Interesting Argument

  • Here  if one scrolls down to the random links noted after the main post, we see this: “Hooray for modernity. And rationalism.”

Now, if you read the essay noted in the link, there isn’t a single place where the writer connects the cause of increased life-span to “modernity” or “rationalism.”  That is simply presumed by Burk; he reads that into the text.  What the writer does note is this:
“The credit largely goes to a wide range of public health advances, broadly defined, some of which were explicitly aimed at preventing disease, others of which did so only incidentally.”
Beyond that, we see that many of the reasons for the advancements in medicine are a result of the advancements in science- in general.  Again, when we think about the rise of modern science we see that it arose because of key ideas or concepts and because of a certain environment.  As I already noted here:
“Could modern science have arisen outside the theological matrix of Western Christendom? It is difficult to say. What can be said for certain is that it did arise in that environment, and that theological ideas underpinned some of its central assumptions. Those who argue for the incompatibility of science and religion will draw little comfort from history.”
And this is all to say that the advancements in medicine are linked to the rise of modern science, so we see a tributary running off the main stream, which finds its head source in the ‘theological matrix of Western Christendom.”
But more specifically to the credit going largely to a “wide range of public health advances” we see the rise of modern hospitals, philanthropy, and the systems of care originally founded by the early Church and arising out of that theological matrix.  See here for example.
Now, we could clearly disagree here on whether or not any of this could be attributed solely to the Christian narrative or what it means or proves (and that would be a reasonable disagreement issue–nothing else).  I’ve already addressed that here, here, and here.  What I find really interesting is that Burk wants us to link the outcome here (longer life-span) to a certain narrative (modernity/rationalism) and he thinks this says something about the truth of that narrative.  He thinks we should all say “hooray”- this proves or means something significant about that narrative.
What Burk is doing is just using common sense.  I disagree with his assertion that long life-span in people is attributable to the narrative of modernity/rationalism, but he certainly isn’t illogical for thinking a connection of that nature might say something true about the ideas, the narrative, that led to that outcome.  This is sort of like not touching the hot stove a second time.  And I’m also sure he would say that even if we could directly link this outcome to the narrative of modernity/rationalism, such would not “prove” or demonstrate empirically/scientifically that God didn’t exist.  I think he would say something more along the lines of it is “plausible;” it is likely, it may hint or point strongly toward the truths of that narrative. 

Interesting argument…it sounds familiar.  I guess he never received the memo that he’s committing a logical error to even suggest it.
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6 Responses to Interesting Argument

  1. Burk Braun says:

    I am deeply honored!

    But I think you have your argument a little backwards. I never say that the goodness per se of advances in public health contribute to the truth value of the science/rationality/modernity /enlightenment paradigm (though they do as a part of empirical data, I guess). The science was clear here well before many lifespans were extended. Take smallpox vaccination, for example. It is certainly gratifying, but the truth test happened on a very small scale, long before the mass effect. And along the way a large number of superstitions, magical and vitalistic philosophies, whether Christian or otherwise, were defeated to reach this public health outcome. So it was a win-win in the battle of ideas. Truth is itself a good, as is the practical benefit derived from it. But the moral good doesn't make the case for truth. I mean, scientific truth and accurate models of reality lead to nuclear bombs as well.

    The question is whether the Christian model of reality generates accurate outcomes on experimentation (either on the mass or the laboratory scale)… not whether it generates morally good outcomes. That would be an argument for its truth. For example, if Jesus finally returned as promised, that would be a good argument. Or if properly (and reproducibly!) constructed prayers yielded consistent results attributable, not to internal psychological effects, but clearly attributable to the objects of the prayers. That is how proper logic goes. A moral good doesn't make an ontological truth. Whether ontological falsehoods or truths lead to more moral goods is, in fact, something of an open question, I'd say, if we were to be indulgent of religion. We have rich imaginative lives with great potential for wrong beliefs that can do some good.


  2. Darrell says:

    “I never say that the goodness per se of advances in public health contribute to the truth value of the science/rationality/modernity /enlightenment paradigm (though they do as a part of empirical data, I guess).”

    Well, that guess in parenthesis is all I need. That was my point. And I know you weren't talking about “goodness.” As you note above, you were linking an outcome with a set of ideas.

    The rest is disputed, which my posts go to, but the above is all I needed.


  3. Burk Braun says:

    Wow- talk about “reading into” what other people write.

    I am all for the good aspects of Christianity.. hooray for feeding the poor and caring for the sick! The question is.. does this goodness per se reflect on ontological truth? Does the badness of bad religious-driven actions reflect on ontological truth? Not intrinsically, though it could, depending on the details of the case- how strongly they depended on the ontological model. I think truth is generally more conducive to happiness than falsehood, but the case is still out, and is very psychologically inflected. It is certainly not black and white.

    I am sure you can cite very good works done by people you know for a fact are/were believing completely wrong beliefs, such as our entire set of forebears prior to Christianity, let's say. So the logic here is not working. Taking some pride in the good works and philosophical progress associated with one tradition or another is a separate matter.


  4. Darrell says:


    “I am all for the good aspects of Christianity.. hooray for feeding the poor and caring for the sick! The question is.. does this goodness per se reflect on ontological truth?”

    What are you talking about? I never said you weren’t for the good aspects. You are completely missing my point.

    Here it is again: You were linking an outcome with a set of ideas and you were suggesting that such a link was significant, meaning it pointed toward the truthfulness of the modernity/rationalism narrative. And I didn’t say you were linking it to ontological truth, did I? Or, perhaps you were?

    Anyway, as a hint, or a sign, pointer, toward the truth of that narrative is exactly what you were doing and so was I. Why else the “hooray”?



  5. Burk Braun says:


    You are reading an awful lot into the word “hooray”. Indeed, you are misinterpreting it. Rooting for your tribe is a separate issue from determining whether they are right or not on the merits.

    A is correct on the merits
    A has beneficial effects
    Hooray for A

    B is a fantasy
    B has beneficial effects
    Hooray for B, with philosophical reservations that one (I) would not have for A.


  6. Darrell says:


    Your A and B just begs the question. The point remains. It wasn't about rooting for a tribe—you said nothing about atheism. You specifically referred to the narrative of modernity/rationalism. Your point was very clear. You were asserting that an outcome was linked directly to a narrative, to a way of seeing and thinking.

    No need to backpedal, as I noted, what you were doing is perfectly logical.


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