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The myth of secular tolerance

by John Coffey

Religion is the tragedy of mankind. It appeals to all that is noblest, purest, loftiest in the human spirit, and yet there scarcely exists a religion which has not been responsible for wars, tyrannies and the suppression of the truth. Religion is not kind, it is cruel. A. N. Wilson1 Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Jesus of Nazareth2

Summary The resurgence of religious violence at the start of the twenty-first century has reinforced the myth of secular tolerance – the notion that whereas religious believers are instinctively intolerant, tolerance comes naturally to the secular mind. This paper challenges the myth. It suggests that secular people are not immune from the temptation to persecute and vilify others, and argues that the Christian Gospel fostered the rise of religious toleration. Introduction On 15 September 2001, four days after the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, Professor Richard Dawkins blamed the tragedy on something he called ‘religion’. Religion, he suggested, is ‘a ready-made system of mind control which has been honed over centuries’, and ‘teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end’. It is thus ideally suited to brainwashing ‘testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world [who] might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next’. By holding out the promise of an afterlife, religion devalues this life, and makes the world ‘a very dangerous place’. Dawkins issued a stark warning: ‘To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.’3 In the wake of 9/11 Dawkins was widely praised for his ‘courageous’ statement, and other well-known commentators joined his private crusade/jihad against religion. The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee was just as stentorian: ‘The only good religion is a moribund religion: only when the faithful are weak are they tolerant and peaceful. The horrible history of Christianity shows that whenever religion grabs temporal power it turns lethal. Those who believe theirs is the only way, truth and light will kill to create their heavens on earth if they get the chance.’4 The chorus was swelled by Matthew Parris in the Spectator, who theorised that Christianity and Islam were potentially violent because of two common features: a claim to universality and a belief in the afterlife, which puts ‘another world’ before this one. By contrast, secular people who placed all their hopes in humanity and in the ‘here and now’ would not sacrifice temporary peace and prosperity for eternal glory. ‘Godlessness’, concluded Parris, ‘is a humanising force’.5 It is easy to understand why these vigorous polemics against religion were published after the attack on the Twin Towers. Secular commentators felt the need to vent their frustration at the religious zeal which had apparently motivated the suicide bombers. They were, however, anxious to avoid charges of Islamophobia. Attacking Islam was taboo, but attacking religion per se was acceptable. Condemning one-sixth of the world’s population was irresponsible; incriminating three-quarters of it was ‘courageous’. Underlying the polemics of Dawkins, Toynbee and Parris was what we might discourse in modern societies, for he combined a commitment to tolerance with an equally strong commitment to free (and aggressive) speech. As he famously said, ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ In many ways, this has been a positive legacy, for it is surely a mistake to think that when we sign up for toleration we forfeit the right to engage in robust intellectual critique or even satire. But Voltaire’s disdain for traditional religion had its dangers. He was surprisingly mealy-mouthed about the Roman persecution of the early Christians and the Japanese persecution of sixteenth-century Catholics – he seemed to favour worldly pagan persecutors over devout Christian martyrs. Moreover, Voltaire’s disdain for the Hebrew Scriptures and for Judaism helped to foster a new kind of anti-semitism.7 In Voltaire himself, these strains of intolerance were kept in check, but in some later rationalists they ran riot. As the historian Richard Popkin has pointed out, the basically tolerant deism of the American Revolution stood in sharp contrast to the intolerant deism of the French Revolution.8 In France, the deist revolutionaries launched a fierce campaign of de-Christianisation during the Reign of Terror. Several thousand clergy were executed, and many more were imprisoned. Even nuns were sent to the guillotine.9 Given the right circumstances, deists could quickly forget Voltaire’s commitment to tolerate those with whom one disagreed. In this respect, the French Revolution established an ominous precedent. For among the greatest figures in the secular rationalist tradition was Karl Marx. The movement that Marx founded drew deeply from the well of radical Enlightenment contempt for traditional religion, and Marx was convinced that human emancipation would require ‘the abolition of religion’.10 The militant atheism of Marx’s followers was to be the major source of religious persecution in the world between 1917 and 1979. The Russian Revolution ushered in a period of repression and martyrdom almost unprecedented in its scale. By 1939, not a single monastery or convent remained open out of a thousand or more with which the Soviet period began. The number of churches was reduced to barely a hundred, and thousands of clergy were arrested and liquidated.11 In Communist China, things were just as bad. According to one authority on religious persecution, the decade of the Cultural Revolution in China (1966 to 1976) ‘was perhaps the largest intense persecution of Christians in history’.12 Even in contemporary China, Catholic priests and Protestant pastors often live in fear of arrest. The philosopher John Gray (himself a non-believer) has recently highlighted the history of secular intolerance: The role of humanist thought in shaping the past century’s worst regimes is easily demonstrable, but it is passed over, or denied, by those who harp on about the crimes of religion. Yet the mass murders of the 20th century were not perpetrated by some latter-day version of the Spanish Inquisition. They were done by atheist regimes in the service of Enlightenment ideas of progress. Stalin and Mao were not believers in original sin. Even Hitler, who despised Enlightenment values of equality and freedom, shared the Enlightenment faith that a new world could be created by human will. Each of these tyrants imagined that the human condition could be transformed through the use of science.13 7 On the ambiguity of Enlightenment attitudes see A. Sutcliffe, Judaism and Enlightenment, Cambridge University Press, 2003. 8 R. Popkin, ‘An aspect of the problem of religious freedom in the French and American Revolutions’, Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 50, 1976, pp.146–61. 9 J. McManners, The French Revolution and the Church, SPCK, 1969. 10 Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed. D. McLellan, Oxford University Press, 1990, pp.43–44, 51, 62, 64. 11 See S. Hackel, ‘The Orthodox Churches of Eastern Europe’, in J. McManners, ed., The Oxford History of Christianity, Oxford University Press, 1990, pp.558–9. 12 P. Marshall, Their Blood Cries Out, Dallas: Word, 1997, p.78. 13 J. Gray, ‘The myth of secularism’, New Statesman, 16–30 December 2002, p.70. 6 R. Scruton, ‘Toleration’, in A Dictionary of Political Thought, Macmillan, 1982. J. Horton, ‘Toleration’, in E. Craig, ed., The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 10 vols, Routledge, 1998. call ‘the myth of secular tolerance’. The myth is not that secular people can be tolerant, for often they are. Rather, the myth of secular tolerance is that tolerance comes naturally to the secular person, whilst intolerance comes naturally to the religious believer. The myth suggests that simply by virtue of being secular, one is somehow immune from the temptation to vilify and persecute ‘the other’. This is a myth in the vulgar sense that it is a commonly held belief without solid foundation, a figment; but it is also a myth in the technical sense – a moral tale that sustains and nourishes the culture and beliefs of those who hold it. Before assessing the myth, we should begin with a definition. Tolerance has been traditionally defined as ‘the policy of patient forbearance towards that which is not approved’.6 Tolerance is not the same as approval or indifference, for the tolerant person exercises restraint towards something that they dislike. A father may be said to tolerate his son’s heavy metal music, for example, precisely because he dislikes it but refrains from banning it in the home. By contrast, intolerance involves the active attempt to suppress or silence the disapproved practice or belief. Of course, the means of suppression will vary greatly from context to context: a state may criminalise an activity and imprison or even execute those who practise it; a voluntary organisation may expel an offender from membership; and polemicists may attempt to discredit or destroy an opposing viewpoint by subjecting it to vilification and abuse. In this paper, we will concentrate on political intolerance (the use of state coercion), and polemical intolerance (the use of vitriol and stereotyping). In the first part of the paper, I will question the myth of secular tolerance by arguing that secularists have often resorted to political and polemical intolerance. In the second half, I will suggest that the modern commitment to religious tolerance first emerged from within the Christian tradition. The reality of secular intolerance The roots of modern secularism are complex, but it is possible to identify a continuous tradition of secular rationalist thought stemming from the radical Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment was a complex phenomenon, and in many places it had a distinctly Christian complexion. But radical Enlightenment thinkers were fiercely anti-clerical and antagonistic to the claims of revealed religion. Among the key figures in this movement were the Dutch Jew, Spinoza, the English radical, John Toland, the French philosophes, Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau, and the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Some of these men were deists, whilst others were atheists. But all emphatically rejected Christian claims to special divine revelation, and championed a sceptical and anti-supernaturalist worldview. The founding fathers of this radical Enlightenment believed that their movement would form a steadily expanding oasis of secular tolerance in a desert of religious bigotry. Voltaire was convinced that rationalism would rescue Europe from the violence of the Christian past and propel it towards a tolerant future. He himself campaigned against the persecution of French Huguenots, and other deists like Thomas Jefferson and Frederick the Great of Prussia made major contributions to religious toleration. However, it would be a mistake to think that deists, atheists and freethinkers have always been on the side of the angels (not that they believed in angels). The tendency to stereotype and stigmatise ‘the other’ goes back to the very roots of modern rationalism. Despite his impassioned pleas for toleration, Voltaire demonstrated little sympathy for traditional religions. A brilliant satirist, he was scathing in his attacks on Jews, Catholics and Calvinists, whose cherished beliefs he scornfully dismissed as absurdities. In this respect, Voltaire established a model for 2 Here then is a serious problem for those who subscribe to the myth of secular tolerance. Contrary to what Matthew Parris suggests, Godlessness is not always ‘a humanising force’. One could justifiably amend the dictum of Polly Toynbee: ‘The horrible history of atheism shows that whenever secularism grabs temporal power it turns lethal.’ Of course, some would argue that the blame for this ‘horrible history’ should not be laid at the door of secularism but of Marxist-Leninism or Maoism. There is merit to this argument, as there is to the parallel claim that the Crusades and Inquisitions involved an ideological distortion of authentic Christianity. But there may also be distinctive features of the secularist worldview which foster intolerance. The secular myth of progress tends to create a triumphalist and intolerant eschatology. People who believe that the future is secular, and that only backward religions stand in the way of progress, face a strong temptation to give history a helping hand by aggressively clearing these roadblocks from the highway to human emancipation. ‘I’m the future, you’re the past’ is a slogan that breeds intolerance, particularly when the future must be realised in the here and now. In the radical Enlightenment tradition, contempt for religion has frequently been translated into policies of suppression. Dawkins and Toynbee, of course, clearly stand in the line of Voltaire rather than of Lenin and Mao. Although they disagree with what believers say, they would (one hopes) be willing to defend to the death their right to say it. Yet there is something a little chilling about Toynbee’s statement that ‘The only good religion is a moribund religion.’ For his part, Dawkins seems determined to match the radical feminist claim that all men are potential rapists, for he clearly implies that all believers are potential terrorists. On one level, such fighting talk is harmless. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words do not. Yet one wonders whether modern commentators have not crossed the boundary-line between legitimate vigorous critique and the crude stereotyping which is the hallmark of polemical intolerance. By traducing the faithful as potential terrorists or atavistic bigots, secularists obviate the need for reasoned argument and sensitive engagement with ‘the other’. Casting off polemical restraint, they foster prejudice and undermine the possibility of genuine conversation.14 Anti-religious polemics are particularly significant when they fuel an active campaign for state-sponsored secularisation. Polly Toynbee has written that ‘religion should be kept at home, in the private sphere’. The worlds of education and politics should be religion-free zones.15 The secularisation of British society by the state is also advocated by the philosopher A. C. Grayling, who explains that this ‘would mean that government funding for church schools and “faith-based” organisations and activities would cease, as would religious programming in public broadcasting’.16 Other commentators suggest that the state should stop treating religious communities with kid gloves, and should start imposing liberal or secular values.17 This echoes the argument of some political theorists, who maintain that the state should actively promote individual ‘autonomy’ at the expense of traditional communities. But as the philosopher William Galston warns, this autonomy-based liberalism ‘exerts a kind of homogenising pressure on ways of life that do not embrace autonomy’. Rather than protecting legitimate diversity, it undermines it.18 All of this begs the question: how much pluralism can secular liberalism tolerate?19 If secular intolerance is relatively mild at present, it should not be underestimated. Christianity and the rise of toleration What then of the second component of the myth, the claim that intolerance comes naturally to the religious believer? This is clearly a central conviction of Dawkins, Toynbee and Parris, and many secular people are convinced that the very idea of tolerance is a product of Enlightenment rationalism. During the Salman Rushdie controversy, the former Labour party leader, Michael Foot, put it this way: How the world in general, and Western Europe in particular, escaped from this predicament, this seemingly endless confrontation [between religions], is one of the real miracles of western civilisation, and it was certainly not the work of the fundamentalists on either side. It was done by those who dared to deny the absolute authority of their respective gods; the sceptics, the doubters, the mockers20 Foot’s essential point – that religious dogmatism kills while religious scepticism heals – can seem persuasive. It is certainly true that in medieval and early modern Europe, devout Christians – like Thomas More and John Calvin – often supported policies of persecution. In the sixteenth century, several thousand ‘heretics’ were executed because the Catholic and (to a lesser extent) Protestant churches believed that this would save souls by halting the spread of the gangrene of heresy.21 But Foot was wrong to suggest that the reaction against this kind of persecution was initiated by secular rationalists or unbelievers. In reality, the early advocates of religious toleration in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe were devout Christians, and their case against persecution was fundamentally theological.22 They had become convinced that the use of coercion in religion constituted a betrayal of the Gospel. The Gospel, they argued, reveals that we are all recipients of divine tolerance.23 Despite our rebellion against him, God the Father displays an almost incredible clemency and longsuffering towards us. Instead of treating us as our sins deserve, he endures our hostility and offers us forgiveness. Like the Father of the Prodigal, he longs for the day when we will return to his embrace.24 Tolerationists argued that Christians, who are so indebted to God for his tolerance towards them, ought to display mercy and patience towards others.25 They underlined the words of Jesus: ‘Be merciful therefore, as your heavenly Father is merciful.’26 Tolerationists pointed out that the mercy of the Father is embodied in his Son. Christ comes to inaugurate a new kind of kingdom, one not characterised by domineering rule or violence.27 He is meek and lowly, persecuted but never persecuting. In his declaration of his kingdom’s principles, he commands his followers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, and do unto others as they would have done to themselves.28 When his disciples try to call down fire on an unbelieving Samaritan village, he rebukes them.29 He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a charger.30 He is led like a lamb to the slaughter.31 At his trial he declares, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’32 And in his Great Commission to his disciples, he teaches that his kingdom was to be extended by teaching, not by compulsion

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About

Solid Rock Ministries (now The Divine Conspiracy) got its start in the early days of the internet, primarily as a means of publishing debates between Christians and atheists, and then quickly evolved into an apologetics site.

Over the years this site has gone through many changes, and the often contentious debates between believers and unbelievers, which was once a site hallmark, have long since disappeared. Instead, the material has slowly and gradually moved in a more scholarly direction. Perhaps, this trend has been parallel to the journey my own life has taken over the past six or seven years. (You can read about some of my journey in a paper I wrote for an Intro to Philosophy class here.)

As I state on the Home page, the goal of The Divine Conspiracy is to present the highest quality material found anywhere on the internet (and especially in one site.) I can say that without boasting because the overwhelming quantity of things found here were not written by me. Most are written by professors and scholars that are specialist in the various areas this site lists under its topics.

As I also state on the Home page, not everything found here is written by Christians, or is sympathetic to the Christian worldview. There are plenty of sites already on the internet that cater to this need. (For a list of some of these check the Bookmarks page.)

Some people may wonder why a Christian would post material hostile to the Christian faith. I have two primary reasons. First, I believe that all worldviews are open to criticism and critique, and this includes Christianity. The “truth” can stand against all forms of falsehood, and since I have traveled through all the major worldviews during my life (again see the paper I mention above), I simply have no fear of competing ideas. Second it was only after I became a Christian that I began to have an open mind. I’m sure that sounds funny to any non-Christian who might be reading this (after all, atheists like to use the term “freethought” to reflect their beliefs), so let me explain what I mean.

When I attended college for the second time, in my middle 20s, I did so primarily to become an FM DJ. During this time, I often did editorials for the college radio station, some of which were directed against Christians/Christianity and conservatives. At the time, I was an atheist. One of my best friends at the station was named Bill, who I’m sure was a Christian, though he never talked about it to me, nor criticized me for my editorials, which ran on his show. The thing that I have never forgotten, however, and which still remains vivid in my mind, was a poster I had on the back of my bathroom door. It said: “Mind like parachute, functions only when open.” What a contradiction, because my mind was locked shut into a liberal, anti-religious viewpoint, not that uncommon for a young college student.

Some years later when I became a Christian, I started out as a very liberal one – reading books mixing Christianity with Buddhism and the like. Over the years, and with much reading, I gradually moved in a conservative direction. Finally, I settled into conservative, Evangelical Christianity, though I have never lost that sense of (classical) liberal ideals I once had, which now I would identify as Libertarian.

So, the point of all that is to say this. Unlike those who would criticize Christianity because of all its diversity, I celebrate it, because it’s one of its greatest strengths. I would say the two biggest challenges that face Christianity today are atheism and Islam. It’s my contention that if you compared the various people that hold the worldviews of Christianity, Islam, or atheism, the greatest diversity of thought and belief would exist within the Christian worldview. Jesus said “you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). When I was a liberal and an atheist, I was angry at the world and anyone who didn’t believe the things I did. Today, I am at peace with my own beliefs, and with those that believe differently.

Religion in the Public Square: The Debate

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW INSTITUTE DePaul University College of Law Religion in the Public Square: The Debate 2 In the United States, as in any vibrant democracy, the government is profoundly impacted by the public square – that forum in which the people discuss, debate, and evaluate public activities with the idea of persuading their compatriots and influencing the state in the development, enactment and enforcement of public policy. It is a forum, by definition, available to all, whether citizens or not, including those who represent them (such as the media or organized groups). The state also participates in the public square in its efforts to explain or justify its policies or activities. The place of religion in the public square has generated great controversy. In essence, the debate centers on one fundamental question: in a religiously pluralistic country with a policy of separation between religion and the state, what place should religion have in a forum in which state action is debated, shaped, and, to some extent, implemented? That is to say, if we accept that the state should not adopt or implement religious positions or policies, to what extent should religious language, concepts or beliefs be used to publicly justify, support or opposed government actions or policies? How do we distinguish between religious advocacy in the public square and state implementation (if that occurs)? Most people assume that this question raises First Amendment concerns. Citing the popular Supreme Court dicta in *Everson v. Board of Education (1947) that the First Amendment erects a “wall of separation” between Church and State , they assume that the law prohibits religion being invoked or a participant in the public square. However, simply reading the provisions of the *First Amendment reveals this to be an error. The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment 3 of religion [the *Establishment Clause] or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [the *Free Exercise Clause].” Under the *Fourteenth Amendment, this prohibition has been extended to cover the States as well. Thus, the amendment targets state action, as evidenced by the vast litigation over Establishment and Free Exercise cases. This jurisprudence carefully segregates the state from the public square (a domain also protected by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment) in two ways. First, it shields the public square from undue governmental influence. The government cannot publicly endorse one religion over another, religion over non-religion, nor non-religion over religion. The state cannot justify a law solely on religious ground, nor can it use a law to repress the free exercise rights of a religion. Finally, the government cannot favor or disfavor religion within an open public forum that it creates. Second, the courts have protected the viability of the state and the public domain by assuming a clear distinction between the two and adopting a presumption that state actions are motivated by secular reason (absent clear proof to the contrary.) The state is thereby protected against having every justification for public policy offered in the public domain imputed to it, with an obligation to refute or deny those justifications that suggest some form of religious freedom violation. At the same time, religious participants in the public square are freed from the fear that religiously grounded advocacy for a public policy might prove counterproductive simply because the courts could use the religious nature of the advocacy to defeat the state’s adoption of the policy. The legal question with respect to individuals (or religious groups) is similarly clear. The state cannot prohibit an individual or groups representing that individual from participating in the public square, supporting or opposing public actions based on 4 religious grounds, or using religious arguments to advance those positions. This is true, even in the case where the individual is a government official, so long as that official is speaking on his or her own behalf. To say that the state cannot preclude people of faith from advancing their religious beliefs within the process of public policy formation does not address the wisdom or morality of doing so. Indeed, many critics argue that the unique characteristics of traditional religion are so disruptive of the public polity as to justify a moral prohibition against the participation of religion in the public square. Their arguments can be summarized as follows. Violence First, many secularists argue that the purpose of Church/State separation was to avoid the violence of religiously inspired conflict. They cite the historic religious wars and their current manifestations in areas such as Afghanistan, the Middle East, Bosnia, and Northern Ireland. In this country, they cite the violence surrounding abortion and the radical right to life movement. Authoritarianism One critic of a governmental bioethics panel’s interaction with religious representatives complained that the sole task of religion is “theological hermeneutics – the interpretation of sacred texts…..[Religion] abolish[s] the hard ethical questions” because the answers are to be found in the texts of rev 5 Accessibility Related to the issue of authority, many critics argue that religious arguments are not accessible to non-believers. That is to say, they do not provide information sufficient for the non-religious person to evaluate and understand the arguments being made by the person of faith. Insofar as governmental action should rest upon arguments that are acceptable and understandable by those subject to them, then a justification based upon religious faith would not satisfy this requirement. Religious Argument Prevents Public Discussion A more serious version of the accessibility critique is that the use of religious argument precludes public discussion and prevents political consensus. Michael Perry adopts a version of this argument when he argues that people of faith should be prepared to offer secular reasons for their judgments without imposing a similar requirement on people of non-faith. He argues that because people of non-faith do not believe, they cannot be expected to offer religious reasons for their positions. Religion is not Shared One of the rationales supporting the demand for secular justification is that it is assumed that secular reasoning is neutral – that it is shared by all members of society. Religion, on the other hand, is distinctly idiosyncratic, unique to each separate believer and/or his/her tradition. Clearly, arguing from vastly different grounding perspectives (for example, an argument between a radical Marxist and a radical capitalist) is unlikely to result in agreement in that neither side shares enough common understanding with the other to provide a basis for agreement. More significantly, the process of democratic governance requires a sense of community. Individuals must make sacrifices (e.g. paying taxes) for the benefit of the common good. 6 Discourse that emphasizes difference and the lack of commonality interferes with this necessary sense of community. Religion is Divisive Many people believe that religion is uniquely divisive. It evokes passions and emotion as well as reason and judgment. As acknowledged by Michael McConnell, “in the current political climate, many of the most heated political controversies involve a clash between largely religious forces of cultural traditionalism and largely secular forces of cultural deconstruction. It would be difficult to say which side in these conflicts was more strident, more intolerant, or more absolutist.” Faction The Founders of the American Republic feared political faction as one of the great threats to stable government. A “zeal for different opinions concerning religion” was Madison’s first example in Federalist No. 10 of the causes of this type of faction. The faction argument is, essentially, the political extension of the decisiveness argument. Religion is not only a potential source of passionate conflict, but also a unifying force giving that conflict political power. It is not just that religion has the power to divide individuals, one against the other—it may lead to political conflict between religious groups. Religious advocates challenge that each of the foregoing arguments can be individually rebutted as resting upon one of two major misconceptions about religion. First, many of the arguments present an incomplete or distorted understanding of religion and religious belief. For example, the fact that a person of faith uses religious scripture as a starting point for their moral or political reflections does not necessarily mean they will be any less reasonable or rational than a person starting from any other comprehensive philosophy. Both could be unreasonable or irrational, but neither must 7 be. Second, and related to the first, separatist critics draw unwarranted distinctions between the religious and the secular, in large part by assuming that the secular is religiously neutral. However, as noted by thinkers such as McConnell, the secular is not neutral – it is competitive with religion, reflecting a particular world-view of a particular group of people. Indeed, in many instances secular world views function in religion-like ways, including serving as ideological goads towards violence and conflict (e.g. Stalin’s purges, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia.) Some critics, like Robert Audi, respond that the problem is not any one individual critique of religion – but the multiplicity of arguments arising around religious (particularly theistic) belief. While some may agree, it remains unclear how this, in fact, distinguishes religion from any other powerful worldview. A much more persuasive reading of the situation suggests that separationists and religious advocates approach the public square with radically differing understandings of the public square and the nature of public discourse. Specifically, advocates for a secular public square favor the use of abstract reason and logical argument, while appearing suspicious of—if not hostile to—passion. Religion, as the ultimate expression of emotional commitment, represents a powerful threat to this vision of dispassionate discourse. This has led separationists to attempt to repress religion by finding a single, common (i.e. secular) belief system that all citizens can share freed from deep emotional commitments to particularist communities. Religious advocates reject this approach, believing it impossible to separate out their deepest beliefs and commitments from their approach to the public square. They appear to stand on strong historical footing. Passionate disagreement is a part of 8 American history and the political process. From the Revolutionary War and the conflict between Loyalists and the Revolutionaries, through the Abolitionist movement, the Civil War, the early labor movement, the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement, it has been a feature of American governance. While religion was present in some of these conflicts, it was not in others. Restricting religious participation will not end the reality that people of conviction bring their passion to the political arena. Moreover, the effort to secularize the public sphere has alienated many people of faith creating a backlash feeding the emergence of the religious right. As argued by Stephen Carter,“Nothing creates political energy quite so well as insults, and nothing makes [members of the religious right] harder to slow than the ignorance of their critics.” Religionists, specifically the Christian right, appear prone to a historicist essentialism that is equally troubling. They tend to blur the traditional hegemony of Christianity in America with a normative reading of the First Amendment, ignoring the reality of religious evolution in the United States. They lose sight of the need not only for tolerance of difference, but of respect for those who are different. In summary, individually the arguments of constitutional morality do not demonstrate that religion is disruptive of the public square—or at least no more so than competing secular worldviews. However, the vehemence of the arguments does suggest that significant problems exist within the public square itself. Current discourse appears intolerant of diversity—unwilling to acknowledge the importance (or even the acceptability) of arguments reflecting the religious and non-religious pluralism of the nation. Moreover, the sense of community, the fabric of civilization necessary to sustain public engagement and sacrifice for the common good, appears fragile and growing 9 thinner. Arguments against religious participation in the public square reflect this deeper malaise.

Using Protistan Examples to Dispel the Myths of Intelligent Design

MARK A. FARMERa and ANDREA HABURAb,c a Department of Cellular Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, and b Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12201, and c Department of Biomedical Sciences, School of Public Health, The University at Albany, Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12201 ABSTRACT. In recent years the teaching of the religiously based philosophy of intelligent design (ID) has been proposed as an alternative to modern evolutionary theory. Advocates of ID are largely motivated by their opposition to naturalistic explanations of biological diversity, in accordance with their goal of challenging the philosophy of scientific materialism. Intelligent design has been embraced by a wide variety of creationists who promote highly questionable claims that purport to show the inadequacy of evolutionary theory, which they consider to be a threat to a theistic worldview. We find that examples from protistan biology are well suited for providing evidence of many key evolutionary concepts, and have often been misrepresented or roundly ignored by ID advocates. These include examples of adaptations and radiations that are said to be statistically impossible, as well as examples of speciation both in the laboratory and as documented in the fossil record. Because many biologists may not be familiar with the richness of the protist evolution dataset or with ID-based criticisms of evolution, we provide examples of current ID arguments and specific protistan counter-examples. Key Words. Drug resistance, irreducible complexity, Plasmodium, radiation of forms, speciation, transitional fossils. WITH the publication of ‘‘On the Origin of Species’’ in 1859 Charles Darwin formalized a theory that provided a natural explanation of the diversity of living organisms on Earth. This theory is characteristically referred to as ‘‘evolution,’’ and in the intervening 150 years, the disciplines of paleontology, genetics, cell biology, and most recently molecular biology have all influenced and helped to refine evolutionary theory. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence that supports the basic tenets of evolution (i.e. common descent of organisms with different forms being the result of natural selection acting upon naturally occurring variation), there is a large proportion of the American population that does not accept the validity of what is perhaps the most rigorously tested scientific hypothesis in history. Many interpret acceptance of evolutionary theory as being incompatible with their deeply held religious beliefs. These individuals have sought to undermine the teaching of evolution through the introduction of religiously motivated and scientifically questionable philosophies into the classroom. In recent years this strategy has been most aggressively pursued by members of the intelligent design (ID) movement, whose stated goal is ‘‘challenging the philosophy of scientific materialism and the false scientific theories that support it’’ (Discovery Institute 2003, q.v. Discovery Institute 1999). A leading figure in the ID movement is Dr. Michael Behe, professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank that advocates for ID. Dr. Behe is the author of two influential books, Darwin’s Black Box (Behe 1996) and The Edge of Evolution (Behe 2007), and he is best known for his concept of ‘‘irreducible complexity’’ in which he posits that some biochemical systems are too complex to have arisen through natural, undirected processes. Behe (1996) defined an irreducibly complex system as being ‘‘composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.’’ In The Edge of Evolution Behe (2007) draws heavily on two examples of what he considers to be irreducibly complex systems: the eukaryotic cilium and chloroquine resistance in the apicomplexan parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Creationists, whether affiliated with the ID movement or not, often point to his examples of irreducibly complex systems as proof that modern evolutionary theory is fatally flawed. Other criticisms of evolutionary theory are based on such points as the lack or irrelevance of transitional fossils (Wells 2009), the sudden radiation of biological forms in the Cambrian (Meyer 2004), and the argument that speciation events have not been observed or documented (Skell 2009). Protistan biology provides direct counter-examples to these claims. In many cases protistan examples are actually more compelling than the better known examples of animal or plant evolution, because the large population sizes, short generation times, and easy adaptability of protists to laboratory manipulation often make the biological processes in question more clearly evident. We have chosen four common challenges to evolutionary theory proposed by ID advocates, and provide detailed examples drawn from protistan research to demonstrate why these anti-evolution arguments fail. THE PRE-PRECAMBRIAN EXPLOSION Clearly, we have good reason to doubt that mutation and selection, self-organizational processes or laws of nature, can produce the informationrich components, systems, and body plans necessary to explain the origination of morphological novelty such as that which arises in the Cambrian period. (Meyer 2004). Another senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, Dr. Stephen Meyer, has written extensively on why he believes that the rapid diversification of animal forms, commonly referred to as the ‘‘Cambrian Explosion,’’ could not have occurred through natural and undirected processes. The popular press often unwittingly compounds the confusion surrounding the Cambrian Explosion with statements such as ‘‘For some 3 billion years, single-celled life forms such as bacteria dominated the planet. Then, roughly 600 million years ago, the first multi-cellular animals appeared on the scene, diversifying rapidly.’’ (Choi 2009). Such oversimplifications create the false impression that metazoa arose de novo, ignoring the fact that protists, which are markedly more complex and more morphologically and genetically diverse than bacteria, had been evolving for approximately 1 billion years before the first multicellular animals appear in the fossil record. The appearance in the fossil record of many new and diverse phyla of metazoa over a relatively short 20-million-year span of time (550–530 Mya) could be seen as incompatible with classical Darwinian theory, which posits that the accumulation of small and very gradual changes over long periods of time could produce the Presentation delivered at the workshop: Horizontal Gene Transfer and Phylogenetic Evolution Debunk Intelligent Design, 1st International Society of Protistologists—North American Section Meeting, 11–13 June 2009, Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI, USA Corresponding Author: M. A. Farmer, Department of Cellular Biology, University of Georgia, 724 Biological Sciences, Athens, Georgia 30602—Telephone number: 706 542 3383; FAX number: 706 542 4271; e-mail: farmer@cb.uga.edu 3 J. Eukaryot. Microbiol., 57(1), 2010 pp. 3–10 r 2009 The Author(s) Journal compilation r 2009 by the International Society of Protistologists DOI: 10.1111/j.1550-7408.2009.00460.x diversity of animal forms seen in the Cambrian. However, it has long been known that a single innovation can result in what appears to be a greatly accelerated rate of evolution, giving rise to an ‘‘explosive’’ radiation of forms (Eldredge and Gould 1972). It is generally accepted that the ancestors of the metazoa were morphologically complex protists, and that diploblastic metazoans, such as the Cnidaria (jellyfish), existed before the Cambrian (Carroll, Grenier, and Weatherbee 2001). The relatively simple innovation of a triploblastic body form with a complete coelom could have allowed for a tremendous diversification of body types that today are recognized as belonging to distinct phyla, but which had their origins among genetically similar acoelomates (Chen et al. 2004). Morphological innovations of this type can be underlain by fairly simple processes, such as changes in cell adhesion properties (Minelli and Fusco 2005). In short, the Cambrian Explosion was likely the result of a few simple innovations that made a vast array of new body plans possible. It is probable that body fossils of many (if not most) Precambrian organisms are missing from the fossil record, with these organisms represented only by trace fossils (Bengtson et al. 2009). Trackways and other impressions that had been attributed to metazoans (Droser, Jensen, and Gehling 2002; Seilacher, Bose, and Pflu¨ger 1998) date to nearly 400 million years before the Cambrian. However, these fossils may instead be evidence of activity by a highly diverse Precambrian assemblage of protists. For example, Matz et al. (2008) report modern-day tube tracks in the deep waters off the Bahamas that are produced by large gromid protists, and which resemble some Precambrian trace fossils. Such interpretations fit well with current theories that suggest protists first emerged between 1.8 and 1.2 Bya (Knoll et al. 2006), and underwent their own explosive radiation somewhere between 950 and 1350 Mya (Berney and Pawlowski 2006; Douzery et al. 2004). When one considers the tremendous diversity of protistan forms (see Adl et al. 2005), the array of body plans among the Cambrian metazoa pales in comparison. In terms of biological diversity it can be argued that no group approaches that of the protists, especially if one considers that all the plants, fungi, and animals, including the famously diverse Coleoptera, are merely sub-groups of the protistan clades Archaeplastida and Opisthokonta (Adl et al. 2005). Even with the exclusion of the multicellular ‘‘higher’’ eukaryotes, the morphological and physiological diversity among protists is staggering. The major clades of protists contain everything from photosynthetic autotrophs to amitochondriate flagellates and are found in virtually every habitat on Earth (Foissner 2008). The extant diversity of the protists should therefore be seen as the ‘‘background radiation’’ of the eukaryotic Big Bang, with the Cambrian radiation of the metazoa being a subsequent event within a specific group. Analysis of well-conserved genes across the eukaryotes supports the concept of a protistan ‘‘big bang’’ in which everything radiated in a short but intense burst of evolutionary innovation (Dacks et al. 2002; Tekle, Parfrey, and Katz 2009), and also provides important clues to the mechanism that produced the incredible variation we see. Current theories of protistan origins focus on the roles played by various prokaryotic partners coming together via symbiosis to form the first proto-eukaryotes (Margulis et al. 2006; Martin and Mu¨ller 1998; Moreira and Lopez-Garcia 1998). Events of this type are not slow or incremental; they offer opportunities for radical and novel biochemical and genetic innovations. In addition, there is relatively little ‘‘penalty’’ for unsuccessful combinations; because the component organisms are already successful in their own right, a suboptimal symbiosis presents no threat to the survival of either of the parent lineages. While controversy remains over the mechanism(s) that gave rise to the eukaryotic genetic toolkit (e.g. symbiosis and lateral gene transfer, see related symposium article), it is now well supported that the genomes of all protists are chimeras that resulted from single or perhaps multiple unions of bacterial and archaeal ancestors (Rivera 2007; Rivera and Lake 2004). It also seems likely that relatively simple events made the radiation of the protists possible, just as simple changes probably underlie the Cambrian explosion. There is good support for the idea that the alpha-proteobacterial ancestor of the mitochondrion formed a union with an archean before the radiation of protists. Much of the evidence for this early symbiosis comes from the study of protists that no longer possess a conventional mitochondrion that functions in aerobic respiration (Embley and Martin 2006). The exact nature of the relationships between very distantly related protists has not yet been completely resolved; the monophyly of some of the larger protistan clades or ‘‘supergroups’’ remains controversial (Parfrey et al. 2006) and the predicted branching order of the supergroups within the eukaryotic tree is in even greater flux (Rodriguez-Ezpeleta et al. 2007). Nonetheless the emerging picture is one in which protists arose a single time and then rapidly underwent an explosive radiation of forms that has enabled protists to occupy nearly every ecological niche known to exist on Earth. Such observations are consistent with modern evolutionary theory and do not require the invoking of supernatural explanations to account for the diversity of protists. ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES One of the most common arguments against evolutionary theory is the assertion that no one has ever witnessed the creation of a new species. It is difficult to even define what is meant by the term ‘‘species’’ (Adl et al. 2007), but the common conception of the term usually involves a degree of genetic and reproductive isolation, and at least some definable morphologic or other physical criteria that can be used to distinguish between members of the two species (Mayden 2002). Under this definition, the typical and quite reasonable response by evolutionary biologists is that it takes many generations of genetic isolation under strong selective pressures to bring about the origin of a new species from a parent one. Active speciation events are thought to be quite rare and are predicted to occur over only a tiny fraction of the total ‘‘lifespan’’ of a given species. The fact that biologists have only been looking for examples of speciation for less than 150 years and that the generation time of most multicellular organisms is measured in months or even years, it is hardly surprising that relatively few examples have been recognized and documented. The results of a long-term study with E. coli suggest that a bacterial speciation event has indeed been observed and well documented (Blount, Borland, and Lenski 2008), but examples from eukaryotic organisms are rarer. Most examples of eukaryotic speciation contain a significant time component. Some rely on comparisons of morphological or molecular characters shared by two extant species, which are predicted to be more closely related to each other than to any other living organisms. In other cases, identification of the evolutionary sequence is made by comparing fossil forms with living taxa. While these examples are compelling, if well documented, they do not meet the more rigorous standard of actually witnessing a speciation event because the parental strain is no longer available for comparison. What is needed to completely answer the objection is a clear-cut example whereby a sub-population of organisms becomes genetically isolated from its parent stock and, in the face of a strong selective pressure, develops traits that were not present in the parent. Furthermore, the genetic isolation must be total and complete, such that should the parent strain and the progeny have the opportunity to interbreed, they would still remain separate and genetically distinct from one another. All of this must be well documented, with both the parent and progeny strains surviving, and it must have been witnessed in a single person’s lifetime.

Faith in Public A Response to – Semantic Scholar

Journal of Religion & Society

Faith in Public A Response to Greg Dawes 1 Glenn Peoples, University of Otago, New Zealand Abstract In a recent paper, Greg Dawes has argued for what he calls the “presumption of naturalism” in religious studies, and by implication in academia in general. He argues that theological assumptions may not be brought into academic study to the extent that they are not grounded in publicly accessible knowledge. Here I argue that Christians can and must bring their theological assumptions with them into public academia. I will try to show that Dawes’ proposal entails a denial of certain elements of Christian thought, and that his methodology thus fails to be neutral, as well as having other noticeable problems. Introduction [1] In a recent paper presented to the religious studies and theology department at the University of Otago and more recently in the Journal of Religion & Society, Gregory Dawes has argued for the “presumption of naturalism” in the public study of religion, and by extension, in any kind of study in a public institution. His argument may be briefly summarised as follows: [2] Faith, according to the Christian tradition (represented here by Aquinas and Calvin), is the gift of God. It is not given to all, and thus it is impossible for all people to share the perspective of faith. God “motivates faith by producing in the individual a desire for God as the first truth” (¶9; Dawes is here summarizing Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae). This “faith” is to be distinguished from mere intellectual assent, since the demons “believe” in the sense of “give assent,” yet they do not have this gift of faith. Dawes says that Aquinas saw things believed through faith as not being believed on the merit of any reasons that might be brought forward, but as being known strictly apart from any intellectual process. The effects of faith “are sufficient to move the will but not the intellect.” Dawes sees John Calvin presenting essentially the same view of the attainment of faith. Calvin’s view of Scripture entailed that God attests to the believer that the Bible is indeed God’s word, not via the evidence of miraculous deeds, but via the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. [3] These accounts of faith, argues Dawes, show that faith is deeply private, in that it is not a publicly accessible form of knowledge (if it is really knowledge at all). This is particularly the case in Calvin, where the possibility of having the knowledge that arises through faith is not “open to all,” but is “a gift of God which he bestows on those whom he chooses” (¶26). Summing up the problem of faith in public tertiary education, Dawes explains: “The grounds on which things are said to be known by faith are not intersubjectively-accessible,” by which he 1 I want to thank Gregory Dawes for his comments on an earlier draft on this paper, which proved helpful. I also want to acknowledge Ivor Davidson and Dawes, whose questions and challenges at the presentation of this paper proved provocative as well as useful. Journal of Religion & Society 2 7 (2005) means publicly accessible or open to scrutiny by all (¶27). Thus, the assumptions of faith cannot properly be employed in the public study of religion (or of anything else). Conclusions, if they are to be warranted, must only arise from grounds that are accessible to all. [4] In addition to the above, Dawes goes on to (very briefly) question “the reliability of faith as a means of accessing reality,” where he suggests that faith should not be viewed as knowledge, or a valid means of attaining knowledge (¶27). Those arguments will have to be left to others or for another time, but for now I wish to direct my attention to Dawes’ arguments about the private nature of faith and the necessity of only appealing to publicly accessible grounds in the public study of religion. I am aware that there are many other issues than those I will address here, so at the outset I will outline a map of what I intend to cover. First, I will ask whether or not it is entirely fair to talk about religious assumptions as belonging entirely to the realm of esoteric, private, and non-communicable experience, or at any rate if such a characterization is fair to the Christian self-understanding. Second, I will question the notion that “nature” is a brute realm of data on which all people can have shared observation. I will then ask, third, whether it is reasonable to assume that everyone can use methodological naturalism. Fourth, I will ask whether Dawes (or anyone) could conceivably offer us reasons to think that methodological naturalism is a reliable method of discovering truth. Fifth, I will ask if methodological naturalism has some special feature that makes is preferable to any other method of enquiry, and finally suggest a model that could, given Dawes’ criteria of acceptability, serve us at least just as well as methodological naturalism. 2 Is the Truth about God Hidden? [5] Dawes is clearly operating on the view that on the one hand, “faith” is esoteric, operating on knowledge that is secret, making Christianity, ironically, sound like the Gnostic heresies that the church fought so hard against in its early years. Naturalistic facts, on the other hand, have a neutral character. They are evident to all. But what is “faith” here? The material that Dawes himself presents from Aquinas and Calvin shows that in the Christian tradition, “faith” is not merely knowledge of certain theological propositions. Rather, faith is an acceptance of the truth of the propositions, and a personal commitment to God (“a desire for God as the first truth”). Thus, it is not the case that Christians operate on premises that cannot be comprehended by all. All can see and understand the premises of a Christian approach to the world, even if they do not accept the truth of these premises or the religious commitment a Christian has. We are reminded, for example, of Anselm’s Ontological argument (while we shrink back from trying to defend him): The foolish man has said in his heart “There is no God.” But surely that very man, on hearing the term, understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding, even if he does not go on to understand that such a being exists (Prosoglium, in Smart: 56). 2 One question that we could have asked before getting underway is exactly what practical implications Dawes means us to see in his argument. How, in practice, will a person engage public study differently if they freely assume the truth of things believed on the basis of faith than if they only assumed what could be shown via methodological naturalism? Interesting though the question is, Dawes ignored it, and since this is a response to the paper presented by Dawes, we will ignore it. Journal of Religion & Society 3 7 (2005) Christianity might operate on principles that are derived from grounds that not everyone shares (in the sense of having shared access to a knowledge of their truth). But this does not mean that it operates on principles that others cannot understand. In public study, while we may not share the same position of those we are studying, we are always in a position to take their position as true for argument’s sake, in order to achieve a sympathetic understanding. And so, while not everyone shares Christian faith, we can still quite happily, as Alvin Plantinga puts it, appeal conditionally to religious convictions. He draws on an American court decision on the teaching of evolution in public schools (Seagraves v. California), where the court ruled, “any speculative statements concerning origins, both in texts and in classes, should be presented conditionally, not dogmatically” (Plantinga 2001: 790). While the context Plantinga has in mind is the conduct of a teacher in a public high school class, the principle is easily extrapolated to a public tertiary setting. In such a setting we can easily refrain from appealing to (alleged) knowledge that others cannot share by “conditionalizing” our statements using the word “if.” Dawes himself has done something like this. He has not simply asserted, “In fact the non-believer cannot share the faith that a believer has, because in fact it is the gift of God.” Dawes is not willing to grant, firstly that there is a God, or that God does grant faith as a gift. Instead, Dawes has sought to argue that if faith is in fact the gift of God, then the believer could not reasonably make appeals to knowledge known only based on this gift in public academic discourse. I do not accept the soundness of his argument, but he has shown us a perfectly appropriate way to dialogue between worldviews in public. We are capable of taking as true – for argument’s sake – a given worldview, and then asking what would follow from it. This in no way poses a problem for those who do take their own metaphysical worldview for granted when they engage us in public dialogue. [6] But we can press the issue further: Is the truth about God hidden from all except those to whom God has granted the gift of faith? The Christian answer (or at any rate the answer provided in at least several Christian traditions) is – not at all! This line of reasoning is employed by St. Paul: Nobody has a valid excuse for not knowing the truth about God, since God has made Godself known to all through creation: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:18-21; New International Version). [7] Now this is not simply a statement of the “teleological argument” – the argument from design. The knowledge posited by Paul is an intuitive knowledge, a knowledge that is formed in the minds of proper functioning persons in response to creation (to use the language of Alvin Plantinga). Thus, if Christianity is true, it is not the case that it operates on esoteric truth claims. Rather, it operates on evident truth claims, claims the truth of which sinful beings have suppressed. This view is clearly present in Calvin, who wrote: That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from