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FreeAmerican

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The Evolution of Thought

by James Underdown

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 21, Number 2.

All great truths begin as blasphemies.
    —George Bernard Shaw

It’s not what we don’t know that hurts, it’s what we know that ain’t so.
                                                                              —Will Rogers

Of the millions of nonreligious people out there, many seem to be experiencing a fairly high level of frustration about the recent rate of the evolution of thought. (By “evolution of thought,” I mean the long, slow transition from the belief in myths and magic to the use of science and reason.) We witness political candidates engage in prissy contests to see who can get to church (or synagogue) first, and hear public figures routinely assume that religious citizens are somehow more moral than atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists.

There are angels on television, devils in the movies, and “In God We Trust” disfiguring our money. When are we, as a species, going to graduate past all this?

Let’s take a step back and see if the evolution of thought really is plodding along slowly, or if it just feels that way.

Two thousand years ago, humanity’s knowledge of the universe was very limited. We humans generally didn’t venture very far from home; we didn’t understand where weather, disease, or earthquakes came from; and a great many of us were clearly divided between the very rich (and educated for the time) and the very poor or enslaved. This is the era that bore Christianity.

http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/underdown_21_2.html

It took almost 1,500 years and movable type for Western civilization to make books available to large numbers of people who could then learn (if they could read) about things beyond their immediate environs. After taking fifteen centuries (from the time of Christ, if he existed) to go from pulling carts to pulling nicer carts, we needed another two centuries to start laying the foundations for modern science and technology.

During this Enlightenment, we began studying the physical world and the skies just for the sake of understanding them. Science soared at a time when religion staked out territory and built fences. When science and technology made the Industrial Revolution possible, and a middle class came to life, education, books, and the means to think independently finally began arriving on the doorstep of the masses—for the first time in history. Remember, widespread, free, public education has been with humanity for less than two hundred years.

Think about that. The majority of humans have really only had access to the tools—never mind the inclination—to question ancient myths and medieval thinking for two hundred measly years. (Many still don’t.) That represents .0013 of human history (based on 150,000 years of modern humans.) Without access to knowledge through books and education, humans could hardly be expected to question the beliefs of their ancestors. Even today, the notion of ancient beliefs, traditional medicines, and age-old teachings connotes a deeper understanding of life and the world.
The modern world knows exponentially more than in Jesus’ day, or Darwin’s for that matter.

Two hundred years ago, how many people had the knowledge or education to challenge the creation story in Genesis? What church would have ever felt compelled to compose a reasoned response to such a challenge? How many calls were there on churches at the turn of this century to cite scientific or rational arguments to support beliefs in Noah’s Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, or the Shroud of Turin?

For centuries, you believed what the church taught or you were shunned (excommunicated? executed?). It was dangerous to challenge dogma. It still is in many places. Churches engaged in no serious debate with nonbelievers because they felt no need to. The tradition of openly challenging religion and superstition is very modern.
Ah, but today there is debate. Despite the creationists in our midst, most modern people would as soon entertain a serious discussion about Adam and Eve as a discussion about goblins or witches—also once common beliefs. Before Darwin a century and a half ago, few scientists had any idea about how life evolved on this planet. How could the average person be expected to be able to refute Genesis? Today, no competent biologist, zoologist, geologist, etc., denies evolution. That is progress, fast progress.

Today, religions are coopting (at least the language of) science to support religion. The Institute for Creation Science and the Shroud of Turin Institute are both examples of religion attempting to deal with an increasingly educated mass of people. The Catholic Church apologized to the long-dead Galileo for his heliocentric ideas, and admits there is something to this evolution thing. Religion is for the first time in history feeling the need to use science and reason to support its ideas.

The face of religious belief is changing as well. Many religious people don’t believe in hell (or the devil) anymore. Catholics no longer believe in Limbo or abstaining from eating meat on Fridays, and (many) make their own choices (e.g. about abortion, birth control, and pre-marital sex) about right and wrong independently of church dogma.

Fifty years ago this individuality would be unheard of, or kept quiet. Now the large religions lose countless adherents because people just don’t buy the old party lines. That, too, is progress.

People live the science every day. We may not understand why our cars start, our computers hum, or our cell phones ring, but these things work, and we know science and reason brought them to us. Science lifts us into space, cures diseases, and broadcasts a world of knowledge into our homes. Science predicts the weather, powers our furnaces, and helps us live longer than our parents. When their lives are in jeopardy, holy men (and women) go to the hospital—not to a mosque, church, or synagogue—if they want to live on. Science is easing at least some of the fears religion sought to address from the beginning. That trend continues.

I know only too well how slow this process feels, but in the context of history, it appears that the good ship Religion’s leaks are becoming more unmanageable, while science and reason sail methodically, unflaggingly, into the unknown to demystify it. Patience, sailors, patience.

James Underdown is the director of the Center for Inquiry West in Los Angeles.

Posted by FreeAmerican





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"The man who follows is a slave. The man who thinks is free." Robert G. Ingersoll
 


Posts: 42 | Posted: 10:15 PM on April 9, 2003 | IP
Hammer_of_God

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I would agree with you, except that that deals ENTIRELY to the catholic religion, and Catholics aren't christians...the Catholic faith is pure tradition and doesn't have any real morals...which is what I believe...


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Life is either an adventure, or nothing...
 


Posts: 24 | Posted: 4:11 PM on April 15, 2003 | IP
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Catholicism is centered around Christ.  It is a Christian denomination.
 


Posts: 0 | Posted: 6:40 PM on April 15, 2003 | IP
FreeAmerican

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Quote from Guest at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2003 :
Catholicism is centered around Christ.  It is a Christian denomination.


We agree on this. I was a catholic in childhood. I studied the catechism and took 4 yearly courses of theology at a Catholic college, largely centered on New Testament studies.

It is certainly Christ centered, even though I am an Atheist and think that it is all myth, an intelligent informed person would not make the ignorant statement that Catholics are not Christians. The ones most guilty are the Fundamentalists, the most perverted and degraded form of Christianity. They are not only supremely ignorant but display the epitome of arrogance.

Catholics need to stop trusting the fundies on political issues. I say the same to the Jews. Fundies down deep hate Catholics and Jews. It they, the Fundies get power, they will eliminate chaps like me first. Then they will go after the Catholics and next the Jews if they succeed in establishing their Theocracy.

But it doesn't need to happen. Catholics need to remember who these barmy holy rollers are and were. Black people need to know what religious group composes the KKK, Aryan Nations, and Christian Identity. Hint: it is not atheists, jews, catholics, or liberal proddies.

FreeAmerican

PS: remember that fundamentalists with slightly different coloured spots were the ones who blew up the twin towers on 9-11.





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"The man who follows is a slave. The man who thinks is free." Robert G. Ingersoll
 


Posts: 42 | Posted: 8:20 PM on April 15, 2003 | IP
Hammer_of_God

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Last time I thought that the catholic religion centered around Virgin Mary...

isn't that why you have big pictures of Mary on teh thrown and Jesus next to her...hmm...and they say Hail Marys...why not hail Jesus'...

and that is what I believe...


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Life is either an adventure, or nothing...
 


Posts: 24 | Posted: 9:15 PM on April 16, 2003 | IP
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No, Mary is an important figure, but she's not THE important figure.
 


Posts: 0 | Posted: 9:43 PM on April 16, 2003 | IP
Hammer_of_God

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Right...

I do not have anything against Catholics. I'm not the kinda guy who would tie a bomb to my shoe and run inside a Cathedral. I just believe that 3/4 of the stuff Catholics do don't have any real scriptural meaning...


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Life is either an adventure, or nothing...
 


Posts: 24 | Posted: 7:06 PM on April 17, 2003 | IP
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So?  Can't they have other traditions in addition to the purely Biblical ones?  Is recognizing people they believe to be great examples of Christians (Mary, Saints, etc) as such so bad?
 


Posts: 0 | Posted: 7:10 PM on April 17, 2003 | IP
Hammer_of_God

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No, you misunderstood me, or I didn't explain good enough...

I have no problem with them and their reigion. But I do have a problem with them doing what they do and calling themselves Christians...that's just what I believe....


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Life is either an adventure, or nothing...
 


Posts: 24 | Posted: 7:16 PM on April 17, 2003 | IP
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Why?
Catholics believe Jesus is the son of God who came to Earth to cure man of sin.   Isn't that the main idea of Christianity?
 


Posts: 0 | Posted: 7:45 PM on April 17, 2003 | IP
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     Paul the Apostle was a very educated man who is believed to have the education eqivalence to 6 or 7 modern doctorate degree's. He was not even searching, but was simply elected by Jesus, whom He didn't even know until Jesus appeared to him on a Damascus road. And, of course at this time was the school founded by Plato, a student of Socrates, was in operation and had already begun a sizely movement in regards to "sophists" and their philsophical relativity (although Socrates himself believed in absolute truth). In fact this was in Athens, in the midst of the Apostle's preaching. It is not the "ship of science" that we need to get on, for that ship is constantly being completely rearranged and disproved, it is the unchangable Word of God that we need to turn back to. We must not comprimise in light of this foolish and decaying world.

      Catholocism, as practised in today's society, is in direct contradiction to the Word of God. It by no means constitutes Christ-like "Christian" behavior. The Bible says, "Repent and be baptized (complete immersion in the original text "bapto") and you shall be saved." The Catholic Church teaches that we are to be sprinkled as babies, hardly the time to repent, and not the Biblical manner for baptism by any means. Jesus said that we must be like these little one's to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Catholic Church insists that the mystical sprinkling has to happen for the kid to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible says, "there is One mediator between God and man, and that is the man Jesus Christ." <1 Timothy 2:15> The Catholic Church insists that there are many "mediators", heresy according to the Scriptures. Praying to Mary is an ubsurd manner of idol worship, which seems to have roots in ancient Babylonian worship of idols. The refrasing of facts as trained in the Catholic Church "It is just asking her (or them in regards to other misc. saints) to pray for me", is also a blasphemous statement considering that the Bible teaches it is an abomination to talk to the dead. Does the priest really have the power to crucify Jesus agian during the communiun of the "actual body and blood of Christ"? No, also wicked twistings of the truth. Hebrews 6:4-6 tells us that some men, having strayed from Christ after having "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" can no longer come back, "since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame."  God said that to crucify Christ again is putting Him to open shame, and He is not going to have it. Jesus shed His Blood once and for all, and those who trample it under-foot face a fearful consequence. The Lord Jesus is; pure, perfect, and just. Through Jesus only can we obtain righteousness in the eyes of the Lord God. By grace through faith we can be saved, for it is written, "the just shall live by faith" . Only by faith can we recieve the Holy Spirit as our guide, complete and total faith in the Lord Jesus.
 


Posts: 0 | Posted: 02:18 AM on April 18, 2003 | IP
StormCrow

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It's not wrong to have "extra" beliefs, but they have beliefs that I believe stricly go AGAINST The bible... for example catholics are encouraged to pray to the saints that they might take up their cause before God on their behalf (or correct me if i'm wrong). The bible clearly states "Have no other gods before Me." and Jesus said, "There is no way unto the father, but though me." There is also the issue of Purgatory, which is entirely unscriptural. Confession is another issue. I don't think catholics are going to hell, they believe that Christ died on the cross for their sins, and they accept him as massiah. That's the minimum requirement (for lack of a better term) according to scripture. From their all denomonations branch from mainline christianity. Chatholic churches seem to base it more on tradition, ritual and function, where protestants base it more on faith, deeds and evangelism. To say that catholics aren't christians, I think is a little extreme.
     Neither is it fair to relate the majority of protestant christians to the racial whacko's like KKK, Aryian Nation, and Christian Identity. They are a pathetic minority. To relate them to mainstream protestentism, would be like relating Islamic Jihad and Al-Quaeda to mainstream Islam, it just isn't a fair, or justified representation.


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"The Way of the Warrior is the two-fold path of pen and sword. Even if a man possess no natural inclination he may be a warrior by sticking assidously to both divisions of the Way."

-Shinmen Musashi
 


Posts: 112 | Posted: 10:05 PM on April 26, 2003 | IP
Pikeman85

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Actually puragtory is supported by biblical doctrine more than hell is.

Gehenna I believe is one of the (7?) hells in Jewish mystism. That is the word Jesus uses when he describes the torment of the unbelievers or some such. I think, though I am not certain, that it was only temporary as well.
Not so sure on this one, haven't had as much time to research as I want.

Paul states going to the 3rd heaven, again another reference to Kabbalism (Jewish Mystism) I don't know a great deal on it, only talked to one Jew who actually knew what I was talking about, but there were 7 heavens, and the third heaven was some sort of great spiritual experience or something, like being at the very feet of god or some such.

I can get links if you want em...

of course I believe it's all crap anyways.

And the term used for Jesus, Monogenes, can be read as one of a kind, not just son of god ;)


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Promoting Freethought all over... I am the Fire. I am the Dechristianizer
 


Posts: 8 | Posted: 12:03 AM on May 3, 2003 | IP
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"To say that catholics aren't christians, I think is a little extreme."
   Such heresy as the Catholics spew commonly should never be allowed in the Church, and I will repremand the twisting of Scripture strongly until I am gone.

    Paul spoke of the "third Heaven" in regards to the Heaven in which God dwells: The first heaven is our general, immediate atmosphere, the second is outer space and the solar systems (etc), and the Third Heaven is what we, today, conider Heaven.

      Hell is forever, otherwise why would Jesus have quoted Isaiah in saying "where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another."  (Mark 9:48, 49, 50)  

 
 


Posts: 0 | Posted: 5:13 PM on May 3, 2003 | IP
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Needs more salt.
 


Posts: 0 | Posted: 5:27 PM on May 3, 2003 | IP
    
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