April 20, 2023

Dr. Sy Garte On the Similarity Between Political and God Beliefs

I had heard of Sy Garte before, but never had any contact with him until yesterday on Facebook. I had posted Bill Flavell's Ten Things We Know about Gods, which I thought was very good. Then Sy decided to inform us about some things. I present to you my discussion/debate with Garte:

Sy Garte: Substitute Political beliefs for gods and religion. Or art, Or love. In other words anything human. The ones that still work also work for religion, that ones that don't work, don't work of any of them.

JWL: Let's focus on political beliefs. Science and reason are helping us accept what is probably best for people. Once we strip politics of religious doctrines it clears our heads to reject homophobic, bigoted, sexist views based on Mill's harm principle. Once we also strip politics of religious certainties it also helps us based on Mill's harm principle.

Sy Garte: I am afraid I don't share your faith in the potential of politics, and certainly disagree that science and reason can have anything to do with political ideology. In fact politics is poison for science (Lysenko, anti-vax) as it is for religion. It isnt religion that is the danger for politics but the reverse.

JWL: Reasonable people accept the consensus of scientists working in their respective fields on anything relevant to the claims and stories we find in the biblical texts. There isn’t any higher authority. No non-scientist can dispute the consensus until that consensus changes. Only further science can change the consensus, not any pre-scientific biblical verses. If we accepted science we'd share more political beliefs, otherwise why do you think Christian nationalists agree with each other and disagree with secular leaning people, and why secular leaning people share similar political beliefs?

Sy Garte: Are you familiar with any historical realities such as the rise and fall of communism, the liberal history of the anti vax and eugenics movements, the religious origins of the civil rights movement, I could go on and on, but I don't think its worth it. Your view is so naive as to be almost silly. It all boils down to what each person believes (not knows) is right. And contrary to what you wrote, science is absolutely not in the business of informing us on what is the correct political viewpoint. In fact political opponents on every issue will cite "science says" to support their political and social claims - the whole trans issue being a good example.

JWL: If I were to parrot you, are you aware of how many times religious people have been wrong on key issues of morality and politics? Numerous times. About nearly everything, at one time or another. Causing unspeakable pain and suffering.

No wonder you wish to bring down the findings of science to the relativism of your own kind of faith.

People have got it wrong many times, including scientists. But religionists continually get it wrong, whereas science keeps making progress every day in small increments.

Who has shown that homosexuality is in one's nature? Science. Who has shown that racism has no basis in genetics? Science. Who has taught us to temper down our certainties? Science. Who has shown that humanly caused climate change is real and alarming? Science. Who has repeatedly shown that faith is epistemologically void of value? Science. Who has shown that the death penalty doesn't deter crime? Science. Who has reduced crime in our society? Science, with it's street lamp video cameras, DNA results, the sharing of fingerprints between states, and so on. Who has shown that animals suffer pain and need to be treated humanely? Science. Who has shown that women are not the weaker sex and can reason well, vote, and work alongside men? Science. It has been shown by science that healthier societies with a stable food supply do not need to lean on religious faith, and along with it, backward reasoning like you just put up for display. Science helps eliminate religious faith that doesn't solve our problems, but instead, keeps people from believing life could be better. They are too heavenly good to be any earthly good.

This is why most secular scientifically thinking people in each generation--more now than before--agree with each other on politics and are considered liberals today.

JWL: Take a good look through my book, Christianity is not Great, and you will see how much science and reasoning based on scientific findings are involved in rejecting bad and hurtful ideas.

Sy Garte: With all due respect and I do respect your intellect and literary achievements) I believe you have a distorted, if not biased view of science, not to mention religion. I love science, and became a research scientist, (PhD. Biochemistry, h-index = 59), and like most scientists learned firsthand what science can do and what it cannot. What it is and what it is not. We are in fact polar opposites, since I was raised ignorant of anything about religion, and you were raised and educated deeply in Christianity. We both rejected our religious upbringing, (for good reasons) and turned away from it. The difference is that I have never rejected science, and in fact came to see after I accepted Christ as my savior, that there need be no conflict between the two. This is the message I now preach – that actual science (mainstream science that is, including evolution, cosmology and everything else that contradicts a “literal” interpretation of the Bible) is in fact in close harmony with Christian faith, and that both teach the same truths. I have read the works of the new atheists, and found that their anti-religious fervor includes a distortion of the role of science in society, much as your litany does. One could compose a similar litany with quite a different viewpoint.

As a brief example: Who founded hospitals and universities?: believers; what led to nuclear weapons?: science; what is the source of “All men are brothers”?: Christianity; what abetted the rise of racism?: science; who were the leaders of the movement for civil rights?: Christians; what did Stalin invoke as justification for genocidal policies?: science. And so forth. To be clear I do not hold to that litany, and I think it is as distorted and biased as is your own. There is good and bad in science (and scientists) as there is in Christianity (and Christians). To take the view you have: that all is black and white, with religion purely evil, and science purely good, is as harmful as any other such extremist philosophy – it promotes division, hatred, rage, and violence, just as we see in the world of politics today. In fact, both real and good science, and real and honest Christianity give the same message of hope and love to a struggling, desperate humanity. I believe (as do many others) that we need both if we are going to prosper in peace and security.

JWL: We should talk sometime, seriously. You have an interesting perspective, although I’ve heard it said before, all of it, considered it, and rejected it. In fact, I said it myself at one time!

You should clearly recognize that you have a distorted view of me, saying I think “all is black or white.” No intellectual says that. The more we know the less certitude we have, although there is a huge difference between claiming what is true and claiming what is not true. There are almost always lots of different, competing claims, especially when it comes to religions. I can claim to know with a high degree of probability that a particular religion is false, without having to put forth an alternative religious hypothesis, just like I can say what didn’t happen at Custer’s Last Stand without having to say what did in fact happen.

So it’s quite easy to dismiss and debunk a claim that is completely out of the ordinary and based solely on 2nd-hand testimony in the ancient world, filled with abundant numbers of mythical beings and plenty of pre-scientific kooks and quacks, who had no objective method for evaluating them. Someone said he saw a seven headed serpent? How am I to know?

I know what does not count as good evidence for paranormal and miraculous claims. Second- third- fourth-hand hearsay testimonial evidence doesn’t count, nor circumstantial evidence, nor anecdotal evidence as reported in documents that are centuries later than the supposed events, which were copied by scribes and theologians who had no qualms about including forgeries. I also know that subjective feelings or experiences or inner voices don’t count as extraordinary evidence, or someone who tells others his writings are inspired, nor divine communication through dreams, or visions.

Here’s a case in point. In the gospel known as Matthew, the first gospel to tell of the virgin birth of Jesus—apparently since it hadn’t been invented before Mark compiled his stories—Joseph learned in a dream that Mary was telling the truth that her pregnancy was from God. It’s mentioned three times in chapter 1:19–24.

[As an aside, we read that some earlier sons of god had genitalia and sired children in Genesis 6, so it’s not beyond their belief that Jesus was conceived the old fashioned way in the night, as Mary slept. You realize don’t you, if you take the Bible seriously, God was believed to have a human looking body (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:2; 3:8-10; 5:1-3; 32:22-33; Exodus 33). He also had a throne to sit on (Ezek. 1; Daniel 7; Matt. 25:31; Rev. 5:1), rides chariots (Ps. 103:4), and he rewards people by allowing them to see his face (Matt. 5:8; 18:11, Rev. 22:3-4). The first martyr Stephen saw Jesus “standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56).]

That important point aside, according to the story, Joseph knew with certainty that he was not the father since, as the story goes, he had not had sex with her. Yet a dream convinces him.

From my book, The Case against Miracles (pp. 86-88):

Let’s take at face value the extraordinary miraculous tale that a virgin named Mary gave birth to the god/baby Jesus. There’s no objective evidence to corroborate her story. We hear nothing about her wearing a misogynistic chastity belt to prove her virginity. No one checked for an intact hymen before she gave birth. Nor did she provide her bloodstained wedding garment from the night of her wedding that supposedly “proved” she was a virgin before giving birth (Deut. 22:15–21). After Jesus was born Maury Povich wasn’t there with a DNA test to verify Joseph was not the baby daddy.

Now one might simply trust the anonymous gospel writer(s) who wrote this extraordinary story down, but why? How is it possible they could find out that a virgin named Mary gave birth to a deity? No reasonable investigation could take Mary and/or Joseph’s word for it.

With regard to Joseph’s dream, Thomas Hobbes tell us, “For a man to say God hath spoken to him in a Dream, is no more than to say he dreamed that God spake to him; which is not of force to win belief from any man.” (Leviathan, chap. 32.6) So it’s down to Mary. Why should we believe her?

We don’t have firsthand eyewitness testimonial evidence for her claim, since the story is related to us by others, not Mary, or Joseph. We never get to independently cross-examine them, along with the people who knew them, which we would want to do, since they may have a very good reason for lying (pregnancy out of wedlock?).

On this point believers are faced with a serious dilemma to their faith. For if this is the kind of research that went into writing the gospels, we shouldn’t believe anything else they say without requiring corroborating objective evidence. But if research was unnecessary for writing their gospels—because they were divinely inspired—why do gospel writers give us the pretense of having researched into it (Luke 1:1–4)? Why not simply say their stories are true due to divine inspiration and be done with the pretense? Then the gospel authors would be admitting their tales lack the required corroborating objective evidence, which in turn means there isn’t a good reason to believe them.

Discussion Ended.


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. As an Amazon Associate John earns a small amount of money from any purchases made there. Buying anything through them helps fund the work here, and is greatly appreciated!

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