More great stuff from Eric MacDonald

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Jeff D
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More great stuff from Eric MacDonald

Post by Jeff D » Fri Nov 19, 2010 3:28 am

About thirty years of work experience as an Anglican preacher in Canada manifestly did not atrophy the mind of Eric MacDonald, one of my heroes among the less-famous Gnu Atheists.

Here is a great comment from earlier today by McDonald, with a brief excerpt below:

. . . . The truth seems to be that religion and science are essentially in conflict. Their fundamental presuppositions are in conflict. Science has produced knowledge about the world that religion tried to understand in theological terms, and there is no basis for theology. Science has threatened religious understanding of the world, human life, and the relationship between human life and the rest of life. It has undermined the credibility of religious texts. And now, through the scientific study of religion, it has begun to offer convincing explanations for the development of religious beliefs and their function in human life and society. It shows them to be entirely human creations, as they must be, in any event, since there are so many of them. There is no basis in supposed ‘religious’ experience for religious belief. Religion does not answer any of the Big Questions that we have, regarding the origin of the universe or the purpose of human life.

The only answers that we have are human ones. It is important to know this, and it is high time we gave up on the religious dream that some being or beings outside the human realm could provide the answers anyway, even if it turned out that such beings exist, which I do not think that it ever will. And, in any case, since our lives are short, and full of trouble, no matter how many joys we may know, and some know very few, and since our lives are soon over, for each one of us, as we pass through life, gods will never provide the answer, even if, in some distant future, someone should discover intelligent beings almost beyond the scope of human telling. For they cannot answer for our lives now, and when they are found, if they ever, they will be a human discovery. There is no room for peace between science and religion, for religion is the negation of science, even if, in some of its forms, it happened onto forms of thought out of which science could ultimately grow. . . .
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Re: More great stuff from Eric MacDonald

Post by Jeff D » Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:11 pm

A little more from Eric MacDonald in a later comment on the same thread (at Butterflies and Wheels) that linked to above. The general topic is the extent to which Christianity can fairly be called the partner or the handmaiden or the wet-nurse of the intellectual freedom and intellectual progress of the Renaissance and the Enlightment.

To suggest, for example, that the condemnation of Galileo does not show the church’s anti-science face, but rather its concern for purity of doctrine (or something equally lame), while at the same time ignoring the fact that Galileo’s works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books, and remained there until the nineteenth century, is sheer duplicity.

This is simple and straightforward enough, without trying to . . . revise “conflicts into complexities.” . . . "It was all so much more complex than that." Well, of course, everything is complex. Even quite simple human actions can be massively complex if you try to account for all the influences coming to bear on individuals in decision making situations, but when you see something that is so clearly anti-science, and subversive of the freedom of thought necessary in order to carry out the scientific project, then, regardless of the complexities, that speaks volumes about the role the church played in the early years of the scientific awakening that was taking place in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. And since the church has continued to play this negative role straight through until today, it is hard to see how the revisionist attempt to show the church in a good light at the beginning of the process could possibly succeed.


I regret that we Americans don't have home-grown, ex-clergy atheists who write as eloquently, and with as much erudition, as MacDonald (Sorry, Dan Barker and John Loftus).
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Re: More great stuff from Eric MacDonald

Post by Jeff D » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:26 pm

Here, at Butterflies and Wheels, is a blog entry by Ophelia Benson in which she nit-picks the last answer that Tony Blair gave in his debate with Hitchens, about what, for Blair, is the "essence" of his Christian faith (The quotation from Blair below was taken from part 3 of the debate transcript):

. . . . when you take Christianity as a whole and ask what it means, what draws people to it, you know, what is it that made me as a student come to Christianity, it wasn't to do with some of the things that Christopher has just been describing, and you know, I understand that's -- there are those traditions within religion, I understand that, I accept that, I see how people look at certain parts of scripture and draw those conclusions from it, but it's not what it means to me, it's not the essence of it. The essence of it is through the life of Jesus Christ, a life of love, selflessness and sacrifice and that's what it means to me.

So I think the most difficult thing for people of faith is to be able to explain scripture in a way that makes sense to people in the modern world, and one of the things that we have actually begun recently is a dialogue called the common word, which is about Muslims and Christians trying to come together and through scripture find a common basis of co-operation and mutual respect, so, you know, yes, it is a difficult argument, that is the most difficult argument, I agree, but I also think there is an answer to it, and I think one of the values actually of having a debate like this, and in a sense, having someone making that point as powerfully as Christopher has made it, is that it does force people of faith to recognise that we have to deal with this argument, to take it on, and to make sure that not just in what we are trying to do, but in how we interpret our faith, we are making sure that what I describe as the essence of faith, which is serving God through the love of others, is indeed reflected not just in what we do but in the doctrines and the practice of our religion.


By all means, please scroll down to the long first comment (#18) from Eric MacDonald, which ends with this:

Blair might pretend that religion is all about care and compassion, but he did make a choice to join a church that acts in immoderately high-handed ways with respect to people in other Christian confessions. Surely, it wasn’t only love and compassion that drove him to join the church that has the most rigorously enforced belief system in the world. He could have shown love and compassion in practically any other church. Indeed, arguably, Anglicans are much more about love and compassion and sit more lightly to dogma than the Roman Catholic Church, and yet it was the church that condemns in such outrageous terms the secularism that has brought peace to Europe and much of the world — it was to this church that Blair chose, in servility, to subordinate himself. Surely there is more here than merely love and compassion. And all the saccharine stories about “inter-faith” cooperation cannot hide this rather peculiar choice. Certainly, maundering on about love and compassion scarcely answers deeper questions about the nature of religious faith, and the harm that it has done by it almost always and everywhere and by all.
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