Thursday 26 December 2013

Dungeons, But No Dragons

On Christmas Eve, I read some love-in on Twitter between Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais, about how ignorance of Theology was no different from ignorance of "witchcraft or astrology or Dungeons & Dragons". To which I replied that there would be no excuse for such ignorance if you had made yourself famous by writing books on "witchcraft or astrology or Dungeons & Dragons". Answer has come there none.

Dawkins and his cultists have free rein on television. It is very high time for a series of documentaries on how and why modern science only ever arose in the metaphysical culture of Medieval Europe, on how no one has ever believed that the earth was flat, on how Galileo's error was precisely to have too high rather than too low a concept of Biblical authority, on how and why scientific progress arrested in the metaphysical culture of the Islamic world (although there are some stories to be told along the way), and on how and why scientific progress arrested in the metaphysical culture of the Soviet Union.

Three hours, probably: one on the first point, one on the second and third, and one on the fourth and fifth. But five if they could stretch to it, since the material certainly exists.

It is very high time for two documentaries, one at Christmas and one at Easter, counteracting the astonishingly long-lived and widespread notion that there is anything pagan about Christmas, or anything pagan about Easter beyond its accidental name in English alone.

The programming in relation to any non-Christian festival would not be concerned with debunking it, even if that debunking had any factual basis, which the attempts to paganise Christmas and Easter do not.

It is very high time for a two-parter, one half setting the record straight on the Inquisition, the other doing so on the Catholic Church and the Holocaust, ideally with a third hour given over to the Catholic Church and AIDS in Africa. Again, the correction of popular misconceptions about, for example, Islam is routine.

And it is very high time for a dramatisation over four years of each of the Four Canonical Gospels, treating them exactly as if they were great texts of, say, Classical Greek, or Indian, origin: dramatised in strict conformity to the narrative, and with all dialogue taken directly from the best modern English translation.

By common consent, the best modern English translation of the Bible is the Revised Standard Version, the occasional Americanisms in which could very easily be ironed out if they happened to come up.

The point of this project would certainly not be to suit the tastes of the likes of Dawkins and the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. An argument based on Textus Receptus would still be wrong, but at least it would be a proper argument. Do not expect to read it in the Daily Telegraph, though.

And who knows, this might even bring about the long-overdue reissue of the RSV Edition of the Lectionary; in the meantime, just stand and read out the appointed passage from the RSV Catholic Edition. As surely as highly politicised paraphrases from the early seventeenth century are unacceptable in the face of accurate translations, so also are highly politicised paraphrases from the middle twentieth century.

It is not quite the point, but it is nevertheless worth mentioning, that whereas the King James Bible does at least have some literary merit, the Jerusalem Bible is an offence against the English language, even if it does have no association with the transatlantic slave trade, or with the genocide of aboriginal Australians, or with the South African United Party and the Rhodesian Front, or with George W Bush, or with Michael Gove and the addition of his own wise words to it in order to improve it further.

Although they differ in length, the different structures of the Gospels mean that they could each be dramatised in 12 episodes of one hour apiece, perhaps running from January to March, i.e., more or less from Christmas to Easter. The order ought to be as in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – exactly as if any other ancient text were the subject.

That might even provide an opportunity to do some taking apart of the ridiculous theories of Markan Priority, of the interpolation of Mark 16, of "the Gospel of Thomas" and other such Dan Brown drivel, and of the historical unreliability of Saint John's Gospel on the grounds that Jesus "never claimed to be divine", the "proof" of which is held to be the historical unreliability of Saint John's Gospel.

All of these pieces of nonsense continue to be peddled by half-formed schoolteachers, and by clergy too old to have been part of the traditionalist revival among Catholics or the Evangelical revival among Protestants.

Markan Priority was disproved a very long time ago by Saint Augustine, whose Wikipedia page in Slovene is a significant source of traffic to this site, as is the page on U and non-U English. Make of those facts what you will.

Acts could also be dramatised in this way, and has some great stories in it. But it looks as if they would do the Ramayana first, and stick to the text if they did. That is not treating the Bible as a work of world literature, which is what they would claim that it was, and which, among other things, it is.

Why not dramatise the Ramayana, exactly as it is? Why not dramatise the Odyssey, exactly as it is? And why not dramatise the Four Canonical Gospels and Acts, exactly as they are? Of what are the television companies afraid?


  1. Genius. What a great man you are.

  2. We'll see about that, if they ever get made and shown.

  3. A better question would be "if there was good evidence for the claims of astrologers and no good evidence against them, what excuse would you have to be ignorant of that evidence?".

    From the creation ex nihilo of the natural world (see the Borde-Guthrie-Villenkin theorem) to the fine-tuning of the Universe for life (see Sir Martin Rees's "Just Six Numbers") to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ (see NT Wright, Bart Ehrman or Gerd Ludeman or any other decent NT historian) there's very strong evidence for the central claims of Christian theism and no comparably good evidence for atheism, which certainly is a belief, and defined as such in any good encyclopaedia of philosophy.

    Dawkins claim rests on the preposterous notion that there's no more evidence for theism than there is for witches.

    That is, of course, false.

  4. Very many thanks for that.

    Theologians have been, and remain, very badly mistaken in lining up with the arts and humanities, also wrong in their own terms on this point, and adopting a stance of militant ignorance of science.

    Well over 50 years on from the clash between C P Snow and F R Leavis (whose argument was that Snow was not much of a novelist, which was really no argument at all), we need to acknowledge that the "two cultures" which really are irreconcilable are the culture of Christendom - with its full, and fully theological, integration of what are now termed the fine arts, the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences - and the fractured secular culture that succeeded it, in which the great polymaths of Christendom are unimaginable figures.

    Science as that term is generally understood began at Paris in 1277, when Étienne Tempier, Bishop of Paris and Censor of the Sorbonne, responded to the growth of Aristotelianism by condemning from Scripture (i.e., explicitly from the Christian Revelation as apprehended by the gift of faith) 219 propositions expressing the Aristotelian versions of several of humanity’s ordinary beliefs.

    Those beliefs were, and are, eternalism, the belief that the universe has always existed; animism, that the universe is an animal, a living and organic being; pantheism, that the universe is in itself the ultimate reality, the first cause, God; astrology, that all earthly phenomena are caused, or at least influenced, by the pantheistic movements of the stars; and cyclicism, that every event repeats exactly after a sufficiently long time the precise length of which varies according to culture, and has already so repeated itself, ad infinitum.

    In particular, Tempier strongly insisted on God’s creation of the world ex nihilo, a truth which has always been axiomatically acknowledged as able to be known only from the Revelation by the faith that is itself mediated by the Church’s ministry of God’s Word and Sacraments, with the liturgical context of that ministry passing on from age to age and from place to place the Revelation recorded in and as the Bible and the Apostolic Tradition of which the Canon of Scripture is part.

    This ruling of ecclesial authority as such made possible the discovery around 1330, by Jean Bodin, Rector of the Sorbonne, of what he himself called impetus, but which was in fact nothing other than the first principle of “Newtonian” Mechanics, and thus of “science”, Newton’s First Law, the law of inertia: that a body which has been struck will continue to move with constant velocity for so long as no force acts on it. Bodin’s pupil Nicole Oresme, afterwards Bishop of Lisieux, developed this discovery vigorously and in detail, around 1360.

  5. The ideas of Buridan and Oresme spread throughout Europe’s universities for three centuries, and were especially associated with Spanish Salamanca, with Portuguese Coimbra, and with the Jesuits’ Collegio Romano, now the Gregorian University.

    They passed, through Leonardo da Vinci and others, to those who would formulate them in precise mathematical terms: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Huygens, and finally Sir Isaac Newton in the conventionally foundational text of modern science, his Principia Mathematica of 1687.

    Without the Christian Revelation (apprehended by the faith mediated in, as and through the life of the Church), human beings are by inclination eternalistic, animistic, pantheistic, astrological and cyclicistic; and in that intellectual condition, the scientific project is impossible.

    The reception of Newton’s Principia bespeaks a willingness (whether or not it can be identified in the work itself) to regard science as independent of the wider scientia crowned by regina scientiae, to have physics and the logical without metaphysics and the ontological, ratio unrelated to fides.

    This is disastrous for science, which cannot demonstrate, but rather must presuppose, the falseness of eternalism, animism, pantheism, astrology and cyclicism.

    It is also disastrous for art, because the world comes to be seen in terms of a logic newly detached from aesthetics, as from ethics.

    Thus, these become mere matters of taste or opinion, dislocated even from each other in defiance both of the whole Western philosophical tradition and to use in its ordinary manner a term deriving from Newton’s Early Modern age, of common sense.

    In such an environment, art attracts increasing distrust as the morally evil is held up as having aesthetic, and not least literary, merit.

    Meanwhile aesthetic experiences are so distinguished from everyday experiences that art is degraded to a frivolity and an indulgence.

    Thus, they are restricted to those who have the time and the money for it, indeed who actually have too much time on their hands and more money than they know what to do with.

    At the same time, regard for the true and the good declines relentlessly in the supposedly superficial context of poor aesthetics, of literally false and bad art.

    Doctrinal orthodoxy and moral standards slip and slide where the liturgy and its accoutrements are less than adequately tasteful or edifying. Educational standards collapse and crime rockets in the midst of hideous architecture and décor.

    And so forth.

  6. Excellent points.

    A minor correction-I meant to write the "Borde-Guth-Villenkin theorem".

    At the recent State of the Universe conference in celebration of Stephen Hawking's birthday, Mr Hawking sent in a letter which stated that "a cosmic beginning would be a point at which science broke down; one would have to appeal to the hand of God".

    Alexander Villenkin then rose and delivered a brilliant lecture demolishing all attempts to extend the Universe into the infinite past (from the inflationary to the cosmic egg model) which he concluded with the words "All the evidence that we have suggests the Universe (all of space/time reality) had an absolute beginning".

    It is truly ground-breaking. And it applies even to a multiverse (for which there is no evidence) which would also require an absolute beginning.

    Henceforth, to be an atheist s to believe-with absolute conviction-that the entire Universe (or multiverse) popped into existence, uncaused out of nothing.

    Horses, trees and planets can't do that. Yet we are supposed to imagine that entire Universes do.

    As even John Hume once stated "I never asserted anything so absurd as that something can come into being from nothing, without cause".