Church & Society
Azusa Pacific University
Church & Society
March 13, 2002
"Social Scientific Perspectives on Christianity"

I.   Social Science and the Discrediting of Religion
A.   Religion as a private choice in our society
B.   Current culture discounts Christian and religious beliefs as prescientific, unscienctific, and generally suspect
C.   Stark claims that our culture's current view of religion results from conscious attempts by social scientist of prior generations to discredit religion and replace religion with science as the primary source of authority in our culture (Stark, 1)
1.   Nature capitalized to denote its deity (now it is "mother nature")
2.   Hobbes' Leviathan (1651) dismissed religion as lies, ignorance
3.   David Hume's "Of Miracles" (1748) claimed that miraculous elements abound in ignorant and barbarous nations and people
4.   Ludwig von Feuerbach's Das Wesen de Christentums (1841) viewed God as Ômans' generalized projection of himself, abstracted into general features
5.   Emile Durkheim viewed god as societies personified and represented to imagination (1915)
6.   These views can be categorized into two major claims made by "scientific" studies of religion: gods are illusions generated by social processes (cultural or comparative approach) or god are illusions generated by psychological processes (psychological approach)
D.   Cultural Approach
1.   Method is to compare similarities and differences among religions
2.   Jean Bodin (1593) viewed the variety of religions around the world and concluded that "all are refuted by all" (Stark, 4) - all religions are refuted by all other religions
3.   One approach to discredit all religions was to discredit pagan or earlier religions with the confidence that readers would also recognize the fraud in their own religious beliefs
a.   Pierre Bayle's Dictionaire historique et critique (1697) focused on the sexual misconduct of the gods to critique Greco-Roman religions
b.   Bernard Le Bouvier de Fontenelle's Histoire des oracles (1687) attacked priests or practices of pagan religions - things really haven't changed since that is a popular method of attack today
4.   Another approach was to emphasized similarities in religions, refuting the uniqueness f any religion, including Christianity
a.   Fontenelle's De l'orignine des fables (1724)
b.   Sir James Frazier's The Golden bough (1890) - anthropological approach to dismissing religious beliefs through comparison
5.   Both of these approaches intend to discredit current religions by showing their similarities with the religions of primitive, less advanced and therefore less intelligent peoples
a.   Comte claimed that the most primitive stage of human evolution is the theological/religious phase, where hallucinations guide the development of human culture (1896)
b.   Charles Darwin, in the Voyage of the Beagle, 1831-36, viewed the people of Terra del F