Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

April 16, 2009

Challenge Accepted

Filed under: culture, religion — codesmithy @ 6:27 am

A commenter calling himself Will left the following message:

Guys, just take a look around us…I challenge you to take an honest look at the evidence for evolution, an honest look at the evidence for a worldwide flood, the fulfilled prophecy of the old testament, just because there are many “religions” does not mean that Jesus is not the savior of the world…God does not want our religion, he wants our hearts!

I accept this challenge, although I already find it a little bit insulting.  I have looked at the evidence for evolution, a global flood, and the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and have apparently come to the exact opposite set of conclusions the commenter has.

Evolution has been proved, to the extent that any scientific theory can be proved, well beyond any reasonable doubt.  Read Jerry A. Coyne’s book “Why Evolution is True” for an outline.  But, some of the evidence that supports evolution include: the fossil record, atavisms, the flaws in our body plan (vestigial organs like the appendix, causes of back-pain, blind spots, hiccups), the patterns we find in biodiversity with respect to geography, none of which are explained by young earth creationism.

A global flood is completely unsupported by any credible physical evidence.  Since a global flood would presumably leave some traces behind, any story of a global flood is almost certainly false beyond a reasonable doubt.

As for the fulfilled prophecy, this would be strong evidence in favor of Christianity if the predictions were specific, falsifiable and otherwise inexplicable.  Similarly, if praying to one God versus another God or Gods or not praying at all really did cause significantly better outcomes for patients recovering from heart surgery (beyond that which can be explained by placebo), this would be evidence for the power of prayer.  That said, such studies have been done and they have found that prayers have no effect.  Which I think illustrates the fundamental difference between free thinkers such as myself and believers, I accept facts like these and try to modify my beliefs accordingly.  The religious hem and haw, engage in apologetics and generally just stick their head in the sand and drag their feet.

As for Biblical prophecy, Jim Lippard gives a good explanation as to why some atheists, myself included, find the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy to be so un-compelling.

Will is correct though.   The presence of other religions of the world does not imply Christianity is false.  However, these religions make contradictory claims so they all can’t be true.  Thus, the inescapable conclusion is that a good portion of the people on the planet must be deluded when it comes to their religious beliefs.  The question is: what evidence do you have to show that you are not one of the deluded ones?

Some evidence that you might want to consider on answering the question to whether or not you are deluded is if you are rejecting the conclusions of people who clearly are more expert that yourself in demonstrable areas.  Science has proven itself to be the objective leader in improving our understanding about the universe we inhabit.  I, quite literally, owe my life to science.  My father had an appendicitis in college which was long before he met my mother.  In earlier generations, such an infection would have been fatal, but thanks to antibiotics and modern medicine he survived.  This ignores all the countless ways science has improved quality of my life, from the food I eat, to the water I drink, to the books I read, to the computer I use, to the car I drive, etc.  As such, I feel no luxury to pick and choose which parts of science I accept and those that I reject when such conclusions are based on the same method and doing so would be based on mere convenience.  Similarly, I wouldn’t feel the luxury to pick and choose which parts of the Bible I would have to follow if I were to believe it was the inspired word of God and Jesus was his only son while simultaneously being God.  So, tell me, do you save?  Do you think about the future?  Do you love your enemies?  If I were to hit you, would you honestly turn the other cheek?  Do you really think it is ethical to live your life by such teachings?   Do you honestly aspire to?

For Will particularly, the IP address he sent this message from was the United States Air Force Academy.  Do you honestly see no incompatibility to the teachings of the savior you proclaim to follow and your actions?  If not, then please tell me, who would Jesus bomb?

April 14, 2009

Atheist Behaving Badly

Filed under: politics, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:11 am

In general, I don’t like criticizing other atheists. For example, I am not going to criticize Dan Barker and the Freedom From Religion Foundation for his display at the Washington state Capitol even though I would have added “We believe” as a preface. Nor am I going to criticize the atheist bus campaign of “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” although I would personally have preferred “almost certainly” as opposed to “probably.” My attitude is: at least they are doing something.

I understand that atheism constitutes a diverse set of people and views. As such, it is unlikely that one that there will be complete consensus on every issue. For example, I’ve criticized Hitchens for his stance on the Iraq war. I’ve also criticized Shermer for his assertions about free market capitalism. I was disappointed with Harris’ stance on torture.

In some ways this is unfortunate because if Hitchens deserves criticism for his support for the Iraq war, then William Kristol deserves as much if not more. There are many things I deeply respect about Hitchens. I think it was exemplified by his willingness to be water-boarded in order to determine if it were torture. I can only wish Harris had an iota of that integrity. But, I find these issues separate from advocacy for atheism, for which I want to show some degree solidarity even if I might disagree with particular tactics or would do things differently.

That said, I ran across these videos where an atheist was suing for libel over a bumper-sticker and I feel it would be disingenuous not to criticize it. One reason is that it is so beyond the par. The second reason is that it encapsulates the same line of reasoning that I criticize religious people for employing. Therefore, it would show a definite lack of integrity if I was aware of it and didn‘t criticize it.

Here is Patrick Greene explaining his lawsuit on the Atheist Experience.

Threatening baseless lawsuits is a bullying tactic and it is counterproductive. No one has the right not to be offended. We may think less of people who are unnecessarily provocative or offensive (Ann Coulter comes to mind), but the best way to handle it is to ignore them or to criticize them. Show these people that they have no place in civilized discourse until they change their ways. Don’t sue. A baseless suit gives them credibility as a victim and feeds into every negative stereotype one could have about atheists.

As it stands today, atheism only exists as an aspect of a free society. We are wholly dependent on our ability to hold and share views that others find offensive. While I do feel that criticism should be somewhat proportional to the size of a person’s forum, taking legal action is equivalent to using the nuclear option. Suing the state for violating the separation of church and state is one thing; suing individuals for expressing their views on their own property is another. Patrick Greene is a fool for thinking otherwise.

April 7, 2009

On Distancing One’s Self from the “New Atheists”

Filed under: culture, media, religion — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 8:44 am

The concern-trolling, many-truths Madeleine Bunting takes another opportunity to complain about those loud and certain new atheists.  Bunting apparently finds them as annoying as the fundamentalists.  

In a way, I wish Bunting were a pastor.  When I went to church growing up, we sang songs about how much Jesus loved us and how one would know it (it’s in the Bible in case you couldn’t guess).  We also sang about Noah’s flood during Bible camp.  Now, I grew up in Western Michigan, which is conservative but I didn’t consider the church radical.  We were Methodists afterall.  It is odd that no one mentioned the fact that there is actually no evidence for Noah’s flood or that rainbows are caused by white light separating out into different wave lengths.  It is one thing to say that Noah’s flood should be given the same status as Santa Claus from the luxury of an ivory tower, but doubting the supposedly divinely inspired word of God when no one in your culture does  is another.

Case in point, when I was in elementary school I knew the basics of sexual reproduction even if I didn’t know the exact mechanics.  The one thing I did know is that it took a male and a female.  So, we apply this rule and try to make it jive with the creation story of Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve begat Cain and Abel.  Cain kills Abel.  Now what?  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had stumbled upon the wife of Cain problem.  I asked my parents and they told me to ask our pastor, which I did.  Now here is a quiz for Ms. Bunting.  Did the pastor tell me a) the story can’t be taken literally or b) there were other people contemporaneous with Cain?  

If Bunting chose option a, she would be wrong.  He told me there were other people that God apparently created.  This should not surprise anyone.  This is how religion behaves.  Sure, the theologian may defend God as a transcendent purpose and a vague intellectual absolute when debating with atheist, but know, in the churches there is no hint, absolutely no indication, that anything you are told shouldn’t be taken as if it were the literal truth especially when a child asks an honest question.  How else could a child interpret it?  Pastors are authority figures.  It would be one thing if peddling nonsense was limited to just adults.  It is quite another thing when children are the explicit targets.

Here is another case study.  At Christmas, one of my nieces exclaimed “Happy Birthday Jesus” which I took the opportunity to correct.  Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday; it is the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  I don’t blame my niece for this misunderstanding.  Generally, we celebrate people’s birth on their birthdays.  It is just in this case, we don’t.  In fact, the best evidence in the Bible suggests Jesus was born in the spring, not during the winter solstice.  So, why do we celebrate Jesus. birth during the winter solstice?  This isn’t a question I should have to answer.  It is one that any intellectually honest person in a church should at least mention during Sunday school or at least give some hint of future revelation.  Instead, we see the clergy carefully construct sentences that give no hint of the underlying history which they know or should know.  This is not coincidence, and the reason it will never happen is transparent: it is inconvenient.

It is easier for the church to act as if the creation story, the virgin birth, walking on water, water into wine, Noah’s flood, Jonah’s fish adventure, etc. are true than to defend their obvious nonsense.  Who is to blame when someone calls the church on its misleading duplicity?  According to Blunting, the blame belongs to the new atheists and their certainty.

It is telling that Blunting is never specific about what the new atheists are so certain about.  Dawkins rates the probability of their being a theistic god at approximately the same probability there are fairies under the garden.  From the evidence I’ve seen, I concur with that assessment.  Now, I am willing to change my mind if compelling evidence to contrary appears.  Dawkins has previously stated his commitment to do the same.  But given the claims are so extraordinary, it would require evidence many times greater than that for evolution, as an example.

For my part, the chain of coincidences would have to be so great it would be more likely that I had gone insane than the existence of Jehovah been proved, that is how deep the gulf that runs between my conception of what a universe would look like if Jehovah actually exists and the one I perceive myself as inhabiting.  It is would also be more probable that I were experiencing an atheistic universe inside a theistic one.  Such notions are a foundation of solipsism, where observable reality plays no role in informing our opinion about the universe we inhabit.  There is nothing we can do to disprove solipsism’s radical skepticism, maybe Blunting is looks forward to the day of when we can get rid of the new atheist’s demands for objective evidence and therefore pontificate indefinitely on various aspects of imagined realities without any hope of resolution.  I have no doubt it is easier for the intellectually lazy to be coddled in unassailable ignorance, but a minority of us see a real virtue in trying to view the world as it really is.

In the same theme, Bart Ehrman takes the opportunity to bash the “new atheists” also

Ehrman – who grew up casually Episcopalian, became a fundamentalist in high school, had his faith eroded by decades of studying the Bible’s textual history and now calls himself a “happy agnostic“– seems to be riding the same anti-religion wave that has swept Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens onto the best-seller list and late-night talk shows. But he says that while they share some readers, he tries to distance himself from the so-called new atheists.

“They seem to understand so little about religion,” he told me in a telephone interview. “If somebody attacked science with as little knowledge, they’d be laughed off the map.”

First of all, people attack the theory of evolution and therefore science (because it was discovered using the same method) with considerably less knowledge than any of the “new atheists” mentioned have towards religion. Far from being laughed off the map, it seems to be a prerequisite to getting one elected to the Texas Board of Education, a large state with a correspondingly large biology textbook market where standards they adopt become the de facto standards for many other states. This is a real struggle that has real implications for what children are taught in the biology classroom.

Either Ehrman is saying that the “new atheists” are more ignorant about religion than creationists who attack evolution (keep in mind, Kirk Cameron thinks you should be able to find a chimeran “crocaduck ” because birds and reptiles share a common ancestor and that banana’s are an atheist worst nightmare in spite of hundreds of years of cultivation and selective breeding) or we don’t laugh people off the map according to the criteria Ehrman supposes.

I can’t say that I’m that surprised this is how certain segments of the media portray the “new atheists,” the people with the sheer audacity to challenge establishment views and institutions with clarity and honesty. The central problem religion posses is that we leave our collective moral authority to the prejudices of illiterate goat herders. No matter how benign religion may become, the danger still lurks. All it takes is one charismatic person to look at the text and say, “we have been doing this all wrong, look at what it says right here.” Such people are impossible to deal with on a religious level, because once you accept the fact that the Bible is the infallible, or at least inspired, word of God all else follows. The only way to refute it is to reject the premise. This is something, by definition, a religious believer refuses to do.   Avoiding religious radicalism in the future means fostering secularism today. This is something that all the “new atheists” seem to understand, although apparently lost on Bunting and Ehrman.

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