Templeton Redux

Not much more to say about the Templeton Foundation, but in the interest of open discussion it seems fair to point to a couple of alternative viewpoints. My original post was republished at Slate, where there are over 3300 comments thus far, so apparently people like to talk about this stuff?

For a more pro-Templeton point of view, here’s Jason Wright, explaining why he didn’t think it was wrong to take money from JTF. While he is a self-described atheist, he thinks that “questions like the ultimate origin of the Universe and Natural Law may be beyond scientific inquiry,” and correspondingly in favor of dialogue between science and religion. To be as clear as possible, I have no objections at all to dialogue between scientists and religious believers, having participated in such and planning on continuing to do so. I just want to eliminate any possibility that my own contribution to such a dialogue will favor any position other than “religion is incorrect.” (Obviously that depends on one’s definition of “religion,” so if you want to indulge in a boring discussion of what the proper definition should be — be my guest.)

From an anti-Templeton perspective, here’s Jerry Coyne, who doesn’t accept that it’s okay to draw a line between JTF itself and distinct organizations that take money from them. (Jerry’s post is perfectly reasonable, even if I disagree with it — but a short trip down to the comment section will give you a peer into the mind of the more fervently committed.) That’s fine — I admit from the start that this is a complicated issue, and people will draw the line in different places. But let’s admit that it is a complicated issue, and not pretend that there are any straightforward and easy answers.

One thing that seems to bother some people is that I agreed to be on the Board of Advisors for Nautilus, a new science magazine that takes funding from Templeton. It’s instructive to have a look at the Board of Advisors for the World Science Festival, another organization that takes funding from Templeton. It’s a long and distinguished list, and here are some of the names included: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Pinker, Steven Weinberg. Are these folks insufficiently sincere in their atheistic worldview? Alternatively, would the world be a better place if they all resigned? I would argue not, for the simple reason that the WSF does enormous good for the world, and is an organization well worth supporting, even if I don’t agree with all of their decisions.

Refusing to have anything to do with an organization that takes money from a foundation we don’t like is easier said than done. What about, say, the University of Chicago? Here they’re taking $3.7 million from Templeton for something called Expanding Spiritual Knowledge Through Science: Chicago Multidisciplinary Research Network. And here’s $5.6 million from Templeton for a program labeled New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology, celebrating “a unique opportunity to honor the extraordinary vision of Sir John Templeton.” And here’s $2.2 million for a program on Understanding Human Nature to Harness Human Potential. Not to mention that the UofC has quite a prominent Divinity School (home of the best coffee shop on campus) and Seminary. (They also denied me tenure, which doubtless set the cause of reason and rationality back centuries.)

There’s no question that the University of Chicago has done much more to promote the cause of religion in the world than Nautilus has — which has been, to date, precisely nothing. One could say, with some justification, that some parts of the UofC have promoted religion, while other parts have not, and it’s okay to be involved with those other parts. But we begin to see how fuzzy the line is. Big grants like those above generally put a fraction of their funds toward “overhead,” which goes into general upkeep of the institution as a whole. Can we really be sure that, as we walk across the lawn, the groundskeeping was not partially paid for by the pernicious Templeton Foundation?

But that doesn’t mean that self-respecting atheists employed by the UofC should instantly resign. I’m sure you could play the same game with most big universities. The world would not be improved by having thousands of atheist professors abandon their posts out of principle.

It’s much more sensible to be a consequentialist rather than a deontologist when it comes to these ethical questions. I’m not going to stay away from Nautilus, or the World Science Festival, or the Foundational Questions Institute, out of some fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine according to which they have become forever tainted by accepting money from Templeton. Rather, I’m going to try to judge whether these organizations provide a net good for the world; I will complain when I think they are making a mistake; and if I think they’ve gone too far in a direction I don’t personally like, I will disengage. That’s the best I think I can do, according to my own conscience. Others will doubtless feel differently.

11-ticklebear4u.com-IGRAINE-LOLCAT

  1. Not sure if you are counting how many are “with you” and how many “against you” on this issue with Templeton, but if you are you can add me to those 100% “with you”.

    I’m a lifelong outspoken atheist and always appreciate scientists taking some time to try to explain how science is about finding facts and religion is about indoctrinated belief with no factual back-up.

  2. I posted the following on the wrong blog; I believe it is more suited to this new blog post. Please excuse my oversight.

    Science and religion share the same origin, mystery, hence, mysticism; as such they are classically entangled and absolutely resistant to decoherence. Both science and religion are generally ruled by priesthoods and both deny the fundamental (historical) role of mysticism. Unlike priests mystics don’t preach, rather, they wait and it would seem the waiting is over. Mystics are in the process of demonstrating the compatibility between science and religion and this process cannot be thwarted; its time has come!

    People who deny the compatibility of science and religion either don’t properly understand science, don’t properly understand religion, or some combination thereof. This being a scientific blog I’ll briefly discuss religion.

    Religious works, such as the Christian Bible, are esoteric texts; they’re written in the twilight language. Improperly translated (but sufficient for present purpose), the twilight language is the language of metaphor. This is to prevent harm befalling those who are not yet spiritually (mentally) evolved enough to handle the information contained therein. The relative truth underlying religious stories has been universally distorted. Some have done so with pure motive, i.e. to protect the knowledge and spiritual beings underprepared for that knowledge, and others with impure motive, i.e. in the pursuit of power and wealth.

    The Christian Bible was completely reworked after a Christian sect managed to convert Emperor Constantine (313 C.E.). Although this is controversial amongst historians it really shouldn’t be. The modifications were perfected and authorized during the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. The Christian sect which managed to convert Emperor Constantine took the name Catholic which, literally translated, means universal. Their objective, which becomes obvious in light of their name and their repugnant history, was world dominance, hence, their motive impure. And look at what they have become, a community of pedophiles and protectors of pedophiles.

    The forefathers of modern science, the alchemists, often spoke of turning lead into gold; this is a metaphor. It refers to the same process, a psychophysiological process, which Jesus Christ referred to when he metaphorically spoke of being twice-born, once of the flesh and once of the spirit (mind). Humans, spiritual (mental) beings, “fall” into a state dominated by the physical when born into this physical world. As such we are dominated by three primary concerns: physical survival; physical reproduction; physical dominance or will to power. The mystic dies to this physically dominated state and is “resurrected” or “born again” into the spiritual or mentally dominated state; this is a return to the enlightened point of origin, hence, a return to Source.

    There are different processes which all yield the twice-born state but religions are all founded on the stories of virgin mother/hero savior pairs. The virgin mother is a woman who has never compromised her heart, a woman pure of heart, i.e. Mary (Christian), Parvati (Hindu/Vedic/Tantric), White Buffalo Calf Woman (Lakota Sioux), etc. The hero savior is the male counterpart to the virgin mother; he sees the Source made manifest in the virgin mother (spiritual mother) and immediately falls in love. In the pursuit of that love he discovers the Source within himself.

    The journey to this realization is long and arduous and it can happen in a couple of different ways. There are three guardians at the gate to illumination: duty; fear of death; desire for life. The hero savior does whatever necessary in his personal context to overcome duty. Briefly thereafter he encounters the virgin mother and the mother immediately disappears from the hero’s life. After a period of nine months the hero is given a choice: accept the boon offered and leave the journey or continue. Heroes who accept the boon offered are somewhat common; those, like Jesus Christ, Shiva, Krishna, etc., who choose to continue, experience an additional period of spiritual growth terminating on the hero’s biological day of birth. This is the nadir of the mythological round. At this point it could be said that the hero is intellectually or philosophically enlightened and it is at this point that the hero goes to the cross. That is to say, it signifies the commencement of the supreme ordeal. The supreme ordeal is the confrontation with fear of death (reasonably easy to overcome) and desire for life (a real bitch).

    This journey is described rather well by the Arthurian Romances where the virgin mother becomes a chalice bearing the knowledge of everlasting life. In the Tantric tradition the virgin mother is the “ferry across the ocean of existence.” The ‘Lapsit exillis’ refers to the divine seed, the philosopher’s stone, the golden embryo. This physically resides in the hero’s prostate gland resulting in a physically dominated existence (think of the lower three chakras). The whole point of the journey is to transfer this “seed” to the pineal gland resulting in spiritual (mental) enlightenment (think of the upper three chakras). The heart chakra is the Gate to the Garden of Eden, so to speak. This knowledge is tens of thousands of years old. It represents one of the oldest recognized patterns in human history and informs the longest continuous scientific experiment in human history (the contemplative tradition).

    Consider the knowledge of Hermes Trismegistus as presented in the Corpus Hermeticum in a book called, interestingly enough, Krater or The Cup:

     “Tell me then, father, why did God not impart intellect to all men?
     It was his will, my son, that intellect should be placed in the midst as a prize that human souls may win.
     And where did he place it?
     He filled a great Krater with intellect, and sent it down to earth; and he appointed a herald, and bade him make proclamation to the hearts of men, ‘Dip yourself in this Krater, you who are able; you who believe that you will ascend to him who sent this Krater down.’ Now they who gave heed to the proclamation and were baptized in intellect, those men got a share of gnosis.”

    The Krater is the virgin mother! Women do not have such a vast chasm separating the profane from the divine; the Golden Embryo is already, for the most part, resident in the pineal gland of women. This is why their prostate gland (Skene’s gland) is so miniscule! Woman is the Tree of Life; Man is the Tree of Good and Evil. In woman the opposites are, for the most part, harmonized – think of it as complete symmetry. For after all, both the river of life (ovulation) and the river of death (menstruation) flow from their bodies. The masculine creative principle (sperm) unites with the feminine creative principle (egg) within the bodies of women bringing forth new life! This is why the virgin mother leads the hero savior on his journey of spiritual (mental) enlightenment.

    When the journey is successfully completed the virgin mother and the hero savior are united in holy matrimony; this is the origin of marriage. The virgin mother and the hero savior are soul mates; they represent the scale-free binary pattern permeating all of existence, the solar physical and the lunar mental.

    For the last 400+ years science has concentrated on the solar physical. The transition now taking place will include the lunar mental. All of existence, including the Multiverse, has both a mental and a physical component. Mystics take this for granted but priests tend to refute it. But then mystics are enlightened, priests tend not to be.

    I commend the Templeton Foundation for the work they’re doing. For certain esoteric knowledge, the historical basis of both religion and science, deserves a seat at the table; the table is, after all, round! Esoteric knowledge is knowledge of the absolute; scientific knowledge is knowledge of the relative; a comprehensive understanding should include both. This is the Buddhist Theory of Two Truths. His Holiness the Dalai Lama (a recipient of the Templeton Prize), working in conjunction with Emory University, is integrating a math and science curriculum into the standard fare utilized by his monks and nuns (http://scienceformonks.org/). Watch the documentary The Yogis of Tibet (http://www.theyogisoftibet.com/) and then imagine the yogis therein with a full working knowledge of math and science!

    You know, the only research program adversely affected by your refusal to accept Templeton funds is your own – it’s something to ponder!

    Some other things to ponder:

    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html
    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2006/02/meditation-found-to-increase-brain-size/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thich_Quang_Duc

  3. I guess Templeton want scientists also for the philosophy of them being ‘inside pissing out rather than outside pissing in’. Perhaps they don’t worry about scientists being inside pissing inside.

  4. Just a reminder that one can be a “self-respecting atheist” without thinking that all religion is a social evil, or recoiling in horror at activities perceived as “promoting religion”.

    The idea of an “atheistic worldview” that requires knee-jerk hostility toward religion is an unhelpful canard. So is your preferred definition of religion, according to which religion is “incorrect”.

    Religion can be studied as a set of social behaviors or as a symbol system used in moral discussion and the raising of children. To regard it solely or even primarily as a set of beliefs about the natural world is to miss most of its phenomenal reality. Sorry to be boring!

    I don’t like Templeton, because they promote the idea that religion aims at knowledge. I wish they would divert their resources toward fighting fundamentalism, which is the only real problem underlying all these controversies.

  5. I find it fascinating that this entire string is about the use of money to promote a preferred way of thinking. Isn’t that one of the biggest problems that arises from organized religion? If atheism and faith are different ways of appreciating the world, and different ways of negotiating it, then there is no right answer to the question of which is better, and really the only time of them is objectionable is when dogma determines action, rather than honest negotiation. It is a personal and environmental decision as to whether faith or atheism works better for an individual’s cognitive style. If the question is whether religion or naturalism are more correct, the answer depends on the question being asked.

    This entire debate is not about whether atheism or faith is better, it is about the political and financial promotion of one point of view over another, i.e. religion as a social promoter of certain beliefs, as opposed to secular groups undertaking such promotion. Does it really matter where the money originates if it serves a purpose? Does JTF ac5tively promote one way of thinking over another?

  6. RE: Wes Hansen I completely disagree.

    If you look at religion at a very general level yes you can reconcile it with science it is when you get to the details of what it means that you run into problems. The idea that the mind of a Mystic can understand reality by just thinking and experiencing is predicated on the idea that the human conscious is transcendent to begin with which basically turns these argument into tautologies.

    I agree that the origins of the motivations for religious and scientific inquiry come from the same need to understand and put meaning to things. Just because two ideas com from the same need doesn’t mean that they are equally valid.

    By saying that science is ruled over by a “priesthood” is laughable. Yes you do need to make s study of the related material but anyone who can support their clames can overthrow an entrenched idea in science but in religion and mysticism even if you are well versed in the subject you are dismissed and labeled an outsider and in some areas possibly killed.

    The biggest difference in Religion/Mysticism what ever you want to label it is the approach to what we “know”. Religion places pure thought, faith and belief as the arbiter of truth and knowledge. Science places repeatable observation and experimentation in the place of criteria for what is valid or not.

    I find the argument that you need to be religiously mature enough to understand various writing like the Hebrew, Christian bible an empty and self fulfilling argument. It is basically the sam as saying if you really understood it you would agree with me so since you disagree you must not understand it.

    Having studies a number of religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity I do not see any truths coming out of them that don’t exist in secular contexts. They are all basically philosophic attempts to explain the world as it is through thought and conjecture placing the final definition of reality beyond our physical world making it by definition unknowable and untestable.

  7. Sean,

    I don’t quite understand such level of enthusiasm in claiming that “religion is incorrect” that you appear to be engaging in every now and then. Have you ever studied religion seriously enough to consider yourself competent for such a strong and sharp claim?

    I remember a conversation that I once had with a wanabee-scientist (i.e. a crackpot) about general relativity, and some of his claims that there is a better theory (soon to be developed from his ideas). At one point he said something on the lines of “I certainly don’t need to take a course on general relativity in order to conclude that it is incorrect, it is quite obvious!”, after which I saw no point in continuing the conversation.

    While I am not a person who blindly follows authority, I would take your claim that religion is incorrect much more seriously if you actually had a degree in theology (do you?). Otherwise, you can easily come across as a “theological crackpot”, claiming that all religion is garbage without actually knowing what you are talking about. If that happens, people will stop taking your claims seriously. Why do you risk getting yourself into such a position?

    Best, :-)
    Marko

  8. Marko: When religions make statements that have direct effects on the physical world they can be compared against scientific theory as well as tested. The statements that have supposed quantifiable real world results violate many ideas in physics and those that have been tested have all failed.

    Sean is just applying the same skepticism for fairies and elves to religion. I do not have to be an expert in the mythos of fairies and elves to without hesitation say that there are no and have never been fairies and elves.

  9. vmarko has expressed my main motivation for harassing Sean: it makes scientists look bad when they seem ignorant of a wealth of empirical data on some phenomenon (here religion) about which they keep making assertions. Reducing religion to a theory about the natural world ignores the research of generations of naturalistic scholars, as well as the everyday experience of millions, even if it does express the view of some polemical atheists.

    Religious language is poetic and transactional, and reading poetry literally shows a lack of education.

    Charles LaCour: The point is not that one needs to be an “expert” in religion to evaluate it. One only needs some familiarity with the vast range of religious phenomena that don’t depend on supernatural beliefs, and with the large number of religionists who have explicitly renounced the literal interpretation of myths and legends. You don’t have to be an expert to know that Buddhists are atheists, for example; but you do have to know something.

  10. @ Charles:

    “When religions make statements that have direct effects on the physical world they can be compared against scientific theory as well as tested.”

    I know of no such statements, at least unless they are very badly misinterpreted. The tricky thing about religion is that one can easily fall into a trap of interpreting statements literally (things like “god created the world 6000 years ago”, or such). It is similar to situations when a cosmologist says in a popular lecture “the universe was created by a big explosion of a primordial egg of matter”, and the audience starts imagining a hot chicken-sized egg sitting in empty space and exploding at some moment.

    This situation is particularly bad in the US, with all the Protestant congregations and churches having each their own interpretation and understanding of what Christianity is supposed to be, and even encouraging people to interpret the Bible themselves. It leads to a big messy mix of religion, superstition, prejudices and sheer human stupidity. I can certainly understand Sean and you (and many others) not bothering to disentangle that mess. But claiming that religion is incorrect only because some people have mixed it with a bunch of bullshit is flat out wrong.

    Every major religion has a serious, proper interpretation (sometimes more than one, like interpretations of quantum mechanics :-) ), and this is often quite non-obvious. This requires to be thoroughly studied before one can claim that religion makes testable predictions about the physical world. I am not familiar with any religion that makes such claims.

    “Sean is just applying the same skepticism for fairies and elves to religion.”

    This is just a consequence of ignorance. Religion can be compared to fairy-tales as much as theoretical physics can be compared to astrology and alchemy. It is like stating that all of theoretical physics is a bunch of garbage because planets certainly cannot have any influence on my faith through my birthdate. Is that a fair assertion? Hey, I am applying skepticism to theoretical physics, like you apply it to religion. :-)

    This is usually done by people who do not distinguish religion from superstition, magic, and such.

    “I do not have to be an expert in the mythos of fairies and elves to without hesitation say that there are no and have never been fairies and elves.”

    You are rephrasing the same line of thought as the crackpot scientist I talked to: “I certainly don’t need to take a course on general relativity in order to conclude that it is incorrect”. On the contrary, you *do* need to have a reasonable amount of knowledge about the myths of fairies and elves, if you want to discuss them seriously. At the very least you need to understand the terminology, definitions and main assertions about them (and maybe some history, interpretations of myths, usage in popular culture, etc.), before proceeding to draw conclusions about them.

    In short, do some research on the topic before you start making claims about it.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

  11. vmarko,

    scientific evidence proves that history according to religion is false. There are certain religious historical claims that directly violate history as it is described by science. You are put in a situation of having to choose 2 versions of history; history as it is described by science or history as it is described by religion. Science also explains away many of the pillars of religion. You stopped listening to the crackpot because he had zero evidence to support his claim that relativity was incorrect. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that religion is incorrect. The first and most recited being the timeline of religious events (through various religions) and what we find using scientific measurement not matching any of them. The age of the earth for example. If you’re a cosmologist, you would obviously not believe in something that directly violates some of the fundamental ideas in your field.

  12. Show me a cosmologist that believes the earth is 9,000 years old and I’ll show you one of the many fine employees of Lense Crafters.

  13. @ Meh:

    “There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that religion is incorrect. The first and most recited being the timeline of religious events (through various religions) and what we find using scientific measurement not matching any of them. The age of the earth for example.”

    Have you ever read the tale of the three little pigs and a big wolf? I’m sure you know the story — the first pig made a house out of grass, the other out of wood, and the third out of brick. The wolf would come, say something like “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house away!”, and would blow off the grass house and the wood house, but was not able to blow off the brick house.

    The story has a very important point, and children are being taught about it all over the world, in virtually all primary schools, for a very good reason.

    And then you come around and say that the story is dead wrong and should be dismissed, since nobody has ever saw a pig making brick houses, nor a wolf that can talk and blow strong wind. Sure, of course, technically you’re completely right. In addition, you have also completely missed the point of the story.

    There is this thing called “allegory”, and it is heavily used in religious texts. And for a good reason. But I guess nobody around here knows *why* religious texts are written purposefully allegorically. And that is the crux of my question to Sean — some people have actually bothered to *study* the concept of religion, and know that allegory has a very important role in expressing ideas. Allegories are being used in almost all aspects of human life (except in science), and ignoring them as a way of expression is just… well… ignorant! :-)

    “If you’re a cosmologist, you would obviously not believe in something that directly violates some of the fundamental ideas in your field.”

    I am actually engaged in an area of physics which is as closely related to cosmology as it can get (without actually being cosmology). But if you have ever read some serious text discussing how the Book of Genesis in the bible should be understood, you would never even try to compare its contents to cosmology. Apples and oranges stuff… 😉

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

  14. Meh: The Bible contains myth, legend and history. Most of what’s in Genesis is myth and legend, so it’s pointless to treat it as history or scientific hypothesis (“age of the earth”). Some books like Kings contain numerous elements of historical truth; of course miraculous elements are added, and also they sometimes get things wrong. It’s not at all a question of “two versions of history”, merely of ancient documents and how to evaluate them. But first you have to quit confusing myth and history. Yes, the ancients often confused them. Can’t we be smarter?

  15. “The world would not be improved by having thousands of atheist professors abandon their posts out of principle”

    Are you so sure of that? Sounds like a religious belief to me.

  16. I need to buy some of your books, you’re such a lucid writer and thinker. Well said in this post, I agree 100%

  17. If Templeton puts restrictions on the prize money–say, that you have to promote the view that science and religion are compatible–and you agree and accept, then you could be criticized as selling out. But if there are no restrictions and you can use the money to promote views opposite to those of Templeton, what is there not to like? Deontologist ethics often seem to involve shooting yourself in the foot.

  18. As long as your writing remain as rational as it is now then I don’t have a problem who you work for – within reason :)

  19. vmarko,

    I respect your position, but you’re changing the subject in order to avoid the fact that there is a clear cut reason why Sean says “religion is incorrect”…because religion is factually incorrect. That’s the answer to your original statement I commented on. You’re line of reasoning can basically be summed up as:

    vmarko: I would take your claim that religion is incorrect much more seriously if you actually had a degree in theology (do you?)
    meh: (butting in) he makes that claim because it is proven incorrect with overwhelming evidence. Either religion is correct or science is correct in many instances.
    vmarko: oh no no, you misunderstood, I was talking about something different from than the factual integrity of religion when I said…”I don’t quite understand such level of enthusiasm in claiming that “religion is incorrect” that you appear to be engaging in every now and then. Have you ever studied religion seriously enough to consider yourself competent for such a strong and sharp claim?”

  20. parables may be allegory, and allegory may be used as the cover for the blatant faults in religious logic in modern times; but what’s the excuse for all those years religions claimed they were 100% factual stories (aside from mentioned parables)? i.e. history before 1950 A.D.

  21. To those who claim that the Bible should not be taken literally, I submit the fact that it was until it started to conflict with science.

    Metaphor? Allegory? Metaphor or allegory for what?

  22. And if a person needs a degree in theology to truly understand religion, then that means anyone who isn’t a theologian doesn’t understand it. By that logic, religion is a waste of time which most people don’t understand and should abandon. The reason why we should completely abandon religion becomes obvious if it’s purpose is to guide followers through life; because its’ meaning is lost if you aren’t a theologian! It is thereby completely ineffective in its purpose unless you dedicate your career to it.

  23. @vmarko:

    You quite amuse me by putting the Three Little Pigs story and religions into the same pot.

    Because you are right, you see.

    :)

  24. And to equate theoretical physics with religion is stupid, IMHO.

    Nobody says that you shall go to hell if you don’t accept ST.

    Although there are some who would very much like to send you there.:)

  25. N.

    We aren’t talking about theoretical physics or string theory or comparing religion to any science. We are talking about every branch of science being fundamentally incorrect if religion is assumed to be correct. There is no possible way around it; either science is correct which makes religion incorrect by default, or religion is correct which makes science incorrect.

  26. I’m a science fan. I continue to be dismayed by other science fans getting their facts wrong! It’s utterly incorrect to say that all religionists were literalists before 1950, or before 1600. Philo promoted allegorical readings of the Bible 2000 years ago. The Talmud is full of such readings. Maimonides wrote a book in the 12th century giving non-literal meanings for every key term. Ever hear of Spinoza? How about an example of someone saying “Don’t take it literally, it’s the morality that matters” 2800 years ago? That would be Hosea and Amos. Then there was a teacher named Jesus who emphasized the same points.
    Philip Helbig: Metaphor for MORALITY. Got it? (And by the way, millions of people know the answer to this question. No degree in theology is needed. Only those who remain willfully ignorant on the subject could ask it.)

  27. One more point that seems too obvious, yet folks like Meh can’t seem to get it: religious literature can only be “incorrect” if it is taken literally. But it isn’t intended that way, nor is it understood that way by many of the most respected religious authorities. The narrative in your head about all religionists being literalists, at least until 1950, is a made-up fairy-tale.

  28. Gabe,

    that simply isn’t true. There have been a handful of people here and there until around the 1950s ( I think that’s actually pretty generous, because it’s more like the 1990s ). If you don’t want to accept that then you don’t want to accept it, and there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind. But I will argue that even today, 90% of those who are religious take their religion to be a literal translation. We see less of that attitude in 1st world countries where education is considered mandatory, but in places like India, Mexico, Brazil, most of Africa and the Middle East, etc… it is taught as a literal word for word translation of events thought to be factual accounts. Most Americans who are part of a religion take it to be a literal translation as well.,

    To say that it is not intended to be taken literally is to continue the long tradition of religious manipulation via lies and ignorance. Since you’re naming historical figures, how did things turn out between the Catholic church and Galileo? how about Copernicus? You conveniently forgot them. Religious organizations treated the founders of science so poorly simply for their ideas because they ever so slightly questioned a few of the literal translations of the bible. To say that religion has never been taken literally is to be either completely ignorant of history or willfully deceptive.

  29. To correct my previous statement; to say that religion was never intended to be taken literally is either completely ignorant of history or willfully deceptive.

    I would also say that using a fictitious biblical figure such as Jesus in order to support the idea that the bible was not intended to be taken literally is an extremely irrational argument rooted so deeply in irony that it leaves me bored with the entire debate.

  30. @ Meh:

    “I respect your position, but you’re changing the subject in order to avoid the fact that there is a clear cut reason why Sean says “religion is incorrect”…because religion is factually incorrect.”

    Religions, or more precisely the religious teachings, have never even claimed to be factually correct. I completely agree with you that — if you are interpreting religion as having a factual integrity — it is completely wrong. Religious teachings never claimed factual integrity in the first place. But when Sean says “religion is incorrect”, it is a much broader statement than “religion taken at face value and interpreted literally is incorrect”. I completely agree with the latter, but completely disagree with the former. And when Sean makes such a vague but sharp claim, a lot of people are going to misunderstand him, either by interpreting his words as “science has proved that god doesn’t exist”, or as “Sean is a crackpot and doesn’t have a clue what religion is actually about”. Or something in between these two extremes. In most cases, Sean’s statement will come across in a wrong way. My question to Sean is why isn’t he a bit more careful in such statements.

    So no, it’s not me changing the subject, it’s you over-specifying Sean’s original claim.

    “but what’s the excuse for all those years religions claimed they were 100% factual stories (aside from mentioned parables)?”

    The religious teachings have never claimed factual correctness. The problem was that laypeople sometimes interpreted religion in that way, given the absence of better explanations regarding natural phenomena (back in previous centuries). When science developed enough to provide answers to most of the questions about nature, some of those people gave up literal interpretation and went back to the initial proper teachings, while others decided to stick to a (fundamentalist) literal interpretation. And because of that, today you have a messy mix of all sorts of stuff that people around the world believe in. But if you ever bother to take a serious scholarly book on religion, you will find out that there was never any aim at factual integrity and correctness, or explanation of natural phenomena. You will find out that the only topic religion is talking about is human relations. Religious teachings are about morality, human psychology, social behaviour, and such. Not about facts of nature.

    “And if a person needs a degree in theology to truly understand religion, then that means anyone who isn’t a theologian doesn’t understand it. By that logic, religion is a waste of time which most people don’t understand and should abandon.”

    I claim that most people on this planet don’t understand most of physics. Should physics be abandoned because of that? Moreover, is physics incorrect because most people don’t get it right?

    “The reason why we should completely abandon religion becomes obvious if it’s purpose is to guide followers through life; because its’ meaning is lost if you aren’t a theologian! It is thereby completely ineffective in its purpose unless you dedicate your career to it.”

    The purpose of the institution called “church” is to help laypeople understand religious teachings better. That’s what preachings are for, that’s what rituals are for, that’s what all “religious practice” is for.

    A physics-undergraduate learns physics by (a) reading textbooks, (b) visiting lectures given by experts (from popular science lectures to more serious and sophisticated courses), and (c) solving exercises from problem-books and doing homework problems (given by teachers). In the same way, a religiously uneducated person should (a) read scholarly books about religion, (b) visit lectures given by experts in theology (from elementary preachings to more sophisticated serious lectures), and (c) practice religious way of life (through rituals, services, and implementation of religious guidelines in daily life). Given enough time, proper religious teachings can be learned.

    Of course, this process is never perfect — a lousy lecturer will produce lousy students, whatever the topic. :-)

    But not understanding religious teachings from the get-go doesn’t mean that it loses the point. Priests are usually somewhat more knowledgeable about religion than laypeople, and their job is to help people understand religion better. It’s similar to what Sean and other popularizers of science are doing — helping laypeople understand physics a bit better. Priests have the analogous duty. //N.B.: Discussing how good priests are in communicating religion to people is an entirely different topic… 😉 //

    “To say that it is not intended to be taken literally is to continue the long tradition of religious manipulation via lies and ignorance. Since you’re naming historical figures, how did things turn out between the Catholic church and Galileo? how about Copernicus? You conveniently forgot them. Religious organizations treated the founders of science so poorly simply for their ideas because they ever so slightly questioned a few of the literal translations of the bible. To say that religion has never been taken literally is to be either completely ignorant of history or willfully deceptive.”

    I think you got this the wrong way around — the people who *did* take religion literally were manipulative liars and oppressors of freedom of thought. Religious teachings have often been abused by such people. But this is a problem with people abusing religious institutions to gain (or maintain) political power, rather than the religious teaching itself. What you are saying sounds like we should abandon the knowledge of nuclear physics because some idiots (ab)used that knowledge, made nuclear bombs and killed a lot of innocent people. If you have a problem with miss-application of religious teaching, go fight the people who are miss-applying it, rather than fighting the concept of religion itself. I completely agree that religious fundamentalism has brought more evil than good, but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon religion altogether, or claim that it is incorrect. It just means that we need to help people get better education in what religion is really about.

    Getting back on topic, I see the Templeton foundation trying to do precisely that — get experts in both theology and science to educate laypeople about both religion and science. On the other hand, Sean is dismissing all that and favours the fundamentalist approach of “religion is incorrect”, trying to abolish the concept of religion altogether, without bothering to seriously understand what he is talking about. He is dangerously close to being interpreted as a crackpot. I don’t understand why he does this — being a serious scientist that he is, I am sure he knows to do better than that.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

  31. Gabe Eisenstein: What emperical data? I have yet to see any emperical data that conclusivly shows religion as an accurate explination for observations.

    Just because millions of well educated people believe that Mohammed accended into heave on a whinged horse doesn’t make it true. No does the experiences of millions of people who have seen/felt ghosts or had out of body near death experiences make them real either.

    Language can be poetid regardless if it is religius or secular. Just because somthing is said poetically dosen’t make it any truer than anything else.

    Unfortunately after an atheist shows some knowledge about religion often the argument given by a believer to an atheist basically boiled down to: you don’t understand because if you did you would believe.

    Saying “Buddhists are atheists” is like saying “Christinas belive that the earth is less than 10000 years old”, only partially true. I will agree that Buddism started as a atheistic philosophy and portions of Biddism are stil that way but there are portions of Buddism that believe in the idea of celestial bodhisattvas that are incarnations of the Buda that have achieved enlightenment but refrain from completly trancentding samsara to help others on the path of enlightnment. How is this any differnt than having gods?

    vmarko: I am not referring to the literal errors in religious doctrinal literature, these can be explained away by saying that they are just allegorical tales. What I was referring to are that most religions are theistic and have a god that is present and active in our world. Because of this they make claims that their god(s) have an effect on and interact with the natural world. These effects are contrary to what what is defined by physics. This has nothing to do with extraneous stuff added to the bible and other pieces of religious literature.

    For someone who is already a believer in religion of course you see a difference from fairy tails. However at a time much later than when the Hebrew or Christian bibles were written people had stories about fairies that they believed and offerings were placed to keep fairies happy and keep them from causing mischief just like many polytheistic religions. We have moved forward enough to understand the actual causes and not have to believe in fairies. Both make assertions that things occur in the real world caused or controlled by entities that have super-natural abilities over the natural world of which there is no evidence supporting either of them.

    You are blowing my statement out of proportion, I am not saying that I don’t need any information about the subject to dismiss it I just don’t need to be an expert on the subject to evaluate its claims.

    By the way I have studied religion, I was born into a fairly devout Roman Catholic family and went to 12 years of catholic school. This experience is what started my questioning of religion and my looking into religions other than Christianity. I have looked at Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, a little bit of Hinduism as well as a couple forms of Pagan religions.

  32. To Wes Hansen: you’re already wrong by the 1st sentence of the 2nd paragraph…

  33. vmarko,

    That’s a lot of responses to give to a lot of convoluted arguments that seem to contradict your original statement. You say I’m over-specifying the original statement I say you’re applying it in too broad of a context, that you’ll twist words into whatever pretzel helps support you’re beliefs. I could twist the words of General Relativity to mean anything I want them to if I stick to the words, just like religious “teachings”. With that in mind, I’m done. I’m either too lazy or too busy…alright, too lazy. Until next time bud.

  34. Let’s not be naive, or even worse, obtuse. Religion is about believing in a powerful, perhaps omnipotent being who created the world and us, too, and who controls everything and if you meet certain criteria, you will live forever. Philosophy is not a critical part of religion; belief in the supernatural is. So in that respect, it is perfectly acceptable for Sean to say that religion is wrong, because it is wrong in its defining aspect.

    And, Sean, the judging any organization of system of beliefs on the basis of whether it provides a net good for the world is, in my view, the ideal. That’s the way I judge religion. If some religious organization or system of beliefs provides a net good, I do not object to it, even if I do not follow it.

  35. vmarko,

    I’m trying to understand your position. So far as I can tell, it is:

    1) any apparently factual claim in the Bible concerning the physical/material world should not be understood literally, because it was never intended by those who wrote the Bible to be understood literally.

    2) somewhere along the way people forgot this, and started interpreting the Bible as intending to describe real truths about the physical/material world.

    I have some follow up questions:

    1) Does this intention to be understood non-literally also apply to the metaphysical claims the Bible makes? E.g. when the Bible speaks about the continuation of people beyond their physical deaths, should that be understood literally or non-literally? or is it only that which might actually be open to the purview of science?

    2) How many people at the beginning of Christianity took a non-literal view of the Bible concerning natural-world factual claims? As a rough percentage. So if you were an early Christian listening to Paul give a sermon, how likely would it be that you would understand anything he said that relates to worldly events as allegorical vs actual?

    3) Was the Bible still inspired by god in some way, even though only allegorical when it comes to the physical facts? But if the answer is yes, why didn’t god just speak plainly about the physical facts of the world?

  36. @ Mark:

    “Religion is about believing in a powerful, perhaps omnipotent being who created the world and us, too, and who controls everything and if you meet certain criteria, you will live forever. Philosophy is not a critical part of religion; belief in the supernatural is. So in that respect, it is perfectly acceptable for Sean to say that religion is wrong, because it is wrong in its defining aspect.”

    Actually, I can agree that a critical aspect of religion is the belief in supernatural. It is not the *only* aspect of religion, but it certainly is essential and crucial.

    However, can you elaborate on what is the problem with this? In what sense (and why) do you consider belief in supernatural to be *wrong*? Please define what do you mean by “wrong” in this context. Also, you could define what you mean by “supernatural” while you’re at it. :-)

    If I am anticipating your answer correctly, I’ll be able to give you one very funny consequence of the definitions of “wrong” and “supernatural”.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

  37. Hello! I would like to try to point out a couple of things:
    1) Religion is not about facts regarding the physical world, i.e., it is not about science. This stems from the fact that a literal interpretation of religious works is complete nonsense, as @vmarko correctly underlined. Religious works were not compiled as investigations of the empirical world, but as representations of the human experience. That religious works have been interpreted literally can be explained by a number of factors (most notably ignorance or politics), but this does not mean the literal interpretation is correct.
    2) Religion is allegoric, as @vmarko points out, but this does not mean that it can be interpreted arbitrarily. Poems are allegoric and thus require interpretation, but this does not mean that any interpretation will do; an interpretation is an act of engagement with the text, so that that text can come be understood by us, i.e., so that we can gather the meaning of the metaphors and poetic language which underlies it. And this is not an arbitrary process, as anyone who has read any poem knows.
    3) If one holds the naturalistic view that the real is exhausted by the “material”, i.e., by what can be investigated empirically by means of experiment, then I think one certainly ought to reject religion, and consider it essentially as fiction. But the argument cannot be that religion is fiction because it is factually wrong about the world, because, as I said above, this would be like looking at the finger without seeing the moon; namely, just a misunderstanding.
    4) In my opinion, naturalism (along with strict empiricism) is, as a philosophical perspective, completely untenable, but I won’t go into it here 😀

  38. I guess Sean doesn’t weigh in at this level, because we’re just debating the definition of religion, something he finds boring. He might consider, however, the level of ignorance on display here, and how it factors into his wider project of science education. A generation with an “atheistic worldview” that requires such historical and cultural ignorance will not lead to good results in the long run.

    Charles LaCour: The data I was talking about show that the bulk of religious phenomena has nothing to do with “accurate explanations for observations”, but you are locked into thinking that’s all we’re talking about. You don’t even seem to understand what poetry is, thinking that it’s to be evaluated according to its truth. Please understand: I reject supernatural explanations, am an atheist, and don’t regard the Bible as history (although it does contain some history). My point is only that to regard religion in literal terms is to misunderstand what it is and how it functions.

    Tim: don’t be so black and white. The Bible contains myth, legend, allegory, parable and poetry, compiled by ancient editors we know nothing about. When Ezekiel describes bones rising from graves, he is telling a parable about Jerusalem, and 100% of his audience understood it that way. Many other kinds of examples can be given, some of which involve large amounts of superstition and historical credulity. The Bible is a library compiled over a 1000 years. It’s not homogeneous.
    Early Christian sermons must be understood above all in the political context of the Roman Empire and the oppressed province of Judea. What fraction of the activists were actually convinced that they would triumph by supernatural aid is unanswerable (as it would be today). The Bible was not “inspired by God”. Inspiration is a psychological state in which a person feels that his artistic creations come from beyond him, because he wasn’t conscious of his intentions in the usual way.

    Meh: I gave concrete historical examples, you ignore them and just say “that simply isn’t true”. Are you aware that there is such a thing as Reformed Judaism? Do you know how long it has existed? Have you ever heard of Immanuel Kant? He wrote about religion from a naturalistic point of view in the 18th century. Why pretend to know about things you simply haven’t investigated?

  39. Gabe:

    I didn’t know I was being so black and white. I was just asking a series of three questions. I’m happy to entertain any answer given to them. But let me ask you: when the early Christians heard stories about Jesus raising the dead and walking on water, am I right to think you would claim that anywhere from most of them to 100% of them understood those reports non-literally?

    Second, were metaphysical claims (and not just worldly claims, like the timeline of creation or the performance of miracles) supposed to be interpreted non-literally too? (e.g. the claim that consciousness is not eliminated by death – intended to be understood literally or non-literally?).

    And why wasn’t the Bible inspired by god? (it’s not clear from what you wrote immediately following your making that claim why you actually think that).

  40. @ Tim:

    “1) any apparently factual claim in the Bible concerning the physical/material world should not be understood literally, because it was never intended by those who wrote the Bible to be understood literally.”

    Simply put, yes. That said, I cannot claim to know what the writers of the bible originally intended. However, the allegorical interpretations that came along afterwards are how the bible should be understood today. The “afterwards” covers a period of history during which various ecumenical councils were held, where the “official” interpretation of what Christianity means (and what it doesn’t mean) was ironed out.

    “2) somewhere along the way people forgot this, and started interpreting the Bible as intending to describe real truths about the physical/material world.”

    Again, yes. But of course — not all people, not everywhere, and not all the time.

    “1) Does this intention to be understood non-literally also apply to the metaphysical claims the Bible makes? E.g. when the Bible speaks about the continuation of people beyond their physical deaths, should that be understood literally or non-literally?”

    Sure, all metaphysical claims (like life after death) should be understood non-literally. In addition, most non-metaphysical claims should be understood non-literally as well. Thinking about it now, there are probably only a handful of claims in the bible (if any?) that are supposed to be taken at face value.

    “or is it only that which might actually be open to the purview of science?”

    My English is failing me here, I don’t understand the question. Please rephrase?

    “2) How many people at the beginning of Christianity took a non-literal view of the Bible concerning natural-world factual claims? As a rough percentage. So if you were an early Christian listening to Paul give a sermon, how likely would it be that you would understand anything he said that relates to worldly events as allegorical vs actual?”

    I couldn’t even begin to think of estimating a number. But just guessing, a fair share of people (say, more than half) would understand the allegorical meaning of the words. Note that back in those days abstract language was not well-developed, and people were used to communicating abstract ideas and concepts through examples and allegories. It was a common way of expressing ideas. Books were written in such style, speeches were given is such style, etc. The audience was more prone to understand the allegorical meaning back then than it would be today. So maybe 50% is even an underestimate.

    “3) Was the Bible still inspired by god in some way, even though only allegorical when it comes to the physical facts? But if the answer is yes, why didn’t god just speak plainly about the physical facts of the world?”

    Physical facts of the world are not the topic of the bible (with a caveat that I maybe misunderstood what you mean by “physical facts of the world”). So speaking neither plainly nor allegorically about physical facts was ever intended, in the first place. Any mention of anything that might come across as “physical fact of the world” was just a poor man’s tool to express something else, since the language of those days did not have better terminology available.

    That said, to answer the question — the official stance of Christianity is that bible is considered a “sacred text”. Whether or not this means exactly “inspired by god” I’m not sure and would need to check. Some parts of the bible certainly yes (inspired) but I’m not sure about the whole book, in total.

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

  41. Tim: I’m no expert on early Christianity, and I know more about the Old Testament. I think it’s unclear when various miracle stories got added in to Christianity. Since I don’t believe in miracles, I think that the first disciples were attracted by charisma, moral teaching and implicit resistance to Rome. But I do also think that the 1st century was a time of desperation that gave rise to an unusually high level of superstition. There were definitely professional rain-makers and “miracle-workers” around.

    Ideas about the soul are more ancient than religion as we understand it, and there is a great variability within religion. Most of the authors of the Hebrew Bible didn’t have much interest in life-after-death, and the rare apparent counter-examples (e.g. Samuel) are arguably literary (that is, not taken literally by author or original audience). So again, there’s no single answer that would apply to all cases.

    But that’s really the point: boiling a vast literary tradition down to a set of “claims” (metaphysical or physical) is to miss it almost entirely.

    As for why I don’t think that the Bible is inspired by God, it’s because I don’t believe in the existence of a God. (Although I don’t mind using god-language, when everyone understands that it isn’t meant literally.) I am as much of a naturalist as Sean or anyone else here, despite the tendency of folks to assume that anyone who defends religion must hold supernatural beliefs

  42. Marko,

    Ok I have (I think) a pretty good idea of your non-realist stance, and I have a few objections to it. For example,

    1) I don’t see why our interpretation of the Bible today needs to follow that of the first few generations of Christians. Shouldn’t whatever was intended for them by those who actually wrote the Bible’s texts be what guides our interpretation?

    For example, suppose I write a book, and suppose it becomes wildly popular and sells many copies. It’s not clear whether all the events described in the book really happened, though – some seem a little too fanciful to have happened, perhaps – and people who read it typically believe that they are just artistic tools used to evoke emotion or make a symbolic point.

    Suppose, however, that I intended people to understand them quite factually – after all, the events really did happen (or so I believe). Shouldn’t what I intended for those stories be the deciding factor in how other people understand them? If so, why is the Bible different?

    2) Other people from other cultures appear to have taken their creation and religious stories quite seriously as reports about factual truths. While we speak of them today as ‘myths’, for example, to the Vikings the stories they told one another concerning the snow giants, the after life awaiting them, and so on were all genuine descriptions of what-is-really-the-case. The same goes for the Maya, or the Egyptians, or the Greeks. Why were many early Christians something of an exception to this tendency to believe things of this same nature, then?

    3) Perhaps most importantly, what is the key evidence that supports the non-literal understanding of Christian stories by early Christians? It is a claim I have heard made about early Christianity quite often, but frustratingly it is almost never defended – it is just asserted is true.

    And it seems to me that standing against it is the fact that being a non-realist about the meaning of any story is a pretty cognitively sophisticated thing, and the period from which Christianity derives was a deeply superstitious and ignorant time when people mostly lived at a subsistence level, hand-to-mouth, were poorly educated, and most couldn’t read or write. Saying they were all non-realists attributes them something pretty sophisticated!

    Moreover, you can read the Bible and never once get the impression that it intends to be understood non-literally. If that was how it really was understood by the majority of early Christians, where are statements from them to that effect?

    [I understand that the third question might well ask for an answer that is perhaps too long for a blog post or beyond your patience to give for just one person. If so, perhaps you might mention just one or two of the really key reasons for thinking that non-literalism about the Bible / Christian teachings was mainstream in the early church? I’ll be happy to take anything here!]

    Best,
    Tim

  43. Gabe:

    I guess my question is: what stopped early Christians from believing (for example) that the Garden of Eden was a real place/actual event? (when so many people from so many other cultures and times believed things that were no less silly?). I don’t see that the implausibility of the story can be used as a reason why it wasn’t literally believed, for it would have been quite plausible to people 2000 years ago. Heck, people genuinely believe it today, sadly.

    Best,
    Tim

  44. Gabe and Marko,

    Christians by definition believe in the divinity of Christ and that he died to atone for our sins, which stems from the doctrine of Original Sin. The vast majority of Christians also believe in the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection. Do you think Christians believe this is allegory? I don’t think so.

  45. Tim: I think you’re wrong about how myths were understood by most cultures–I don’t see anything special about Christianity. Have you ever read Joseph Campbell, Elaine Pagels, et.al.?

    In the Talmud it is said that Rabbi Akiba (from roughly the same era as early Christians) entered the Garden of Eden. Do you think that is meant literally? Every interpreter I know thinks it means that he had a mystical experience; for that is the subject of the surrounding material. The Talmud writers felt free to speak this way because they didn’t regard Eden as a physical place, and didn’t think they were misleading anybody about some miraculous journey that Akiva undertook.

    What we’re finding here, I think, is that the vast heterogeneity of religions and religious literature make most generalities pointless; all we could profitably do would be to look at many examples in depth. Some would turn out to be superstition, some not, and a big gray area in between.

  46. Gabe,

    I haven’t read Campbell or Pagels, no (though I believe I have heard Pagels mentioned in other books). What do they argue?

    I don’t see how the Garden of Eden being a metaphysical place that one can mystically visit shows that it was only allegorically understood. In fact, understanding Eden as a metaphysical place supports my side of things: it was understood as a place that one could visit, even if mystically rather than physically, and not merely as a literary device useful for articulating a point.

  47. The Garden isn’t a metaphysical place, it’s a PSYCHOLOGICAL place. And that’s what a mystical experience is, a psychological event. Like an epiphany. It’s been studied scientifically since William James, this is not news.

    Campbell researched the similarities among world myths, and explained them in psychological terms. Millions of people have watched his shows and are familiar with his non-literal interpretations.

    I also noticed two other misconceptions…

    1. “you can read the Bible and never once get the impression that it intends to be understood non-literally” — only if you read it very poorly. I already gave the example from Ezekiel, and many other such examples exist. Not to mention the poetry, songs, etc. Do you think that lions and lambs getting along is meant literally, or is it really about different kinds of human beings getting along? How many people do you think ever believed it was really about animals?

    2. “being a non-realist about the meaning of any story is a pretty cognitively sophisticated thing”–not at all, children do it easily. Taking all language as univocal and referential is the weird modern way of thinking. As Marko has been saying, in the ancient world people were more sensitive to multiple levels of meaning than they are today.

  48. Gabe,

    In the context of the discussion we’re having, it begs the question to say that mystical experiences are psychological rather than metaphysical – unless you can show that ancient Jews, Christians and Muslims all understood their mystical experiences as purely psychological and no more, that is.

    Re: misconception 1 – I can absolutely imagine lions and lambs getting along being meant literally rather than non-literally. There are people alive today who believe exactly that. And this is today – in 21st century. Now imagine taking a portal back in time to the bronze age when a far deal less was known. What are the chances of them being any more sensible about that?

    Re: misconception 2 – children will genuinely believe in the existence of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy simply because they are told about them.

    I promise I am not trying to be annoying, but all I see are assertions to the effect that people who lived in the bronze age were more sensible and cognitively sophisticated when it came to understanding the Bible than people today, in the sense that they were able to avoid believing it literally. I see this as a psychologically improbable claim, and if I am to accept it I am going to need some pretty good evidence to that effect. Whenever I do hear that claim made, though, I mostly only ever hear it just assert as true. And aside from the thing about the Garden of Eden thing you mentioned (which, again, I think actually supports realism over non-realism), I haven’t seen anything in this thread yet to back it up. Until I do, I am inclined to continue to look doubtfully upon it.

    I am more than happy to read anyone you might refer me to who you think makes the strongest case for religious non-realism – just tell me where to go for that.