Apologist Glen Scrivener is popular with Premier and the Unbelievable? Team. So it’s no surprise that his latest defence of christinaity is publicised on the their website. This publicity includes an article Glen has written, called ‘Christianity is the air we breathe. Even your objections to Christianity are Christian’ see link 1 (link: https://www.premierchristianity.com/features/christianity-is-the-air-we-breathe-even-your-objections-to-christianity-are-christian/13185.article?fbclid=IwAR1ePgAJ7PS8CYn4kVyzTXoRwyRDNUwoM3L99Mk6r74tv_9k-9f3rt7n83Q) The title is typically click-baity, but what of the content?
The opening sentence, that we all value things like freedom and equality, amongst others, seems uncontroversial. But the next sentence, where Glen suggests that these traits can’t be natural, and are the direct result of the death and resurrection of Jesus is where the whole things starts to go wrong. Assuming this is an actual historical event that took place a mere 2000 years ago, have humans really only recently discovered the benefits these behaviours bring us? Were the humans that existed during the BCE years really so bad and so unable to work these things out? The very idea seems preposterous. Maybe Glen is being intentionally rhetorical, that wouldn’t surprise me. Could it be that he really means they have existed for all of human history, but they only exist because of his preferred definition of god. For now, I’ll grant him the latter, even though a plain reading of his claim doesn’t naturally (ha) lead to that explanation.
But could there be a natural explanation? Actually yes. Scientists have long proposed that group behaviour in early humans, or even other animals for that matter, necessitates cooperation and equality. A simple thought experiment will reveal that a when comparing two groups, one with the traits that Glen lists and the other without, the former group will have advantages over the latter and so, evolutionarily speaking, will be more fit. Therefore, it’s not only unsurprising that humans have evolved these traits, it’s expected. See link 2 for an article in the Guardian from 2015 that reports on one study that has attempted to explain the arrival of these traits in humans (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/14/early-men-women-equal-scientists). But it gets worse for Glen, we do see these traits in other animals, a fact which should be enough to put paid to the ridiculous claim that these are bestowed onto mankind by a masochistic god.
Having started so badly, Glen then goes on to detail a list a specific qualities that he thinks we all have and that Christianity is somehow uniquely placed to grant them all, he equates their links to Christianity with them being like the air we breathe. Except he’s wrong on every count. Here’s why:
• Equality: You believe in the equal moral status of every member of the human family.
Christianity is directly responsible for the mistreatment and malignment of many members of the human family. The slave trade is the obvious place to go when considering past inequality. While there are some prominent Christians who were involved in its abolition, look also at the numbers of Christians who propagated in and profited from it and fought against abolition. Additionally, many who rejected Christianity were also abolitionists. If Christianity was such a good thing for equality, why is it that being Christian did not obviously correlate with being against slavery? Look around at inequality today, specifically the treatment of those who are LGTBQ+, those who malign them and view them as morally lesser, are typically Christians. This is a direct example of Christians propagating unequal moral status, in direct contradiction to Glen’s claim. This should not be surprising, read about the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, unequal moral status is baked into Christianity, unequal moral status is exactly what Christianity thrives on. The missionary culture in which I was brought up exists because of the Christian view of other humans having a lesser moral status. Unequal moral status is what Christianity needs in order to provide its salvation narrative. It is secular morality that brings all members of the human family to equal status.
• Compassion: You believe a society should be judged by the way it treats its weakest members.
It may not be the only trait by which we judge a society, but it certainly is one metric by which it does seem reasonable to judge a society. Societies that look after their weakest members are clearly caring societies. They are clearly societies that value the individual above what they can offer. They are clearly societies that do not need all individuals to be contributary. See link 3 for an article about a find in Vietnam from over 5000 years ago where a child with Downs syndrome appears to have been looked after. (https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/06/17/878896381/ancient-bones-offer-clues-to-how-long-ago-humans-cared-for-the-vulnerable) But Glen’s claim is not about societies that looked after their weak, it’s about us, you and me, judging societies by how they treat their weak. This is a tough one to counter because while I can claim that I do not need Christianity in order to judge the society in the link I just referenced, the fact remains that my upbringing is steeped in Christian influence, and so I can not separate my existence from Christianity. This link is what Glen will point to and claim that it is only because of that Christian influence on my life that enables me to measure the criteria required to judge a society’s level of compassion. I can call bullshit as much as I like, but I can’t rerun my life without Christianity in order to prove Glen wrong. What I would do to counter this though, is point to the link I have referenced, and there are other examples, and suggest that those societies looked after the weak because they saw the value in it, and those societies existed without any knowledge of Christianity, and that is my case that on point two, Glen is wrong.
• Consent: You believe that the powerful have no right to force themselves on others.
I am very happy to own this belief. The powerful have no right to force themselves on others. And yet we live in a world where every single country where the religious have power, others suffer from the imposition of religious preferences. The most obvious modern example is how the religious are trying to curb the freedoms of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Or how Christian parents ostracise their non believing offspring. Christianity is characterised by the misuse of power this goes way back in time to the Crusades, the conquistadores and beyond. One wonders how blind Glen must be to Christianity’s abusive past to include this absurd claim.
• Enlightenment: You believe in education for all and its power to transform a society by persuasion and argument rather than by force.
I absolutely belive in education for all. More than that, education should be unbiased and reliable. That’s why I object to the Christian education I received where I was taught and told that the earth was young and created and that evolution was a lie. The Christian element of my education was actually indoctrination. A secular education is by definition a better quality education than a religiously biased one.
But maybe Glen means the existence of education, not the quality of the education. If what you’re teaching is bullshit, than that’s worse than ignorance and it’s better not to teach at all. This point is arrogant in its ignorance. See link 4 for examples of educational establishments that predate the influence of christinaity on the world, (https://www.britannica.com/topic/education/Education-in-the-earliest-civilizations).
• Science: You believe in the ability of science to help us understand the world and improve our lives.
Science is awesome, the scientific method gives us the ability to test and validate our ideas and sift out the best ones to constantly expand our knowledge of the world and deliver improvements to our technology. None of that depends on Christianity. Additionally, the sheer number of Christians who challenge and deny well studied sciences like evolution and vaccine efficacy should be enough to convince anyone that Christianity’s relationship with science is tenuous at best. If that’s not enough, then the disproportionate number of Christians who subscribe to conspiracy theories ought to settle it.
But maybe Glen means that because there were Christians who were involved in the inception of what we now call modern science, then science must owe its existence to Christianity. While it is indeed true that there were Christians actively involved in early scientific advances, and Christians continue to be involved today, it is important to note that doing good science does not automatically validate any belief you have. There are people who have done good science who have believed all sorts of things, to focus on just the Christian beliefs of some of those people and claim validation by association is frankly the worst form of special pleading you can possibly engage in.
The whole point of science is to challenge our beliefs, not to be used as an excuse to hold to beliefs that we refuse to challenge. There is a reason that the proportion of scientists who are Christians is lower that the proportion of the general public who are Christians.
• Science: You believe in our ability to do science and its ability to improve the world.
The ability of science to improve our world does not need christinaity or your belief, it is evidenced by its track record of test and validation.
• Freedom: You believe that people are not property and that each of us should be in control of our own lives.
The irony of this statement is that it is given at a time when Christians are active in the world trying desperately hard to curb the freedoms of others to marry who they love and to have children when they want. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so fucking desperate.
• Progress: You believe we should reform society of its former evils.
Yes, let’s do that, starting with religion.
In justifying his points Glen claims that “These values are not at all common in pre- or non-Christian cultures. They have come to us specifically through the Jesus-revolution (in other words, Christianity). When we extract ourselves from Christian history (for instance, by studying the beliefs of the ancient Greeks or Romans), we discover a frighteningly alien world.”
But this is a typically Christian example of blatant cherry picking. Glen is stepping over the horrors of Christianity and ignoring the things that pre-Christian societies have done that he would approve of. Glen is painting a picture of world that apparently turned on a dime from horrific to nirvana the moment Christianity arrived. You can tell he’s not an historian.
Having presented a list of the benefits of secularism Glen takes an unexpected turn by invoking Plato and Aristotle in arguing for the inequalities of the pre-Christian world. This is strange because I have seen many Christians quote both Plato and Aristotle when justifying theism, their ideas and arguments are constantly regurgitated by philosophical Christians needing to justify their beliefs. Yet here we have a Christian quoting them as proof of pre-Christian inequality, they apparently held to the view that “women, barbarians and slaves to be of inferior value to freeborn male citizens.”. But we don’t need to go that far back to find inequality, Christians today do not grant women the same freedoms as they grant men. Christianity has not and is not helping us become an equal society.
Glen then returns to his presented list of things that he says others belive and attempts to show how Christianity has driven those improvements.
• Equality: Ancient rulers kept ‘the little people’ in check with threats of crucifixion. God descended to a cross and rose to invite the world into spiritual unity.
Despotic regimes do this all the time. It’s how they keep power. Lack of religion is not the indicator here, it’s lack of democratic accountability. For an example of how Christianity keeps the little people in check, look at how many Christians in America and the UK want a harder line to be taken when it comes to border controls. Look at how many conservative Christians oppose affordable healthcare or unemployment benefits that enable people to live.
• Compassion: Ancient societies were based on dominance. God came as a foot-washing “servant of all” (Mark 9:35) and handed us the towel saying: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Correction, some ancient societies were based on dominance. Some modern societies are based on dominance too. Glen is ignoring pre-Christian compassion, remember link 3?
• Consent: Ancient men felt they had the right to any body belonging to an ‘inferior’. Christ sides with the victim and gives incredible dignity to the weak and marginalised.
Jesus wasn’t unique. Ancient societies did this too. See link 5 (https://www.science.org/content/article/ancient-greeks-didn-t-kill-weak-babies-new-study-argues)
• Enlightenment: Ancient cultures would spread by force. Christ said: “put away your sword” (Matthew 26:52, NLT). Now we are to spread our influence by word, through gentle persuasion.
Christianity was spread by the sword, I’ve already mentioned the crusades and the conquistadores. Link 6 gives additional information on the violence associated with the spread of Christianity. (https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword). Even today, Christians will use coercion and strong persuasion to get others to align with their beliefs. There is nothing gentle about how Christianity operates.
• Science: Ancient people thought their way towards knowledge of the natural world. God showed up in the world to found a movement that, in time, would itself invite the world to test things empirically.
You do not get to facts by thinking alone. You need a methodology to help you separate facts from fiction. Christians who are reluctant to put their claims to the test have no protection from nonsense thinking, it appears that Glen has failed to properly test out his own claims and is instead content to think his way to his conclusions.
• Freedom: Slavery existed in every ancient people group, yet the God of heaven came as “slave of all” (Mark 10:44) to bring us liberation.
And in this Christian era, one in which we apparently owe all our progress to Christianity, slavery still exists.
• Progress: Ancient thinking considered history to descend from a great Golden Age in the past. Jesus rose from the dead to give enduring hope for a brighter tomorrow.
And all our medical and technological advances that give us the progress we have now, is thanks to secular science.
Having given his very weak suggestions that these arbitrary traits are the result of Christianity, and putting no obvious thought at all into what evolutionary theory might say, Glen boldly declares that “These seven values, then, are not natural developments for Homo sapiens to evolve into.”
This is of course utter nonsense. Evolution works on the group, not the individual, and so behaviour traits that benefit the group are to be expected through natural evolution. Which is exactly what we see. These behaviours literally are an inevitable consequence of natural selection, no matter how much Glen might object.
He goes on to say that “The rest of the animal kingdom does not sign up to this moral code.”
Link 7 would disagree (https://philarchive.org/archive/FITAMW) it’s a PDF titled, Animal Morality: What is The Debate About? Put Animal morality into your search engine of choice and there is no shortage of examples of animal behaviour that matches items on the criteria that Glen has listed. These are not traits that are unique to humans, and any claim to the contrary is flat out untrue.
Glen further tries to justify his claims by giving specific examples of extreme events that apparently demonstrate his points. Glen is brutally honest, and arguably being humble and modest too, in this list because he touches on things where Christianity has very publicly failed. His attempt here is to show that the values of Christianity are what are behind our ability to judge even Christian failings.
• If I don’t like the violence of Old Testament wars, or of Church history in the last 2,000 years, it’s probably because I’ve absorbed the teachings of one who said: “Turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39).
Or maybe it’s because I am able to see that a god who favours one group of people over another is inherently an unjust god.
• If I recoil at Israel’s ancient practice of slavery, it’s almost certainly because I’ve inherited biblical notions of redemption, freedom and equality.
Or maybe it’s because evolution has granted me empathy to recognise and identify with other humans when they are being mistreated.
• If I am devastated by church abuse scandals, I am standing with Christ and against the misuse of sex and power endemic to human cultures.
Or maybe because I hold to the secular value of consent, I am able to recognise that religious power structures are inherently unhealthy.
• If I abhor instances of the Church mistreating minorities, I’m assigning a sacred (and distinctly Christian) value to the weak, the poor and the oppressed.
Or maybe because I hold to the secular value of equality, I am able to recognise that church dominance of the weak is simply an extension of Old Testament morality, and that is why I reject Christianity as being a moral authority.
• If I consider the Church to be on the wrong side of history, I’m considering history and progress in thoroughly biblical ways.
When I consider the church to be on the wrong side of history, it is because I am able to step away from the things I learnt from the church and judge them independably of the values that the church has taught me.
• If I hate the bullish colonialism that has at times accompanied the growth of the Church, I’m agreeing with profoundly Christian ideals – that rulers should serve, not dominate, and that differences should be valued, not dissolved.
The bullish colonialism associated with the growth of the church is baked into the very message of christinaity. It is Jesus’ commanded to make disciples of all nations that drives this despicable behaviour. It is exactly the reason why Christians view other cultures as lesser to its own and it is what is fuelling the very attitude that Glen is projecting in his piece. Which is why in his admission of things that the church has failed at, there is no acknowledgement of this feature of Christianity, it’s because he’s blind to it.
Glen now moves onto the clash between Christianity and secularism, but he still argues using the mantra that everyone takes Christian assumptions into the dialogue. He is characterising secularism in as unattractive light as he possibly can. He has to do it this way in order to appeal to his Christian readers, he has to drip feed lies about secularism in order to dissuade Christians from looking into it.
• We are clever chimps but possess inviolable human rights.
Rights that humans have drawn up and implemented. Rights that only exist because humans, despite opposition from Christianity, are capable of seeing the value in others.
• We are biological survival machines but have a duty to care for the weak.
A duty that stems from the evolutionary advantage of being in a group that works together for the benefit of all.
• We are nothing but mammals but we must honour each other’s sexual boundaries.
That’s because secular morality recognises that consent is important in order to maintain others’ dignity. Christians do not have a good record on others’ boundaries, sexual or not.
• We are the heirs of a brutal evolutionary history but we should spread our influence by persuasion and never by force.
Rudimentary psychology should tell you that people do not respond well to being forced into obedience.
• Our brains evolved merely for the purpose of survival but we can trust them to fathom the scientific mysteries of the cosmos.
We recognised that our brains can’t be trusted and so we have developed the scientific method that enables us to objectively test our ideas for reliability.
• Survival of the fittest is the deepest explanation for human life but pursuing the idea of a ‘master race’ is an unconscionable evil.
Which is exactly why the Christian idea of favoured people is recognised as a faulty human invention.
• We are clinging to an insignificant rock, hurtling through a meaningless universe towards eternal extinction but the arc of human history bends towards justice.
We can control how we treat others, but we can’t control the physics that determines the fate of the universe.
According to Glen, we can only hold these values because of the existence of Jesus. He claims secularism can’t explain them. But his claim is based, not on facts, but on his religiously motivated bias. He betrays himself by utterly misrepresenting what survival of the fittest means by suggesting it means the sacrifice of the weakest. This is bullshit. In the evolutionary context, fittest means those most adapted for the environment in which they live, this does not mean the strongest or the fiercest, it could mean those who cooperate or those who look after the sick. This misrepresenting of what fittest means in evolutionary contexts is often found in Christian circles, and is regularly corrected, but still the lie persists. One wonders if this is intentional.