The Emergence of Logical Positivism

 

“Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” Just as we cannot see our own faces, so some insights about European history are only easily visible to outsiders. The philosophy of logical positivism is one of these areas, where the internal European account of what it is and how it emerged is radically different from the external account I will present below. To put it in one sentence, this philosophy is an effort to make Science a Religion, and in fact, the common religion of all mankind. Although we may labor under the misconception that this philosophy has been debunked and refuted, central tenets of the philosophy continue to command widespread allegiance. If you believe that the objective facts are superior to subjective opinions (and who doesn’t?) then you are a positivist. The efforts to quantify, measure, observe, a host of qualitative and unmeasurable phenomena, and the belief that everything CAN be measured, derive from positivist roots. These efforts have caused a lot of damage, one aspect of which has been documented in my paper on “Corruption: Measuring the Unmeasurable”.

The purpose of this post is to explain this point of view. A warning is in order — an external outsider view is, by definition, alien and strange, and bound to cause some discomfort. To learn from it, we must be prepared to walk for a mile in alien moccasins. There is a great prize to be won – a re-integration of our identities which have been seriously distorted by putting the head above the heart and prizing rational thoughts over subjective feelings.

First, we must start with the story of the loss of faith in Christianity in Europe. Again, there is a radical difference between the internal European account, and an external outsider perspective.

European Loss of Faith in Christianity

Internal, European Account: According to the internal, European account, Christianity (like all religions) was just a collection of superstitions: stories about unobservables like angels, God, afterlife, which were not empirically verifiable. When the Enlightenment began, Europeans learned to reason for the first time, and they understood that religion was just superstition. Then they rejected religion and have made tremendous progress by using the light of reason, instead of superstition. This cover story is extremely powerful, because it seems to be proven by the historical facts – Europeans conquered 85% of the globe by early 20th Century, proving their superior ability to reason, and demonstrating the validity of the cover story. De-constructing this story and providing a satisfactory counter-narrative requires hard work.

The External, non-European Account: The real story of how Europeans lost their faith in Christianity is far more complex. We aim to explain some crucial elements of it here.  In 1492 a triplet of climactic events occured with devastating consequences which continue to reverberate in the corridors of history. One: Columbus sailed for the Americas, giving Europeans access to vast lands and materials. Two: The Reconquest of Islamic Spain was completed, giving Europeans access to millions of books containing knowledge gathered from around the globe and developed in the Islamic Civilization; this sparked the Enlightenment. THREE: But most importantly for our current account, Rodrigo Borgia purchased the papacy in 1492 and named himself Alexander VI. (see European Transition to Secular Thought – bit.do/etst1a). This was a critical moment within a chain of events described in The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman in “Chapter Three – THE RENAISSANCE POPES PROVOKE THE PROTESTANT SECESSION: 1470–1530”. She writes that:

From roughly 1470 to 1530, … a succession of six popes (displayed) an excess of venality, amorality, avarice, and spectacularly calamitous power politics. Their governance dismayed the faithful, brought the Holy See into disrepute, left unanswered the cry for reform, ignored all protests, warnings and signs of rising revolt, and ended by breaking apart the unity of Christendom and losing half the papal constituency to the Protestant secession. Theirs was a folly of perversity, perhaps the most consequential in Western history, if measured by its result in centuries of ensuing hostility and fratricidal war.

The breakup of the church shattered the ideological unity of Europe and led to major wars, as well as political power struggles between Protestants and Catholics with extremes of cruelty towards each other. For example, one of the key fratricidal events was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (which may have been a model for the Red Wedding in the GoT). All this bloodshed and violence between Protestants and Catholics led to public dis-enchantment with religion as whole, and the idea that religion is the root of all warfare and conflict. This idea is still prevalent among secular modern thinkers, although countless deadly twentieth century wars show it to be false.

Trauma of Loss of Faith

Loss of faith is massively traumatic event. A Creator who knows and cares for us, makes our lives meaningful, and the eternal perspective offers strong solace against temporary tragedies of our mundane existence. Bertrand Russell describes how accepting the cold, harsh and cruel universe requires us to build our lives “on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” The trauma of loss of faith had a dramatic impact on European intellectuals, as we now describe.

Rejection of Heart and Soul: One of the most significant impacts of this trauma was the rejection of the HEART as a source of Knowledge. This is exemplified by Descartes’ logic: “I think therefore I am”, whereas “I feel therefore I am” related far more closely to our life experience. But this second statement was not acceptable. The heart had been proven to be a deceiver – it testified to the existence of God, and gave us faith in unknown and unknowable mysteries, and hence it must be rejected. Henceforth, the Enlightenment Philosophers vowed to never to trust their hearts, and instead, only trust what they could touch, and see, and arrive at with cold logic. They rejected the heart and intuition, and made a commitment to use of REASON and EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE only as sources of knowledge.

Deification of Science

When you reject religion, you lose answers to the most important questions we face in our lives, such as the meaning of our lives. As I have explained in “Origins of Western Social Sciences”, the Social Sciences originated in the attempt to find new answers to questions previously answered by religion. In particular, faith in religion was replaced by faith in Science: in the IDEA that science will solve all problems of mankind. This is, on the face of it, an absurdity; only the trauma of loss of faith can explain how one could come to believe such a thing. We lead unique lives, every human being is unique and distinct, and every moment that we experience is like none before, and none after. The idea that we should search over previous experience for patterns to guide us today, actually blinds us to the unique potentials which exist now, which never existed in the past, and will not exist in the future. The idea the “science” could be a guide in terms of teaching us how to live our lives and to realize our human potentials, is a non-starter. Nonetheless, having lost faith in their religion, Europeans had no option but to put their faith in the potential of science to solve human problems. This faith persists today, even though science has brought humanity to the brink of destruction via an environmental catastrophe.

The Philosophy of Science: The project to turn science into the new religion of man led to extreme distortions in European ways of thinking (see Deification of Science for links to many readings). In particular, it led to the search for a philosophy of science which would prove that ALL scientific knowledge – based on observations and logic alone, with no intuition and emotion involved – would lead to objective facts which were certain. The worship of science also led to the ELEVATION of objective over the subjective. Science is based on the sacred facts out there, and not on wishy washy subjective opinions which vary from person to person and can change whimsically.  In fact, this was a huge reversal of priorities. What is most important for you and me are the questions of how we should lead our lives; who to befriend, what to believe, how to behave. The answers are necessarily subjective and personal, dependent on local and unique circumstances and environment; they are not “scientific” – universal laws applicable to all. This most important knowledge was ruled to be un-important, subjective, normative, as part of the process of deification of science. As a consequence of this, Western education today is a meaningless process of learning about the external world, which pays no attention to the most important questions we all face in our daily lives – that is finding the best ways to live our unique and precious few moments on this planet.

Emergence of Logical Positivism

It was these underlying trends that set the stage for the emergence of logical positivism. This philosophy asserts that all knowledge is based on observations and logic. Observations are objective, out there, verifiable, unquestionable and certain. Logic is the mortar we use to put together these bricks to construct the towering skyscrapers of scientific knowledge. The counterpart methodology to this worldview is the Axiomatic/Deductive scheme of geometry. Axioms come from observations and are CERTAIN. Logic leads to certainty in deductions. For an illustration of how this is a deeply mistaken approach to understanding the world around us, see  Methodology of Modern Economics .

Elimination of Unobservables: There were many technical problems with the idea that science was based only on observables and logic. Many scientific objects like gravity, electrons, magnetism, were not observable. For details about how these problems were resolved, see my paper on   Logical Positivism and Islamic Economics  (December 30, 2013). International Journal of Economics, Management and Accounting, Vol 21, No. 2, pp1-18. The central device used by positivists was to replace unobservables by observable manifestations; for example, replace unobservable preferences by observable choices, or unobservable gravity by the observable elliptical orbits of planets. This point will be discussed in greater detail later. Logical Positivism achieved dual goal of philosophers of science, which European intellectuals had been searching for, for centuries. This philosophy showed that SCIENCE leads to truth and certainty. At the same time, RELIGION is pure superstition, because it is centrally based on unobservables. Because it fulfilled a DEEP psychological need of Western intellectuals, it became wildly popular and widely accepted, despite many fundamental weaknesses, which eventually led to its downfall.

(to be continued) –

This post provides details on Logical Positivism, an issue raised briefly in section 2: Flawed Foundations of Modern Economics, in my paper on “Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development”. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, March 2019. A 23m video on this topic, which goes over issues covered in above post, was part of Lec 11 of Islamic Economics 2019 (bit.do/ie2019) at IIIE, IIUI:

This is complex topic, for which I have provided a thumbnail sketch of some important ideas which are not readily available elsewhere. Nonetheless, it is extremely important to learn about Logical Positivism, because it is the basis for the worship of science that is now the most popular, almost the common religion of mankind, cutting across all other religions. My webpage linked below provides a large collection of links to articles related to various aspects of logical positivism

 Collection of Articles & Video-Lectures on Logical Positivism 

On the lighter side, I came across a great cartoon put-down of the Vienna Circle , which was responsible for the development of this philosophy.

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13 comments
  1. Rob said:

    The scientism of the important figures of the highest rungs of the intellectual world flourished a few decades in advance of popular agreement with that viewpoint. Auguste Comte had systematized a philosophical position called “positivism” that celebrated dogmatic faith in science, inevitable progress, and the rejection of all unempirical knowledge. Long before there was a stable republic, Comtian positivism was widely touted as the worldview of republicanism. But eventually Comte tried to fashion a religion of his own, believing that human beings have spiritual needs that must be met; he thought Catholicism did a good job but was annoyed at the mythic aspect. There is also the case of Ernest Renan, who wrote The Future of Science in 1848, claiming that science must be the source of all truth, but did not publish it until 1890, by which point he was not so sure. His readers were ready for the midcentury message; they missed the caution in his late-century introduction to the book. But, with clearly dampened expectations, Renan’s 1890 introduction still tells us something about the intellectual facet of irreligion: “Science saves us from errors more than it gives us the truth, but it is already something not to be a dupe.” Politics and social progress were both important, but so were science and ideas. Part of irreligion in France was about not being a dupe. Renan also wrote the profoundly influential Life of Jesus, a secular history of the origins of Christianity and the first of its kind. It was written in an accessible, novelistic prose and was widely read and debated. To get a hint of the secular tone here: Renan’s translator tells us in a preface to the book, “A young French lady put down the Vie de Jesus with the remark: ‘What a pity it does not end with a marriage!’” The book was answered by Dupanloup, bishop of Orleans—the same who scolded Louis-Adolphe Bertillon for the secular nature of Zoé Bertillon’s funeral—but Dupanloup’s Life of Jesus was a rehash of traditional quotations exhorting Christians to patience and resignation.11 It had little impact. Still, even here we are not far from the political: Bishop Dupanloup was a senator under Napoleon III and a deputy in the early Third Republic. (Hecht, Jennifer. The End of the Soul (Kindle Locations 1199-1218). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.)

    I am grateful for this post Asad and find much truth in it. The story of the rise of modernity and the revolt against the totalitarian hold of the Catholic church on the minds of what was called “freethinkers” who gave rise to the englightenment, and the excess of those “freethinkers” who went on to revolt against God in a form of militant atheism that sought to turn science into a new religion (aka scientism) is told in Hecht’s work (and many others). It resonates with your story in many ways.

    • Thanks ROb for your feedback and for the reference — which sounds interesting, and I will try to read when i get the time

      • Rob said:

        My pleasure Asad. Indeed, despite the fact that much of the mechanistic philosophy such as logical positivism has failed the underlying secularism still blights the mind and souls of many an unthinking men and women.

  2. Rob said:

    Finally, orthodoxies can be political in a general sense: Alfred Russel Wallace’s claim that it was necessary to postulate supernatural forces in order to explain human intelligence was resisted owing to a naturalistic, positivistic worldview that had become mainstream through the work and influence of men such as Thomas Henry Huxley and his X-Club friends. No one at the time understood how intelligence had arisen, but a nonnaturalistic explanation was simply not going to be let on the field. (Dietrich, Muchael R. and Harman Oren, eds. Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology. New Haven & London: Yale University Press; 2008; p. 12. Emphasis added. )

    I think the story you are telling Asad is very important one. While I agree we must learn to see ourselves through the eyes of another culture, religion, philosophy, etc. The idea that the post-enlightenment rise of science and the weakening of the institutional Christian churches hold upon the institutions of learning is a well documented story. But when one digs deeper, as with all things, it becomes more nuanced, less well defined, and deeper meanings emerge.

    Few in today’s modern societies have the time or resources to enage in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge on a level deeper than pursuing a job, and even fewer pursue that form of knowledge that transcends mere technical skills (wisdom, or ilm). Much of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual stagnation in modernity is rooted in the nature of our educational systems that perpetuate such a shallow pursuit of knowledge. And this is turn is a reflection of the status and level of civilization and its ideas, ideals, and vision or lack thereof.

    One of the great intellectual struggles of the nineteeth century was the comming to terms with Darwin’s theory of evolution. One cannot really understand the rise of science as the dominant worldview within modernity without addressing the impact Darwin’s theory has had and continues to have on modernity. Logical Positivism (LP) is only one strand in this story, and in my view, not the more important one, for evolutionary theory (ET) (which has undergone many changes over time) still is the dominate paradigm within science while ET in all its forms continues to be the dominant paradigm within well-educated modern men and women.

  3. Rob said:

    Naturalism and Natural Philosophy

    Recorded efforts to explain naturally what had previously been attributed to the whimsy of gods date back to the Milesian philosophers of the ancient Greek world, who, six centuries before the birth of Christianity, declared such phenomena as earthquakes, lightening, and thunder to be the result of natural causes. A little later Hippocratic physicians expanded the realm of the natural to include most diseases, including epilepsy, “the sacred disease.” As one Hippocratic writer insisted, “Each disease has a natural cause and nothing happens without a natural cause.” The first-century Roman philosopher Lucius Annacus, ever suspicious of supernatural causation, calmed the fears of fellow citizens by assuring them that “angry deities” had nothing to do with most meteorological or astronomical events: “Those phenomena have causes of their own.” (Lindberg and Numbers 2008: 266)

    As these scattered examples show, belief in natural causes and the regularity of nature antedated the appearance of Christianity, with its Judaic notion of God the creator and sustainer of the universe. Although inspired by a man regarded as divine and developed in a milieu of miracles, Christianity could, and sometimes did, encourage the quest for natural explanations. Long before the birth of modern science and the appearance of “scientists” in the nineteenth century, the study of nature in the West was carried out primarily by Christian scholars known as natural philosophers, who typically expressed a preference for natural explanation over divine mysteries. During the philosophical awakening of the twelfth century, for instance, Adelard of Bath (ca. 1080-ca. 1150), a much-traveled Englishman familiar with the views of Seneca, instructed his nephew on the virtues of natural explanations:

    I will take nothing away from God: for whatever exists is from Him and because of Him. But the natural order does not exist confusedly and without rational arrangement, and human reason should be listened to concerning these things it treats of. bu when it completely fails, then the matter should be referred to God.

    (….) By late Middle Ages the search for natural causes had come to typify the work of Christian natural philosophers. Although characteristically leaving the door open for the possibility of direct divine intervention, they frequently expressed contempt for soft-minded contemporaries who invoked miracles rather than searching for natural explanations.

    (Lindberg, David C. and Numbers Ronald L. When Science & Christianity Meet. London: University of Chicago Press; 2008; c2003 p. 266. )

    The religionist qua natural philosopher has a deep history. Numbers and others have well documented the relationship between science and religion in Western tradition. There were honest reasons that those seeking to develop a “science” independent of religious belief insisted on developing a methodology for investigating material reality that could find material causes. Invoking miracles or arguing endless over Noah’s Ark and so-called “flood geology” was seen as a waste of time. The history of not only evolutionary theory but the earth sciences are replete with examples of this intellectual struggle to free the emerging “science” as embodied in these natural philosophers from the intellectual constraints of dogmatic a priori eighteenth and nineteenth century Christian theological beliefs about the universe based upon scripture. The militant atheistic (see Hecht, End of Soul) movement had profound impact on the evolution of modernity and its understanding of knowledge as taught in secular universities that came to replace the largely religious backed and associated universities that were eventually replaced.

    But this struggle is not over. It is ongoing and enlightened religionists from various traditions are raising their voices, such as Asher below:

    Truth

    Certain people have different standards for recognizing “truth.” Given access to the same facts, two individuals can look at an issued and reach utterly different conclusions, to the point where they believe those with a different opinion belong somewhere on a spectrum from stupid to perverse…. (Asher 2012: xiv)

    (….) The creationist has something at stake, some worldview or allegiance, that makes a fair, honest view of the data behind Darwinian evolutionary biology impossible. Why?

    (….) [T]here is an obvious explanation for antipathy toward Charles Darwin among various anti-evolutionist groups of the last 150 years, groups that are often connected to one kind of intense religious creed or another: they think Darwin threatens their worldview. Contributing to this conviction are those biologists who portray evolution as tied to atheism, who help convince the devout that a natural connection of humanity with other organisms is incompatible with their religion. Compounding things further is the fact that adherence to many religious worldviews is not flexible, and any scientific theory or philosophy that seems to threaten certain beliefs must be wrong, whatever some scientist may say about evidence. (Asher 2012: xvi)

    Coyne says there is one way to be rational, and any of this stuff about alternative “truth” is relativist nonsense not worth the flatscreen monitor on which it is written:

    What, then, is the nature of “religious truth” that supposedly complements “scientific truth”?… Anything touted as a “truth” must come with a method for being disproved—a method that does not depend on personal revelation. … It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified.

    I disagree, and would argue that there are many things in life that deserve the descriptor “truth” but are not amenable to rational disproof. Coyne is absolutely correct to say that coddling the irrational—those for whom “religious truth” means stoning adulterers or drinking poisoned Kool-Aid—is incompatible with science and, more generally, civil society. However, while science is a-religious, it is not anti-religious, at least in the important sense that it does not (indeed, cannot) concern itself with phenomena beyond what we rationally perceive. It is not only possible to portray science as lacking fatal consequences for those religious tenets that concern things we cannot empirically observe (such as purpose or agency in life), but it is precisely what scientists have got to do to make a compelling case to the public. Coyne tosses “religion” into the same dumpster as any passing superstition, and actively encourages the perception that science is corrosive to any religious sentiment. Yes, there are religious claims that are demonstrably wrong in an empirical sense. … However, such specific claims do not do justice to the religion integrally tied into the identity of many lay-people and scientists alike, an identity that by any meaningful definition is worthy of the name “truth.” (Asher, Robert J. Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2012; pp. xxvii-xviii)

  4. Asad, as a Catholic Christian scientist and philosopher of science I very largely go along with your outsider’s view of the breakdown of medieval Christianity. My Pears Cyclopedia (1982-3) agrees exactly with you about 1492, but I hadn’t appreciated the significance of the defeat of the Spanish Moors, nor that Rodrigo Borgia had “bought” the papacy. That would however have explained the attitude of mind which sold “indulgences” to speed up the building of St Peter’s cathedral in Rome, licencing Machiavelli (1513) and justifying Luther’s protest (1517). I suggest the spread of that may be linked to previously illiterate people reading for themselves at least the Old Testament parts of the vernacular Bibles newly available since the invention of printing (1454). I have learned too from what you say about the rejection of the logic of the heart (i.e. feeling), but I think you must be careful not attribute that to Descartes himself, who I think did not make the distinction between thinking and feeling, remaining a Catholic all his life. G K Chesterton in his “Orthodoxy” of 1908, made the appropriate distinction in relation to J S Mill’s “happiness” version of economic Utilitarianism: “the old utilitarian test of pleasure (clumsy of course, as easily misstated) and the [will] which [G B Shaw] propounds”. In short, it provides evidence, not a conclusions. I can but commend to you the subsequent chapter called “The Ethics of Elfland”, reprinted by Martin Gardner in “Great Essays in Science”.

    On Rob’s comments, again I largely agree with him, but again think he needs to be more careful, this time in his use of the word “religion”. As far as I can see, it is a Latin word originating in the early years of Roman persecution as a code word for Christianity: “re-tying” oneself to [the living, resurrected] God in gratitude for his dying [in a replaying of the Big Bang?] that we might live. It made no sense in the contexts of pagan “gods” or a pantheistic universe apart from this reason for the commitment, until the modern suggestion it is motivated by fear (as in an Old Testament fear and rejection of failure and death). I agree with Rob that evolution has more on-going signiificance than logical positivism, but that can lead one to rethinking God’s means of creation. A Father God is not so much an all seeing, all powerful Being as a hopeful lover, intending that his offspring shall be like him, loving and creative, but profoundly uncertain as to how they will actually turn out.

    The answer to Logical Positivism I again get from G K Chesterton, this time in speculations about G F Watts’ art in 1904. The implications (suggested in “The Napoleon of Notting Hill, his novel of the same year), was that the two halves of the brain spoke about the same things in different languages, the one sensory and iconic, the other emotive and symbolic. Jung soon after related personality differences to differences in use of this brain structure, familiarily with with which has become common since recent experiments with separtion of the brain hemispheres and the introduction of MRI scans. Logic being about the use of language, it leads to four ways of using the brain: REDUCING sensory observations to symbolic (e.g. mathematical) language, RETRODUCING (intuitively) the symbols to images of applications, DEDUCTIVELY transforming the images into physical reality, then performing statistical reliability testing to INDUCE reliable results into the canons of knowledge, leaving outstanding problems for a further cycle of scientific study. In “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” Robert Pirsig saw that emotions were physically activated before one became aware of what one was sensing and act as a safety mechanism to block (taboo) interpretation of dangerous subjects or trrigger avoidance action when sensing dangerous realities. In my own work the corresponding structures in computer database gave keyword indexing data entries, with input/output peripherals and continuous error detection and correction.

    • Rob said:

      You are clearly ignorant of the history of the not only the origin or the word religion Dave but the history of the Christian religion itself. You are simply wrong about the origin of the word you are turning into a polemic argument for your own self-serving polemic purpose. This is un-Christlike in my view.

      Asad, your battling on is much appreciated, but you need to be careful with Western history…. ‘Religion’ means literally ‘re-tie’, and was a code-word for binding oneself to Christ in gratitude for his having redeemed us. (Dave Taylor, RWER, 2/5/2019)

      The term religio predates Christ and the eventual evolution of Christianity. Dave is loose with the truth and intellectually sloppy with regards to Western history, yet presumes to warn Asad to be careful. What Dave is doing is pushing a sectarian, ahistorical, narrow, view of religion only shared by a narrow sect of unenlightened Christians, of an even more narrow conservative Catholic dogmatic view, who neither know their own history let alone the history of religion.

      The word is originally from the Latin religio, a term that eventually was used in a great variety of senses, even by a single writer, without precision. In any case its pristine significance, continuing at least until Roman religious and other life came under the powerful and transforming influence of Greece, was much more restricted and specific than what it came to mean later. Modern scholars4 are divided as to whether it first designated a power outside man obligating him to certain behaviour under pain of threatened awesome retribution, a kind of tabu, or the feeling in man vis a vis such powers (or, indeed, whether the religious connotations are secondary developments from an originally secular word). The difference between the former two can easily become blurred, since these powers, we as outsiders would hold, were conceived subjectively—though they were believed, or felt, to reside in some objective thing or practice. Thus that in which ‘mana’ was felt to dwell, and the person whose scrupulousness towards it was vivid, were each termed religious. There were religiosae locae, sacred places; and viri religiosi, reverent or devout persons careful in the conscientious fulfilment of the corollary prescriptions. (Smith 1964, 23, in The Meaning and End of Religion)

      Wilfred Cantwell Smith in the introduction to his The Meaning and End of Religion writes:

      Many considerations, then, must be taken into account in any analysis that is to satisfy a serious modern inquirer. We may enumerate four or five as among the more weighty. First, of course, there is science. This impinges both in a general and in several particular ways. It is relevant in its broadest coverage, as signifying the growing body of knowledge about the empirical universe in all its sweep; as signifying further the method and mood of attaining that knowledge; as signifying also the practical mastery that it imparts. It is relevant also more specifically in so far as particular studies such as psychology, sociology, economic history, and also the ad hoc sciences of Religionswissenschaft have seemed to illuminate the ostensibly religious behaviour of man. Science radically modifies life intellectually and practically for all men, including those who would live it morally and spiritually; as well as modifying the scholar’s understanding of its processes. (Smith 1964, 7-8)

      Secondly, there is the multiplicity of religious traditions. In addition to a myriad of lesser groups, there are on earth not one but at least four or five major religious communities each proclaiming a faith with a long and impressive, even brilliant, past and with the continuing creative allegiance of mighty civilizations. This is known in theory; the knowledge is today supplemented in practice by personal contact and widespread social intermingling. Any adequate interpretation of a Christian’s faith, for instance, must make room for the fact that other intelligent, devout, and moral men, including perhaps his own friends, are Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims. (Smith 1964, 8)

      Somewhat related to this consideration is the further fact of diversity within each tradition. Every faith appears in a variety of forms. Regarded from another angle, this may be seen as a problem of authority: the multiplicity of guidance with which modern man is faced religiously, which may approximate to an absence of guidance. It is no longer easy or even possible to have a religious faith without selecting its form. (Smith 1964, 8)

      Next may be noted the sheer fact of change. The world is in flux, and we know it. Like other aspects of human life, the religious aspect too is seen to be historical, evolving, in process. Any modern endeavour to clarify what religion is, must now include a question as to what at various stages of development religion has been. And if it does not venture on some speculation as to what it may become in the future, at least there is recognition that, like everything else that we know on earth, religion may be expected to continue to change. (Smith 1964, 8)

      One has not understood religion if one’s interpretation is applicable to only one of its forms. On the other hand, neither has one understood religion if one’s interpretation does justice only to some abstraction of religiousness in general but not to the fact that for most men of faith, loyalty and concern are not for any such abstraction but quite specifically and perhaps even exclusively for their own unique tradition—or even for one section within that. The Christian and the Muslim must be seen, certainly, in a world in which other men are Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews. (Smith 1964, 9)

      The rich panorama of man’s religious life over the centuries presents the observer with a bewildering variety of phenomena, and the studies of those phenomena present him with a cacophony of interpretation. Those who would understand, and those who would intelligently participate, are confronted with a task of no mean proportions. (Smith 1964, 10 )

      There are three main groups from whom comes a challenge to any scholarly inquiry into religion. First there are those who would disdain comparative or empirical study on the grounds that the elucidation of religion’s meaning and nature, and an insight into its functioning and processes, is to be obtained only from a knowledge of Christianity—or of Islam, or whatever is one’s own faith—as representing religion at its highest, or the only true religion. Such men would hold that to consider other religions as well, is to falsify and distort, rather than to enlarge one’s understanding; that one gains in breadth by sacrificing both depth and truth; that an understanding of roses is not enhanced by a study of rosettes…. [O]ne need not accept the either/or dichotomy of those who thus contend that one should study Christianity (or, Islam; etc.) rather than religion in general. One may, and should, study both the Christian and the Islamic and the other individual traditions, so that ultimately one’s interpretation may do justice not only to the insight or force or validity of one faith but at the same time to the facts of all. (Smith 1964, 10-11)

      The two most fundamental questions confronting twentieth-century man, the one social, the other personal, both involve religion: how to turn our nascent world society into a world community, on a group level; and on a personal level, how to find meaning in modern life. To neither of these, of course, is the answer even primarily intellectual; and yet it is perhaps not fatuous to suggest that adequate answers will require inter alia an understanding of religion more clarified and effective than is now to hand…. Unless men can learn to understand and to be loyal to each other across religious frontiers, unless we can build a world in which people profoundly of different faiths can live together and work together, then the prospects for our planet’s future are not bright (Smith 1964, 13-14)

      The history of religion shows that no faith tradition is immune from the evils of institutional religion, sectarian fanaticism, or imperial conquest, depending upon what period in history one is looking at. There are saints and sinners in every world tradition. Christianity has just as much blood upon its hands as Islam for those who know their history. So too, Islam and Christianity have revelations of truth, goodness, and beauty in the lives and teachings of their saints. Dave would conveniently overlook this simple truth in his use of RWER as place to proselytize his narrow brand of Christian theology. Not all Christians are so anti-intellectual in their theology and would not stoop to using RWER for sectarian apologetics as Dave does regularly.

      As a follower of the life and teachings of Jesus I take great offense to ahistorical ignorant polemics on a site dedicated to science and knowledge. Truth is truth and Dave seem to not know the truth regarding the origin or history of the word religion let alone the history of his own Christian tradition.

    • Rob said:

      As the previous reply makes clear Dave is ignorant of the origin of the term religion. I was refraining from making explicit what I am now making explicit, but since Dave insists on engaging in polemics I have no choice to bring clarity to his muddled thinking. Dave views religion (and its terminology) through the dogmatic blinders of a conservative Catholic. The sad part is that Catholocism has produced wonderful world-class interfaith literature over the many decades that Catholic scholars have been engaged in interfaith dialogue with Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and other faith traditions, which clearly is a corpus Dave is wholly ignorant regarding the existence of. I have man of their works sitting in my library as write these words. Dave continues to parrot a theology of divine child abuse (the atonement doctrine) which is an insult to the divine character and unity of Allah (God). This is simply polemics, and the age of polemics is dead just as the age of materialistic scientism is dead along with its handmaiden mainstream economics.

      No religionist who doesn’t intimately know another faith truly knows their own faith. Dave is conflating mere belief with living faith, and hence can only rise to the level of an intellectual parrot when it comes to truly seeing another religion, such as Islam or even his own propositional belief system of conservative Catholocism. Faith is not belief—mere propositial statements. The acceptance of a teaching—a propositional statement—is not faith; that is mere belief. Faith is a living attribute of a genuine personal religious experience in and with the divine presence. One can believe truth, admire beauty, and revere goodness, but doesn not worship them; such an attitude of saving living faith is centered on Allah (God) alone. Belief is always limiting and binding; faith is liberating, expanding, releasing, and always ready to follow the truth whereever it might lead. Belief fixates, faith liberates.

      Living religious faith is more than the association of noble beliefs; it is more than an exalted system of philosophy; it is a living experience concerned with spiritual meanings, divine ideals, and supreme values; it is God-knowing and man-serving. Beliefs may become group possessions, but faith must be personal. Theologic beliefs can be suggested to a group, but faith can rise up only in the heart of the individual religionist. Faith has falsified its trust when it presumes to deny realities and to confer upon its devotees assumed knowledge. Faith is a traitor when it fosters betrayal of intellectual integrity and belittles loyalty to supreme values and divine ideals. Faith never shuns the problem-solving duty of mortal living. Living faith does not foster bigotry, persecution, or intolerance. Faith does not shackle the creative imagination, neither does it maintain an unreasoning prejudice toward the discoveries of scientific investigation. Faith vitalizes religion and constrains the religionist heroically to live the golden rule. The zeal of faith is according to knowledge, and its strivings are the preludes to sublime peace.

    • Rob said:

      It [the term “rigio” or “religion”] made no sense in the contexts of pagan “gods” or a pantheistic universe …. ~ Dave Taylor

      Dave is unwittingly (out of ignorance and ethnocentrism) treating the word religion like many uninformed Westerners now treat the term “Hindu” without a shred of awareness of its historical origin as though it is thing rather than the cultural imposition of narrow ethnocentric blinders of conservative Catholocism.

      The term ‘Hindu’ as a religious designation was developed by the Muslims after they had invaded the country in the second millennium A. D. For the Muslims it served to designate these aliens whom they conquered, and whose not being Muslim was of course now for the first time significant. It retained for some time its geographical reference: ‘Indian,’ ‘indigenous, local,’ virtually ‘native’. And the indigenous groups themselves also began then to use the term, differentiating themselves and their traditional ways from these invading Muslim foreigners. It covered all such groups: those whom we now call Hindus, but also Jains, Buddhists, and all others. (Smith 1962: 64)

      (….) Over against the point, one may recognize that historically the new term ‘Hindu’, after it was introduced into India by the Muslims, was presently followed both for Muslims and in a limited way for Hindus by certain new formulations one or two of which are nowdays on occasion rendered ‘Hinduism’. Such a translation was perhaps rather more legitimate in the nineteenth century than in our day with our modern awareness of historical, institutional, and sociological dimensions. (Smith 1962: 65)

      (….) My objection to the term ‘Hinduism’, of course, is not on the grounds that nothing exists. Obviously an enormous quantity of phenomena is to be found that this term covers. My point, and I think that this is the first step that one must take towards understanding something of the vision of Hindus, is that the mass of religious phenomena that we shelter under the umbrella of that term, is not a unity and does not aspire to be. It is not an entity in any theoretical sense, let alone any practical one. (Smith 1962: 66)

      ‘Islam’ and ‘Christianity’, … are also in fact, in actual practice, internally diverse, and have been historically fluid. They, however have included a tendency to with not to be so; this is not how they conceptualize themselves. Many Christians and many Muslims have come to believe that there is one true Christianity and one true Islam. Hindus, on the other hand, have gloried in diversity. One of their basic and persistent affirmations has been that there are as many aspects of the truth as there are persons to perceive it. (Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Meaning and End of Religion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press; 1991; c1962 pp. 64-66. )

      Noting, absolutely nothing, Universal about such a narrow, ahistorical, ethnocentric view of history and religion. First, Dave is simply wrong that the term “religio” makes no sense outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is simple polemics, not truth or fact. Dave has made clear in his many dogmatic statements that he is painfully ignorant of the history of Christianity and its own, as Smith (an intelligent Christian scholar) describes it,

      cumulative tradition … [for] is not simply the continuation or extrapolation of its earlier history … Rather, its later history is the prolongation and enrichment of its earlier existence as modified by the intervention of the faith and activity of this man…. It is a part of this world; it is the product of human activity; it is diverse, it is fluid, it grows, it changes, it accumulates. It crystalizes in material form the faith of previous generations, and it sets the context for the faith of each new generation as these come along. A religious tradition, then, is the historical construct, in continuous and continuing construction, of those who participate in it. (Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Meaning and End of Religion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press; 1991; c1962 pp. 158-159; 165. Emphasis added.)

      There is in the field of history of religions and comparative religions a concept of the Founder’s Principle. In a nutshell the original teachings of the Founder inevitably undergo reification and transformation in the process of institutionalization, whether it be Guru Nanak or Jesus. Modern religious scholars know full well that the teachings of Jesus are different and separate from the teachings about Jesus. So too did early nineteenth-century Social Gospel Christians and those educated in the newly emerging field of religious studies (Religionswissenschaft) and Biblical Criticism know that the religion of Jesus was distinct from the theological dogma of Christianity, the religion about Jesus.

      In our everyday usage, the word criticism often has negative connotations. To criticize another person means to speak about that individual in an uncomplimentary manner. But the root meaning of the term has to do with “passing judgment” or “making evaluation,” positive or negative. Gospel critics evaluate the Gospels. They approach the Gospels with certain questions. Who wrote them? When? Where? To whom? Why? What sources did the author use? Written sources? Oral? What did the author’s editing of these sources reveal about theological perspective? About this view of Jesus? What is the story of Jesus in this Gospel? How does the Gospel writer tell this story? What is the social world presented in the narratives? The social world presupposed by the narrative? (Tatum 1995: 38)

      These questions, and others, share a common feature. They involve the study of the biblical documents within the first-century setting out of which they originated. They are not questions about the beliefs and theology of the persons who ask them in the twentieth century. They are questions about the documents and those who wrote them. These questions, therefore, represent expressions of the general method used by Gospel critics–the historical-critical method. (Tatum 1995: 38)

      (….) The use of the historical-critical method in the service of Christian faith rests upon the additional assumption that an adequate appreciation of the biblical message for our lives today requires an understanding of that message in its original setting. (Tatum, W. Barnes. In Quest of Jesus. Nashville: Abingdon Press; 1995; pp. 38-39.)

      No collection of religious writings gives expression to such a wealth of devotion and inspirational ideas of God as the Book of Psalms. Religious scholars now know that the Jewish scriptures contain many borrowed Egyptian and Mesopotamian concepts of God in the writings of the Psalms. The Torah bears witness to the fact that the early Hebrews borrowed from surrounding religious cultures in the worship of El Shaddai, the Egyptian concept of the God of heaven, which they learned about during their captivity in the land of the Nile. In the Book of Hebrew Proverbs, chapters fifteen, seventeen, twenty, and chapter twenty-two, verse seventeen, to chapter twenty-four, verse twenty-two, are taken almost verbatim from Amenemope’s Book of Wisdom. The first psalm of the Hebrew Book of Psalms was written by Amenemope and is the heart of the teachings of Ikhnaton.

      It is simply blind arrogance that leads Christians to believe or claim or assert that religion “made no sense in the contexts” other than the Judeo-Christian context given the fact that the evidence proves otherwise.

      The Jesus movement very early on exchanged the vision for the visionary. Those first enthusiastic followers were enthralled by the world Jesus encapsulated in the parables and aphorisms, but, since they were unable to hold on to the vision embodied in those verbal vehicles, they turned from the story to the storyteller. They didn’t know how else to celebrate the revelation. They turned the iconclast into an icon. (Funk, Robert W. Honest to Jesus. New York: HarperCollins; 1996; pp. 10-11. )

      Instructive here is the case of Guru Nanak, the gentle and intense Indian mystic of the fifteenth-sixteenth century A.D. To call him ‘the founder of Sikhism’, as is often done, is surely to misconstrue both him and history. He was a devotee (bhâkta) who, in spiritually passionate and directly personalist poetry and in a life of humane and humble service, preached sincerity and adoration and the overwhelming reality of God. He attacked religious formalism of all kinds. Several generations later his followers were religiously formalized, systematized; by organizers such as Arjan Dev and especially Gobind Singh. Out of this was born what we call ‘followerism’ (Sikh means ‘disciple’). Gobind Singh organized what had be then become a movement, into a structured community, the Khalsa–counterpart to the Christian concept ‘Church’; but by this time it was the eighteenth century. (Smith 1991: 66-67)

      To the explicitly indefinable faith of the individual member of the movement, the term ‘discipleship’ (in Panjabî, Sikhî) was internally given, in the clearly Platonic sense of ‘true discipleship’. From this term, denoting the form though not the content of a transcendent personalist ideal, there has been gradually evolved a name for an abstract rather than the transcendent ideal of the group rather than the persons, and finally the counterpart of the Western (outsiders) concept ‘Sikhism’ as the total complex of Sikh religious practices and rites, scriptures and doctrines, history and institutions. (Smith 1991: 67)

      We have here a recapitualation of a standard gradual process of reification: the preaching of a vision, the emergence of followers, the organization of a community, the positing of an intellectual ideal of that community, the definition of the actual pattern of its institutions. The last two steps seem to have been taken only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Meaning and End of Religion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press; 1991; c1962 pp. 66-67. )

  5. Ken Zimmerman said:

    Auguste Comte created positivism and gave it the name. (see, “The Course in Positive Philosophy,” published between 1830 and 1842) He also is credited as one of the creators of Sociology, which he first called social physics, until made aware that term was used previously by Adolphe Quetelet. Positivism’s name comes from the results expected from it. According to Comte, the knowledge obtained through positivism can then be used to affect the course of social change and improve the human condition. Positivism also argues that sociology should concern itself only with what can be observed with the senses and that theories of social life should be built in a rigid, linear, and methodical way on a base of verifiable fact. Comte’s positivism was first focused on establishing theories that could be tested, with the main goal noted already of improving human cultures based on validated theories. Positivism’s way to this was uncovering natural laws that could be applied to society and Comte believed that the natural sciences, like biology and physics, were a steppingstone in the creation of the “queen” of the sciences, sociology. Comte laid out five principles of positivism,
    1. The logic of inquiry is identical across all branches of science.
    2. The goal of inquiry is to explain, predict, and discover.
    3. Research should be observed empirically with human senses.
    4. Science is not the same as common sense.
    5. Science should be judged by logic and remain free of values.
    Positivism influenced early sociology and the other new social sciences but has little influence on contemporary sociology. The argument against positivism is that it encourages a misleading emphasis on superficial facts without any attention to underlying mechanisms that cannot be observed. Instead, sociologists understand that the study of culture is complex and requires many complex methods necessary for research. For example, by using fieldwork, a researcher immerses itself in another culture to learn about it. Modern sociologists don’t embrace the version of one “true” vision of society as a goal for sociology as Comte did.

    Anthropologists, both pro and con on positivism have debated positivism and its consequences for over a century. Positivism is identified with or detected in the work of British and French thinkers from Bacon and Descartes to Saint-Simon, Comte, and John Stuart Mill; the work of Victorian anthropologists who esteemed these thinkers; logical positivism; Popperian falsificationism; empiricism; methodological pragmatism; methodological naturalism; scientism; natural science; social science; the comparative method; holocultural methodology; participant observation; anthropological experiment; mechanism; intellectualism; sociocultural evolutionism; environmental determinism; functionalism; Marxism; Whitian culturology; cultural materialism; Levi-Straussian structuralism; conflict theory; action theory; methodological individualism; behaviorism; situational logic; logical atomism; “totalizing” theory; Bloomfieldian linguistics; Chomskian linguistics; generative semantics; British anthropology into the 1960s; Anglo-Saxon social science; British intellectual life; Protestant culture; and Western culture. To confuse matters further, “crypto-positivism” (Friedrich 1992) has been detected in the work of positivism’s arch critics, Clifford Geertz and his postmodern descendants (Bourdieu 1988: 11; Sangren 1988:405,409), while Marxist writings and those of Malinowski and Levi-Strauss are fingered as positivistic by some yet championed as non- or anti-positivistic by others. Positivism has it seems slipped in part of in whole into most of western culture, including Anthropology and the other social-linguistic sciences.

    More broadly many Anthropologists and some other social scientists seem to assume that positivism’s philosophical precepts underwent a subtle metamorphosis in their post-Enlightenment history, becoming a kind of scientific habitus (Bourdieu 1990:52-65)-a “commitment,” “model,” “paradigm,” “world view,” “orthodoxy,” “doctrine,” or “faith” predicating the practice of natural and, especially, social scientists. With positivist precepts thus recursively linked to physical and social scientific practice, positivism becomes science. With this shift, positivism is also portrayed as spreading beyond the academy into Western-especially Protestant-culture in general, becoming in Ardener’s words a “lay positivism,” a “religion” of the “compulsorily educated masses” (1971:461-462; see also Diamond 1974:10).

    • Rob said:

      Thank you Ken.

  6. Rob is totally misdirected in his repeated attack on my comment about the word ‘religion’. As we use the word now, of course it applies to beliefs other than Christian. I was discussing the origins and literal meaning of the term, not how it is used now.

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