Religious Presumptions, Divine Plans, Hollywood’s Worst

Catching up on links not yet used from the past week or so. Jerry Coyne responds to Timothy Keller’s presumptions about the metaphysical truth of Christianity and the need for a revived Church; The obvious evidence for lack of a “divine plan”; An example of Hollywood’s worst; and items about the balloon and Ozone Man.

Jerry Coyne responds to this:

The Atlantic, Tim Keller, 5 Feb 2023: American Christianity Is Due for a Revival, subtitled “Our society is secularizing, and Christianity seems to be in long-term decline. But renewal is possible.”


Frankly, I was gobsmacked when I saw this new piece in The Atlantic, because, in the interest of convincing a secularizing America that we need more religion (and by “religion” the author means “Christianity”), Thomas Keller proffers what turns out to be a long sermon, touting theological points like “salvation through faith”. He also insists on a factual basis of Christianity, which presumably includes the existence of stuff like Resurrection and Heaven and the half man/half Go nature of Jesus as important parts of what Americans must accept. … What’s surprising is that a liberal and mainstream magazine like The Atlantic would want to publish such a religious screed—and one loaded with dubious claims presented as if they were real.

Similarly, the New York Times has been publishing columns by Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren, who writes as if Christianity, prayer, and so on, were obviously true and real.

The obvious point is that neither of these publications gives space to, say, Islamic clerics on the perfection of the Koran and the nature of infidels, as if those things were obviously true and real. That is, even the best supposedly objective, secular publications in the United States still defer to America’s Christian religious populists.

Coyne describes how Keller worries about the “nones” and cites Émile Durkheim and Jonathan Haidt on the value of religion to society. Coyne immediately challenges this–

But I disagree with this claim, and again I cite Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Are those countries hellholes of anomie? Does the lack of feelings about the numinous cause the inhabitants tp wander about aimlessly, mourning the absence of meaning and morality? Nope: these are some of the most moral and caring countries in the world. If you think a country absolutely needs religion to function well, have a look at Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland.

This is (my comment) a recurring theme of religious apologists: they know only their own experience, presume to think that their experience is the best possible experience and so should be shared by everyone, and do not actually know much about the rest of the world, or the varieties of human experience, religious or otherwise.

Coyne then addresses Keller’s arguments for why we need churches. And he drills in on one particular point.

Keller: “First and foremost, Christianity helps society because its metaphysical claims are true; they are not true because Christianity helps society. When Christians lose sight of this, the Church’s power and durability are lost.”


Note the flat assertion that Christianity’s “metaphysical claims are true.” Well, of course that raises several questions. First of all, which metaphysical claims are true? That Jesus was the divine son of God as well as God himself, and came to Earth to save us? That Jesus got crucified and then resurrected? That Jesus really did do all those miracles? Do you really achieve salvation not through works but through faith, as Keller thinks? If not all the claims are true, which ones are true? And how does Keller know that any of the metaphysical claims are true? Because the Bible tells us?

Coyne goes on to explore the troubling implications of these claims. He doesn’t address other obvious issues, like, what about those devout in other religions who thinks *their* metaphysical claims are true? But there’s only so much room in one column. But he does quote a comment from the reader who forwarded him Keller’s article: “Keller never addresses the central question: ‘Does Christianity have anything to say about the nature of the world and the universe that is true?’” (Because most of what the Bible says about the nature of the world and the universe is false.)


A bit more about this item, which I noted three days ago.

OnlySky, James A. Haught, 4 Feb 2023: There is no ‘divine plan’

As I said then, this is a very basic point, one a person either realizes at some early stage of their life (around adolescence) or learns to spend a lifetime rationalizing it away, in favor of their particular religion’s divine plan. If they think about it at all.

Imagine the millions of small fish in the seas that are devoured every day by larger fish. Oceans are vast killing zones. Churches proclaim that God created all living things as part of a divine plan. Why did he design a slaughterhouse?

Quoting Mark Twain, and Charles Templeton, a Canadian evangelist who lost his faith, who wrote in Farewell to God:

Every carnivorous creature must kill and devour another creature. It has no option. Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze, mouths to suck blood, coils to constrict and smother — even expandable jaws so that prey may be swallowed whole and alive? Nature is, in Tennyson’s vivid phrase, ‘red in tooth and claw,’ and life is a carnival of blood. How could a loving and omnipotent god create such horrors?

Because nature was not planned or designed, it just happened. (If God planned it all for his special worshippers, why are humans subject to the same biological indignities that all the animals are subject to? Is something I’ve long wondered.)

Nature simply exists, grabbing every opportunity to eat and survive. Even though we eat agricultural animals, humans are much kinder than the dog-eat-dog reality surrounding us.

There is no divine plan — and no divine creator.


Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 7 Feb 2023: Eek, a balloon! How China easily got Republicans to beclown themselves, subtitled “Once again, the GOP proves it’s the party of insecure men overcompensating”

Salon, Carl Pope, 6 Feb 2023: GOP mocked Al Gore as “Ozone Man”: But he was right the whole time — and they knew it, subtitled “There’s amazing good news about the ozone layer — and a crucial object lesson for addressing the climate crisis”

Salon, Matthew Rozsa, 5 Feb 2023: How this laughable sci-fi flick embarrassed Hollywood into doing better science, “‘This is the worst example of what Hollywood does to science,’ says one expert about this notoriously absurd movie”

This is about a 2003 movie called The Core, which I don’t think I saw; it seemed absurd on its premise. But it’s yet another example of how storytellers, in this case Hollywood, play to their audiences’ intuition of science and reality … which is usually wrong.

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