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July 28, 2011

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So is the “secular worldview” you refer to simply the idea that humanity once enjoyed harmony with nature that was destroyed with a significant change in the way we interacted with nature? What exactly is the point of calling this a “secular worldview”? Is that a way of saying, “Pssst, listen up mature Christians. Don’t you go believing this”? Or is there something about it that I am overlooking that is plainly at odds with anything remotely resembling Christian faith? If the claim is simply that humanity once enjoyed more extensive harmony with nature than it does now, and that it lost this harmony through emphases on agriculture, then for all I know that could very well be an historical fact.

Don’t get the impression that I endorse this myth. I don’t, simply because I don’t know enough about history to have an informed opinion. But there is nothing upon hearing it that strikes me as inconsistent with a Christian perspective or worthy of the label “secular.” The Genesis account itself depicts humanity as originally enjoying harmony with nature that is destroyed through the fault of humanity and which leads to harsher working conditions. The first city mentioned in the Bible is mentioned in Genesis 4, and it was built by none other than that murderous tiller of the ground, Cain. Would one merit the label “secular” for believing that behind this myth of Cain and Abel is the thought that the shift to a more agricultural society augmented violence and competition?

What puzzles me about your remarks is not your incredulity toward the myth, but rather the “secular worldview” that you have sniffed out in it.

CONSPIRACY!

On a related note, especially to Malenbranche, a recent peer reviewed study done by NASA scientists have shown that previous simulation based climate models are way off. The new study uses observed data to conclude that our atmosphere is much more efficient than alarmists thought, releasing more energy from the atmosphere into space, earlier after peak values than alarmist models predicted.

A press release here gives a good summary:
http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/new-paper-on-the-misdiagnosis-of-surface-temperature-feedbacks-from-variations-in-earth%E2%80%99s-radiant-energy-balance-by-spencer-and-braswell-2011/

And the actual paper can be found from the press release. Is this, too, more conservative Christian conspiracy? Well?

So is the “secular worldview” you refer to simply the idea that humanity once enjoyed harmony with nature that was destroyed with a significant change in the way we interacted with nature?

No, there are a few different things involved with this popular worldview—not held by all secularists, though it is secularist. There are other secular stories by which people live.

What exactly is the point of calling this a “secular worldview”?

Because it's in opposition to the Christian idea that, rather than being merely part of nature (an animal on equal footing with all animals) or even, as some who hold this worldview think, a blight on nature, we're actually in dominion over nature and called to cultivate the natural world. Also its view of where evil comes from (societal structures rather than fallen individuals) is completely different.

The Genesis account itself depicts humanity as originally enjoying harmony with nature that is destroyed through the fault of humanity and which leads to harsher working conditions.

Yes, but it's through sin—a moral category, not through the use of the land.

Would one merit the label “secular” for believing that behind this myth of Cain and Abel is the thought that the shift to a more agricultural society augmented violence and competition?

Yes I would, because the implication, at least in this article, is that the violence resulted from the form of society rather than from human beings themselves. The sin is the problem. This idea of a "noble savage" existing in perfect peace until some new structure takes shape and brings evil into his life is false. The evil comes from each of us as fallen individuals.

It's funny, but I wanted to explain all of this in the post when I originally wrote it, but I restrained myself because I was running out of room. I was hoping people would recognize where the differences were, so I'm sorry that wasn't clear. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to spell a little of that out.

Ok, that’s helpful. Here’s what I’ve gathered. The suspicion is that the folks espousing the sorts of remarks found in the article will be sympathetic with a worldview which affirms the following:

(a) Humans ought not to exercise dominion over nature.
(b) Evil comes from broken social structures rather than individual rebellion.

I agree with you that traditional Christian thought has largely tended to deny (a) and (b). No argument to be had there.

Here’s a friendly remark, though. An environmentalist could, it seems to me, back off from claims like (a) and (b) and endorse these more modest claims while not undermining her basic environmentalist concerns:

(a*) Humans ought not to act in ways that will ruin nature without providing some serious justification for doing so.

(b*) Certain social structures seriously (not exclusively) contribute to at least some instances of significant human evil.

Claims (a*) and (b*) are far more modest, and I think (a*) is actually entailed by traditional Christian theism.

@Malebranche
The genesis account depicts humanity in harmony with God, and nature with itself. Being part of the naturally world, we would naturally be out of harmony with it after the fall, but so are many other organisms--and they don't grow crops.

No argument to be had there.

We agree! Excellent.

As for your point (a) at the end, I think the difference would be in the motivation, the view of the position of humans in relationship to nature (in terms of priority and role), and what each group would consider "ruining." For example, the DDT issue is one where environmentalists, in an effort to protect nature, got DDT banned all over the world, leading to the deaths of millions due to malaria that could have been prevented.

Amy,

For example, the DDT issue is one where environmentalists, in an effort to protect nature, got DDT banned all over the world, leading to the deaths of millions due to malaria that could have been prevented.

Well if we knew beforehand that there was a non-negligible chance of something like that happening, then I would say that is pretty disgraceful.

As for the relationship we bear to nature, I suspect that you would agree that such an issue includes both metaphysical and ethical elements.

On the metaphysical end, there are a variety of metaphysics of persons that have been defended in the Christian tradition. At least all of the following have been defended by Christians:

Animalism: You and I are, most fundamentally, animals. When the human animal sitting in my chair came into being, I came into being, and when it ceases to exist, I will cease to exist, precisely because I just am the human animal sitting in this chair typing. It is metaphysically impossible, therefore, for me to exist in a disembodied state, since animals are essentially embodied.

Cartesian Dualism: You and I are, most fundamentally, non-physical thinking substances (i.e., minds) that are related in a special way to a body. When I, a non-physical mind, choose to raise my arm, normally my arm is raised. This physical event is the causal consequence of an exercise of will on the part of a non-physical mind. It is metaphysically possible, moreover, that I exist in a disembodied state.

Neo-Lockeanism: You and I are, most fundamentally, persons, not animals. Personhood emerges in an animal whenever the animal achieves a certain level of consciousness, and that person’s persistence through time is a matter of having a series of conscious states that stand in the appropriate relations to each other (e.g., memory relations, similarity relations, causal relations, etc.). I came into being, therefore, not when the animal in this chair came into being, but rather when the person came into being, and I may, through a complete loss of consciousness, go out of existence even though the animal in this chair continues to exist.

We could add Leibnizian idealism to the list, but this will do. I mention these only to point out that with respect to metaphysics, there are a variety of views that are consistent with the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Peter van Inwagen has defended animalism, Descartes and William Lane Craig defend mind-body dualism, and of course John Locke defends a version of the neo-Lockean view of persons. I don’t necessarily take myself to be disagreeing with you in saying this, but it seems to me that mind-body dualism is certainly not the only viable option available to the theologically responsible Christian. So I hope that folks aren’t persuaded into thinking that dualism is the only game in town for a Christian who wishes to assert that humans have more intrinsic worth than mosquitoes. Aristotle himself endorsed this version of human supremacy with no appearance of inconsistency, and he was certainly no dualist.

I don't know whether substance dualism is theologically necessary for Christians, but it does seem to me to be practically necessary for Christians because it's the only way I can imagine for there to be any continuity of identity between death and resurrection. I remember years and years ago in my first philosophy class reading about John Locke's view of identity. He didn't think it was possible for anything to have two beginnings or to cease to exist and then come back into existence. So I wonder how his view of personhood would square with his view of death and resurrection. I don't remember him ever addressing that subject.

I don't know what Locke thinks, but Trenton Merricks has addressed the issue of the resurrection from an animalist perspective. You can find his remarks on the topic here:

http://pages.shanti.virginia.edu/merricks/files/2010/05/Oxford-Handbk-Resurrection.pdf

Everyone has a worldview... every worldview follows the same basic structure: 1) Creation (Why are we here? What is our purpose/ideal state?); 2) Fall (What has gone wrong? What happened to frustrate our ideal state?); and 3) Redemption (How do we fix what went wrong and return to the way things should be?)


Everyone? Really?

My worldview, I guess, is that I don't like the idea of worldviews. I'm interested in knowing things - as far as I can - and in fitting things together - when it seems justified.

These 'worldviews' amount to unjustified extrapolations as far as I can see. I'm as unconvinced by 'the Christian worldview' - and I'm unconvinced by any comprehensive alternative to.

If Percy would define my stance as a 'worldview' she's welcome to it. But I don't find the term useful if it goes that far. It just means religion as far as I can see.

1) I don't know why we're here - or if, in fact, there is a reason.
2) I don't like everything that is but I don't know that anything has 'gone' particularly 'wrong' or that there ever was an 'ideal' state.
3) I don't know if there is A way things should be.

Call it a worldview if you must.

RonH

1) Creation: No creator. We evolved by random chance out of matter. (No ultimate purpose we need to conform ourselves to, nothing beyond the physical, no person constraining our choices.)

2) Fall: The superstition of religion makes people irrational and even dangerous, and it puts false restraints on us, preventing us from being free to create a society based on our own science-informed preferences.

3) Redemption: The world will be saved when we leave religion behind, embrace science, create our own identities and lives (without being tied to any ancient book's prescriptions) and spend our money and resources where they really matter in relieving physical suffering.

How's that? :-)

Amy,

First, that's not me. I already told you about me.

Second, even if it were, does it really rise to 'worldview' status?

1) I don't find the evidence for creator convincing. Period. I used to believe in ESP - based on Rhine's testimony. Now I don't. Rhine's evidence doesn't stand up to criticism.

2) On the whole, I'd guess religious people are a bit more irrational than non-religious. Just a guess. I have no idea about dangerous. Aren't there science-informed-truths we could employ? Why preferences?

3) I guess the world could/might be a bit better off without religion. Or worse. Depends on what people do instead. If there's a right religion that would matter. If the ancient book was right, well, same thing.

Want to know why (if not for the sake of my 'worldview') do I bother with all this?

RonH

Your view of the world always rises to "worldview" status. That's what a worldview is.

And I'd love to know why you do this because that would be the answer to #3. :-)

Is there a more impoverished worldview than one that denies it exists?

Amy,

What are the :-)'s all about?

RonH

I'm not sure exactly where you're getting that naturalists have a Fall mythology.

I am not aware of a single naturalist who lays the sole blame of all wrong doings in the world on religious irrationality. And no naturalist believes that there was an original pure state that we have fallen from. In fact naturalists hold that there's been pain, bloodshed, fear, loss and terror for as long as creatures existed that could have these feelings. Our ancestors lived in a constantly changing environment; An ice age that slowly gave way to our climate. However those changes were natural, and not due to their fault. So where's the fall as the blame for our current condition?

I can see that you can take some things humanists would label bad (fundamentalism, irrationality, environmental destruction) and call that 'the fall'. However it doesn't have the same structure as the mythological account of evil given in Christianity. A paradisical starting state with a morally responsible man, who through a willfull action corrupts that state and ensures that all born from him suffers his tendency to do bad.

It doesn't have to fit at all points, but I can't get it to fit well on any point. Its not a mans fault that people are religious. At least long as tribes have existed, people have been religious. Its not a mans fault long, long ago that the environment is changing. Its only recently that our industry has been able to create such effects as an unintentional side effect. And we're debating each other about what's the most responsible action to take. However if that's a fall, then anything bad can be labelled a fall.

Ron, I was just being friendly. But if it helps, then :-(

Leonhard, if it helps, you can use the words 1) Origins, 2) What's wrong with the world?, and 3) How do we fix what's wrong?

Creation, fall, and redemption are Christian words that Pearcey uses to help us recognize those three categories in every worldview, but they can be confusing if you import all the Christian meaning into each category.

Everyone recognizes something is wrong, and different worldviews give different explanations for and descriptions of what's wrong, along with the corresponding view of how we should work to reverse that wrong.

But Pearcey explains it much better than I have here, so I recommend her book.

Ron.

>> "I guess the world could/might be a bit better off without religion. Or worse."

Site Note: That video is so cool. Reminds me of my sandcastles. Hah! Hey Ron i thought you were all about secular humanism and the such? I mean, I don't believe anymore either but, I don't know if it's in my interest for others to stop believing or not. Everyone might end up benign like the quite irreligious Scandinavia, or turn into Stalin...I don't know.

I can't say that I read the book and the author might have a point about worldviews. However, I don't like his choice of words seeing where they came from. The Fall in Christianity is vastly different from simple 'whats wrong with the world'. Its an explanatory myth of how evil intent came about, and how an innocent and pure world became corrupt. There's nothing equivalent in naturalism. I'm not even sure there's anything similar outside of the Abrahamic faiths. Sure there's wrongness in all worldviews I know of and they're not entirely equivalent. However I don't think The Fall is a good label for it.

Of course its a quibble about words, but I happen to find words important, they shape how you think about things and what you associate it with. Consider how much energy prolifers push for being labelled that, and not anti-abortionists.

The way its being used it seems more like a tool for labeling any kind of worldview religious, and therefore not worthy of respect. This seems ironic since you're obviously pushing your own Creation, Fall and Redemption story.

As a writer, are you using this to put stuff like Environmentalism in a bad light? Its a different religion than my own, therefore I must be against it?

Hi Amy,

Friendly is good - please continue with :-) not :-(.

I asked about the :-)'s because I wondered if they expressed some kind of reservation or qualification; I thought you might be distancing yourself a bit from at least part of your comment (and Pearcey's thesis).

Then Leonhard very nicely spelled out some issues with what you (and Pearcey) had said.

In response, you offered

Leonhard, if it helps, you can use the words 1) Origins, 2) What's wrong with the world?, and 3) How do we fix what's wrong?

Creation, fall, and redemption are Christian words that Pearcey uses to help us recognize those three categories in every worldview, but they can be confusing if you import all the Christian meaning into each category....

But Pearcey explains it much better than I...

But is Leonard 'import[ing] all the Christian meaning into each category'? Is your version true to Pearcey?

Doesn't Pearcey's book build these 'Christian meanings' into each category (p.25) .

every philosophy or ideology has to answer the same fundamental questions:

1) CREATION: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?

2) FALL: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?

3) REDEMPTION: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?

By applying this simple grid, we can identify nonbiblical worldviews, and then analyze where they go wrong.

Pearcey's grid works until it doesn't - until it runs into criticism like Leonhard's.

When critiqued, Pearcey's grid can't be defended. The apologist must fade away, backpedal, try an end-run, or move the goalposts.

RonH

Ron, if you remove the labels, the descriptions are still just what I explained to Leonhard (though they're my characterization, anyway, not Pearcey's). I probably should have said "What is wrong?" rather than "What went wrong." The question of "How did we get here?" doesn't necessarily mean we started out great. Things could have been bad from the beginning.

The way its being used it seems more like a tool for labeling any kind of worldview religious, and therefore not worthy of respect.

Huh? If that's the way you feel, that's your own prejudice! Everybody has a basic idea of the big questions--even naturalism. Why would that then be something unworthy of respect?

Amy,

You say Pearcey 'explains it much better' but you are confident you can remove what you term the 'labels' (especially 'fall' and 'redemption') from her writing.

Does Pearcey explain away these labels herself?

RonH

The narrative Pearcey has constructed is indistinguishable from the new liturgy adopted by the Anglican and Episcopal churches.
I find it suspect.
Christianity has an objective existence-- it is not meant to underpin or validate a human narrative of the spirit.

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