Archive for the ‘Atrocities’ Category


Have evils been performed in the name of science?

May 28, 2011

The Facts

From the 18th century up to the late 20th century, doctors and scientists were repeatedly responsible for numerous inhumane acts carried out on both humans and animals in the name of science.[1] [2] [3]

This does not discredit science as a body of knowledge and method of investigation, but it is a reminder that the special privileges[4] and authority[5] [6] enjoyed by scientists are easily abused and require external restraint.[7] [8]

In the 19th and 20th centuries scientists were responsible for racist social and political policies.[9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] Nazi medical atrocities prompted formulation of the ‘Nuremberg Code’, intended to restrain scientists and doctors.[17]

However, atrocities in the name of science continued despite the Code, which was disregarded by many medical scientists, [18] [19] [20] and it became clear researchers could not be trusted to act humanely without coercion by the state.[21] The Code has had little impact in practice.[22] [23] [24]

The Authority of Science

A 1961 experiment proved the average person will obey an authority figure even to the extent of inflicting extreme physical pain and risk of death. The experiment also proved people are conditioned to obey scientists even if ordered to act inhumanely.[25] [26]

Some scientists have acknowledged the role of science in past atrocities.[27] Others have warned against characterizing scientific atrocities as mere ‘pseudo-science’ unconnected to genuine scientific research,[28] or as the acts of the mentally unstable.[29] [30] [31]

[1] ‘ln fact, history is littered with examples of human abuse in the name of ‘science’.’, Cardwell & Flanagan, ‘Psychology AS: The Complete Companion’, p. 189 (2005).

[2] ‘”In the name of science,” innumerable animals have been vivisected, decerebrated, and tortured in order to produce “objective” data.’, Stenbers, ‘The Invention of Modern Science’, p. 22.3 (2000).

[3] Shannon, ‘Bioethics’, (4th ed. 1993), Annas & Grodin, ‘he Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation’ (1995), Hornblum, ‘Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison‘ (1999), Moreno, ‘Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans‘ (2000), Guerrini, ‘Experimenting With Humans and Animals: From Galen to animal rights’ (2003), Weyers, ‘The Abuse of Man: An illustrated history of dubious medical experimentation’ (2003), Goliszek, ‘In the Name of Science: A History of Secret Programs, Medical Research, and Human Experimentation’ (2003), Washington, ‘Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present ‘ (2008), Cina & Perper, ‘When Doctors Kill’ (2010), Chadwick, Have & Meslin, ‘The SAGE Handbook of Health Care Ethics’ (2011); many protests were also made by doctors and scientists against such atrocities.

[4] ‘But the privilege I would like to emphasize is that which is granted by the courts of law and which establishes the inviobility of the researcher’s right to withhold knowledge from public scrutiny.’, Huff, ‘The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West’, pp. 9-10 (2003).

[5] ‘The bland and righteous belief among American academics that any degree of invasion of privacy, any degree of public exposure of the human psyche, is justified so long as it is in the name of science rather than, say, the TV industry,’, Nisbet, ‘Project Camelot’ (1966), in Smith & Bender, ‘American Higher Education Transformed, 1940-2005: Documenting the National Discourse’, p. 408 (2008).

[6]Scientists make authoritative decisions in the name of others, such as on behalf of organizations or collective bodies, or in the name of science itself, and have such decisions made about them. Many of these are ‘gatekeeping’ decisions, and indeed the business of gatekeeping is perhaps the primary means of exercising authority in science.’, Turner, ‘Liberal Democracy 3.0: civil society in an age of experts’, p. 85 (2003).

[7] ‘industrialized science, tied as it is to the structure of the state, carries with it dangerous potential.’, Rosenberg & Marcus, ‘The Holocaust as a Test of Philosophy’, in Rosenberg & Myers (eds.), ‘Echoes from the Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections on a Dark Time’, p. 211 (1990).

[8] ‘The state and its various arms can kill, maim or exploit in the name of science.’, Nandy, ‘Science as a Reason of State’, in Abbas & Emi (eds.), ‘Internationalizing Cultural Studies: an anthology’, p. 27 (2005).

[9] ‘The change of perception was largely, if not soley, due to Darwin’s own work on evolution and published in The Origin of the Species (1859), and The Descent of Man (1871). A host of followers applied evolutionary theory to society and to the Aborigines, who were viewed as primitive, stone-age people who were earlier and less evolved than were Europeans.’, Reynolds, ‘An Indelible Stain?’, p. 146 (2001).

[10]The Australian colonists deeply influenced by Social Darwinism had come to accept that, as a consequence of settlement, the indigenous people were dying out and the process would probably continue until it was complete.’, ibid., p. 146.

[11]Scientific theories and arguments were used to support the inferiority of other races, thereby legitimising crimes committed throughout history and all over the world.’, Weigmann, ‘In the name of science’, EMBO reports (2.10. 871). 2001.

[12]Even under social democratic governments, atrocities took place. In Sweden, for example, 63 000 people—including most resident gypsies—were legally sterilised between 1934 and 1975, mainly because of ‘antisocial behaviour’.’, ibid., p. 872.

[13] ‘Along with the methods of mass killing, science also legitimized the ideological basis, or the motivating cause, for mass murder.’, Rosenberg & Marcus, ‘The Holocaust as a Test of Philosophy’, in Rosenberg & Myers (eds.), ‘Echoes from the Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections on a Dark Time’, p. 210 (1990).

[14] ‘The fact that these claims were advanced and even believed in the name of science, and were expounded by scientific authorities, lent a high degree of credence to popular prejudices and made the acceptance of the idea of mass extermination so much easier for a large number of people.’, ibid., p. 210.

[15] ‘Never did they fake an expert report to save someone’s life.’, Weigmann, ‘In the name of science’, EMBO reports (2.10. 872). 2001.

[16] ‘In the past it was scientists who interpreted racial differences as the justification to murder.’, ibid., p. 874.

[17] ‘The second half of the twentieth century saw a strong movement toward public regulation of experiments on human beings and animals. In the case of human experimentation, initial impetus came from the exposure of atrocities performed in the name of science on the inmates of Nazi concentration camps.’, Guerrini, ‘Experimenting With Humans and Animals: From Galen to animal rights’, p. 137 (2003).

[18] ‘In the 1960s, however, it came to public attention that medical researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom violated the rights of human subjects routinely and with impunity.’, ibid., p. 137.

[19] ‘The established ethical controls did not work, because doctors and researchers had so many personal incentives to pursue what they believed to be important scientific objectives. The classical ethical virtues of a good doctor, as well as the ethical rules of ancient and modern codes, were both simply ignored.’, Drane, ‘A Personal History of Bioethics in Latin America: The Current Challenge to the Medical Profession and the Influence of Pharmaceutical Companies’, in Pessini & de Paul de Barchifontaine (eds.), ‘Ibero-American Bioethics: History and Perspectives’, p. 32 (2009).

[20] ‘In 1965 Henry K. Beecher, the Dorr Professor of Anesthiology at Harvard University, alerted the national press to a number of unethical studies of which he was aware. He had earlier raised these concerns in a professional forum and now “went public” only because he was outraged by his colleagues’ indifference to the issue.’, Guerrini, ‘Experimenting With Humans and Animals: From Galen to animal rights’, p. 139 (2003).

[21] ‘By the 1970s Beecher’s and Pappworth’s expose’s, and the revelation of the Tuskegee study, had demonstrated that biomedical researchers could not be trusted to adhere to the principles of the Nuremberg Code without the coercive inducement of national regulation.’, ibid., p. 141.

[22] ‘Despite the development of both the Nuremberg Code, published in 1947, and the Declaration of Helsinki nearly 20 years later, research was still being done without regard to the health and well-being of its participants. The literature cites many examples (Krguman et al., 1978; Campbell et al., 1992; LoBiondo-Wood and Haber, 1994; Lock, 1995; Dowd and Wilson, 1995; Nicholson, 1997; Homan, 1998)’, Hart & Bond, ‘Using action research’, in Gomm & Davies, ‘Using Evidence in Health and Social Care’, p. 109 (2000).

[23]The question is raised why such a commendable code of ethics has had so little impact in two countries [German and the US] with long histories of unethical therapeutic and nontherapeutic experimentation, unethical eugenically oriented surgery, and medical abuse and exploitation involving Blacks and other disadvantaged groups.’ Byrd & Clayton (eds.), ‘An American Health Dilemma: Race, medicine, and health care in the’, p. 281 (2001).

[24] ‘As health lawyer and bioethicist George J. Annas noted in The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Even where the Nuremberg Code has been cited as authoritative, it has usually been in dissent, and no US court has ever awarded damages to an injured experimental subject, or punished an experimenter, on the basis of a violation of the Code.‘, ibid., p. 281.

[25]not a single volunteer research participant refused to administer severe shocks to counterfeit subjects, when instructed to do so by a scientist in a white coat.’, Scheper-Hughes & Bourgois, ‘Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology’, Blackwell Readers in Anthropology, p. 16 (2004).

[26] ‘It should not come as a surprise that Milgram’s experimenter wore a white lab coat, embodying the authority of the expert research scientist pursuing knowledge. Whether by presence or by uniform, the more salient the authority figure, the more likely people are to obey, as can be seen in Figure 10.6.’, Smith & Mackie (eds.), ‘Social Psychology’, p. 399 (2000).

[27] ‘It was scientific and medical methods, scientific and medical speech that were used in carrying out these crimes in the name of science. Clearly, the scientific value of an experiment is not tainted by the experiment being carried out on murder victims. ‘It would be wrong to condemn them as bad experiments, if they were carried out on mice‘, writes Benno Müller-Hill,’, Weigmann, ‘In the name of science’, EMBO reports (2.10. 874). 2001.

[28] ‘Even today, we prefer to perceive the Nazi era as a period of ‘pseudo-science’. But this is dangerous, as it would relieve scientists from any responsibility for the crimes committed. ‘Criminal acts of this kind are an inexcusable shame, not only for those who prepared them, but also for all those who tolerated them, in fact  for the life sciences themselves, in the name of which they were committed‘, Markl said in his speech.’, ibid., p. 874.

[29] ‘It would be easy to condemn these experiments – most of them conducted without anethesia and in horrific circumstances – as the work of madmen, but bioethicist Arthur Caplan warns that to do so would be to deny their character as a logical expression of the values of German medical science.’, Guerrini, ‘Experimenting With Humans and Animals: From Galen to animal rights’, p. 137 (2003).

[30]Certainly, none of the doctors tried at Nuremberg pleaded insanity; rather, they defended their actions as consistent with the values of science and their duties as scientists.’, ibid., p. 137.

[31] ‘they argued that they were following orders, and that their training as scientists gave them no grounding in ethics that might justify refusing those orders.’, ibid., p. 137.


Early Christian resistance to witch hunts

February 4, 2011

Between 40,000 and 60,000 people died in the witch hunts of the Early Modern period[1]. Three developments in Christian doctrine contributed: 1) a return to belief in witches, 2) changes in the doctrine of Satan, 3) the identification of witchcraft as heresy.

Belief in witches was widespread in medieval Europe,[2] and the secular legal codes of Europe punished witchcraft as a crime.[3] The Church’s influence reversed this, [4] [5] ending witch hunts.[6]

Mainstream medieval Christian teaching denied the existence of witches and witchcraft, as mere pagan superstition. [7] [8] Examples include an Irish synod in 800, [9] Agobard of Lyons, [10] Hrabanus Maurus,[11] the Canon Episcopi edited by Regino of Prüm,[12] the Council of Anse, Buchard of Worms, John of Salisbury,[13] Pope Gregory VII, [14] and Serapion of Vladimire. [15] The traditional charges and punishments were likewise condemned.[16] [17]

Christian influence failed to eradicate traditional beliefs,[18] and later developments in the doctrine of Satan proved influential in reversing the previous dismissal of witches and witchcraft as superstition. These beliefs became included in a comprehensive doctrine of Satan,[19] [20] [21] but it was not until maleficium was identified with heresy that religious trials for witchcraft could start.[22]

Doctrinal change was completed in the fifteenth century, [23] and new trials started.[24] [25] [26] Their promotion by Henricus Institoris met resistance in some areas,[27] and his ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ was less influential than previous scholars once believed.[28] [29]

[1] Fifteenth to eighteenth century.

[2] ‘One of the most persistent features of European world views, as we shall see, was the presence of humans who used magic to help or hurt their neighbours.’, Thurston, ‘Witch, Wicce, Mother Goose: The Rise and Fall of the Witch Hunts in Europe and North America’, p. 15 (2001).

[3]The earliest law codes issued by the northern invaders of the Roman Empire specify penalties for women who were believed to go abroad at night and destroy men by magic.’, Hutton, ‘The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles’, p. 257 (1993).

[4]Then these clauses were revoked, often explicitly at the insistence of churchmen. The Lombard code of 643 may serve as an example: ‘Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female slave as a witch, for it [destruction by magic] is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds. In 789 Charlemagne imposed Christianity upon the people of Saxony, and proclaimed to them: ‘If anyone, deceived by the Devil, shall believe, as is customary among pagans, that any man or woman is a night-witch, and eats men, and on that account burn that person to death . . . he shall be executed.’12 Thus it might be argued that the spread of Christianity initially resulted in an improvement in the treatment of both religious dissenters and alleged witches.”, ibid., p. 257.

[5] ‘Likewise, the Lombard King Rothari (c. 606-52) decreed in 643 that Christians must not believe that women devour a human being from inside (ut mulier hominem vivum instrinsecus possit comedere), and therefore supposed witches (strigae) must not be killed, particularly not convicted in court.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 30 (2004).

[6] ‘Indeed, in those parts of western Europe which were the home of, or taken over by, Germanic tribes, it seems that the Church ended a tradition of hunting and killing witches.’, Hutton, ‘The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles”, p. 257 (1993).

[7]Certainly the early Church cannot be held responsible for the mass burnings of heretics which commenced seven centuries after its installation in power, or the great witch hunt which began eleven centuries later. During that long interval, Christendom itself changed.’, ibid., p. 257.

[8]Clearly, there was an increase in sceptical voices during the Carolingian period, even if we take into account an increase in surviving sources.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 31 (2004).

[9]Likewise, an Irish synod at around 800 condemned the belief in witches, and in particular those who slandered people for being lamias (que interpretatur striga).’, ibid., pp. 30-31.

[10]A Crown witness of ‘Carolingian scepticism’, Archbishop Agobard of Lyon (769-840), reports witch panics during the reign of Charlemagne. In his sermon on hailstorms he reports frequent lynchings of supposed weather magicians (tempestarii), as well as of sorcerers, who were made responsible for a terrible livestock mortality in 810. According to Agobard, the common people in their fury over crop failure had developed the extravagant idea that foreigners were secretly coming with airships to strip their fields of crops, and transmit it to Magonia. These anxieties resulted in severe aggression, and on one occasion around 816, Agobard could hardly prevent a crowd from killing three foreign men and women, perceived as Magonian people. As their supposed homeland’s name suggests, the crop failure was associated with magic. The bishop emphasized that thunderstorms were caused exclusively by natural or divine agencies.’, ibid., pp. 54-55.

[11] ‘Hrabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda, wrote several attacks, including ‘On the magical arts’, much of which was derived from Isidore of Seville, on those who believed that magicians and sorcerers could accomplish anything that depended on their power alone.’, Jolly, Raudverre, & Peters, ‘Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the Middle Ages’, p. 201 (2002).

[12] ‘One of the most important ecclesiastical documents of the Middle Ages was the Canon Episcopi, ca. 900, which defined witchcraft as Devil-worship, but declared it to be nothing more than a foolish idea.’, Guiley, ‘The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft, and Wicca’, p. 50 (2008).

[13] ‘Witchcraft beliefs however were not always endorsed by the upper levels of society. They were condemned as superstitious by the Council of Anse in 990 and by Buchard of Worms a few years after, as when John of Salisbury dismissed them as the imaginings of ‘a few poor men and ignorant women, with no real faith in God.’, Moore, ‘The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe 950-1250 ‘, p. 133 (2007).

[14] ‘In 1080 Harold of Denmark (r. 1076-80) was admonished not to hold old women and Christian priests responsible for storms and diseases, or to slaughter them in the cruellest manner. Like Agobard before him, Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-85) declared in his letter to the Danish king that these catastrophes were caused by God alone, that they were God’s punishment for human sins, and that the killing of the innocent would only increase His fury.”, ibid., p. 55.

[15] ‘Witches were executed at Novgorod in 1227, and after a severe famine in the years 1271-4 Bishop Serapion of Vladimire asked in a sermon: ‘you believe in witchcraft and burn innocent people and bring down murder upon earth and the city… Out of what books or writings do you learn that famine in earth is brought about by witchcraft?‘, ibid., p. 56.

[16] ‘A capitulary of Charlemagne (747-814) for the Saxons in 787 imposed the death penalty on those who, like pagans, believed that a man or woman could be a striga, one who devours humans, and burned them.”, ibid., p. 30.

[17] ‘A decree of King Coloman of Hungary (c. 1074-116, r. 1095-1116) against the belief in the existence of strigae (De strigis vero que non sunt, ne ulla questio fiat) suggests that they were thought to be human beings with demonic affiliation: witches.’, ibid., p 32.

[18] Study after study has shown how, all over Europe, ordinary people regularly appealed not to their own consciences, or to the conscience of the Church, but to local practitioners skilled in healing, divination, and astrology for help with their everyday problems. They did this frequently in cases of suspected maleficium, but any kind of misfortune, anticipated or experienced, could justify a visit to the ‘cunning’ man or woman.’, Clark, ‘Thinking With Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe’, p. 457 (1999).

[19]Early Christian theologians attributed to the Devil responsibility for persecution, heresy, witchcraft, sin, natural disasters, human calamities, and whatever else went wrong. One tragic consequence of this was a tendency to demonize people accused of wrongs. At the instance of ecclesiastical leaders, the state burned heretics and witches, burning symbolizing the fate deserved by the demonic.’, Hinson, ‘Historical and Theological Perspectives on Satan’, Review and Expositor (89.4.475), (Fall 1992).

[20] ‘Trevor-Roper has said that it was necessary for belief in the Kingdom of Satan to die before the witch theory could be discredited.’, Larner, ‘Crime of Witchcraft In Early Modern Europe’, in Oldridge, ‘The Witchcraft Reader’, p. 211 (2002).

[21]Christian theology underwent a major shift of attitude only during the thirteenth century. In his Summa contra Gentiles, Thomas Aquinas (1255-74) not only confirmed Augustine’s semiotic theory, according to which spells, amulets or magical rituals indicated a secret pact with demons, but gave the impression that sorcerers, through the support of the devil, could physically commit their crimes.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, pp. 35-36 (2004).

[22] ‘Sorcery was, however, still subject to secular law and secular courts, since the main indictment was maleficium. Subsequent inquisitors like Nicolas Eymeric (c. 1320-99), inquisitor of Aragon, in his Directorium Inquisitorum of 1376 equated sorcerers with heretics because both were supposed to adore the devil. Sorcery, or witchcraft, was thus redefined as a spiritual crime, subject primarily to ecclesiastical courts, and the Inquisition in particular.’, ibid., p. 36.

[23] ‘We are reasonably confident today that the ‘classical’ doctrine of witchcraft crystallized during the middle third of the fifteenth century’, ibid., pp. 18-19.

[24]By the end of the fifteenth century, scattered trials for witchcraft by both secular and ecclesiastical courts occurred in many places from the Pyrenees, where the Spanish Inquisition had become involved, to the North Sea.’, ibid., p. 19.

[25] ‘In Switzerland, the rustic ‘forest cantons’ of the original Confederation apparently remained unaffected by witch trials until after 1560.’, Behringer, ‘Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History’, p. 19 (2004).

[26] ‘the first known witch-hunt in the kingdom of France began in the northern Pyrenees in the spring of 1562’, ibid., p. 21.

[27] ‘Germany was emphatically not the centre of this activity; Institoris encountered enormous hostility in the Austrian Alps, and absolutely no evidence exists that the publication of his Malleus started any chain of trials anywhere in the Empire.’, ibid., p. 19.

[28]In its own day it was never accorded the unquestioned authority that modern scholars have sometimes given it. Theologians and jurists respected it as one among many informative books; its particular savage misogyny and its obsession with impotence were never fully accepted.’, Monter, ‘The Sociology of Jura Witchcraft’, in ‘The Witchcraft Reader’, p. 116 (2002)

[29] ‘The effect that the book had on witch-hunting is difficult to determine. It did not open the door ‘to almost indiscriminate prosecutions’ 50 or even bring about an immediate increase in the number of trials. In fact its publication in Italy was followed by a noticeable reduction in witchcraft cases.’, Levack, ‘The Witch-Hunt In Early Modern Europe’, p. 55 (2nd edition 1995).


Article: Slavery In The Bible (2/5)

July 13, 2007

Slavery In The Law Of Moses

This article examines which of the various forms of servitude common to the Ancient Near East existed under the Law of Moses, and how they were regulated:

* Chattel slavery (definition)

* Indentured servitude (definition)

* Bride sale (definition)

* Vassalage (definition)

Article here.


Article: Christians And Slavery (1/3)

July 12, 2007

Due to the strong support provided for the African slave trade by many Christians, and the well known historical resistance of Christians in the Southern States of the USA to the abolition of slavery, Christianity has acquired an unfortunate reputation for sanctioning and even encouraging slavery.  Whilst it is certainly true that Christians have been responsible throughout the centuries for sanctioning, encouraging, and even enforcing slavery, it is also true that there has existed at the same time a strong Christian resistance to slavery.

The following is a brief historical review of Christian opposition to slavery from the 1st to the 19th centuries. Much of the following material has been taken from Edward Roger’s comprehensive work ‘Slavery Illegality in All Ages and Nations‘ (1855).

1st-2nd centuries AD: Polycarp and Ignatius, Christian leaders, free their slaves

3rd century AD: Christians in Asia Minor ‘decried the lawfulness of it, denounced slaveholding as a sin, a violation of the law of nature and religion. They gave fugitive slaves asylum, and openly offered them protection’ (following the commandments in the Old and New Testaments)

3rd century AD: Cyprian, bishop of Carthage condemned a local slaveholder in uncompromising terms, condemning slavery as incompatible with Christianity:

‘You, man of a day, expect from your slave obedience. Is he less a man than you? By birth he is your equal. He is endowed with the same organs, with the same reasoning soul, called to the same hopes, subject to the same laws of life in this and in the world to come. You subject him to your dominion. If he, as a man, disregard or forget your claim, what miseries you heap upon him. Impious master, pitiless despot! You spare neither blows nor whips, nor privations; you chastise him with hunger and thirst, you load him with chains, you incarcerate him within black walls; miserable man! While you thus maintain your despotism over a man, you are not willing to recognize the Master and Lord of all men.’

2nd-4th centuries AD: Christians throughout the empire regularly collect money and go to the slave markets, buying slaves and setting them free immediately afterwards

4th century AD: The emperor Constantine gives bishops the authority to free slaves and forbids the separation of families who are, but maintains the old Roman punishments against runaway slaves, as well as the punishments masters were permitted to inflict on their slaves

Article here.


Article: Slavery In The Bible (1/5)

July 12, 2007

Due to the infamy of New World slavery, particularly the plantation slavery practiced in North America between the 17th and 19th centuries, the terms ‘slave’ and ‘slavery’ invariably invoke images of precisely that form of servitude. Readers both Christian and non-Christian alike recoil from any passage of the Bible in which these words appear. It is wrongly assumed that any reference to ‘slaves’ or ‘slavery’ in the Bible necessarily refers to the New World ‘chattel slavery’ of the plantations. This is simply not the case.

The following article is an examination of the various forms of servitude described in the Bible. It addresses the topic as it is presented in the Old and New Testaments, within their historical and cultural background, together with the Biblical instruction regarding servitude in its various forms.

Considerable use has been made of Glenn Miller’s excellent studies of servitude in the Old and New Testaments.

The Definition Of Slavery

Various forms of servitude existed in the Ancient Near East, all of which are described in the Bible and most of which are commonly translated ‘slavery’ (largely inaccurately). In the list which follows they are described in general terms without reference to the specific manner in which they were addressed by different ANE law codes:

* Chattel slavery

* Indentured service

* Bride sale

* Vassalage

Article here.


Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (10/12)

May 6, 2007

* 1680-171?: Sir Isaac Newton wrote extensively on the subject of the devil, demons, witchcraft, and ghosts, his views gradually developing over a long duration. The first signs of his abandonment of the ‘orthodox’ position are found in his writings of the 1680s, whilst his latest and most mature comments on the subject are dated to some time after 1710.

Newton’s views appear to have commenced with his unorthodox reflections on the serpent in Genesis 3, in the 1680s:

‘The first example of this kind comes from another prophetic manuscript, Yahuda MS 9, which dates from the 1680s and thus helps establish a terminus a quo for Newton’s departure from the orthodox view. In this manuscript Newton moves beyond mere description to conscious explication. The first reference to a serpent in the Bible is found in the account of the first human sin committed in the Garden of Eden, and it is to this account that Newton turns when tracing the original of the serpentine imagery of the “spirit of error”. Newton saw the serpent that tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as symbolic of the fleshly lust for her husband that filled her heart.’

Stephen Snobelen, ‘Lust, Pride, And Ambition: Isaac Newton And The Devil’, page 5, November 2002

At this time Newton also expressed a disbelief in the existence of evil spirits:

‘Newton argues:

The spirits of God of fals Prophets & of Antichrist are [in 1 John 4] plainly taken not for any substantial Spirits but for ye good or evil dispositions & true or fals perswasions of mens minds; & the spirits of all men who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is called in the singular number the spirit of Antichrist, & said to be come into the world as if it were an evil spirit wch was to reign therein & deceive all the followers of Antichrist. And such an evil spirit is the Dragon in the Apocalyps.’

Stephen Snobelen, ‘Lust, Pride, And Ambition: Isaac Newton And The Devil’, page 6, November 2002

From this position, Newton moved to a rejection of belief in demons, using arguments similar to those proposed by Muggleton, Bekker, and Hutchinson, including the argument of accommodated language:

‘Newton’s views on demons follow a similar pattern. The traditional Christian conception of demons holds that they are fallen angels subordinate to the chief fallen angel, Satan. Not so with Newton. As with his view on the devil, Newton began to dismiss the reality of demons from the 1680s. Yahuda MS 9, the same document in which Newton treats the devil as a symbol of the “spirit of error”, demonstrates this:

From this figure of putting serpents for spirits & spirits or Daemons for distempers of ye mind, came ye vulgar opinion of ye Jews & other eastern nations that mad men & lunaticks were possessed with evil spirits or Daemons. Whence Christ seems to have used this language not only as Prophet but also in compliance wth ye Jews way of speaking: so yt when he is said to cast out Devils it cannot be known by this phra those Devils may be nothing but diseases unles it can be proved by the circumstances that they are sp substantial spirits.

For Newton, therefore, demons were figures for disordered psychotic states. The cases of demon-possession in the Synoptic Gospels do not describe the activity of literal devils, but instead reflect the (mistaken) beliefs of first-century Jews.’

Stephen Snobelen, ‘Lust, Pride, And Ambition: Isaac Newton And The Devil’, page 7, November 2002

On this basis, Newton thoroughly rejected all beliefs in witches and witchcraft:

‘Newton goes on to say that

to beleive that men or weomen can really divine, charm, inchant, bewitch or converse with spirits is a superstition of the same nature wth beleiving that the idols of the gentils were not vanities but had spirits really seated in them.’

Stephen Snobelen, ‘Lust, Pride, And Ambition: Isaac Newton And The Devil’, page 7, November 2002

Like some other expositors, Newton understood demons in the Bible to refer simply to the false gods of the heathen, inventions of men which were mere idols, taking his definition directly from Scripture, and that the ‘orthodox’ understanding of demons was an early heresy imported from paganism:

‘For Newton belief in activity by evil spirits is equivalent to the conviction that the false gods or idols of the pagans were real, independent beings; both positions are equally untrue. There is no ambiguity in Newton’s position on the reality of idols; in one manuscript he declares flatly: “An Idol is nothing in the world, a vanity, +a lye, a fictitious power.” Newton shared with traditional exegesis the identification of the false gods of the Old Testament with demons. He departed radically from the traditional view in concluding that neither demons nor idols exist.’

‘Newton laid the blame for the rise of the pagan doctrines about demons in the Church at the door of his ecclesiastical nemesis Athanasius, whom he also saw as responsible for introducing Trinitarianism and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. In his “Paradoxical questions concerning Athanasius”, Newton contends that Athanasius advanced the notion of a conscious existence of the soul in the intermediate state between death and resurrection.’

Stephen Snobelen, ‘Lust, Pride, And Ambition: Isaac Newton And The Devil’, pages 8-9, November 2002

Later than Muggleton, but earlier than Bekker, Newton came to the same conclusion as both of them – that the devil in Scripture was never the supernatural evil being of ‘orthodox’ theology, and that all temptation comes from the lust of the heart:

‘The logical corollary to Newton’s views on evil spirits is that those who claim to be tempted by a personal devil are deluded and provoked by their own fleshly imagination. Newton’s “Paradoxical questions concerning Athanasius,” an important manuscript held at the Clark Library dating from the early 1690s, makes this clear’

‘It is instructive that in these words, which he all but admits are laden with connotations of reflexivity, Newton tackles the problem of lust without any reference to a literal, external tempter. Newton well knew the source of sin from his own contests with the demons of his soul. It was not the devil who made him do it. Unlike the monks of old, Newton’s own battles with the devil were with himself.’

Stephen Snobelen, ‘Lust, Pride, And Ambition: Isaac Newton And The Devil’, pages 10-11, November 2002

Article here.


Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (9/12)

May 4, 2007

* 1711: The infamous trial of Jane Wenham became pivotal in the controversy between opponents of the belief and prosecution of witchcraft, and those who both believed in it and held it should be prosecuted. An elderly woman, twice widowed, Jane Wenham was prosecuted largely on the basis of accusations made by Anne Thorne, a young woman recognised by many to be mentally deranged, and who had a well known grudge against Jane, with whom she had quarrelled, and even fought physically.

It was fortunate that the presiding judge, Sir John Powell, was a man of considerable intelligence and reason, who showed himself to be utterly sceptical of the evidence and witness testimonies presented by the prosecution. His careful evaluation of the case and his obvious sympathy for the accused caused his treatment of the trial to become legendary – it is said that when told that Jane Wenham had been seen flying on a broomstick, Powell commented that there was no English law against flying. The story cannot be verified, but stands as an example of how well known and recognised Powell’s sensible handling of the case became.

Despite the appalling lack of genuine evidence, the obvious prejudice of the witnesses, and all Powell’s urging to the contrary, the jury found Jane Wenham guilty of witchcraft and Powell had no choice but to pass the formal legal sentence, which was death by hanging:

‘A case of witchcraft was tried in 1711, before Lord Chief Justice Powell; in which, however, the jury persisted in a verdict of guilty, though the evidence was of the usual absurd and contradictory character, and the enlightened judge did all in his power to bring them to a right conclusion.’

Charles Mackay, ‘Memoirs of Popular Delusions’, volume 2, section V, 1841

However, immediately after the case Powell petitioned ceaselessly for the judgment to be overturned, and finally succeeded in obtaining a royal pardon for Wenham. The case ignited a pamphlet war between those who believed in witchcraft and those who did not, and was the catalyst for a major shift in English beliefs regarding supernatural evil.

Article here.