Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Scientific knowing, religious knowing

posted by Rod Dreher

Gary Zukav, who wrote “The Dancing Wu Li Masters,” has this famous aphorism:

Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion, rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science.

I thought of it when I read the following passage from Krista Tippett’s interview with John Polkinghorne, the particle physicist and theologian:

Ms. Tippett: You also talked about how, in the same way that we take seriously the insights of science, we need to listen to the words of poets and to the insights of saints and mystics, and to hearing that also in that context.
polkinghorne.jpg
Mr. Polkinghorne: Absolutely. Yes. I think reality is very rich, many-layered, and science, in a sense, explores only one layer of the world. It treats the world as an object, something you can put to the test, pull apart and find out what it’s made of. And, of course, that’s a very interesting thing to do, and you learn some important things that way. But we know that there are whole realms of human experience where, first of all, testing has to give way to trusting. That’s true in human relationships. If I’m always setting little traps to see if you’re my friend, I’ll destroy the possibility of friendship between us.
And also where we have to treat things in their wholeness, in their totality. I mean, a beautiful painting, a chemist could take that beautiful painting, could analyze every scrap of paint on the canvas, tell you what its chemical composition was, would, incidentally, destroy the painting by doing that, but would have missed the point of the painting, because that’s something you can only encounter in its totality. So we need complementary ways of looking at the world. Bits and pieces, for sure, that’s a worthwhile thing to do, but not the whole story.

Polkinghorne goes on to discuss the mystery of of how light could be both wave and particle. Scientists observed that light had properties of both, but that appeared to be a contradiction:

[Polkinghorne:] And then the thing has a happy ending, I’m glad to say, back in my old University of Cambridge where Paul Dirac discovered something called quantum field theory. Now, a field is something that is spread out, and so it can be flappy. So it certainly has wave-like properties. But when you bring in quantum theory, it makes things come in packets. That’s the effect of quantum theory, it chops things up into little packets. And little packets look like little particles, and so a quantum field has both these sorts of properties. And if you ask it a wave-like question, it gives you a wave-like answer. You ask it a particle-like question, it gives you a particle-like answer. And you can’t ask both questions at the same time, which saves you from having, you know, a contradiction.
Ms. Tippett: OK. But you take both answers into account.
Mr. Polkinghorne: You take both answers into account. And the important thing I want to emphasize is that people had to cling on to taking both insights into account before they understood how they fitted together. We don’t make progress by chopping experience down to a size that fits into our current theories. We have to allow the way the world is to modify our understanding of the world. And, if you’re a Christian theologian, and you’re telling that sort of story that I’ve just told about light being both particle-like and wave-like, we know that the Christian story about Jesus Christ is that He is, of course, a human being but also, in some real sense, needs to be described in terms of divine language. And it’s the same sort of dilemma, if you like, and we’re not quite so clever, theologically, at finding the precise answer to that. But, again, we don’t make progress by denying our experience.

We don’t make progress by denying our experience. I like that. I’m intrigued too by the way Polkinghorne takes a real-life example of a fundamental scientific paradox and uses it to illuminate religious paradoxes. Christianity is full of them. How can the godhead be both three and one? How can the eternal, infinite God also be temporal and finite (this is the paradox of the Incarnation)? How can God be all-good and all-powerful, yet allow evil to exist? And so forth.
I’ve linked to the Polkinghorne interview of Krista’s “Speaking of Faith” website, but I read it last night in her new interview collection, “Einstein’s God,” which I highly recommend.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(50)
post a comment
Joel W

posted March 6, 2010 at 6:47 pm


FYI I believe Polkinghorne is an open theist who doesn’t believe God knows the future.



report abuse
 

Edward Unger

posted March 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm


While we know that a photon can be measured as a particle or as a wave, we do not know that god is both one and three. That is a belief that many religions,such as Islam and Judaism, to name two, do not share. People do not kill each other over things we know, but things we cannot know.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted March 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm


Tell you what, Polky, the next time you want a reactor designed, go find a mystic or poet. He’ll be the guy saying “do you want that in a grande or vente?”



report abuse
 

Hector

posted March 7, 2010 at 1:00 am


Good post, Rod. I’ve often thought before of the analogy between the Trinity, and something like wave-particle duality. It’s amazing to me that people complain that the doctrine of the Trinity is too confusing or self-contradictory or just makes their head hurt, but then will go on to believe even stranger things, such as light being a wave and a particle. Yet however strange they may seem, we know from science that light is both a wave and a particle, and likewise we should be able to accept that Christ is fully God and fully man. We can’t _understand_ either doctrine but we should be able to accept them; as St. Augustine said, we believe in order that we may understand.
Polkinghorne is great, according to a physicist friend of mine- haven’t read any of his stuff myself.



report abuse
 

Cecelia

posted March 7, 2010 at 1:44 am


This was a fine read – thanks for posting. I am inspired to look at more of his work.
Hector – the problem is most people do not know that light is both a wave and a particle – most people don’t know that light is even a wave. When I was a kid the whole shamrock thing worked for me re: the Trinity.
Joel W – did you read the interview – I thought his comments on the question of God knowing the future were excellent and lucid and really cannot be simply boiled down to “God doesn’t know the future”.



report abuse
 

naturalmom

posted March 7, 2010 at 8:08 am


I love this. I’ll have to go listen to the show. The argument that scientific ways of knowing are the only legitimate ones has always struck me as odd. I’m a lover of science, and I’m grateful for the ways in which it can be useful, but I don’t worship it as the ultimate source of all enlightenment.
Edward Unger, the argument about people killing each other over religion is a weak argument against non-scientific ways of knowing, I think. Non-scientific faith/belief/religion tends to be used as a proxy justification for more practical and selfish motives for killing. (I’m speaking generally; I’m sure there are some exceptions.) If somehow faith in anything beyond the “bits and pieces” were to disappear, then there would still be lots of reasons for violence and war. These acts would just get cloaked in some other justification — probably a “scientific” one. Either that, or people would simply drop any pretense and admit that they kill because they want tribe x’s land and don’t like the way they dress.



report abuse
 

MargaretE

posted March 7, 2010 at 8:27 am


I love this interview, too. What a beautiful, intriguing (and, to me, persuasive) way of understanding God and how he works in the world. Love his idea that the world is part “clockwork” and part “cloudy” – the way he explains that prayer is not “magic” but is a case of humanity interacting with the Creator and participating in creation. His vision of a world that is allowed to create itself (a “greater gift” that inevitably has a “shady” side…) is so compelling. Can’t wait to read more Polkinghorne…



report abuse
 

Rod Dreher

posted March 7, 2010 at 8:34 am


Tell you what, Polky, the next time you want a reactor designed, go find a mystic or poet. He’ll be the guy saying “do you want that in a grande or vente?”
Huh? You have one of the world’s top particle physicists saying that scientists have insights to be gained in their search for the nature of reality by paying attention to mystics and poets, and this kind of crack is how you respond? You might want to go join the discussion that’s reviving, kind of, the “New Age of Wonder” thread; a couple of people have come on to assert that Hitler was “an extremely religious dude,” which supposedly proves that It’s All Religion’s Fault, and that nobody should ever say a bad word about the moral legacy of scientism.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 7, 2010 at 9:22 am


When people who are obviously a lot smarter then me have something to say, I try to listen. So I intend to read the linked article before I comment. But it looks really dense so it may take me a while to get through it.



report abuse
 

Richard

posted March 7, 2010 at 9:39 am


I don’t know if you can still find it out there, but there were a couple of open forums with John Polkinghorse and Ravi Zacharias a few years ago that were really good, all about how we know things. Great stuff.



report abuse
 

Roland de Chanson

posted March 7, 2010 at 10:42 am


Re Rod’s title for this post: Scientific knowing, religious knowing
I don’t know that Polkinghorne thinks “religious knowing” is knowledge per se, i.e. empirical knowledge. Mysticism, poetry, music, art do not knowledge make. Truth and beauty are not isomorhic, pace Keats.
Augustine’s credo ut intellegam is no help to the scientist. But scientific knowledge can be an aid to an a priori belief in some sort of divine intelligence. Not necessarily omniscience, of course.
Augustine more wisely wrote: cor ad cor loquitur. The heart of God speaks to the heart of man.
Belief is not knowledge. The Christian, the Jewish, the Mohammedan, the Buddhist physicist all accept the same basic physics. Or at least they can argue about their different theories and be understandable to each other. But whoever says “I believe” says “I do not know”. Any Christian who says “I know that Christ rose” is a liar. It is impossible to know that. But it is not unreasonable to believe it.
As the incipit of St. John’s Gospel expressed it: In the beginning was Reason, and Reason was with God, and God was Reason.



report abuse
 

Roland de Chanson

posted March 7, 2010 at 10:52 am


Cecelia: When I was a kid the whole shamrock thing worked for me re: the Trinity.
I always wondered about that. All three leaves are split, implying that although they are consubstantial with each other, each has two natures. Tradition allows only the Son (the right hand leaf) two natures.
Perhaps the Father has both a divine and pyric nature, a plasma, as He revealed Himself to Moses in the Torah.
And the Holy Ghost has both a divine nature and an avian one, if you believe His depiction as a dove. Or perhaps also a pyric one, as in the tongues of fire. It’s very hard to know for sure. How can we test this?
But the shamrock does at least prove the filioque is the correct theology. I wonder what Patrick would have said if he’d picked up a four-leaf clover instead? Ah, Mary Co-Redemptrix, no doubt. Christian feminism avant la lettre.
I apologise for the flippant theology, err… I mean, religious knowing. But it really isn’t knowledge at all, is it? I believe that God has a sense of humour. He has to if man is made in His image. And that’s in the Torah too.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 7, 2010 at 11:53 am


Roland de Chanson, if God has a sense of humor, what’s the cosmic punch line?



report abuse
 

Charles Cosimano

posted March 7, 2010 at 12:09 pm


I have an evangelist friend who always says, “I know what I know what I know.” And the only problem is that what he knows that he knows is utter nonsense.
Religious knowledge is fun to play with but if you start taking it seriously you are going to get into terrible trouble.



report abuse
 

Conservative Atheist

posted March 7, 2010 at 12:32 pm


People with invisible imaginary friends in the sky need serious therapy.



report abuse
 

Shelley

posted March 7, 2010 at 12:35 pm


One thing that jumped out at me was the way P. describes Western science as taking a whole thing and taking it apart into it’s componenets and thus loosing the point of the whole. The longer I am Orthodox, the more I see this approach to theology in the West as the key difference between the western and eastern treatment of theology. Western theology pulls apart and examines the pieces thus often loosing the whole or going down a theological rabbit trail that leads to wrong thinking. Eastern theology leaves the question intact and often sits with the question, in awe, but without an answer. So perhaps a blending of the 2 approaches would work best, both in science and in religion.



report abuse
 

MargaretE

posted March 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm


“People with invisible imaginary friends in the sky need serious therapy.”
Conservative Atheist
March 7, 2010 12:32 PM
Did you actually read this intriguing interview and come away with nothing more than that? Unbelievable.



report abuse
 

TTT

posted March 7, 2010 at 1:35 pm


in the “New Age of Wonder” thread; a couple of people have come on to assert that Hitler was “an extremely religious dude,” which supposedly proves that It’s All Religion’s Fault, and that nobody should ever say a bad word about the moral legacy of scientism
Not necessarily the former, but certainly asking people to give up the rather tired ad-lib approach to What Hitler Teaches Us About Science. It cannot be denied that the man WAS a creationist.



report abuse
 

Richard

posted March 7, 2010 at 3:44 pm


One of the few subjects in which I can brag that I actually have scholarly knowledge is Nazi Germany. The comment that Hitler WAS a creationist is highly misleading. Hitler was certainly a deist, but he hated the Abrahamic faiths and whatever his beliefs, they bore no resemblance to today’s “creationism” as a philosophy. Hitler’s oftspoke beliefs in “Divine Providence” were an outgrowth of his megalomania and certainty in his man-of-destiny complex.
But, Roland, “Any Christian who says “I know that Christ rose” is a liar. It is impossible to know that. But it is not unreasonable to believe it.” First of all, that person may be mistaken, but it doesn’t make him a liar. More importantly, your statement begs the question: it is impossible to know Christ rose only if we define “know” in terms that fit our pre-conceived mold. This is what we’re discussing.
Christians know that Christ rose again not just because of the power of the Holy Spirit: we have eyewitnesses, texts, documents, and the study of history itself. The scientist may say “we know people don’t rise from the dead”, but Christians would agree with that. We just don’t think ‘ordinary man’ is a full description of Christ by any means!
When we want to know if a miracle occurred, we don’t go to a scientist, we go to a historian.
All the copies of John I have say “In the beginning was the Word..and the Word was God…”



report abuse
 

john

posted March 7, 2010 at 5:30 pm


I’m glad I live in America where un-solvable (and for many people, irrelevant) controversies are debated on comboxes and not roadside bombs, etc.



report abuse
 

Travis

posted March 7, 2010 at 5:37 pm


Well no, a historian can’t tell us if a miracle occurred.
Historians can tell us that some people at the time of the alleged miracle *believed* that a miracle occurred.
Historians tell us that some people once believed witches were responsible for illness. That doesn’t mean witches were ever actually responsible for illness.



report abuse
 

Richard

posted March 7, 2010 at 6:07 pm


Historians present their research – their proof, let’s call it – and we have to evaluate it and decide if they made their cases. My larger point is that if someone claims a miracle occurred, we need to look at the evidence.
And the flip-side of what you say can still be true: just because it may strike us as preposterous doesn’t mean witches didn’t cause illness. It means we take a look at what happened.



report abuse
 

Travis

posted March 7, 2010 at 6:50 pm


And what do we use to evaluate those claims? Right, science.
Is there any scientific evidence that witches cause illness, as was once believed? Nope. So, that claim is rightfully considered ludicrous regardless of how many people once believed it.



report abuse
 

Eliza

posted March 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm


First point – in scientific terms, if/when something occurs that has never been known to occur before, or for which the mechanism of its occurrence is unknown, it is a scientific singularity, eg. the Big Bang. So a ‘miracle’ is a type of scientific singularity, and until its initiative method is understood, dissected or explained in terms of current knowledge, it remains a singularity, every aspect of it recorded and historically logged, so that it can be investigated later by future technological means. The singularity of Jesus Christ’s origin and miracles have not been explained, but that does not imply that they could not have happened.
Secondly, to tar every ‘creationist’ with the brush of ‘Nazi’, because Hitler was a creationist, is plain crazy, not just ludicrous. It is like labeling every doctor in the UK a serial killer, because Dr Harry Shipton was a UK doctor, and killed over 250 people. Likewise, Stalin was a neo-Darwinian synthesist [Russian version], but so am I [British version] and most biologists, but none of us opts for genocide when the mood takes us.
A lot of current physics is impossible to understand. I cannot get my head round wave-particle duality, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, quantum unlocality, etc. These scientific singularities, although mathematically possible, still remain impossible to explain in the macro-world. Ongoing miracles?



report abuse
 

Larry

posted March 7, 2010 at 8:01 pm


Is there any scientific evidence that witches cause illness, as was once believed?
In the ancient world, witches were expert poisoners, so yes there is “scientific” evidence that witches could cause illness.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm


I’d always heard that witch craft allegations were made when something bad like a blight or disease happened. People looked for the agency of these events which had causes they didn’t understand. Historians think grain infections by the ergot fungus were likely one trigger of witch hunts in Europe. The victim of the allegation tended to be a social outcast or someone who people wanted to settle a score against.
Unfortunately witch hunts still occur today in Africa, India, and Saudi Arabia! We know this because they make the international news when they happen. They tend to fit the pattern above with the exception that in India they are often used as a land grab strategy.
Some sociologists have claimed that the satanic ritual abuse allegations made in the 80′s were a modern with hunt in the US.
I’m dubious that the claim witches used poison substantiates the claim that there is scientific evidence for witchcraft. That doesn’t fit the historical pattern for witchcraft allegations.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted March 7, 2010 at 9:43 pm


MH,
For the record, my understanding is that the Catholic Church has officially disbelieved in witchcraft for most of its history (believing in the efficiacy of witchcraft was explicitly anathematized at various points) and that it gave its sanction to the witch trials in the early modern period under the pressure of intense popular pressure.
I believe in the existence of malevolent and powerful spiritual beings, of course, as Christians are bound to. As St. John tells us, the devil is the prince of this world. But I don’t have any reason to believe that it’s possible for people to make deals with those beings or to control them. That said, there are certainly plenty of people throughout history who believed they could call on such forces, whether or not you think they really were.



report abuse
 

Roland de Chanson

posted March 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm


Richard,
Yes – I agree with your first objection, i.e. that the person may be mistaken. I was overly broad in my statement.
The second part, i.e. that of eyewitnesses etc., confirm rather that refute my thesis: viz. that it is reasonable to believe the Christian mythos, which, incidentally, I myself do.
The third part, i.e. whether a historian or a scientist better validates miracles, I think that the medical professionals at Lourdes are more reliable than the historians.
The fourth part, i.e. about the translation of John 1:1, well, welcome to the fascinating world of hermeneutics. « en archê ên ho logos » can certainly mean “in the beginning was Reason.” A certain Jesuit university inscribed the word “LOGOS” (in Greek characters) over the entrance to its physics building. The ambiguity was intentional: “Reason” (science?) and the “Word”.



report abuse
 

TTT

posted March 7, 2010 at 10:10 pm


The comment that Hitler WAS a creationist is highly misleading. Hitler was certainly a deist, but he hated the Abrahamic faiths and whatever his beliefs, they bore no resemblance to today’s “creationism” as a philosophy.
Since he firmly believed that mankind was created in its modern image by God and was contemptuous of the idea that man could have evolved from other animals, he sure as heck bears even less of a resemblance to evolution or atheism as philosophies.
And it wasn’t brought up (in the other thread or here) to say “All creationists are Nazis” but, rather, to ask people to find a more fitting avatar for their projection of potential danger onto the mindset of scientific empiricism.



report abuse
 

Travis

posted March 7, 2010 at 11:11 pm


Eliza: Nobody has said the reputed miracles and divine origin of Jesus Christ are impossible or could not have happened.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support those claims.
Lacking any empirical support, I decline to take on faith your claims of the supernatural.
Your concept of a “scientific singularity” does not seem to be shared by the broader scientific community. That term finds two hits on JSTOR, neither of them related, and the second Google result is… the Time Cube loony.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm


Hector, I don’t quite get your last statement. Are you saying that there are people who thought they were witches, even if I believe no one believes that?
If that’s the case then I’m willing to believe that delusional people exist. But for them to actually be witches there would need to be some effect which couldn’t be explained by a more reasonable hypothesis.



report abuse
 

Socrates

posted March 7, 2010 at 11:41 pm


“Christians know that Christ rose again not just because of the power of the Holy Spirit: we have eyewitnesses…”
You have eyewitnesses?????
Where?



report abuse
 

Hector

posted March 8, 2010 at 12:19 am


MH,
The point is that _attempting_ to invoke demons to influence the course of events is in itself a sin, even if the demons never respond. I don’t think we have any reason to believe that such people were ever actually _able_ to cause any mischief- even if you accept that malign spiritual forces exist, as Christians do, it seems unlikely they would perform on demand. That said, I don’t think it’s unlikely that Hitler, to take one example, was (consciously or unconsciously) in contact with the demonic; or that some of the world’s historical religions, e.g. the Molech-worship of Carthage and Canaan, was a kind of demonolatry.
The biblical term for ‘witchcraft’ of course, is ‘pharmakeia’ which can simply refer to ‘brewers of potions’ (commonly potions meant to cause illness, abortions, etc.) and need not, per se, refer to people in contact with the occult at all.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted March 8, 2010 at 12:21 am


Socrates,
St. John the Evangelist was an eyewitness, for one, as was St. Peter and possibly St. James and St. Jude.



report abuse
 

Roland de Chanson

posted March 8, 2010 at 7:39 am


Hector,
All the apostles were witnesses to the post-Resurrection Christ. Including my favorite, the empiricist and sceptic, Thomas. And Paul says there were 500 people, though he coyly refuses to name names.
But these accounts still fall into the realm of history at best and mythology at worst. Revelation appeals only to Faith, not to Reason.



report abuse
 

Socrates

posted March 8, 2010 at 8:10 am


Where are these eyewitness accounts?



report abuse
 

Hector

posted March 8, 2010 at 8:11 am


Roland de Chanson,
Well, of course. i was only referring to the ones who wrote canonical gospels. There’s plenty of very interesting writings about Thomas of course (one of my favourite apostles as well, and the apostle to my people), the ‘Acts of Thomas’ and so forth, but they postdate him and probably were written much later by other people.
My reading of Thomas isn’t that he subscribed to some sort of principled empiricism, but rather that he was somewhat pessimistic at heart, and believed that the Resurrection of his Lord was too good to be true.



report abuse
 

Richard

posted March 8, 2010 at 8:21 am


Roland, I see your point, but really: we can know nothing outside of empiricism? That’s simply ridiculous. You may as well accept an eastern philosophy that suggests the material world is all an illusion.



report abuse
 

Larry

posted March 8, 2010 at 9:10 am


I’m dubious that the claim witches used poison substantiates the claim that there is scientific evidence for witchcraft. That doesn’t fit the historical pattern for witchcraft allegations.
I clearly stated “ancient world”, MH, you cite a few anecdotal references from the modern era, a full 1000 years or more after the end of the ancient world and then say it “doesn’t fit the historical pattern”?



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted March 8, 2010 at 9:31 am


Reliable, conclusive, evidentiary tracks that define “witchcraft” are few and far between, especially when much of the source consists of oral tradition in otherwise unlettered cultures. The Celts are the most prominent example.
Using Occam’s Razor (and paring away the propaganda wars between Christians and modern Pagans), folk medicine is the most common area in which charges of witchcraft occured. A local wise woman (in Europe, a woman more often than man) who was depended upon for remedies and such was the high-profile candidate for a Christian missionary to attack on behalf of leaving all such things in the hands of God. It made perfect sense, that this woman whose knowledge and skills looked very much like magic to the ignorant (including her own people), and may have been perceived as magic in her own ignorance, would so easily be labelled as a consort of evil spirits.
In service to knowledge, I’ll finish by pointing out that the majority of those accused of witchcraft were at least nominal Christians. The Inquisition was an attack on heresy, not primarily non-believers.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 8, 2010 at 10:45 am


Larry, then please provide some references for your assertion about the nature of the witchcraft in the ancient world.



report abuse
 

Larry

posted March 8, 2010 at 10:53 am


MH, Sarah Ruden, Paul Among the People. Also see Hector’s point about the etymology of the Greek word usually translated as “witch”, above.



report abuse
 

Richard

posted March 8, 2010 at 11:38 am


Roland, I just re-read one of your posts. “The third part, i.e. whether a historian or a scientist better validates miracles, I think that the medical professionals at Lourdes are more reliable than the historians.”
Science is concerned with repeatable physical phenomena. History is concerned with people and events. Insisting that we have doctors or scientists as witnesses to everything so that we can know X occurred is precisely what Polkinghorne is talking about. Chopping up hunman experience to fit inside our particular boxes.
I’m done now.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 8, 2010 at 11:46 am


Larry and Hector, so if with biblical concept of witches is brewers of potions where did the more supernatural concept of witch craft come from?
Particularly where did someone like Peter Binsfeld get most of his ideas? I ask because when you use the world witchcraft that’s the understanding most people will have of the term and not someone making potions based upon the translation of a Greek word.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 8, 2010 at 11:58 am


Or the Malleus Maleficarum written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer who was an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church. It seems like these ideas were coming from within the church, not outside it. So the concept of supernatural witchcraft had to predate them.



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted March 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm


MH, Larry and Hector:
Please keep in mind the caveat at the beginning of my previous post…
There are two definitions of “witch” here, one pejorative and one functional.
1) A witch consorts with evil spirits — in this context, Satan and his minions — in order to acquire powers and abilities that can harm others.
2) A local wise woman whose natural powers and abilities, based in an understanding of nature (flora, mostly, but fauna as well), can alleviate harm but also cause harm if abused.
Note the “propaganda wars” quip I used in my previous post. While it is a two-way conflict, the pejorative side is the one you are all focused on right now. Christian authorities, for reasons actual and speculative (on our part), used Christian belief to drive the identification of and consequences for the person accused of witchcraft. There are two logical conclusions available here:
1) A Christian heretic, explicitly invoking Satan and his minions.
2) A local wise woman, explicitly interfering with the local Christian authorities.
It should surprise no one that there is clear evidence that people under #2 got accused under #1, if only to expedite their trials and punishments.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 8, 2010 at 1:21 pm


Franklin, the odd thing is you would think it would be easier to railroad someone on charge #2 and say they caused harm than to prove charge #1. But Pope John XXII formalized the persecution of witchcraft in 1320 when he authorized the Inquisition to prosecute sorcery, and during the witch hunts from 1400 onward it seemed easier to prove charge #1.
Granted the ability to use torture as a means of extracting a binding confession means you can convict a person of any crime. But why pick that particular crime if there’s no basis in your belief system for it?



report abuse
 

Jon

posted March 9, 2010 at 6:40 am


Re: Well no, a historian can’t tell us if a miracle occurred.
Well, yes, because historians can only ever tell us what people in the past had to say about things that happened in their day through the texts they have left us. The deeds of Alexander or the transformation of Rome from Republic to Empire are as open to skepticism on the basis of ancient hearsay evidence as any miracle.
Re: Is there any scientific evidence that witches cause illness, as was once believed?
Travis,
Science has direct access only to those things it can investigate today. It makes a big assumption that the past is the same as today in these matters. But when you reason “This doesn’t happen today, so it cannot have happened in the past” you are taking a leap of faith.



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted March 9, 2010 at 9:07 am


MH,
I cannot, of course, answer for the thought processes and justifications of people in the past. I can, of course, speculate with the usual caveats about my personal bias as I read the historical accounts.
Speculative point: The judicial authorities — demonstrated arbiters of the then contemporary mish-mash of secular and religious laws — wanted any threat to their authority removed, and profited as well from the confiscation of the property and belongings of the accused witches. On this basis, it would not seem to matter what justification they chose so long as they get the results they are looking for.
Re: The Church position on “sorcery”.
Without getting into detail, and making this a thousand-word essay, the primary definition of sorcery was what is usually lumped under the modern term “Satan worship”. Modern Pagans make the distinction by calling it “ceremonial magic”, and harken back to the grimoires and alchemy of that past tradition. Pagans (other than those who accept the label of ceremonial magician), both past and present, simply do not belong under that, not even with the loosest application of it. Folk magic, folk medicine, mythic beliefs and practices are just not organized at all in that fashion.



report abuse
 

MH

posted March 9, 2010 at 7:51 pm


Jon, it’s a leap of faith to think the past even existed, or that we’re not brains in a jar. But the question is the relative magnitude of leap of faith required.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another blog to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Rod Dreher. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Most Recent Scientology Story on Beliefnet! Happy Reading!!!

posted 3:25:02pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mommy explains her plastic surgery
In Dallas (naturally), a parenting magazine discusses how easy it is for mommies who don't like their post-child bodies to get surgery -- and to have it financed! -- to reverse the effects of time and childbirth. Don't like what nursing has done to your na-nas? Doc has just the solution: Doctors say

posted 10:00:56pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Why I became Orthodox
Wrapping up my four Beliefnet years, I was thinking about the posts that attracted the most attention and comment in that time. Without a doubt the most popular (in terms of attracting attention, not all of it admiring, to be sure) was the October 12, 2006, entry in which I revealed and explained wh

posted 9:46:58pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Modern Calvinists
Wow, they don't make Presbyterians like they used to!

posted 8:47:01pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

'Rape by deception'? Huh?
The BBC this morning reported on a bizarre case in Israel of an Arab man convicted of "rape by deception," because he'd led the Jewish woman with whom he'd had consensual sex to believe he was Jewish. Ha'aretz has the story here. Plainly it's a racist verdict, and a bizarre one -- but there's more t

posted 7:51:28pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.