March 21, 2006

Creationism and the views of Archbishop Rowan Williams

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1735730,00.html#article_continue

My dear friend Phil pointed out this story to me when we bumped into each other in front of the newspapers in Costcutter this afternoon.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has stuck his neck out and said in an interview that he thinks creationism should not be taught in schools. His reasoning is that if creationism is presented as a stark contrast to evolutionary theory it will lower the value of Christian, and particularly creationist, doctrine. Williams is, quite rightly, concerned that, when held up as an equal to evolution, creationism falls far behind: indeed, evolution is accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. However, he is likely to be heavily criticised by members of the Christian community for admitting that a part of the Bible might not be literally true. He seems to, though the transcript of the interview does not suggest that he presents his ideas particularly clearly, suggest that he himself believes in God as a creator but not in the way that is described in Genesis.

  • How many Christians, or indeed non-Christians, still believe in strict creationism? How do they explain the discrepancy between their beliefs and evolution?

  • Is it time that the Church caught up with the times and accepted that a strict belief in the word of the Bible is completely at odds with convincing scientific theory? Is it then time for more daring changes, such as the admission of gay clergypeople? After all, if you bend the rules once, why not again?

  • How significant is Williams's admission in terms of a giving in to the possible inaccuracy of the Bible? Does it not weaken the authority and reliability of the rest of the text?

  • Will this declaration cause Williams and the church to gain or lose respect within the agnostic and atheist community? Why?

  • Should religious teachings form any part of the curriculum for secular state schools? Surely any theory explaining the creation of the Earth or any other mystery should be given equal consideration, thus giving those that learn the chance to make up their minds based on the evidence. Williams seemed to be suggesting that removing creationism from the syllabus would strengthen it because it would not be criticised when compared to scientific theory, but is this tantamount to pulling the wool across people's eyes?

  • Williams is obviously in a position of huge authority and his opinions are important, but in terms of theological reasoning he is just one man and he cannot possibly hope to represent the entire Church of England unless he never makes a decision on a contentious subject. How much influence should his ideas be credited with? Would is be better for him to keep quiet on this subject as he will always otherwise disagree with some of his church?

  • How significant are the current issues dividing the church viewed in terms of its credibility? Is it merely a case of the old-fashioned coming head-to-head with the more liberal or is it more damaging than that? How can the church maintain its popularity as it gradually begins to be more at odds with the changing times whilst avoiding giving in to the extent that its very foundations are removed?

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  1. Your second point seems like a highly dubious argument.

    First of all (and I may be misinformed, merely being the son of a clergyman) but I was under the impression that the majority of the Church of England accepts parts of the Old Testament as metaphorical. Most scholors believe that these bits were meant to be metaphors even at the time of writing. They do, after all, come from a nomadic, story-telling people.

    My second question regarding that point is that I don't quite understand the relationship between reinterpreting parts of the bible such that their meanings are closer to what was originally intended and gay clergypeople. Unless it appears that the original meaning of some obscure passage of Deuteronomy actually originally meant "you may have clergy of any gender or sexuality" this is not the same issue at all. I do not mean this to sound like I am against female or gay clergy. I'm not. I just don't see the relationship between the issues.

    21 Mar 2006, 23:47

  2. I too fail to see the problem with this; I didn't think many people did think Genesis was literally true. Maybe they just don't mention it much, but plenty of people seem to believe, like the Archbishop, in both God and evolution.

    I get the impression that he is saying that Creationism isn't science, and hence isn't suitable to be taught in a science classroom, although this may be just because that's what I want to read. As an atheist, I think it's good that he's speaking out against some of the more worrying parts of his own religious community; as a religious leader, isn't that a part of his job?

    22 Mar 2006, 08:14

  3. Mike, I was trying to be deliberately inflammatory with my second point – I totally agree with you that there's a big difference between reinterpretation and rewriting, and that was the point I was attempting to imply by making such a dubious link. As I have said before, the views I put foward are supposed to represent possible interpretations of a situation and do not necessarily reflect my own.

    I'm sure there are many who believe in both God and evolution (my parents, for example), but I do also know a significant number of creationists (including some past and present bloggers). Are they being short-sighted by not accepting evolution, and should their views be discounted? After all, as convincing as the evidence is, some may well argue that evolution is still just a theory. Isn't it also the role of the Archbichop to represent the views of all the members of his church?

    No, creationism isn't science, but Intelligent Design is trying to be.

    22 Mar 2006, 10:04

  4. I still fail to see why any of this has become an issue in this country. At school we were taught evolution in Science, as a scientific theory (there is very little in science which isn't still just a theory) and taught both general I.D. and the specific creationisms from a few main stream religions in R.E. as religious beliefs. This was all 6 or 7 years ago so why now is everyone proposing that I.D should be taught in schools in the UK, as if it isn't already? Is anyone seriously suggesting that I.D. should be moved from R.E. to science lessons?

    As far as I can see the issue only really exists in America, where they cannot teach R.E and so the theories of the science classes go unchallenged.

    22 Mar 2006, 10:36

  5. Well, according to those who support I.D. it is a scientific theory.

    This may well be an issue we will have to deal with in the future as the teaching of religion becomes increasingly subject to the restrictions of political correctness and demands for equality between the prominence of state and other religions: there have been murmerings, I believe, asking for the removal of R.E. from the National Curriculum.

    22 Mar 2006, 10:46

  6. Sarah – it is a scientific theory to everyone. It just doesn't hold up too well when the hypothesis is tested.

    It was taught in schools, atleast when I was there. It is mentioned in R.E. and I distinctly remember it being mentioned in GCSE biology when talking about the origins of life and evolution. Admittedly it was done and dealt with in about 5 minutes but it did present an alternative theory to evolution of species through natural selection.

    I have no problem with it being taught in schools. In R.E. I'd have no problem focusing on it as a greater truth than evolution as that is what some religions believe. In science lessons it can be taught as a second theory and hypothesis as a way of demonstrating how some hypotheses can or can't be tested. The scientific community may choose to laugh at the idea of intelligent design, but unfortunately there is not enough information to reject it. Evolution and I.D. can be taught side by side in the class room, but focus rather on the evidence for each case (of which there is more in favour of evolution).

    22 Mar 2006, 10:59

  7. Well that depends how you define a scientific theory. If it is a hypothesis that can be tested and proven to be correct or incorrect using experimental methods, then I.D. is not a scientific theory: essentially there will always be an element of faith involved in supporting it. Is it a paradox to classify unprovable theories as scientific?

    22 Mar 2006, 11:56

  8. James

    I was going to put together a response here but remembered reading a review article which made most the points I'd have done. It is link

    I must say that Rowan Williams is a funny sort. I am not religious, but it seems to me that if you're the head of a church (yes I know the Queen is the head of the CofE, but the Archbishop's the more relevant leader) your job is to head the church, so to speak. Yet in his first speech Williams failed to mention 'Christianity' at all. Then he banged on about the internet being close to 'unpoliced conversation' (the sort of thing that normally irks the Burmese Military Police, not, I'd have thought, anyone in a free country); and that it was a means for spreading dangerous superstition (the job of organised religion, clearly). He also likes 'multi-faith dialogue'; fine by me but strange for the head of a monotheistic religion whose central tenet is 'no one comes to God except by me' or words to that effect. As a non-religious person, then, I'd be well up for banning creationism from schools, but it is amusing to see Williams going on to that effect. It's rather like Ruth Kelly belonging to some extremist Catholic sect but assuring us she's no wish to visit that on the rest of us or allow it to affect her policies. Great, so she's happy to stand by and watch us all go to Hell.

    22 Mar 2006, 12:23

  9. Rachel

    I love Rowan Williams. As an atheist, I think it should be a problem, but he strikes me as a thoroughly sensible person. I would agree that most christians I know take the story of genesis metaphorically – the only people who really hold true to it belong to obscure strands of christianity that I'm afraid I brand 'the loonies'. I think Science should teach scientific theories where there is more evidence to support the theory than there is against it, and that have been accepted by a majority of the scientific community (set rules won't work, but there are some theories which are pretty much proved, and others (such as my own theory that there are invisible armadillos flying around the atmosphere) which have been discredited or discounted.) I could be wrong, but I have a feeling ID falls into the second group (Along with the Armadillos, alas) By all means, teach ID in RE (I think i was actually, but who pays attention in RE?) but I think it needs a little more support before it can be taught in science lessons. As an aside, the truly scary thing is people teaching ID and not teaching anything about Darwinism. (You gotta love those crazy Americans!) Apart from the fact that it speaks for itself about how well ID would stand up in a fight with Darwin, its too terrifying to be contemplated, and I think thats perhaps what Rowan Williams is trying to distance himself from.

    22 Mar 2006, 13:15

  10. Rachel

    James: Come, on let the Christians win one way or another. I for one am relieved that here appears to be a Christian who doesn't want to save my soul. Bring them on!

    22 Mar 2006, 13:16

  11. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster illustrates your point.

    It strikes me that it might be difficult to regulate the difference between supported and non-supported theory. What constitues 'more evidence' and how much of a majority of the scientific community needs to accept it? Do you only count the opinions of people involved in the relevant field, or can everyone have a say? Some theories, which, have since been proven true, have been disregarded at the time due to their radical nature and/or a lack of evidence available at the time.

    22 Mar 2006, 13:57

  12. James

    No sorry Rachel, how about bring them all off rather than just the non-proselytizing lot on. Should it really matter that there are people in this day and age wanting to dress in silly costumes, chant from mediaeval texts and carry on secretively? I think it does. Look at the influence that Masons have, or are thought to have had, on English local and national politics. So too with the Catholics, if you believe the likes of my father. And I haven't even started on suicide bombers.

    I am all for Williams knocking fundamentalism and watering down the Christian religion, I just find it bizarre given his job. It's rather like a member of the Critical Legal Studies movement becoming a judge and purporting to issue judgments following strict legal formalism.

    22 Mar 2006, 14:00

  13. Indeed. If you take comment 10 as fact, Williams is not a very good Christian at all: he should be worrying about saving your soul. Quite apart from the fact that, despite reading his interview several times, I'm still not sure I completely understand what he's getting at.

    22 Mar 2006, 14:08

  14. Richard: creation science and, as it has been re-branded, intelligent design, are not scientific theories at all. They aren't testable, as they don't predict anything, so they can't be subject to the normal process of scientific inquiry. In the recent trial in Dover, even the supporters of ID admitted that if we were to streach the definition of science to include it, it would also include things like astrology. I just have to hope no one thinks that's a good idea. Although worryingly enough, people do.

    I think it's good to have a church leader with a moderate rather than extremist position. After all, most members of the church are moderate rather than extremists, so it makes sense for them to be better represented. Plus, the extremists are scary, and no one but other extremists wants to listen to them.

    22 Mar 2006, 14:09

  15. James

    Sarah,

    I'm hardly surprised to read you say "despite reading his interview several times, I'm still not sure I completely understand what he's getting at". This, I suspect, is because Williams always makes pronouncements in a windy, waffly fashion. I don't know if he thinks it sounds more intellectual that way, or if he doesn't have the courage of his convictions and wants to disguise his points in as much waffle as possible. I suspect the latter, plus the less direct he is the more chance he has later of saying no no, I meant something else. It is entirely consistent with his 'multifaith' efforts – trying to have his cake and eat it too.

    Incidentally Sarah I put a comment on your blog about the penal system, would be interested to hear your response.

    22 Mar 2006, 14:15

  16. I think that, far from being vague, Dr Williams' comments seem quite carefully considered. He has refrained from saying what exactly is his personal belief, very important, but he has said that creationism cannot be put under scientific scrutiny, and that he disapproves of its teaching in science lessons, though presumably he has no problems with it appearing on the R.E. syllabus, where such a discussion is perfectly at home.

    In a country where Darwinism goes largely unquestioned, Dr Williams is no doubt conscious that people may have trouble reconciling their religious and scientific beliefs. This is a comforting announcement for all those christians out there, and potential christians, who don't believe in creationism. Dr Williams would perhaps say that the evolution debate, when it takes on too much importance, distracts from the true message of faith. This is, I think, part of his bringing the Church into the twenty-first century.

    The African communion won't thank him for his remarks, but then the Archbishop of Canterbury has long ago stopped representing them. That's an issue for another day though. He's a brave man, and I hope he succeeds in what he's trying to do.

    22 Mar 2006, 14:53

  17. Phil, I'm not sure he's excluding its teaching from only science classrooms: he seems to be suggesting that it shouldn't be taught at all, or at least he doesn't make any distinction between science and R.E. curricula. I'm afraid I still do find him hard to understand: maybe it's just his turn of phrase. Thank you, though, for your always-thought-provoking views!

    James, I am still pondering the penal system entry, I'm afraid, so it might take me a little while to respond. I find it to be a difficult subject on which to make my mind up. Thank you wholeheartedly for the compliment, though. :-)

    22 Mar 2006, 15:14

  18. anonymous

    evolution necessarily has a "common ancestor" concept, and 'theyve' 'disproved' that it could be a 'hot spring' so they think we came here from comets. (bbc) then somehow animals decide to go after the weakest in the pack so the strongests genes go through and stuff.

    22 Mar 2006, 16:35

  19. Rachel's right.
    Rowan Williams (though it pains me to say it, him being an Anglican and all) is quite the legend.

    Thanks to Michael and Colin for picking up on something.

    Your first paragraph was rather concerning, Sarah:
    "However, he is likely to be heavily criticised by members of the Christian community for admitting that a part of the Bible might not be literally true. He seems to, though the transcript of the interview does not suggest that he presents his ideas particularly clearly, suggest that he himself believes in God as a creator but not in the way that is described in Genesis."

    No one, at least not officially in the Anglican or Catholic sects (I can't speak for dissenter religions, for I have no direct experience or knowledge of them) actually believes in Creationism. You seemed to be implying this was the norm. Everyone knows creationism is stupid, and you're talking about very very intelligent and highly educated people here. There is not a view that the bible is all literally true. It's just not the case.
    I think you may be confusing certain sections of a very broad thing called Christianity. My point is that what Rowan Williams says is not relevant to those who are officially creationist, in which case I fail to get what you are "getting at".

    Your man James on comment 15 has it all wrong. Rowan is very intelligent, doesn't need to make himself sound intelligent. That insult aside, yes, he's an able politition. And he has to be. He should be appluaded for it. He's got a massive fractious alliance to hold together. I think he's done very well.

    22 Mar 2006, 20:28

  20. James

    Vincent:

    You seem to enjoy making sweeping provocative statements even more than I do. Here's your latest:

    "No one, at least not officially in the Anglican or Catholic sects (I can't speak for dissenter religions, for I have no direct experience or knowledge of them) actually believes in Creationism"

    Not being a Christian, I don't pay too much attention to pronouncements of the Pope or the Archbishop. So please provide a source for them stating (ie an official statement) that they don't believe in creationism. If they have stated that they don't believe it, I wonder how they would have us believe any other bible story. I have been harassed in the past by door-knocking loonies and christian groups at university. They were all pretty convinced of the Bible's literal truth. I'm quite prepared to believe that they were 'dissenter religions' as you call it but I would be intrigued to find the official rebuttal of creationism, especially from the Pope (latest one seeming to be a bit hard line).

    23 Mar 2006, 10:09

  21. Vincent:
    My first paragraph made no mention of the possible numbers of people that might criticise the Archbishop, thus you can make no inference as to whether I was suggesting it was the norm. I am not sufficiently stupid to think that strict creationism is a particularly widely held belief, but I think there are still those who hold to it (including some I personally know, and some CU members I have been approached by at Uni). Of course, this is purely your opinion against mine, though a random survey I just found by doing a Google search (and before you say anything, I know this is not a reliable source, it is just a token) recorded that 37% of contributors believed in creationism.

    I also did not draw the conclusion that I thought any of the people in positions within the church were unintelligent, or that these were necessarily the people who believed in creationism – please do not put words into my mouth. I'm am sure Williams is a very intelligent man, and I would never presume to underestimate his responsibilities. Do not presume that by discussing his statements I am trying to undermine him in any way. The fact that I find the way he presents his views confusing is probably a personal thing, which I have already hinted at. What Williams says, I feel, is relevant to creationists: if a person of influence and intellect and whom is in a position of authority at the head of your religion contradicts one of your beliefs how can it fail to affect you?

    Colin:
    "I think it's good to have a church leader with a moderate rather than extremist position."
    I would agree wholeheartedly with this, but whilst trying to appear favourable to non-Christians any Christian should hold true to the principals of the religion: evangelism should always play some part.

    23 Mar 2006, 10:22

  22. James

    I think I and the other non-Christians on this board like Sarah take the view that while it is a good thing from our perspective to have moderates running religious institutions, it is inconsistent with their own religion. Either you believe the Bible or you don't. Not accepting a lot in it has led to us abandoning all of it (on what basis could you pick and choose?). It's therefore ironic to have people espousing Christianity but only the selected highlights with which they disagree.

    (Incidentally readers of this blog might be interested in the following short article, written by a friend of mine who is a philosophy professor, which neatly encapsulates my point made elsewhere about religion and morality – scroll down to the one headed 'religion' link)

    Maybe I should be more pragmatic. I would like to see religion confined to the private sphere. But most of all I don't want to be blown up by Islamic fanatics. So because the latter desire is the strongest, maybe it would be best achieved by the likes of Rowan Williams convincing Islamic leaders (and followers) not to adopt a hard line on their religions but to water them down as Christianity has done over the years, so that it is more or less consistent with our modern values of tolerance, freedom of speech and most of all the right not to be burned at the stake for our religious beliefs of lack thereof. If so, then good luck to him, but in the abstract world of weblog debates, I will continue taking shots at him and other religious types.

    23 Mar 2006, 11:08

  23. Andy

    James,

    Having only direct knowledge of the Catholic Church (but not being Catholic nor Christian) I can only answer from the Catholic Churches view. The Catholic Church doesn't ask you to believe the Bible is litterally true, it is commonly accepted that most of the bible is metephorical. The only parts of the Bible that are definatively (in the Churches view) true are the Gospels (the word itself coming from "God Spell" or "Word of God"). The Catholic Church beleives that whats contained in the Gospels is true, but that much (but not all) of the rest of the bible is metephorical.
    The Evangelical wing of Christianity does take the Bible very litterally and these are probably the ones that have been bothering you, they are not however a reflection on mainstream Christianity, you just get to hear more about them because of their proactiveness.

    As for Genesis as a separate point and outside the realms of the above point, there are two confilicting accounts of how God created the world in Genesis, so I struggle to see how anyone can take them both litterally, you'd have to pick one of them.

    23 Mar 2006, 11:25

  24. James

    Andy,

    Thanks for that. I knew that both churches have diluted their religion considerably over the years (about 400 in the case of Gallileo's heresy, but let's not knock them for getting there in the end), hence we no longer have crusades or burning of people at the stake.

    I do have some concern about the Evangelical wing. Along with the evangelical equivalents in other religions, it seems to have been picking up steam as a result of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, hence things such as the Jerry Springer protests (and in other religions' cases, the Sikh play in Birmingham where violent agitation lead to it closing). I find this a deeply disturbing trend. The worst case scenario is that it encourages the murderous types, found presently in Islam but doubtless other religions have the potential to go that way. But even aside from that, we see freedom of speech being curtailed, abortion doctors being assassinated, and agitation for things such as creationism to be taught in schools. Accordingly, I am not as blase as you seem to be about the evangelical types.

    23 Mar 2006, 11:36

  25. Andy, I question your definitions of evangelism and extremism.

    Evangelism (according to www.calvarychapel.com/redbarn/terms.htm):
    'Proclaiming the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ to the lost. Evangelism is extremely important for this is God's means of bringing the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to lost sinners. Note the emphasis placed upon this by Jesus Himself as He closed out His earthly ministry: Matt 28:18–20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46–48; Acts 1:8. Note also the words of Paul in this regard: Rom 10:13–17; 2 Cor 5:18–20'.
    So, according to your acceptance of the Gospels as true, all Christians are, or should be, evangelists. It is true that some of the most extreme Christian groups are also the most evangelical, but better to call them the 'Extremist wing'? My point was that if Williams is avoiding evangelism he is not living his ife according to the Gospels, however popular he makes himself or his church. Does the end justify the means?

    23 Mar 2006, 12:43

  26. Too many qus for one comment, I'm afraid, so I trackbacked.

    Evangelism is a different thing to extremism. And I think extremist would probably be a better word to describe some of the quoteunquote 'evangelical Christians'. To be honest, they don't seem to be spreading much Good News to me. More like doom and gloom and judgement, regardless.

    As to evangelism, standing on street corners and shouting is only one method.

    Sometimes you have to talk, and explain what you believe, and why you believe it.

    But IMO most of it is living like you believe. If you believe that you are a Christian and that you don't need to fear anything because God is with you, then you best act like it. Otherwise how are you showing people God's love? (That's not to say we're good at it: I'm terrible at it. But hey.)

    23 Mar 2006, 14:18

  27. Christianity does seem to require evangelism, but doesn't it also require tolerance, forgiveness, and love? I think those princiapls would be rather undermined by denouncing heretics and sinners, wouldn't they?

    In any case, while I have no intention to convert to any religion, I'd be more prepared to join one that taught tolerance for others than one that insists on the literal truth of an old book that seems to contradict a lot of things I think I have good reasons to believe in. So isn't that evangelism, in a way? Much like Jill's point, I think it's more convincing for someone to live what they believe than to tell you what they believe.

    23 Mar 2006, 15:54

  28. James

    I think Colin's right. Most of the sayings attributed to Jesus are unobjectionable, indeed very sound. But we think that independent of the fact that he said them. The flip-side is that if a religious icon said to kill all blue-eyed babies then we would reject that view (I hope). Moral of the story is that our sense of morality is independent of religion, however much it might have originated in various different religious writings. I'm fairly sure that if there is a God, he wouldn't look too dimly upon those who lead a respectable life even if they didn't pay him copious platitudes (this is why I reject Pascal's Wager – I doubt Jesus would be impressed by people worshipping him as a hedge). After all, should every Australian aborigine (or anyone else) who lived without hearing the word from European evangelists be condemned?

    Well I'm hoping so anyway, else I'm straight for the hot place

    23 Mar 2006, 16:55

  29. Colin, of course it does. I was just trying to highlight the distinction between evangelical, non-extremist Christians who do show 'tolerance, forgiveness, and love' and the extremists who don't: they all seemed to be getting tarnished with the same brush.

    The effectiveness of different types of evangelism is a very interesting question, and I think depends, to a certain extent, on who you're talking to. Why would Christians continue to evangelise if it didn't seem to be working? Is evangelism becoming more extreme as the challenge seems to be greater – society is moving further away from religion and a smaller proportion of the population are active in ther faith. Does the more subtle approach work, and is it still evangelism when someone is simply showing you how and why they live their life like they do?

    23 Mar 2006, 17:02

  30. That's just the point, though, James: unless you believe in God (in the case of Christianity only the Christian God) you are going to hell, whether or not you have been a nice person. This is similar to the consideration I've addressed in the penal system entry about criminals being able to say sorry to God and escape hell, even if their crime was hideous. But isn't this what makes evangelism necessary: if you just had to be a good person to go to heaven why would there be a need to convert people?

    23 Mar 2006, 17:08

  31. Andy

    Sarah,

    The Catholic Church certainly doesn't believe that you have to believe in God in order to go to Heaven, not sure about other branches of the Christian Church.

    There is an intresting argument about forgiveness in the various Christian Churches, the Catholics will forgive any sin, whereas the Anglican Church won't forgive certain sins.

    23 Mar 2006, 20:02

  32. Really?! That's quite a bit of a shock, and a complete contrast to what I've been taught. Ok, so I was raised a Baptist, but it seems pretty clear cut to me:

    The Bible:
    'For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life'
    'He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him'
    John, Ch 3

    'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me'
    'Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple'
    Luke, Ch 14

    'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day'
    'Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life'
    John, Ch 6

    Extract from Wikipedia description of the Catholic Church:
    'Man can accept the gift [of eternal life] God gives through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22) and through baptism (Romans 6:3Ė4)'

    From www.catholic.com:
    'We do not "earn" our salvation through good works (Eph. 2:8Ė9, Rom. 9:16), but our faith in Christ puts us in a special grace-filled relationship with God so that our obedience and love, combined with our faith, will be rewarded with eternal life (Rom. 2:7, Gal. 6:8Ė9).'

    23 Mar 2006, 20:45

  33. Andy

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the Catholics rulebook if you were, interpretations of the bible etc)

    "Outside the Church there is no salvation"

    846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

    Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

    847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.337

    848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."338

    Knowledge of the gosspels can be interpretted either as knowledge of their existence or actual knowledge of their truth, depending on where you stand or who you talk to. Many priests I know certainly wouldn't damn good people of other faiths because they rejected the bible and christianity. Some extremists in the Catholic Church might though.

    23 Mar 2006, 21:49

  34. Andy

    Sorry to be clear the last pararagh in my last post is my words not the Catechisms, I really should learn how to blog properly.

    23 Mar 2006, 21:51

  35. Ah, I see what you mean, but people are still required to have a belief in the Christian God or have the propensity to have held this belief had they come into sufficient contact. My point, however, remains that 'nice' and 'good' atheists and agnostics living in a country like ours that has a strong Christian influence are still condemned to Hell, which is, I think, what James was getting at. He and I, for example, are not going to make it past the gates of Heaven no matter how virtuous our lives might me.

    23 Mar 2006, 23:15

  36. Andy

    I'd disagree, certainly having been to a Catholic school and had access to many priests, I often spent many hours discussing this very point. There view is that the knowledge required to be saved is the knowledge that the Gospels are true. If someone believed in Jesus (ie knew because of there faith) and had full knowledge of what was expected of them as Christians and then rejected these to live a life of "sin" then they'd be damned; unless of course they repented.
    Someone of a different faith or indeed no faith (if these are different) believe in something else and this belief prevents them from knowing the truth, they may have knowledge of the material but not of its authenticity. The Catholic Church doesn't make it hard to be saved, the premise is that Jesus through his sacrifice took upon himself the whole burden of sin and therefore paved the way to eternal life for everyone.
    Whenever talking about damnation (aka Hell) Catholic schollars often refer to Thomas Aquinasis (I think) vision that Hell is empty.
    Catholic doctrine on Heaven and Hell is conffusing not least because of its changing nature including concepts such as Limbo and Pergetory. It used to be the case that certain actions would give you extra days in pergatory and certain others would remove days (touching the foot of St Peters statue in St Peter for example); this is now outdated and no longer really subscribed to. Hell used to be portrayed in various ways vivadly described in Dantas Inferno with the lowest level of hell being occupied by Judas, again this is somewhat outdated.
    The modern and mainstream Catholic view is that God is merciful and that Hell is empty, other Churches are of course less forgiving.

    24 Mar 2006, 00:17

  37. Michael Jones

    I haven't read the interview under discussion but I've read two or three others with Dr. Williams and found them completely impenetrable; I finished them with little better idea of what he believed about the subject in question than I started with. I'm not sure if this is his fault or mine.

    24 Mar 2006, 00:35

  38. James

    Sarah,

    You're quite right – I was being facetious in my earlier post. As to your comment "about criminals being able to say sorry to God and escape hell, even if their crime was hideous", this is one of the bizarre paradoxes of the story as the Christians would have it. It is said that there's more joy in heaven when one sinner repents than for 99 people who didn't sin in the first place. If so, that's ludicrously unfair on the 99 who did their best all along. Secondly, the idea of being able to commit a host of appalling acts and then get to paradise on the basis of a last minute change of mind does not fit with most notions of justice. Myra Hindley was the most extreme example I've heard recently. On the BBC on the morning when her death was announced, the prison pastor was asked about her belated conversion, and where she might be as a result. He said "I'm sure she's found her peace with God" – great, a child murderer's gone to paradise whilst I (no saint but some way short of the moors murderers if I do say so myself) is going down. Am I only going to be sharing eternity with Vincent, Visiting Athiest, Sarah, Stalin and Hitler?

    On the other hand, the notion of eternal punishment seems extreme even for Stalin. The higher estimates of those he killed is about, say, 30 million. On earth a murder gets you life. Let's be extra harsh in the afterlife and give him 100 years for each murder. Then after he's had 3,000 million years in Hell, with a few more for other sins and maybe a few deducted for good behaviour, even I might be prepared to let him upstairs. But according to Christian doctrine, too bad, he's still due to serve another 3,00000 million and some. Harsh. Especially as most criminal careers (of armed robbers, muggers etc) tend to be about 20 years – to think that gets you eternal punishment is over the top.

    24 Mar 2006, 09:50

  39. James

    PS I wonder did anyone hear David Attenborough's views on the subject on the idiot (Jonathan Ross) the other night? His view was hardly original but it was interesting hearing it from the great man all the same. He said that every culture has a myth about the earth's origins. None is backed by scientific evidence; certainly the available evidence doesn't lend any more support to one than another, and is in fact quite opposed to most. The message also seemed to be asking why people duck from the glory and amazement that is mother nature (no I can't get my prose more purple than that at the moment – just been driving for hours through awful Mothers' Day traffic) and opt instead for some artificial myth

    26 Mar 2006, 20:43

  40. A Student

    Andy please clarify. What exactly must one do to be saved and get to Heaven? I did a quick search on the internet and got the impression the Catholic view is that one must believe in Jesus, accept His sacrifice and do good deeds (compare with the protestant view that only belief in Jesus and acceptance of His sacrifice are required). Some people implied that in "exceptional" circumstances there could be salvation outside the Catholic Church, maybe if one hasn't had the opportunity to be Baptised before death. Perhaps google is giving me only extremists' views (though they had quotes from many Popes), they always seem to shout louder alas.

    PS I hope you don't mind Sarah but there is another thread that may be of interest to people reading this. It has boiled down to the questions I have just asked Andy.Questions on Christianity

    28 Mar 2006, 15:06

  41. No, of course I don't mind. I have refrained from replying further on this entry because I feel I have nothing further to add other than that the ideals of the Catholic Church have always confused me and made me feel somewhat uneasy. If others have more to add on the subject, please do make us aware of it!

    28 Mar 2006, 15:16

  42. Jane Hampton

    I am a teacher of Religious Studies at secondary level and teach the creation according to the Bible, but we also look at many other creation stories from around the world and from many religions – (even a tale from North-eastern Siberia about a female raven who created the first humans – twin males. Her mate went on a long flight, defecating (to produce the mountains and valleys) and urinating (to produce the rivers, lakes and ocean.) A spider woman appeared to make the first women!!) We also discuss the run events from big bang to present day. Then, standing back and looking at the similarities of all of these ideas of how the earth was created we realise that they are all remarkably similar and marvel at how people so long ago without the scientific knowledge of the C20th could have 'made up' such a tale. At no point do I undermine any interpretation of how the world came to be, and leave more questions unanswered than answered. I do not suggest which one may be the 'truth'. This leads to amazing discussions, and leaves students free to gain information and knowledge that will help them to make their own informed decisions. RS in schools is to educate students in religious beliefs; it is not our place to try and make the students religious or to 'believe' in holy books. That is for the individual to decide.

    29 Mar 2006, 17:02

  43. Hilary Whittaker

    I am a mother of two secondary school children and I don't think you should be filling young peoples heads with such far fetched rubbish. Is there any factual evidence for the raven story or is it complete conjecture on the part of someone with a very vivid imagination.
    It may not be "your place to try and make the students religous or believe in holy books" but surely it is your place to teach them something of substance.
    I don't know what education is coming to these days – no wonder students are confused and there is disruption in the classroom.

    29 Mar 2006, 21:50

  44. A Raven

    I am the Raven (bless My almighty feathers) of whom you speak. I can assure you that I exist, am Mother of all men and all doubters will most surely feel My wrath. There is little evidence as blessed is he who believes without seeing, as I once told some misguided friends. You, Hilary Whittaker, Jane Hampton and students of Warwick, look into your hearts and find the Truth. I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through Me. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.

    29 Mar 2006, 23:51

  45. James

    Jane,

    I'm afraid you opened yourself up to the sarcasm of posts 43 and 44 by mentioning the Raven story then saying how you all 'marvel' at something like that, how similar all these ideas are, and how they could be arrived at with no C20 scientific knowledge. Such a story isn't marvellous, is similar only to Sarah's flying spaghetti monster (or the Great Green Arklesiezure (sp?) of the Hitchhiker's Gude to the Galaxy), and most assuredly doesn't require any scientific knowledge, not to the extent even of the ancient Greeks.

    I am only partly encouraged by you not suggesting any one is correct. Of course we are a long way off proving for certain how the world let alone the universe came into being. But that does not make all theories of equal value, nor does it mean that we cannot assess those that are put forward. In the case of religious accounts, the answer has to be in each case (unless you have more accurate sources than I …) that each account is plausible only on the same basis that it is plausible that I have invisible fairies at the bottom of my garden who only reveal themselves to me. You cannot disprove a negative, but that does not prove it either.

    The next question I've never heard an answer to is who created these mythical creators? Perhaps in view of your post we could rephrase the question as a metaphor: who laid the egg that the raven popped out of?

    It's all very well teaching these stories as some sort of cultural information, but I'm not sure anything was missing from my education by not having them myself. As David Attenborough said the other night, these myths are all very interesting, but are as nothing compared with the wonder and complexity of nature and life on earth, which is with us and around us everywhere we go, not simply in RE classrooms and the far fetched imaginations of sci fi writers. I know which I would prefer my children to be spending their time on.

    30 Mar 2006, 09:56

  46. Jane

    I've seen fairies at the bottom of my garden and a friend who was with me at the time saw them too. Does that proove that they exist?

    30 Mar 2006, 11:40

  47. James

    Oh absolutely. Shame though that you saw them but didn't have a camera to hand, or they weren't there when you went back with one, as with all these sightings of Yetis and Bigfoot and Ghosts and UFOs. Of course someone once did take photos of faries, and fooled even Conan Doyle, but goddammit they turned out to have been faked. And why do these aliens, with the sophistication to travel vast distances across space, never bother showing up on the six o'clock news and only reveal themselves to hillbilly Americans, on whom they then conduct some medical experiments with Victorian-standard medical equipment.

    Halting the flippancy for a second, when I was at school (in New Zealand) we were taught of a Maori legend concerning the origin of the country, or the North Island at least, which was apparently a giant fish pulled out of the water by Maui (a large chap, clearly). I think the South Island was his canoe. It was a shame to spend time on that, if you ask me, since there is so much of greater interest in Maori culture: the sophisticated navigation techniques by which they found their way to NZ from (apparently) Hawaii, the language which still survives and is flourishing, their songs, the haka and its history (there are many hakas, btw, not just that done by the All Blacks), how they ate, and lived in general, their sophisticated warfare tactics which taught the British a thing or two about trench warfare decades before WWI, and so on and so forth.

    It might be said (indeed I'm sure it has been) that the myths about the origins of the earth are an intrinsic part of their culture. That sounds fine in itself, but as I said in post 12 above, propogating superstition does have bad consequences. In the specific NZ context, just to stay there for a second, a major pipeline intended to deal with a water shortage was held up because some thought that there was a taniwha (sort of Nessie style monster) in the source river, a murderer was able to plead in mitigation that he thought his victim was under a Maori curse that required his remedial action (killing her), and a woman architect (I discussed this point under the feminism blog that's still on the boards) was precluded from visiting a building site because according to Maori legend menstruating women are unclean and might curse the project. You might say too bad with regard to the first and third examples of religious idiocy, but not the second.

    Just to emphasise, I am not opposed to teaching about religion, I believe in complete freedom of religion, and I respect a number of people I know who are religious. However, to award religion the same status as science or otherwise to give it public recognition enabling consequences mentioned in the above para and in post 12, is something of concern.

    30 Mar 2006, 12:50

  48. Jane

    Amazingly I did have a camera to hand but when I got the film developed I found the fairies had not come out on the pictures. My friend and I couldn't believe it but we think the reason is that fairies are supernatural.

    30 Mar 2006, 16:48

  49. Roger Lindley

    I'm amazed this is still going…..!
    My twopenn'orth (for what its worth)

    If God created the entire universe in six days, He is well able to leave evidence that it took billions of years. He's clever!
    I personally don't believe that, because I know Him as a God of love, so I don't think He would set out to deliberately mislead people…

    Myra Hindley may well have made it to the Good Place. Are you a better person than God, to judge her? Don't forget the thief on the cross whom Jesus promised "today you will be with me in paradise". What do you think the thief's victims thought of that? The poor bloke still had to have his legs broken and to die a horrible death, but that's another factor…

    I think some of you have confused "evangelical" with "evangelism". An evangelical is someone who believes that the bible, in general, is literally true. Particularly, Jesus' virgin birth, miracles, death and resurrection, in contrast to liberals such as Dr Williams, who are a bit more iffy about such things.

    30 Mar 2006, 16:59

  50. James

    "Myra Hindley may well have made it to the Good Place. Are you a better person than God, to judge her?"

    I don't think you have to be the supreme being to take a dim view of child murderers. I wouldn't put thieves in the same category. We make judgments of others continuously in our daily lives, on a small and large scale.

    Who created God, anyway?

    30 Mar 2006, 20:05

  51. Sarah

    "Who created God, Anyway?" That's the million dollar question, I doubt if God even knows the answer to that one.

    31 Mar 2006, 15:35

  52. Firstly, Roger, thank you for your clarification on the usual definition of "evangelical". You learn something new (or probably something that I was told years ago but managed to forget) every day. However, it can be correct (according to dictionary.com) to use evangelical to describe those who practise evangelism: having no adjective to use in this context would be quite restrictive. I was, as I hope people presumed from the context, considering evangelism.

    I think itís difficult to decide which legends are sufficiently Ďfar fetchedí for us to reject. After all, the raven story doesnít sound quite so silly when presented alongside some Bible stories (Noah and his family managed to build a boat big enough to collect two of every species in the world and then feed and water them for 40 days whilst the world was flooded; then they repopulated the earth). Indeed, the Christian concept of creation seems relatively ridiculous when considered alongside evolution, and I would think a majority of Christians no longer believe in it strictly. Should we still teach creationism in RE classes? And yet I'm sure all of these stories of creation have some believers somewhere in the world, and we can't say categorically that they are wrong because we have no proof. Where do you draw the line?

    All myths and legends are just that Ė myths and legends. They are often not there to be considered for their literal realism, more for their message (and here I am talking of myths in general). We cannot disprove any of them, so how can we justify excluding just some? Providing that children are encouraged to criticise and weigh up the things they are taught, particularly with reference to the presence of scientific evidence (James, I agree with the first two paragraphs of 45 but this doesnít preclude the mention of these stories completely), I donít see much harm in teaching them some of the stories from other cultures and schools of thought.

    I donít completely understand the justification that runs ĎI'm not sure anything was missing from my educationí. If we all cut down our education, exclude all the subjects and topics we didnít find so interesting or didnít use later in life, weíd spend very little time in school. Iím sure many of us use random anecdotes we learnt at school in blog comments: I know I have. The things that one person find dull are an inspiration to others, but that doesnít mean that they donít contribute to the knowledge and understanding of those that found it dull or irrelevant at the time.

    Hilary, your last comment is one Iíd disagree with. There are many, many things that are wrong with the education system (please donít get me started!), but introducing slightly more varied subject matter in some subjects has no direct effect on behaviour.

    James, I donít think Roger was necessarily implying a direct comparison between Myra Hindley and the thief on the cross. It was just another example of a situation which some may find unfair. I personally have some trouble getting over the forgiveness-of-heinous-criminals issue (as those who have read my entry on the penal system will know), so I'm probably not in a great position to judge.

    I'm not sure asking the question 'who created God?', which of course no-one can answer, is a particularly good argument for discounting Christianity or any other religion (I presume it was intended in a relatively challenging manner). Admitting that it is hard (or impossible) for us to find an answer does not necessarily imply that the question is unanswerable.

    31 Mar 2006, 19:38

  53. Hilary

    Sarah, "Should we still teach creationism in RE classes?" Personally, I don't think we should even have RE classes for the same reason that I don't think how to shoe a horse should be taught in schools. The bible is an outdated book that I think the majority of people are unable to relate to. It has no factual basis at all and reads like some disjointed fairy story. I've asked numerous Christians to explain parts of it to me without success – they say such things as "You've just got to have faith." Well, actually, no I haven't, I'm a bit more discriminatory than that. What's the point of blind faith.

    However, I agree with you on the forgiveness of heinous criminals, I can't think of any circumstance in which someone like Myra Hindley should ever be forgiven.

    31 Mar 2006, 20:27

  54. Roger Lindley

    Sarah,
    As an alternative adjectival form of evangelism, how about "evangelistic"?

    We all compare bad things people do to other bad things that people do. Most people would list things like genocide and child molestation as being amongst the worst of the worst, and then have a sliding scale, all the way down to things like nicking paper clips from work. God has to forgive all of it (if the perpetrators ask forgiveness), or none of it. It just isn't fair to draw the line in the middle somewhere, because what about the poor people who have done something just below the line? This is why the Bible says that we've all fallen short and need God's forgiveness.

    31 Mar 2006, 20:52

  55. Roger Lindley

    "Who created God?" sounds like the ultimate catch question, but I'm afraid it isn't…
    If God is the creator of everything that exists, including time, He is clearly outside of time, and "has always existed". I put that in inverted commas as I had to use present perfect tense, when in fact if we're considering an existence outside time, we can only use the simple present tense "He exists".
    Thinking of anything exisitng outside the realm of time is undoubtedly difficult for us. Try taking a piece of writing and removing all the bits that are tied to time; not only all the tenses indicating past or future things but also adverbs like "usually" or even adjectives like "burnt".
    OK, if you think time has already existed and that the universe began with the Big Bang, happening as a totally random (uncreated) event, say n years ago, what existed 2n years ago? Did every single bit of matter in existence come together at the same time to produce the Big Bang?
    Now there's superstition…..

    31 Mar 2006, 22:25

  56. A Student

    Roger, why does He only forgive those who realise He exists? It doesn't seem fair that one is forgiven solely on the basis of one's ability to decipher ambiguous evidence. (If you want evidence that it is ambiguous, look at the number of people who don't believe, 2/3 of the world's population)

    Regarding post 55, I'm unclear what postulating a God has achieved. Without God we wonder how the universe came into being, with Him we wonder how He came into being. The only sensible thing to say about the origin of the universe is that we don't understand it.

    Hilary, I think teaching stories like the Raven will only be a good thing. Surely they will wonder why the Bible is any less a fairy tale, which can only be a good thing. Much worse that they are left with the impression that perhaps these myths are substantiated by some evidence known to say Dr. Williams, who after all does a good impression of a clever chap.

    31 Mar 2006, 23:09

  57. Roger, thanks for the suggestion. I'm really not suggesting that I think the Christian way of doing things is necessarily wrong: I understand the justification for forgiveness of any sin (in fact, I was a regular churchgoer and would have classed myself as a Christian for the first 20 years of my life), I'm just saying that I personally have a problem accepting it completely.

    Hilary, I was merely trying to draw a comparison between possible subjects within the RE class, assuming that RE as a subject was taken for granted. However, I am not sure that I agree with the complete withdrawl of religion from school teaching. Whether or not we believe religion has a place in the world today, I don't think anyone can deny that it has had a very influential effect on the history of our civilisations. As such it is presumably of interest, at least for historical reasons, and could also be said to be similar to cultural studies within the subject of geography. To remove religion would be to remove an important part of history. Also, I really do not think you can reject religion simply on the basis of your opinions of it. Whether you like it or not, religion is still thriving in the world today and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Do you not think it is important for your children to understand the cultures and beliefs of the people around them (after all, I think we've all agreed that evangelistic religious teaching has no place in schools, so the only purpose RE serves is to inform, not convert)? Could it not be classed as a form of intolerance to forbid the teaching of subjects so important to many?

    31 Mar 2006, 23:13

  58. Hilary

    Sarah, I don't think it is necessarily intolerant not to teach religion in schools. Does society want it to be taught? I think it would be far more worthy to teach philosophy where students could touch on the subject of religion.

    01 Apr 2006, 10:58

  59. James

    I think most of these points have already been made, but in any event here goes. Saying that God invented time, or anything else, has the same empirical evidence as the faries Jane and I keep encountering. You can't disprove it, because the story keeps shifting. First it was thought that the earth was a few thousand years old and that the sun orbited it. Then evidence arrived of it being a few billion years older, but that could just be God testing the faithful by planting the evidence and seeing if they'd accept the bible anyway. Or it could be we've made some outrageous geological mistake. Even if we perfected the unified theory that eluded Einstein, there'd always be room for speculating about God – as Stephen Hawkings said, you could always ask why the universe bothers to exist. As it stands, we are way off understanding all the origins of the universe, as Roger alludes to – where when and how did matter come into being in the first place?

    We could also go off on one about what supernatural actually means. As Stanley Kubrick said, if a human foot crushes an ant hill, from the perspective of the ant, we may as well be some sort of God rather than simply higher up the evolutionary chain. That's the view we might take of an alien race advanced enough to travel the universe and make contact with us. That's why I'd prefer to call myself agnostic rather than athiest because there remain so many unanswered questions, and the actual answers (if not 42) might be so far beyond our understanding as not to constitute an effective answer at all.

    As to ethics, if we all including Myra Hindley have a chance of getting the good deal in the afterlife so long as we buy into the story and say sorry at the right time, then Christianity doesn't give useful moral guidance or at least not a suitable incentive.

    Getting back to earth and what should be taught in schools, I have said at several points on these posts that I don't object to teaching about religion, so long as it isn't presented as science (hence the link in post 8 which discusses some of these psuedo-sciences). It is all a lot of fun debating these sort of questions and I am sure Jane H does have some 'amazing' discussions, even if the amazement is only how someone could dream up some claptrap about the Raven and discuss it as seriously as one might Sarah's flying spaghetti monster. The fact that neither story is any less plausible than that of the ark doesn't improve their credibility.

    If religion serves only to reassure people's fear of death, or questions about their origins, and provide opportunities for enjoyable abstract discussions, then it would be unobjectionable. But now as ever before it is not always a force of good and unspeakable acts continue to be done in religion's name. This post is already far too long, so I'll just refer to what I said in 12 and 24 above.

    02 Apr 2006, 09:44

  60. James, I wasn't trying to improve the credibility of any of the stories mentioned above, just attempting to highlight a possible inconsistency in the way we deal with them.

    Hilary, you seem to denounce RE on the basis of a lack of fact, yet you suggest resolving this by teaching religion as part of a subject based entirely on subjectivism and totally devoid of factual proof. I don't quite understand your reasoning.

    02 Apr 2006, 18:14

  61. James

    Sarah,

    Point taken with regard to me. With regard to what you said to Hilary, however, I agree RE should not form part of philosophy, but for entirely different reasons.

    A vast amount of time is taken up by philosophers arguing over subjectivism and objectivism – whether their particular philosophy falls into either category and whether the distinction is valid in the first place. Rand Libertarians, for example, would have it that their philosophy is based entirely on logic grounded in empriical fact. Followers of Kant or those who like to call themselves deconstructionalists would have it that nothing (including every branch of science) can be called objective.

    Where I think RE doesn't fit with philosophy is that philosophy properly so-called is based on logic whereas religion is based on faith.

    03 Apr 2006, 09:44

  62. Thanks James for clarifying. I have to admit I've never studied or read a huge amount about philosophy, so apologies for the sweeping and apparently inaccurate statements. However, are there are opposing theories in philosophy which are apparently based on the same factual evidence? Surely different philosophers carry through their own logic to potentially different conclusions? There are opposing theories in science, but they will eventually, of course, be solved providing we develop the ability to test the hypotheses properly. This will not necessarily happen, though, with philosophical theory. Is there not always some subjective element in there? I accept that it can be argued that scientific theory is always partly subjective (the interpretation of results is always down to human reasoning to some extent) but once something is proven beyond all reasonable doubt (and I know this happens a lot less than we'd like to think) surely it is just simple fact.

    It's interesting that there tends to be some association between the subjects of philosophy and RE - I know that I make some connection between them, though I can't necessarily explain why – but yet they are indeed very different.

    03 Apr 2006, 10:55

  63. James

    Sarah,

    As it happens, your questions neatly encapsulate a lot of perennial debates amongst epistemological and moral philosophers. What we can know for certain, if anything, what logic and evidence compels or doesn't compel (for example can you derive an 'ought' from an 'is' – that is, by making observations about the world can we derive moral principles), the nature of logical reasoning itself; these are all amongst the most hackneyed debates in philosophy. You also have philosophers of language who debate whether or not we can write anything down with one clear meaning anyway.

    In my opinion it is absurd to say that nothing can be known for certain (after all, the opposing view is necessarily contradictory – "nothing is certain" said as a certainty; "there is no truth" means that statement can't be true either) but within the enjoyable confines of philosophical debate we can argue forever about the scope of what is knowable and indeed the language employed to describe it. As to moral philosophy, there is always a degree of subjectivism (pace the Randian Libertarians) in my view, but I think it is very wrong then to take the leap to say that nothing can be right or wrong. I think we have enough common assumptions to develop some sort of moral code (back to that when I get to RE).

    In science a lot of epistemological philosophical issues are taken for granted: you wouldn't get very far studying photosynthesis if you took up a large part of your time debating what we mean by 'if', nor if you inquired into the nature of logic rather than applying the sort of reasoning that has a large measure of agreement amongst western philosophers at least. Of course, science always allows for the possibility of even the most apparently certain hypotheses to be revisited – the earth being flat, for example – but not without some alternative reasoning and evidence being provided. In my view science is entirely consistent with epistemological philosophy. It isn't concerned with the same questions as moral philosophy (though moral philosophers often try and ground their ideas in scientific observation – such as the amusing types who claim that homosexuality is immoral because it isn't done in the animal world … amusing apart from anything else because it certainly is!)

    Religion gets a hold on people's minds in my view because it provides an answer to that which moral philosophy generally cannot and science does not attempt: why should we behave in a certain way, when we are in the realms of subjectivism. "Because the rules were laid down by God" is, if you accept God's existence, rather more compelling than "because my subjectively reasoned moral code is better argued than yours, given our common acceptance of certain forms of reasoning" which is what many believe secular philosophy boils down to. But the religious view requires faith, which neither philosophy nor science permits. That is why it should be no more taught in philosophy classes than it should be in science classes.

    The association you have between RE and philosophy is I think logical, since both religion and philosophy seek to answer similar questions, as indeed does science. But religion seeks the answers by a process that is not compatible with either. Hence, going right back to the origin of this post, we need to be careful about religion that tries to gain currency by presenting itself as science.

    03 Apr 2006, 12:03

  64. jane

    Blimey! Cannot believe the fuss the raven story conjured! After informing students of the main contents of Genesis and its relevance to Stewardship etc. including the story of creation, we go onto big bang and science, then creation according to the Qur'an…and then we look at examples of stories from around the world. The stories from around the world probably steal about 10 minutes of their lives….I can assure you that the rest of the lesson that day will be hard core religious education! Lighten up Hilary! Religious Studies are very important as like it or not, and believe or not, religion has shaped the world we live in. There is plenty of substance and many points of view, lots of knowledge and understanding called for…even if the odd raven anecdote is thrown in. I do not for one second suggest that the raven story is 'true', no more than i would suggest that any of the bible stories are 'true'.
    P.S. Hilary, between you and me I also think that the raven story is part of someone's vivid imagination! Just like Adam and Eve, and the 7 days of creation…..humans looking for answers. And personally I believe that the condensing of 15 billion years of geological activity into a week is no more unbelievable than defecating ravens. Just trying to find a way to slip in Rudyard Kipling and Ted Hughes explanations of how animals evolved! ONLY KIDDING!!!!!

    03 Apr 2006, 22:27

  65. A Student

    Are you religious Jane, and are most Religious Studies teachers do you think? If so what kind of religious views are popular amongst them – you say you don't believe a lot of the stories in the Bible for instance.

    04 Apr 2006, 00:20

  66. A Student

    Can I also ask you my other question about Christianity. No one else I've asked has even tried to answer it for me. Its from post 56: "why does He only forgive those who realise He exists? It doesn't seem fair that one is forgiven solely on the basis of one's ability to decipher ambiguous evidence. (If you want evidence that it is ambiguous, look at the number of people who don't believe, 2/3 of the world's population)".

    04 Apr 2006, 00:25

  67. James

    Jane,

    As someone who did not receive RE (beyond a failed attempt by a well meaning bible teacher when I was aged 9), I would be interested to know the content of RE lessons. In particular, how do you distinguish the raven story from 'hard core' religious studies, when you yourself accept "I do not for one second suggest that the raven story is 'true', no more than i would suggest that any of the bible stories are 'true'."? If neither is true, why is one light-hearted and one hard core?

    Secondly, what is the big bang and 'science' doing in religious studies? Is it presented as just another religion? If so, you are lulling students into making the wrong equivocation Roger does above, that because something is far from proven (the big bang) accepting it amounts to 'superstition' just like religion. That is plainly wrong, since (i) current scientific theories about cosmology are not presented as anything more than that, ie theories; and (ii) even the best accepted theories in any branch of science are open to being tested and rebutted in the face of opposing evidence. Only a fool would claim that science has answered everything, or indeed that it likely ever will, but it does not follow that science is just a religion. I personally think it is a cop-out to accept answers with no scientific basis just because science hasn't yet (and may never) give us the answers.

    Thirdly, is the content of RE lessons concerned with presenting and discussing competing religious doctrines, or do you look at religion in practice, such as Sharia law, the Inquisition, the crusades, the burning of witches, on the one hand, and things like charitable practices on the other?

    Least it be misunderstood, I accept the importance of studying the influence and effect of religion, I am just concerned that all parts of the story are taught and it is properly distinguished from science.

    05 Apr 2006, 11:28

  68. Roger Lindley

    Hey, A Student, finally got round to tackling your question. "Why does He forgive only those who realise He exists?". First of all, how do you know he does forgive only those who realise He exists? A lot of people frame this question something like "What about the people in remote countries who have never had the chance to hear about God?".

    Abraham says "Will not the judge of all the Earth do what is right?" (Gen 18:25, last bit). Also, Paul says in Acts 17:30 "In the past, He overlooked such ignorance…" (about God) so the implication is that He still overlooks the sin of those who have had no access to the gospel.

    I have to say though that there is plenty of access to the gospel in this country, and, sadly, all too little understanding of its total meaning. The gospels show that God is full of love for us and went to the lengths of even letting his son die, just to be reconciled with us. Consider this:

    "At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the [religious] law and the pharisees [judgemental religious leaders] brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him. [As they were under Roman occupation, it was not legal for Jews to put anyone to death, so if Jesus had assented to their stoning her, the religious leaders would have been able to go to the Romans and accused Jesus of rebellion against the emperor]
    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them "If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
    Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?"
    "No-one, sir" she replied.
    "Then neither do I condemn you" Jesus declared. "Go now, and leave your life of sin"
    John's gospel, chapter 8 verses 2 to 11. Bits in square brackets were added by me.

    11 Apr 2006, 23:33

  69. Roger Lindley

    "Only a fool would claim that science has answered everything, or indeed that it likely ever will, but it does not follow that science is just a religion."
    James, people treat science as a religion. For example, I have read on a number of occasions that Jesus' miracles didn't happen because they are scientifically impossible. This to me is not proof that the miracles didn't happen but that science hasn't got all the answers.

    11 Apr 2006, 23:47

  70. James

    "I have read on a number of occasions that Jesus' miracles didn't happen because they are scientifically impossible. This to me is not proof that the miracles didn't happen but that science hasn't got all the answers."

    Well scientifically speaking it isn't absolute proof that the miracles didn't happen – since we weren't there at the time and, as you say, there always remains the possibility that there is an as-yet undiscovered scientific explanation for them. Or it could be that the stories were badly reported. I have seen a very compelling scientific explanation of the Bible story about the plagues of Egypt, starting with toxins in the Nile. Or take the example of the Salem witchcraft trials; the hallucinations and other behaviour could be explained by the crop being dodgy. (I saw an interesting programme on this but have forgotten the details.)

    But, equally speaking, allowing for those possibilities provides no support whatever for the miracles having occurred, or for them actually being miracles in the sense of being scientifically inexplicable. Here we reach the heart of the difference between the scientific and religious explanations of the world. The scientist requires proof, and without evidence or logical justification will accept things only as being theories; always being open to the possibility that accepted scientific explanations might be refuted. The religious person has as his first principle Biblical infallibility. Science can be accepted so long as it isn't in conflict with religion. If it is, then the response is either that science doesn't have all the answers or that we have erred in the scientific methodology or that God set out to deceive us, or whatever. For those of us who don't accept that first principle, such a response won't do.

    12 Apr 2006, 13:47

  71. Regarding comment 69, I really don't think that using science to suggest that religious stories are incorrect is using science as religion: quite the opposite. No, science hasn't got all the answers, but there's a point at which you have to suspend logic a little too much to allow for some religious stories. Anyway, isn't the whole point of miracles the fact that they should be impossible. If we can explain them with science they really aren't miraculous at all…

    Dictionary.com:
    bq. Miracle: an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature.

    12 Apr 2006, 14:57

  72. A Student

    Roger, thanks for your reply. You might like to investigate the link Christianity where we've been discussing these issues. Perhaps my question wasn't clear – what I want to know is: what's God's policy on those who actively reject the gospels? Must one accept Jesus' sacrifice, once told about it, in order to get to Heaven? As I understand it most Christians seem to say that one must. If so do you think this is fair, given that one could reasonably look at the evidence and conclude that God doesn't exist? (See the number of people in the UK who choose to be atheists/muslims/sikhs etc if you doubt it is ambiguous) If not what reason is there to be a Christian or investigate the religion in the first place?

    Not sure why you're all talking about miracles but you might like to read David Hume's essay on miracles where he argues (very convincingly imho) that they are usually not a good reason to believe in a religion. First off lots of beliefs, often contradictory ones, have ample "support" from miracles. The net "evidence" is thus very weak in favour of at most one of them, which may or may not be Christianity. Secondly, we all know from everyday experience that it is quite possible for people to get confused or to lie, whereas we rarely see people walking on water. In order to base one's belief on the testimony for a miracle it would have to be more "miraculous" for the story to have gotten confused over time than for the miracle to have occurred in the first place. Clearly that is not the case for most miracles thus reported and also for alien abductions etc, since we know that people get confused or lie all the time. One other thing: why does God change water into wine when required but decline to prevent hurricanes, Holocausts etc?

    13 Apr 2006, 01:39

  73. James

    Just look at Derren Brown's series where he travelled across America joining in with all manner of quacks, 'faith healers', 'spiritualists' etc etc, and performed their 'miracles' or 'alternative healings' etc just as well as them, causing them astonishment, but conceded every time he was just using his usual brand of trickery. If he could fool people now, just imagine what reputation a dark-ages Derren Brown could have acquired.

    Again, the fact that we can't point to a scientific explanation of something doesn't mean there isn't one to be found. I myself have one such experience. In my martial art days, at a training camp a colleague (A) and I performed an exercise in which we lifted another colleague sitting in a chair (P) with our fingertips. A is about the same build as me (five ten and medium build, both pretty fit and strong at the time). P is a former Olympic skier and built like the proverbial brick outhouse. All we did by way of preparation was a mediation instructed by the grandmaster where we focused on 'light' thoughts. We managed to lift P without any effort, just with our fingertips, to about our shoulder height before realising what we were doing, whereupon we dropped him like a stone. As a control test, we later tried lifting him with brute strength and managed to get nearly as high with a deal of effort. I cannot explain how we did it now. But a miracle? I don't think so. I witnessed many other such things over the years I trained too: someone who could break bricks with his head; others who were beaten with heavy sticks but showed no bruises or other ill effects; another who had a brick broken on his neck with a sledgehammer, whilst kneeling over and having a sword at his throat. Anyone in mediaeval times would have called each of those miracles, but I'm sure there was a scientific explanation somewhere, or at the least God wasn't lending them a hand.

    13 Apr 2006, 11:35


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