable deference” to what may seem to be way-out-there theories involving a “universe generating mechanism” or whatever, I believe you’re mistaking (or perhaps deliberately mischaracterizing) how these theories are generally viewed. There’s a big difference between giving something consideration as a possibility (not sure if that exactly constitutes what you dubiously claim to be “respectable deference”) and truly believing in something with all one’s heart based on nothing more than “faith”…

  13. ATY: Well said and I totally concur with you on that. For the life of me I cannot fathom the thinking of politicians claiming to be faithful Christians but who then ignore the most basic tenets of their religion.

    How, for example can a Republican congressman like Paul Ryan (whose recent “budget” was passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives) reconcile his fervid Christian beliefs (basically, he’s not much different on all the hot-button “culture war” issues than Rick Santorum) with his cultish adoration for Ayn Rand and everything she stands for?

    In “Atlas Shrugged” – a book Ryan supposedly demands that all his staff read – Rand refers to the rich as “really alive”, while ordinary people are described variously as “savages”, “refuse”, “inanimate objects”, and “imitations of living beings”… How does one square the circle combining that sort of hateful contempt for those who are not rich with the teachings of Jesus Christ?

  14. all of your “aw, shucks” aside….

    “in what sense does theoretical mathematics consist of ‘evidence'”

    you got me. i couldn’t say that it does or doesn’t consist of evidence; i only know that mathematics are the universal language in which theories on physical properties are presented for peer review, and that they tend to be built upon previously peer-reviewed matter. it is upon these mathematics, however, that practical tests of the theory are made.

    as einstein has come up: without paying consideration to his special theory of relativity, orbital satellite communications would not perform to expectations.


  15. Ah Peter

    That would be this St Augustine

    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

    I rather liked him before the senility in his dotage

  16. harebell, that is a great quote, thanks. I knew he held views like that (as did Maimonides), but I’d never seen it.

    The history of the “religion vs. science” debates is very interesting. Modern theories like intelligent design, creation science or anything arguing divine “management” of the natural order are actually quite recent and date from the 17-18th century school of natural theology associated with Paley, Bishop Ussher, etc., who argued on the basis that scripture could be interpreted as natural history. Today we associate that with anti-scientific American fundamentalists, but the irony is that at the time it was the cutting-edged rage within the intellectual world. I believe even Darwin acknowledged the influence of Paley on him. Older theology postulated two realms of being that did not interact or interrelate in ways humans could comprehend. That’s St Augustine, but also Gould from the modern science side, who was very troubled by the implications of “naked” Darwinism, sociobiology, etc. I think it is possible to conclude that religion has always ulimately been made to look foolish when it tried to explain the design and evolution of the natural world, and science stumbles when it tries to argue materialism can explain everything and is progressively “disproving” religion. Both can be very effective cross-examiners, but clumsy with answers.

    From a more pragmatic perspective, I think it is also possible to see much of Western political and culural history in terms of an ongoing tension and even competition between the sacred and secular, with the grimmest and greyist periods being the mercifully short ones when one triumphed completely over the other.

  17. Paley and his divine watchmaker were definitely cutting edge for their time, as was the application of leeches in their time. Certainly leeches are still used today in a slightly more reformed manner than general blood letting; what with humours no longer being in vogue.
    But Paley’s argument was as a response to a perceived threat more material arguments had to his theology. He was hugely influential on Darwin and his “Origin of the Species” was his answer to Paley.
    My personal favourite religious philosopher was Berkeley who attacked the materialists head on. There is no such thing as the material, just the mind and sensations. This led to some interesting views on vision and the mind that were used and advanced in the modern theory of the mind and perception like sense data.
    Paley’s ideas were a defence of the status quo and had no means of progressing anything. Berkeley’s rather whacky ideas were truly ground breaking and are relevant/useful today.
    Paley led to Behe, Berkeley led to Hume, Kant and present day thinkers. Sorry, if I want to listen to a person defending the existence of god, give me someone with guts and a brain.

  18. Paley’s “Divine Watchmaker” is indeed an attractive notion that’s still adhered to by a good many Christians and non-religious people that subscribe to a vague belief in some kind of intelligent, purposeful Creator, but it’s one that’s impossibly flawed in that it begs the question of who (or what) created the Watchmaker. From there you just wind up in an infinite regression that leads no place.

  19. I must demur, Red. Infinite regress is much more a problem for science than religion. For sheer profundity, power and poetry, compare I am that I am with There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life .

    I make no comment as to everything that has happened since. 🙂

  20. “stop worrying and enjoy your life”

    the kindest words ever spoke. kudos to the author for demanding nothing for his ego.


  21. i think i’m one of about a dozen people in the free world who love that movie. altman, williams and feiffer all distanced themselves from it. remarkable that alan smithee didn’t find his way into the credits.


  22. That’s St Augustine, but also Gould from the modern science side, who was very troubled by the implications of “naked” Darwinism, sociobiology, etc.

    Let’s be a little bit more precise in representing Gould here, Peter. Apart his fervour being coloured by his own desire to promote his theory of punctuated equilibrium, his criticism of the Panglossian Adaptationist Programme had more to do with the expansion of evolutionary mechanisms and alternative considerations when analyzing evolutionary phenomena than doomsaying about the perils of extending the application of natural selection. Acrimonious as it was when fought bitterly with John Maynard Smith and coined terms like “Darwinian Fundamentalism,” his criticisms were more measured upon further inspection. For example, as much he wasn’t warm to the ideas of E.O. Wilson, he still recognized the immense success that sociobiology had in attempting to explain altruisim. And while Gould insisted that religion and science addressed distinct questions and should be treated differently, he campaigned vigorously against creationism, which was seen as a tacit recognition that these two fields will inevitably interact. In fact, he expressed much consternation at being quote mined by both creationists and proponents of intelligent design.

  23. jkg

    I think you are understating Gould’s concern over sociobiology and social Darwinism. After all, they led him to write a whole book defending religion. But he was a famous Darwinist scientist, so of course he opposed intelligent design and creationism (by which I assume you mean scriptural natural history).

    Have you come to see religion and creatoinism as synonomous?

  24. I don’t think I would ever lessen one of the authours of the famous “Spandrel” paper, Peter. My overall point is that being a popularizer of science and a significant counterpoint to the zeal of applying the Panglossian Adaptationist Paradigm, Gould’s more measured critiques would get lost in the translation into the popular sphere of science. The difficulty in correctly representing Gould between his intellectual iconoclasm and emprical and academic work in advancing alternative evolutionary forces is analagous to the difficulty of defining a distinction between religion and creationism. In both cases, they are highly correlated, yet I would never call them synonymous. When I hear the doomsaying calls for the end of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, it departs from any serious consideration of what is actually going on even more so when Gould is invoked as some sort of silver bullet. This is particularly odd when Gould’s work on punctuate equilibrium was largely inspired my Ernst Mayr. There are many contemporaries today who propose very many different modes of selection as well as evolution, so there has never been a paucity of empirical work exploring these different mechanisms. For whatever, this is interpreted as a field under fire.

    As a corollary to religion question, I don’t find it particularly out there to propose scientific naturalism as an alternative philosophy, but the catch is that it is never one propostition since the philosophy of science has encapsulated other perspectives continuously with vigorous debate. Alongside scientific naturalism, you have logical positivism and critical rationalism or falsfiability as well as others. The quickness to affix a certain nihilism to it is misplaced because I don’t think I haver seen a scientific naturalist deny the vastness of universe or advocate to just ignore it in favour of enjoying life. This is largely because the various philosophical debates are driven, in part, by the fascination of the vastness of the universe.

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