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Jonathan Miller atheism series “Brief History of Disbelief” (Merged)
Posted: 23 November 2007 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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Thanks, Bryan.

I’m going to have to back up a bit on this and I’ll tell you why. Very late last night I was reading the letters of Adams and Jefferson and started to notice other quotes often used. One was out of The God Delusion, it’s a quote by Jefferson about Jesus. What I found interesting was two sentences before this damning quote is mention of Atheist.

Well, this got me thinking, how far did I read into the letter that contains the second part of the Miller series quote. This morning I decided to read the entire thing.

It is from, The Works of John Adams, found HERE - as you may notice it is much like, The Wisdom of John Adams, that you referenced. I also learned a trick with entries in JSTOR, - http://www.jstor.org/  - entering bits of a quote will highlight what is in the entry. These three references match very well for the original writings of the correspondences. I also have access to the university search databases such as Academic Search Premier, and again here when referenced in a historical journal or document, you find consistences with the other three.

But, anyway, lets take a look deeper into the quote by Adams that starts : “They all believe that great principle which has produced this boundless universe…..”

It is from a letter from John Adams to Jefferson…

~~ “Your university is a noble employment in your old age, and your ardor for its success does you honor; but I do not approve of your sending to Europe for tutors and professors. I do believe there are sufficient scholars in America, to fill your professorships and tutorships with more active ingenuity and independent minds than you can bring from Europe. The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices, both ecclesiastical and temporal, which they can never get rid of. They are all infected with episcopal and presbyterian creeds, and confessions of faith. They all believe that great Principle which has produces this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Herschells’ universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews; And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.

I salute your fireside with best wishes and best affections for their health, wealth and prosperity.” ~~ JA

The way it is set up in the Miller series actually fit this quite well. If you start from around 40 minutes into part 1, he is continuing his conversation about religion in America, especially Christian faith, as a theme in public life. He contrast this by saying :

~“it’s interesting because when this country declared its independence in 1776….the very first president of the United States, George Washington as an example was a very unenthusiastic church goer, who always walked out of a service before the congregation took the sacraments… so he subsequently never bothered to attend the church at all, And the presidents who closely followed him in that office were often on record as being considerably less then devout Christians.” ~ HM

What H. Miller is talking about folds into the quotes quite well. In fact, from reading the Jefferson quote, he is also quite right.

Adams is making a clear strike for independent thought, notice his wording, he is partly saying it is the Europeans that are biased by faith which leads to incoherence. Neither of them thought highly of the Christian faith at that time, and they quite plainly say so in their correspondence.

They also correspond about the “miracles” in the Bible as believed by Christians at that time. And here again neither of them to be favorable to this idea.

So, going back to the Miller series quote:

~“God is an essence we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world.”~

Clearly a manipulation was done, because put together I find no evidence Adams said this and very reliable evidence that they are taken from from the quotes we provided.

But, it is no where close to how I reacted to it at first discovery. Taking the entire thing in context, it is clear to me it fits. In fact, Jefferson uses the exact phrasing when speaking of God, using the “know nothing of”, ideal. This is saying the “miracle” stories are not believable, that God has not shown himself as presented in text.

The bias of “miracle” believers (stories of Jesus pertaining to miracles, rising from grave etc.) is what Adams does not see as fit to teach at the university because a science can not be fully objective, liberal, open when this bias is possibly tainting the teaching. Again, it is a strike for free, open inquiry.

The blasphemy then is that someone claims to “know God” and show this through “miracle” stories.

[ Edited: 23 November 2007 10:34 AM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 23 November 2007 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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Let me state clearly. I do not approve of what was done in the Miller series as the evidence shows now. It is disheartening to see the series quotes so often used as a factual statement by Adams by so many misinformed people. I would like to know the source of the quote used, or if they cobbled it together themselves.

There is also evidence this was done in other places with quotes, which raises a very real problem. There are many quotes I can not seem to find, even through the university system. The larger problem is presenting History itself. When quotes are manipulated this way how do we know the Historical events were not also manipulated.

I am currently looking for a disclaimer and confirmation of the source used for the quotes in the series.

It also appears to me that the sources identified by the director, Richard Denton, appear to have bias and as you pointed out the index does not show Adams in Western Atheism, and is a text that is openly criticized. The text, History of Atheism in Britain, is problematic as well, this appears to be a text book costing over $500.00 and not widely used. But, how a text book about the History of Atheism in Britain may aid in the quotes attributed to Adams and Jefferson is not clear. From what I can dig up on this book there is no mention of either man.

Again, this is what I find for the reference for the series, an interview with Denton.

~“BBC Four: What were your main references?
RD: There’s a very short pamphlet-type book called the Western Atheism: A Short History by James Thrower, a Scottish academic. There’s also a History of Atheism in Britain: From Hobbes to Russell by David Berman. Otherwise we went back to the original sources - from David Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature; Lucretius’ The Nature of All Things. We read the Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics, books on Darwin. The System of Nature by the Baron D’Holbach. They were not so easy to find.”~

[ Edited: 23 November 2007 11:02 AM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 23 November 2007 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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zarcus - 23 November 2007 10:27 AM

I’m going to have to back up a bit on this

[...]

Adams is making a clear strike for independent thought, notice his wording, he is partly saying it is the Europeans that are biased by faith which leads to incoherence. Neither of them thought highly of the Christian faith at that time, and they quite plainly say so in their correspondence.

I agree with you through this point, in that the tenor of the correspondence in both cases agrees generally with Miller’s thesis.  But I still think, after reconsidering the context even more broadly than I did at first, that the “blashemy” to which Adams referred is primarily the incarnation even if there is might be some validity to supposing that he had in mind other miracles as well (which is a reasonable extrapolation).  I think it would be very difficult for one hearing the quotation as given in the film to gain an accurate idea of the history involved, and I continue to maintain that the manner in which the quotation was reworked makes it appear unfriendly even to Deism.  It gives the idea that the idea of knowing something about god is the “blasphemy” but the other statements from Adams seem to make that interpretation untenable. 

They also correspond about the “miracles” in the Bible as believed by Christians at that time. And here again neither of them to be favorable to this idea.

Agreed.

So, going back to the Miller series quote:

~“God is an essence we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world.”~

Clearly a manipulation was done, because put together I find no evidence Adams said this and very reliable evidence that they are taken from from the quotes we provided.

But, it is no where close to how I reacted to it at first discovery. Taking the entire thing in context, it is clear to me it fits. In fact, Jefferson uses the exact phrasing when speaking of God, using the “know nothing of”, ideal. This is saying the “miracle” stories are not believable, that God has not shown himself as presented in text.

In the same context, Adams says that we know well enough what we mean in referring to spirit.  His statement about “an essence we know nothing of” has nothing to do with miracles from what I can tell.

The bias of “miracle” believers (stories of Jesus pertaining to miracles, rising from grave etc.) is what Adams does not see as fit to teach at the university because a science can not be fully objective, liberal, open when this bias is possibly tainting the teaching. Again, it is a strike for free, open inquiry.

I agree that was Adams’ point (with a minor caveat about the supposed objectivity that arises given an antisupernatural bias), but I don’t think that view comes through clearly in the quotation produced for the sake of the film.

The blasphemy then is that someone claims to “know God” and show this through “miracle” stories.

None of that was part of the idea of the first portion of the quotation, and I doubt that the great majority viewing the film would be able to pick up from the film version of the quotation the main idea you identify.  I think the appearance of hesitancy manifested on this board when I asked two different members to identify the blasphemy in the passage was instructive.

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Posted: 25 November 2007 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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Interesting take on it, Bryan. Again, thanks for bringing this issue to my attention. It’s been a pleasure reading the history. As to “miracles”, I am speaking directly from what I have read of the letters between Jefferson and Adams. There is a clear theme in their correspondence on this issue from what I have read. In fact, I do not see them parting ways on this issue in any disconnected way. They understood each other without having to go back over the same issue, so this allowed them to speak directly.

Edit: I apologize. I just reread what I had written that you responded to. I think you are correct and I am speaking more from what I know now and trying to give a benefit of the doubt. I am wrong, there really isn’t a benefit to give.

As to the rest, I think I stated very clearly my opinion on what is done in the Miller series. There is little doubt what they did with that Adams quote is a great manipulation intended to send the message that he is saying: “until god is gotten rid of….” It’s deceitful. I’ve also been going through The God Delusion and I have found some of the same manipulations. Within five minutes the other day I pulled out two quotes that are so far out of context that one would rightly assume it is a deliberate manipulation to “speak to the converted”. I personally find these types of things, whether done by religionist or secularist to be grotesque. It cuts deep because both sides often hold themselves out as exemplars of honest dialogue. I have spent over a year now taking on New Atheist claims and approaches. What was done with this quote and considering the fact that Miller shares with Harris the motivation for their endeavors being 9/11, I am not surprised. There has become, though quietly fading, a willingness to take the posture of “at any cost” which disgust me. This is evident in many of the reactions Harris has taken to scientific controversy. He and many have a very clear focus built on irrationalism that is a threat to the forwarding science and reason. Religionists that are responsible for polluting public discourse and attempts to redefine science must be met rationally and directly, not with manipulations and obfuscation.

[ Edited: 25 November 2007 02:33 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 25 November 2007 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]
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Zarcus,

Though our worldviews may be different, we see eye to eye.  :grin:

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