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Our Most Rational Minds Considering All Hypotheses?

Summary:
I am not intending this to be smug. I mean this post sincerely. In a recent SlateStarCodex post, Scott Alexander–who is one of the most open-minded, thoughtful bloggers I follow–wrote: I realize this is pretty unsophisticated-sounding, but I’m basing this off of my continuing confusion over the rise of Christianity. Christianity came out of nowhere and had spread to 10% – 20% of the Roman population by the time Constantine made it official. And then it spread to Germany, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Armenia, and Russia, mostly peacefully. Missionaries would come to the tribe of Hrothvalg The Bloody, they would politely ask him to ditch the War God and the Death God and so on in favor of Jesus and meekness, and as often as not he would just say

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I am not intending this to be smug. I mean this post sincerely.

In a recent SlateStarCodex post, Scott Alexander–who is one of the most open-minded, thoughtful bloggers I follow–wrote:

I realize this is pretty unsophisticated-sounding, but I’m basing this off of my continuing confusion over the rise of Christianity. Christianity came out of nowhere and had spread to 10% – 20% of the Roman population by the time Constantine made it official. And then it spread to Germany, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Armenia, and Russia, mostly peacefully. Missionaries would come to the tribe of Hrothvalg The Bloody, they would politely ask him to ditch the War God and the Death God and so on in favor of Jesus and meekness, and as often as not he would just say yes. This is pretty astonishing even if you use colonialism as an excuse to dismiss the Christianization of the Americas, half of Africa, and a good bit of East Asia.

I’ve looked around for anyone who has a decent explanation of this, and as far as I can tell Christianity was just really appealing. People worshipped Thor or Zeus or whoever because that was what people in their ethnic group did, plus Thor/Zeus would smite them if they didn’t. Faced with the idea of a God who was actually good, and could promise them eternity in Heaven, and who was against bad things, and never raped anybody and turned them into animals, everyone just agreed this was a better deal. I know this is a horrendously naive-sounding theory, but it’s the only one I’ve got. [Italics original, bold added.]

Alexander’s post reminded me of Bryan Caplan’s EconLog post from a bit earlier, where he (Bryan) challenged the discussion of religiosity in the new book by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson. I can’t really excerpt the essence of his post, but suffice to say, Bryan entertains a bunch of different explanations for the “function” of religious belief, literally without one sentence devoted to the possibility that God exists.

To be crystal clear, I’m not complaining that Alexander and Bryan are (apparently) atheists. I wouldn’t even have blogged this if they had both said something like, “(To be sure, we realize half of our readers probably think they have a GREAT explanation for this puzzle. But in light of the serious empirical and philosophical problems involved, I reject this move as cheating, a literal deus ex machina that is not scientific.)”

It’s just weird to me that they didn’t even seem to consider, even just as a checklist in covering their bases, that if there really were a God of the kind that various cultures have believed in, then all of the problems would be a lot more tractable.

Robert Murphy
Christian, Austrian economist, and libertarian theorist. Research Prof at Texas Tech and author of *Choice*. Paul Krugman's worst nightmare.

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