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Charles Darwin’s discovery was surely great. But let’s not dismiss all other thinkers – Aristotle or Socrates, say – who came before him

G G Simpson, quoted by Richard Dawkins, suggested that the great thinkers of antiquity are now worthless

By on Monday, 6 August 2012

A sculpture of Darwin outside Bradford Town Hall made out of sand (Photo: PA)

A sculpture of Darwin outside Bradford Town Hall made out of sand (Photo: PA)

This is the opening paragraph of Professor Richard Dawkins’s famous book The Selfish Gene, quoted in its entirety.


Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilisation, is: “Have they discovered evolution yet?” Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. To be fair, others had had inklings of the truth, but it was Darwin who first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist. Darwin made it possible for us to give a sensible answer to the curious child whose question heads this chapter. We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G G Simpson put it thus: “The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.”

I said the other day that there was something about it that made me sit up and take notice.

Working out the reason for your own existence is certainly the mark of an advanced society or an advanced individual. This is what Socrates did – he reflected on his own existence, and he came to a remarkable degree of self-understanding. He was the one who remarked that the unexamined life was not worth living. Aristotle, too, believed that self-reflection, what he called phronesis, was the highest possible human activity. Aristotle was of course a biologist, and much of his life was spent in observing not just himself, but nature too.

But neither of these men knew of evolution, though they may have had inklings of the truth. In fact the Greeks, though very advanced in mathematics and philosophy, were at a practical level poor scientists. They did not even invent the arch, even though they could predict eclipses and study the planets (quite an achievement, considering they had no telescopes).

My point is that the Greeks, though ignorant of many scientific achievements of later generations, were not the sort of people that one should dismiss; yet that is exactly what the quotation from G G Simpson, within the quotation above, seems to do.

The year 1859 – the year of Darwin’s great scientific discovery – surely is an important year, even a watershed. But to dismiss all the centuries that come before seems mistaken. But it has to be said that this is a common mistake. Human beings love to see certain events as key, and somehow changing all that went before. Perhaps one can see the Darwinian moment as marking a paradigm shift (I have no problem with that), but should one see it as the greatest paradigm shift ever, which is clearly what Professor Dawkins believes?

All this reminds me of the way that his contemporaries reacted to Isaac Newton. Alexander Pope wrote:

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.

This implies that Newton’s discoveries were more or less the most important thing since the creation of the world – though it is worth remembering that Pope was famous for his irony.

The problem I have with seeing Darwin as the inaugurator of a new age (though he undoubtedly was that in a sense) is the implication that everything that went before was gravely lacking. Not only are Aristotle and Socrates worth treasuring – they represent human achievements never bettered in certain important respects – but it is also true to say, surely, that Darwin did not come from nowhere, and that he, too, like all of us, was a product of his time. In other words, without the pre-history, without those who went before him, Darwin himself would not have been the man he was.

So, in reply to G G Simpson, one would have to say that what preceded the year 1859 simply cannot be ignored. Not even Darwin started from scratch. No one does.

  • JabbaPapa

    Interesting revision of history, shame it doesn’t fit with two pertinent facts.

    1) The indictment and sentence of Galileo includes this statement …

    There were two factions at the Vatican — one led by the Pope, supporting Galileo ; another opposed to his views.

    When Galileo published his thesis in a manner insulting the Pope, and insulting the opinions of the contrary faction, the opponents of Galileo’s theories gained the upper hand and so he was condemned.

    2) Just why did your pope apologise?

    Because the entire incident was utterly shameful.

  • JabbaPapa

    Creation and Creationism are non-identical.

  • Acleron

    So the cardinals who signed the indictment and sentence lied. I wonder why that doesn’t surprise me. 

  • JabbaPapa

    Please give details of your personal revelation.

    Sorry, no.

    It’s personal, not public.

    It’s not peer-reviewable, nor is it reproducible in lab conditions.

    More generously — it’s nothing that I’m able to share even with other Catholics, with the partial exception of my Confessor.

    The revelation provided no special messages for the Church nor the rest of mankind.

  • Lazarus

    ‘But Catholics believe that they know better than Jesus and St. Paul!’
    Nope. We just believe that the Church knows better than karlf at al. how to interpret Jesus’ and St Paul’s words. That’s because it’s guided by reason and the Holy Spirit rather than ignorance and blind prejudice.

  • Lazarus

    That’s misunderstanding the nature of a claim of metaphysical necessity.

    If I postulate the creation of the world last Thursday, it is (ex hypothesi) a redundant explanation: it explains no particular feature of the observable world (as does a scientific explanation); nor is it required as a matter of metaphysical necessity by the very structure of the world (as is, say, the Cosmological argument).

    Put it another way. If we postulate the creation of the world last Thursday, it might in principle solve some scientific questions (even if, in this case, ex hypothesi, it in fact didn’t.) It couldn’t in principle solve the metaphysical question of (eg) what explains the existence of any causal chain (as Aquinas’ First Cause argument does).

  • karlf

    Then why is it that you don’t answer my questions below?

  • karlf

    Please tell me more

  • JabbaPapa

    So as I said earlier, it’s all in your mind and you don’t know if your entity is real or not.


    The God is here with us, and your disbelief is a wound in His very soul.

    Either convert to the Faith or find yourselves in the sight of the Almighty.

    We have not been made to live in this world alone.

    (and that’ll teach me to try and contradict God)

    I can further conclude that it has a very low probability of any effect on reality

    As you are aware, probability is based on mathematical data.

    Please can you link to your data.

    But as it something totally within your mind


    have you ever considered that what others claim in your religion may not be the same revelation?

    Have you ever considered that you haven’t the faintest idea about any of this ?

    If you were honest, you would admit that you could never know if they were the same.

    I am honest, and your insult is not appreciated.

    I affirm the Truth of the Catholic Faith.

    It may perhaps be an emergent property of some simple process in the
    brain. This would explain why catholics are born into catholic families
    and muslims into muslim families and rarely the twain exchange.

    What a load of idiotic fact-free rubbish !!!!!

    If pigs had wings, could they fly ?

    The above would also explain why you cannot comprehend the difference
    between not believing in a deity and believing a deity doesn’t exist.
    The latter of course, not being a property of an atheist.

    Your failure to realise that I understand this difference very precisely, as an ex-agnostic, is not conducive to respect on my part for your analytical abilities.

  • Scrappydoo

    its surprising that  Fr ALS doesnt actually quote Darwin himself on the issue of the value of those who came before him and Aristotle in particular:

    “Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways, but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle.”

    In fact, Darwin`s thoughts on Aristotlean philosophy and the teleological aspect of his work is an area of significant interest.

  • Acleron

    You just have some bare assertions again. You have had a personal revelation, one not available to anybody else. You have no idea if what you experience is the same as anyone else, in the same way that you cannot determine if the colour red appears to you in the same way as to anybody else.

    If you understood the difference between not believing in a god and believing a god doesn’t exist you wouldn’t keep blathering about atheists believing and following doctrine. 

    As to probability theory,  have a much further and deeper grasp of it then you do, as will be evident when I correct your errors about homeopathy.

  • theroadmaster

    We know that genes the hereditary components of organisms can survive environmental dangers as well as well as viruses.  Such activity outside the visual spectrum of humans indicates that there is a law of nature which operates on both a micro and macro level i.e adaptibility is built in to the genome of life from the minutest organisms to complicated mammals.  We can speculate where this mechanism came from as it surely did not originate from a dark, meaningless void. We can observe and describe the mechanics and history of the survival of the species which survived climatic changes, natural disasters,etc over many millennia, but it is a different thing to trace this process back to the source which willed it.  We cannot talk about it simply as Nature, as this is an impersonal force which is meaningless in terms of a living intelligence.
    You describe my framing of evolution in terms of ascent as a “egotistical fallacy”.  It is no such thing, as man has evolved to the point where mental powers has enabled him to build cities, civilizations, master the arts, music etc and achieve space flight.  Thus clearly he has reached the very top of the ladder of evolution in terms of mental and physical achievement and not by accident.

  • Acleron

    If you understood the null hypothesis you would have instantly seen that the claims of homeopathy are clearly testable.

    But first, one correction about homeopathic preparations. Most are formulated in hundred fold dilutions called ‘C’. There is a small chance that a 12C preparation could contain any active material. the chances of say a 30C preparation containing any of the original material is essentially zero. It is extremely unlikely that all the 30C preparations ever made  have ever contained active material. Homeopaths make up all the usual excuses and in this case they point to the lower dilutions, but as homeopathy claims that the more dilute the material becomes the stronger it becomes that excuse doesn’t work.

    As to clinical trials, many have been performed. Homeopaths will point to poorly performed low quality trials and claim success. But the reality is that when the higher quality trials are carried out, no difference between the active and placebo preparations are found within the probability limits of that trial (Shang et al). These are usually assessed at 5% confidence levels. This means that on average 1 high quality trial in 20 of trials that consist of placebo vs placebo will show positively. This does not mean that there is a hope that homeopathy can work, or that it can work in certain circumstances, this is purely a function of the errors inherent in variation of people and measurement. 

    It is really irrelevant to the above discussion but the placebo effect is quite a minor aspect of treatment and most can be accounted for by regression to the mean. IE, in the minor self limiting disease states treated by homeopaths, people just get better.

    Similarly, the claim that intercessionary prayer has any effect at all is clearly testable. The null hypothesis was easily determined and the measurements made. Same result as for homeopathy.

    The interest is not really in these discredited claims but in the excuses afterwards. the excuses you have given above have all been seen uttered by homeopaths. I recently commented in the CH how similar was the illogical arguments put forward by homeopaths and theists. I didn’t realise how soon an example of just this would occur.

  • JabbaPapa

    Doncha just llluuuurrrrrrrvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeee these NuAtheists expecting to be taken seriously ?????? !!! ???

  • JabbaPapa


  • JabbaPapa

    Oh why don’t you just bloody well use google like a normal person !!!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Then why is it that you don’t answer my questions below?

    Because your “questions” are idiotic ?

  • Acleron

    Darwin evolved a theory to explain the species, their distribution, differences and similarities. He didn’t speculate about abiogenesis except in one aside when he mentions an origin in a warm pool.

    ‘We cannot talk about it simply as Nature’
    Yes we can and not only have we done so, it has been spectacularly successful. It shows that no hidden mystical presence is required to explain any of it. Given any mutable inheritable system that can operate in different environments, then selection must occur and evolution follows. All the quite mind boggling diversity we observe, and observe more of every day, is perfectly explainable by a relatively simple piece of logic. It required someone Darwin’s abilities to understand it and we have all benefited from his insight.

    I know it is necessary for you to think that humanity is in some way special (made in the image of etc) but it isn’t true. Physically there is not a single trait in which we are better than any other animal. We have attained achievements that others cannot match. But this isn’t the only measurement of success. Let’s look at others.

    Fecundity: we are beaten hollow by any bacteria in that area. Incidentally, did you know that only 10% of the cells in your body are human? Not much of a pinnacle really.
    Life expectancy: The single cell amoeba is essentially immortal, but you probably object to that example so what about the bowhead whale with a life span of approx 200 years.
    Species survival time: Here the example is the coelocanth which has been around some 400 millions years.

    So the only advantage man has appears to be the larger brain. But that has problems as well, the baby at birth has to be born early so the larger head can pass the birth canal properly. The larger brain also appears to give us higher degrees of disease in that organ, hence the financial worth of psychologists and psychiatrists. It uses 20% of the energy of the whole body, a heavy load indeed. It also allows us to create conditions such as AGW which we can then argue out of repairing and preventing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like being in the Homo sapiens and have a fond regard for the others in the same group (evolutionarily bred into me) even though I sometimes despair but to call it the top of evolution is just laughable.

  • karlf

    As a non believer I ask you questions about your faith (a subject in which you should know a good deal more than I) and see what happens! “ignorance” “prejudice” “idiotic” etc. etc.
    Not very impressive

  • Lazarus

    Poor, Karl. I’ve tried to offer answers to any questions you’ve raised -although, having some other responsibilities, I can’t guarantee always to do this. I’m not sure what questions you’re referring to: if it’s your constant theme about how Jesus is a literalist about the Bible, I have answered this point again and again: a) you’ve offered no evidence of this; b) any evidence you purport to have turns out to be nothing of the sort; c) Judaism of Jesus’ time certainly was not confined to literal intepretations of the Bible; and d) the Bible is interpreted by the Church which will guide us on how to read any tensions or ambiguity in the text.

    There’s a limit to how often the same point can be repeated again and again. In the end, I’m not sure whether you’re genuinely interested in an answer and are simply unable to deal with the answer given  as a result of some block, or whether you’re simply enjoying the game of rattling a few cages. If the latter, in the end, you’re simply cheating yourself. As I’ve said before, the only advice I’d give you, if you are serious rather than just playing, is to try and read and think about these issues as deeply and rigorously as possible rather than indulging in the Punch and Judy Show of combox exchanges. It depends precisely what you’re interested in, but on the general area of theism, I’d recommend (as I have many times before) Smart and Haldane: Atheism and Theism.

  • Daclamat

    Mt 5.22

  • Lazarus

    I’ve responded in general terms above, but specifically on the question of Biblical interpretation, it shouldn’t need saying again and again that you’re assuming that the Bible should be self-interpreting. It isn’t for Catholics and never has been. Jesus founded a Church, and, as part of that Church, a collection of writings was brought together as being particularly authoritative for the Christian. But that collection -the Bible- was never meant to be taken on its own apart from the interpretative authority of the Church.

    You won’t accept this -because the point has been made again and again by myself and others and you seem to regard it as some shabby exercise in wriggling out of a commitment to scripture. But this is and has always been the position of the Catholic Church: we can’t be blamed for the bibliolatry of sola scriptura Protestantism.

    And if I am annoyed -and I’m not sure I am!- it’s not by the challenges as such, but by the growing suspicion you’re just yanking my chain rather than making a serious effort to engage in a dialogue. 

  • theroadmaster

    Man may not be the creature with the longest live span  and is indeed vulnerable to various life-threatening diseases and conditions.  Life can be a lottery in that respect.  It is possible to  compare humankind with any number of other animal species and find our kind wanting.  For example, one knows that a cheetah or race-horse will outrun any human over 100m as these animals are literally built for speed.  It is a question of genetics and body form.  But the one standout factor, which you think is merely one among many, is the mental facility which has allowed him to reason and thus adapt to and effect his environment in a much more profound way than any other species in the animal kingdom.   It has given him an advantage which more than compensates for the corporeal and mortal limitations which he has to deal with.  You do not believe that there is any Divine agency guiding the genetic changes and mutations which have enabled certain species to survive until the present day, but again we have to account for the unguided  changes as postulated by neo-Darwinists if there is apparently no intelligence at work behind the scenes.  Is it nature adapting and steering the course of events?  But what is behind it, as  Nature logically cannot be self-correcting and progressive if there is no external agency effecting it.

  • Acleron

    ‘Is it nature adapting and steering the course of events?  But what is behind it, as  Nature logically cannot be self-correcting and progressive if there is no external agency effecting it.’
    Nature cannot steer the course of events and there is nothing behind it.

    We can see that evolution happened and we can see that Homo spp is just another rather recent addition.

    We can see that if there is a mutable depot of information and this interacts with the environment then selection occurs. Nothing else is required. There is no need for any guiding hand, no designer and no deity. The details may be complex but the principle is elegantly simple. Exactly the same process can be modelled and the only change affecting the system is the environment.

    The limitations of our brain were laid down by evolution. We evolved on the plains of Africa and had to deal with animals running at metre/sec scale velocities and kilogram masses. That is why very few people can literally think in the extra dimensions which are the reality at high mass and velocities, or the probabilistic nature of the very small which is the reality of the very small. If we are so special, why did we evolve with just the characteristics required for those African plains?

    And why did we end up with so many physical faults? 

    Evolutionary mechanisms explain all these characteristics and require no intervention by anything except changes in the environment.

    You are correct in that I have no belief in any deity, indeed I try hard to restrict any beliefs to as few a number of axioms as possible because it gives a great insight into the universe. But I’m quite capable of considering the existence of such an entity. There is no evidence of such an entity in any of the physical laws, or in any of the emergent sciences such as biology or chemistry or indeed in evolution. In fact the only area of the natural world for it to have an effect is the early universe. Now while it appears unlikely in the extreme that anything could be done billions of years ago would have a specific effect now such as evolving Homo, it cannot be entirely ruled out. But it is extremely unlikely and is part of the reason why Dawkins and others put the probability of it’s existence so low as to be safely ignored.

  • Thérèse

    St Bernadette of Lourdes said “To the believer, no explanation is necessary; to the non believer, no explanation is sufficient”. However, there are many documented miracles at Lourdes.
    Any doctor of the whole world regardless of creed or colour is free to investigate the evidence of the Medical Bureau of Lourdes. If the Bureau is satisfied that the cure appears to be genuine at the end of a second investigation (at least twelve months after the first) the case is then referred to the Medical Commission in Paris. This Commission, composed of eminent physicians and surgeons, studies the case on the evidence of the medical documents and from a purely technical stand point. The Commission makes a thorough study of the documents, certificates, results of examinations, x-rays, bacteriological analyses and everything to do with the case. The Commission calls in whatever specialists may be needed. After this examination the Commission may reject the cure or accept it. The Commission never uses the word “miracle”. It merely says, “We find no natural or scientific explanation of the cure.”
    If this is the finding of the Medical Commission, the cure is then sent on to the bishop of the cured person’s diocese with the recommendation that a Canonical Commission be appointed to investigate it. It is the Church that must decide whether the cure is a miracle. The Church authorities are even stricter than the doctors.
    The Lourdes Medical Bureau has files of five thousand cures for which they can find “no natural or scientific explanation,” but the Church is so strict that, of these five thousand alleged cures, only sixty-two have been declared miraculous.

  • karlf

    the belief that the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation, as in the biblical account, rather than by natural processes such as evolution.
    If Jesus did not believe this (and Matthew 19 is good evidence that he did), what were his beliefs on the origins of man?? Please answer Jabba.

  • theroadmaster

    We can see that if there is a mutable depot of information and this interacts with the environment then selection occurs. Nothing else is required. There is no need for any guiding hand, no designer and no deity. The details may be complex but the principle is elegantly simple. Exactly the same process can be modelled and the only change affecting the system is the environment.

    So you think that the subtle changes wrought by Natural Selection are no more than reactive without any obvious signs of intelligence at work within it.   Thus it is self-regulating without any need to appeal to a Divine interaction.  It seems purpose driven to me and just did not come about in a haphazard fashion as a response to climactic changes.  Materialistic explanations seem a cop-out to me.
    The limitations of our brain were laid down by evolution. We evolved on the plains of Africa and had to deal with animals running at metre/sec scale velocities and kilogram masses. That is why very few people can literally think in the extra dimensions which are the reality at high mass and velocities, or the probabilistic nature of the very small which is the reality of the very small. If we are so special, why did we evolve with just the characteristics required for those African plains?
    And why did we end up with so many physical faults?

    For all the supposed limitations on our brains, mankind has still managed to create great civilizations, masterpieces of art, music , architecture and conquer space.  Not bad going for a species with so many mental flaws.  Yes we are vulnerable to all sorts of health hazards but with all our limitations our mental reasoning takes us beyond the limitations imposed by our bodies.  Christianity ascribes a special dignity to men and women who are capable of discovering that they are more than atoms, muscle tissue and biochemical reactions.  I know that you  believe that we have no “spiritual” dimension as  believed by people of Faith, but there are such concepts as Good and evil which are not scientifically quantifiable.  What is the source for these abstract propositions which seem to have been with us since time immemorial? You quote the scientific disciplines as having disproved any existence for God.  I grant you, that there is no empirical proof as in the scientific method of experimentation, deduction and formulation.  But Faith requires a belief in a Divine Creator looks at the “reality” behind our reality, so to speak and requires a discipline such as Religion or Philosophy to inquire into this area.  Those are questions perhaps for a separate discussion thread.

  • karlf

    a) for example, I have provided quotes from the New Testament where Adam is referred to in a literal sense.
    b)what a shamefully dishonest statement
    c)you have not provided any evidence to show that the OT stories were not taken literally by Jesus’
    d) The Church has made ‘interpretations’ to suit its own purposes.

    If Jesus and his followers didn’t believe in Adam as the origin of humankind, what do you suppose they did believe it was? – why is that not a perfectly reasonable question to ask of a person such as you?

  • Acleron

    Yes, it may seem purpose driven, but examination shows that it isn’t.

    Good and evil are just labels. What do they actually mean?
    Just because different cultures may agree that certain acts are evil, other acts are interpreted according to the particular culture, that is why conflicts arise. Witches were once prosecuted with horrific consequences, the excuse being that they were evil. These days we generally consider them as slightly dotty and harmless. It would appear that evil is usually ascribed to that to which we are frightened. Now that we don’t live in intellectual (or physical) darkness and are not frightened of our own shadows, fewer actions appear evil. But assembly of invalid concepts is just another consequence of our origins. This is not surprising when we consider the evolution of the brain, it is pretty much like an Emett machine, in that it works by bolting together many different parts in a pretty inefficient manner. Another consequence of this evolution is that it took a very long time before we were able to formulate an intellectual method for examining claims about the universe. But the scientific method was finally invented and what a wonderfully simple and elegant system it is. It has given us so much and in my book stands as the supreme intellectual accomplishment. We no longer have to be frightened of comets, or defrauded by quack medicines and we can examine theist claims. A recent CH columnist complained that the recent Olympic opening ceremony didn’t include reference to christianity. But the industrial revolution was a direct accomplishment of the scientific method and changed these islands greatly. Boyle had produced a much more pertinent point in our history than the previous years. Those years weren’t called the dark ages for the weather!

  • Jonathan West

    You have to be careful with Aquinas. His First Cause is not  the tradition God of theism, still less the God as defined by the catholic church. I had a good debate with a theologian who knows her Aquinas pretty well, you might have an interest in reading it. 

  • The Raven

    a) No you haven’t, as has been pointed out to you repeatedly on the other thread.

    b) Is just abuse.

    c) You’ve already been directed to the Pauline letters, Philo and other examples, as well as the slightly later quotation from Origen – your state nt is simply untrue.

    d) The Church that He founded has only repeated the teachings that we have received from St Paul and the Apostles – if you can adduce evidence that the position of the Church has changed on this then do so.

  • JabbaPapa

    Please don’t explain the undoubtedly bizarre and twisted string of logic leading you to make that dubious assertion — I’ve a bad enough headache as is.

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re not “asking questions” — you’re making statements, and refusing to accept that those statements are wrong, despite the fact that there is a unanimous agreement that they are inaccurate representations of the Faith.

    Of course, given the contents of this latest post, the balance of opinion must surely shift towards considering you as yet another of the tedious atheist trolls.

  • Lazarus

    Apologies, Jonathan: I can’t find your exchange without wading through 19 pages of comments on the Grauniad (and I’ll leave that to my time in Purgatory if you don’t mind!). However, if someone is telling you that Aquinas’ understanding of God is not that of mainstream Catholicism, they are misleading you. Ed Feser’s post on the difference between classical theism and theistic personalism might help:

  • Jonathan West

    Either here or on another thread, I’ve described what Richard Swinburne means by “necessary existence”. Basically is is existence which has no explanation.

    I’ve noticed that there is a great confusion about what is meant by “necessary” in the context of God and his existence, so to avoid that confusion, could you explain what you mean by “metaphysical necessity”?

  • Acleron

    It’s a noticeable characteristic of yours to back off quite simple dichotomies. Either the indictment is correct, in which case you were giving us a load of cobblers, or you were correct in which case whoever drew up the indictment lied through their teeth and were supported in this endeavour by the cardinals who signed it.

  • Lazarus

    Yes, certainly. Metaphysical necessities are propositions that are true in virtue of the the nature of things (and thus can be contrasted with the necessity of analytic propositions which are true by virtue of the meaning of words): the difference between necessity de re and necessity de dicto.

    The status of God as existent (metaphysically) necessarily follows from his nature: given what God is, he necessarily exists. Given what I am, it is not the case that I necessarily exist. This is why I am a contingent being.

  • Jonathan West

    I see. it’s heretical. That doesn’t meantthat prayercan’t be studied. You are saying that it mustn’t be studied, which is something quite different.

  • JabbaPapa

    Mt 7:5

  • Acleron

    There are many reasons why people are appear to be cured.

    1) Diagnostic tests have four cases, truly negative, truly positive, false negative and false positive. So a percentage of cases are misdiagnosed. Interestingly, doing more tests doesn’t solve this problem as all that happens is that a smaller percentage agree with the latter two cases but a higher percentage falls into the former two. So a certain percentage, the false positives will not in fact initially suffer from the disease.

    2) Diagnosis by clinical examination falls into the same four cases.

    3) Spontaneous remission causes many disease states to recover with no intervention.

    4) The placebo effect. This can include the first three causes but a very small number of people will show recovery just because any treatment has been given.

    5) People are actually receiving medical treatment. Strangely, even when people are under treatment, they will ascribe any recovery to some external cause.

    This is why carefully controlled clinical trials are used to assess effectiveness, without them, no conclusions can be drawn. Part of the control of such a clinical trial is the blinding of both patient and physician to prevent bias.

    Certain situations do not require clinical trial. If a single person regrew a complete limb and evidence could be shown that it was severed in the first place, that would be pretty heavy evidence that something had happened. But there seems to be no more evidence that this happens at Lourdes than in the general population.

  • theroadmaster

    “Good and evil are just labels. What do they actually mean?
    Just because different cultures may agree that certain acts are evil, other acts are interpreted according to the particular culture, that is why conflicts arise. Witches were once prosecuted with horrific consequences, the excuse being that they were evil. These days we generally consider them as slightly dotty and harmless. It would appear that evil is usually ascribed to that to which we are frightened. Now that we don’t live in intellectual (or physical) darkness and are not frightened of our own shadows, fewer actions appear evil. But assembly of invalid concepts is just another consequence of our origins..!
    Your depiction of such concepts as “Good” and “evil” as invalid does not match up with the reality of the experiences of people who encountered such “Good” as in the merciful, selfless acts of a Mother Teresa or the “evil” clearly that was present as the nazi death camps WW11. You cannot measure these conditions in a strictly scientific sense, but only in a truly metaphysical sense. The concepts have bothered philosophers and thinkers from the earliest classical times in Greece and Rome and since the dawning of the Christian era with the Church Fathers. We cannot escape the implications of these two very powerful forces of Nature, if you will, and their effects on our conduct, common laws and morality down the centuries. We instinctively know what they are about. But where did this order of Nature come from It certainly pre-dates man, and was only discovered by him as his intellectual powers grew with his brain over some 200,00 years.
    You mention “Boyle” as one of the great scientists. I take it you mean Robert Boyle (1791-1867), who gave his name to the eponymous law which describes the action of gases, as in “Boyles Law”. He was a believing Christian of deep Faith and he did not see any conflict between his Theism and the claims of Science. Geraldo

  • Acleron

    I gave you an example of why ‘evil’ is just a label and means different things to different cultures yet you claim we instinctively know what they mean????

    And a  woman who tells a dying man it is better to suffer than prescribe painkillers, isn’t ‘good’ in my book. See how these labels are just rather useless labels? They probably suit your leaders because they are so vague but from years of indoctrination will produce the correct Pavlovian response in their subjects.

    And it is because they are useless they have so much discussion, this is a consequence of the hold that religion had on this country. We have a rather unsavoury history but justified this with such slogans as ‘God for Harry, England’. Since we have got rid of the excesses of the church we can take a more dispassionate and compassionate view of how we should deal with people both within our country and externally. But we still have throwbacks such as Blair who justified killing so many Iraqis with ‘god will judge me’.  So no, they are not fundamental forces of nature, just labels used to frighten people

    I was actually speaking of the architect of the opening of the Olympic games, Danny Boyle.

    Robert Boyle was indeed a good scientist although Boyle’s law wasn’t his hypothesis, he just popularised it, incidentally he was criticised for his work by a certain Francis Line. I see no input into his work from his theism or in fact in any other scientist. Those scientists who allow their beliefs to affect their science are rarely correct. In fact, I am not aware of any part of science that has been contributed by theism.

  • theroadmaster

    You less than convincingly speak of “Good” and evil as “labels”, even though I gave you two concrete examples to encapsulate what they mean. You then use the term “Pavlovian” in a rather desperate way to describe the Christian doctrine behind those concepts. There is nothing “vague” about these concepts when one encounters them in real life. Acts of forgiveness, mercy, kindness etc are clear examples of “Goodness” while murder, rape and robbery represent “evil”. One does need to have a prolonged debate those case definitions. I think your example of “mercy” rather typifies a bleak, dark and utilitarian vision of life as distinct from the holistic vision of the hospice movement which treats very seriously ill patients holistically in mind, body and soul and do not dispatch them before their natural end. I mistakenly took your reference to the name “Boyle” as Robert Boyle the scientist as distinct from Danny Boyle, the organizer of the opening of the present Olympic Games. It was an honest mistake. You erroneously state that there was no theistic influence on any of the famous scientists down the years If you knew anything about the Jesuit order, you would know that they made valuable contributions to astronomy, geology, etc. Here is a list of some of those particular gentlemen- José de Acosta, S.J. – 1600: Pioneer of the Geophysical Sciences François De Aguilon, S.J. – 1617: and his Six books on Optics
    Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J. – 1787: and his atomic theory
    Christopher Clavius, S.J. – 1612: and his Gregorian Calendar
    Honoré; Fabri, S.J. – 1688: and his post-calculus geometry
    Francesco M. Grimaldi, S.J. – 1663: and his diffraction of light
    Paul Guldin, S.J. – 1643: applications of Guldin’s Rule
    Maximilian Hell, S.J. – 1792: and his Mesmerizing encounters Athanasius Kircher, S.J. – 1680: The Master of a Hundred Arts Francesco Lana-Terzi, S.J. – 1687: The Father of Aeronautics
    Francis Line, S.J. – 1654: the hunted and elusive clock maker
    Juan Molina, S.J.- 1829: The First Scientist of Chile
    Jerôme Nadal, S.J.-1580: perspective art and composition of place Ignace Pardies, S.J. – 1673: and his influence on Newton
    Andrea Pozzo, S.J. – 1709: and his perspective geometry
    Vincent Riccati, S.J. – 1775: and his hyperbolic functions
    Matteo Ricci, S.J. – 1610: who brought scientific innovations to China John Baptist Riccioli, S.J. – 167I: and his long-lived selenograph Girolamo Saccheri, S.J. – 1733: and his solution to Euclid’s blemish Theorems of Saccheri, S.J. – 1733: and his non Euclidean Geometry Johann Adam Schall von Bell, S.J. – 1669: Astronomy and the calendar Christopher Scheiner, S.J. – 1650: sunspots and his equatorial mount Gaspar Schott, S.J. – 1666: and the experiment at Magdeburg
    Angelo Secchi, S.J. – 1878: the Father of Astrophysics
    Joseph Stepling, S.J. – 1650: symbolic logic and his research academy André; Tacquet, S.J. – 1660: and his treatment of infinitesimals Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S. J. – 1955: and The Phenomenon of man Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. – 1688: an influential Jesuit scientist in China Juan Bautista Villalpando, S.J. – 1608: and his version of Solomon’s Temple Gregory Saint Vincent, S.J. – 1667: and his polar coordinates
    Nicolas Zucchi, S.J.- 1670: the renowned telescope maker Geraldo

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Thank you very much, I knew nothing of that.

  • Jonathan West

    That there are some unexplained cures among those who have visited Lourdes is no surprise, and doesn’t in any way provide evidence of miracles.

    Some years ago, there was a study in Australia, keeping track of what happened to about 5000 cancer sufferers whose cancer had progressed to the point where attempts at treatment of the disease had been abandoned and who were on palliative care only.

    The average survival time from being placed on palliative care to death was about 6 months. But around this average there was wide variation, some died within days, some weeks, some more than a year. And in a very small proportion of cases (less than 1%) of the patients were still alive after 5 years.

    Now, if you look at those cases alone and draw a target round them, you might think that their survival is miraculous. But when you look at them in the context of all the cancer patients followed, you find that they are just at the extreme end of a continuum. 

    Quite a large number of sick people visit Lourdes. Moreover, most of those who visit Lourdes believe in the possibility of a miraculous cure. That there might be 62 cases sufficiently odd to have been declared miraculous doesn’t in the least bit surprise me. Some may be the result of diagnostic errors such as Acleron has described, others are simply the extreme end of the range of responses to disease.

    If anybody among the Australian 5-year group had visited Lourdes, no doubt the doctors would be examining the case for evidence of a miraculous cure. But is it a miracle if the same thing were to happen to an atheist who never visited Lourdes. I have no doubt that the 5-year group includes such people.

    By the way, don’t tell JabbaPapa that doctors at Lourdes are examining cases for evidence of miracles, that’s far too much like looking for evidence for the effectiveness of prayer, which he regards as heretical.

  • Acleron

    But you failed to explain why the word ‘evil’ is given to a group at one time and not given to the same group on another time. Until you do, it is just a vague label to frighten the children. Oh and do the faithful jump when your leaders utter the word ‘evil’? There is plenty of evidence of the conditioned response in these columns alone.

    We can all produce great long lists of scientists and their achievements. But which achievements were contributed to by theology? (Give you a clue, none in either of your long lists).

    But one in this list makes me think you may not have read it. Francis Line was the Jesuit who criticised Robert Boyle’s work.

    There is another in your list who deserves special mention and that is Honore Fabri. Although he was a member of the thuggish Inquisition, he fell foul of them after the following statement.

    ‘As long as no strict proof for the motion of the earth has been found, the Church is competent to decide the issue. If the proof, however, is found, then there should be no difficulty in explaining that the relevant passages in the Bible must be interpreted in a more symbolic sense.’

    This is a statement of the history of your church with respect to the bible, however Fabri was imprisoned for it.

    He was a true scientist in that he accepted evidence over belief and admitted errors in his conclusions regarding the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.

    He had to publish anonymously to avoid further punishment and his record in science is marred by continually having to accommodate the irrationality of the church. One can only speculate on what heights he may have reached had been able to work in a religion free environment.

  • karlf

    “You’re not “asking questions” What a blatant untruth!
    Well, to make things a bit clearer in your fuzzy head I’ll ask a more straightforward question:
    How can you show that Jesus and St. Paul were not creationists?

  • theroadmaster

    The concepts of “Good” and “evil” are universal concepts, that transcend class, religious and ethnic identities across the world over 2 millennia or more. Socrates or Plate would have defined the cultivation of good behavior as virtue and their contributions to this debate would not have been in conflict with Christian ideas on this matter. So your charge of vagueness with regard to these concepts do not stand up, as they have pretty much have been understood across time. You ask where in my long list of scientists who believe in a creator God, did I demonstrate the influence of theology in their conclusions or outcome. But I think that you are missing the point, which is that religiously influenced scientists saw no conflict in the Revelation of God and the discovery of moons, stars, physical laws, etc. They viewed these realities as representing the beauty and logicality of God’s Creation.
    Your point concerning Fabri’s criticism in relation to the movement of the Earth vis-a-vis theological interpretations, do not prove or disprove the proposition for a Creator God. If it was not for the universities and marriage of Reason and Faith by the Church in the Medieval period, the conditions for Science to blossom during the Renaissance and Enlightenment period may never have taken off. Geraldo

  • karlf

     How can you demonstrate that Jesus and St. Paul were not creationists as the Bible shows them to be?

  • karlf

     How can you demonstrate that Jesus and St. Paul were not creationists as the Bible shows them to be?