Stealing From God: A Rebuttal for Morality and Evil

So my current project is Stealing From God by Frank Turek, a philosophical apologetic mostly targeted at the New Atheist. I haven’t finished yet, but I am currently chewing through the section on morality and evil, and I gotta say it is a tough read for the thinking man.

A mistake almost constantly made by theists and atheists trying to make their case is to rely on the evidence that convinced themselves as true. In the case of Frank Turek, the evidence that convinces him that God is real is the idea that justice has to be a concept defined, written in stone, unchangeable through all time; he does not understand Justice unless Justice is spelled out objectively. I would tend to characterize his version of justice as that of a child being told something is wrong and to not do that thing; he has no intuitive grasp of it except for what he is told, and to an extent he has a point. The problem is how simple he wants the rules to be, and that is where I take umbrage.

“There is justice,” goes the thought, “Because I want there to be. How else would a child rapist who escapes the law be punished?”

But this is an incredibly spurious argument to someone who does not believe in an afterlife, though it could be a good argument to help solidify the belief of someone who believes in a just universe. The thing about me is that I don’t believe “There is no God,” I simply believe that “if there is a god, I don’t think he particularly cares about each individual person.” I have lots of evidence that Turek does not touch directly, but that is at least partially understandable; you can’t cover everything in a single book–even I have written more on morality than fits in a single book, and I would hardly consider myself a prolific writer.

The problem is that he only challenges the easy parts, he only challenges the parts for which the Bible gives him the words to use; murder is wrong, child rape is wrong, and the fallen nature of man makes us sinful and corrupts the laws of God writ upon our soul. Not only is that argument easy, but the spurious claim that “We wouldn’t even know it was wrong if we didn’t have something to compare it to,” is another philosophical argument used to prove, in his mind, that God exists. I do not understand how it is “intuitive” and “obvious” to him that we need to compare to a moral absolute, and that the only moral absolute is God, I simply do not.

But what about the hard questions? Yes, God had to make a world where evil exists so that we could have true free will. I can even get behind that assertion, I can believe in it; I understand that evil is a part of the universe in that way, and that people will be awful to other people… But what about the less obvious things that God did that are just terrible? Terrible design, designing in seemingly needless suffering.

To echo Stephen Fry, what about children born with bone cancer, who live a 7 year life in a hospital, largely in pain, then die?

What about the child of a loving couple, born with severe Down’s Syndrome, destined to live a short life then die? In severe cases, it may be a vegetative life, the whole time through?

The child of a mother with AIDS? The child of a heroin addict? The child of an alcoholic?

In every one of the above cases, though with the possible exception of Down’s Syndrome, the child will suffer terribly, through no fault of their own. In all of those cases, it is a case of God designing the world such that children have no choice, no chance but to suffer.

It gets even worse, actually, if you consider Down’s, for as per Psalm 139:13 “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.” That is some shoddy workmanship; children born blind, children born with one eye, children born missing organs, miscarriages… If you believe that God literally forms each person in the womb by hand, then you have to accept that he is very prone to mistakes.

Where it comes to morality he is much in the same boat, but I have to repeat the same point; why does he believe there has to be a moral absolute? While I hate to echo Dawkins, for whom Turek has obvious disdain, but this comparison was made “If a man can fart and it can stink, does that mean that there is a truly preeminent stinker, and we must call him God?” Why do we need to compare it to an absolute? I don’t understand that leap, and I will keep reading in the hopes that something becomes clarified to me, but I believe Turek is so secure in his beliefs that he will not challenge the questions that would help me clarify mine.

I just needed to get a few of these thoughts out of my head while I was thinking them; I am sure I’ll post something more complete as I read further.

But why?

So I was watching the new episode of Creation Today and I just… Am so sad at what they think of how lowly they think of other human beings. The episode itself is about pain and suffering, but for the most part they focus on the low hanging fruit, ignoring what others would consider the real issue.

They talk about how pain is important for our survival, citing a child with CIP (does not feel pain) who constantly injures herself as a result. “Obviously,” their reasoning goes, “pain is important. Case closed.”

What’s really funny is that they opened the episode with Stephen Fry asking why God would give children bone cancer, but ignore that point. “Christianity is the only religion that explains why pain is important.” They never touch on how children with cancer improve our world, but they do argue that general pain does. I mean, often the YEC will resort to misdirection, but they are the ones who brought up Stephen Fry, they are the ones who highlighted this clip of him lamenting children who live short, painful lives, then die, and then they are the ones who completely ignore the point they brought up. That is quite odd, even for them.

The weird part is where they get into ethics; “Atheists just think we are matter doing things to other matter, and why should that matter? Atheists really believe there is nothing wrong with murder!” Why do you get to say that? Why do you think there are no scientific reasons for morality and ethics? Why do you so strongly think you know what I believe more than I do?

I am sad that they think so little of people who are not Christian. They will tell you that they love all people, that they want to spread the word, that they want to convert people… And it works on some, but their methods are so insidious. “You are worthless except to God,” goes their logic, “Your morals are bad, your ethics are bad, you are going to hell, you are ignoring science, facts, and knowledge, you are looking at the world wrong, your thoughts are wrong. So join us, and all of that goes away!”

Wow. I am glad you think so highly of me. I am glad you are so reasonable.

They go further, in the episode; “Forest fires kill hundreds of humans, destroy life, damage habitats. So we should stop them, right? WRONG! Ecosystems require forest fires to thrive!” That is correct, of course; many lives, many trees, many ecosystems rely on forest fires for their regenerative purposes, for clearing out the old to make way for the new. We cannot stop them, and many will die in the future, many homes lost, many lives destroyed, because there is a greater good that comes from it.

But why?

Why did God create the ecosystem, as they would assert, that requires the destruction of so much, the death of so many? Is that pain good? Is it required? Did He have to create it that way? They tackled the question of forest fires from only the first level, assuming they are a given, but why should they be a given in a world created by an all loving, all caring creator? I am not attacking the fact that God did create these forest fires, the true question is “Why?” Why did God create an ecosystem that not only kills His Chosen people, but requires killing.

To me, it is always odd when people cite The Exodus as a reason that God loved his Chosen people. “He went to bat for us! He destroyed the Egyptians! He helped us escape oppression!”

First, he helped you escape after 400 or more years of oppression, by your own count. Second, once you escaped, he didn’t give you a home–you wandered for 40 years in the desert. Not only that, but He, the God who loves you, put strange, almost crazy restrictions on the Chosen people, the people that He loved. Dietary restrictions? You know it! Restrictions requiring the painful and occasionally horrific modification of male genitalia? Absolutely! How about we go back even further, because right out of the gate, even long before this, He cursed all women to monthly menstrual cycles and the pain of child birth, due to them eating a fruit! And, if one thinks about this at even the shallowest level, you have to remember that Eve did not know it was wrong. She and Adam had not yet eaten of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which means they would not have known their actions were evil. Oh, they may have found it odd that they were going against something God said, but all people go against their parents via our apparently God-given instincts. What do you do if your child disobeys you for the VERY FIRST TIME? Do you punish them slightly? Ground them? Get unhappy with them?

I am going to assume you would not curse their entire gender. I would say their entire species, but that isn’t true, is it? God is not good at targeting His curses, for He hit the females of every animal species because of Eve. Those are not the actions of a loving God. Those aren’t the actions of a stable God. Those aren’t the actions of a sane God.

This might seem an unjust attack on Christianity, or on a loving God, but that isn’t what I intended. I wanted to build context. “Why do you believe God loves us?”

Is it the Exodus? We covered that, the Exodus took his “Chosen” people from 400 years of slavery into 40 years of starvation and thirst. During that, His people were subjected to harsh Laws and restrictions. Hell, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he calls what God did “The curse of the Law.” That’s right, God saved His chosen people… Then immediately cursed them. Did He curse the Chinese, who did not know of him? The North American Native peoples? The Mayans? No, He did not curse those people. He cursed His chosen, but not any of his non-Chosen, except for the Egyptians… But thinking about that, they rebounded FAR BETTER than the Jewish people.

During any point in history prior to, and for several years after, Jesus Christ, being a Chosen Person of God was TERRIBLE. It was a curse, a hamper, it required pain and suffering. Pain and suffering of the kind that no other people had to suffer.

Hell, even after Christianity was accepted as the official religion of Rome, being a chosen person of God was awful. Right up through World War 2, where Hitler killed so many Jews, following that ancient religion has been a burden more terrible than God has set out for His non-Chosen. Being a Christian was not flowery, either, for there was the wars with the Muslims, the Crusades, the Inquisition. I hope you were born believing the right version of being God’s Chosen, because even being a Christian could get you killed by other Christians. There is a saying that I love that goes back many decades, and I do not know the original source, but it basically states that prior to the eighteenth century, Muslims were more tolerant of Christians than Christians were tolerant of other Christians.

“But for our pain, we are granted eternal paradise!” But why would God require you to suffer for the blink of an eye, for 10 or 20 or 70 years under oppression and pain, then give you eternal life? That seems such an odd choice.

And then, of course, come the odd questions–if someone has never heard of Christianity, will they go to Heaven? There is an old joke about African Missionaries converting pagans to Christianity. A pagan woman asks “If I become a Christian, will I go to Heaven?”

“Yes,” replies the Missionary.

“But,” continues the woman, “Would I have gone to Hell if I had never heard of your Christianity?”

“No,” the Missionary answers, “You would have been judged by your works, since you had never heard of God, He would not have punished you for it.”

“Then why,” the woman says, exasperated, “Did you tell me about your God?”

It’s sort of funny, but it’s more sad. Do you not read the implication there? In what the Missionary said? “You would have been better off had you never heard of our God, for you would not have had to Believe this particular story to go to Heaven.”

Again, not only are God’s own people punished, but people who are not of His own flock are rewarded for never having heard of his flock. And God loves His Chosen?

It sounds like He loves everyone except His Chosen.

So why?

But why?


Why do you believe God loves you? Why do you believe God cares? I simply do not have the tools at my disposal to answer that question for myself.

Another short rant

Complaint (feel free to ignore):

It seems to me that the current political climate in the United States is so silly. “There should be no legislation on guns because of our right to bear arms!”

“Well, should someone who just got out of jail for a violent crime be allowed to buy a gun?”

“Well, even if we put in legislation, he’s a criminal, he’ll get it anyway!”

First, that isn’t what I asked. Do you or do you not think he should have a gun?

Second, there are so many things wrong with that sentence. “Criminals will just get drugs anyway, why put in legislation making them illegal?”

“People murder all the time, no sense having a law since it doesn’t stop them.”

There is no “one stop shop,” there is nothing you can do to stop people from committing crimes. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps towards minimizing the chance.

Making it more difficult for people to buy guns might stop a lazy criminal from getting a gun. It might stop 1 in 100 criminals from getting guns. It might stop one of the future one thousand school shootings from happening.

But then, in my mind, even stopping 1 in 1000 massacres is probably a good place to start, no?

All of these people saying “It wouldn’t stop me if I were a criminal,” are just more worrying from a public safety standpoint than they are savvy political debaters.

Instead of demanding a solution that works 100% of the time, help your government craft one solution that works 1% of the time, and see if you can maybe expand on that to see what works, and make it better over time.

The saddest thing is the way statistics are wielded so terribly in this debate, and to great ruinous effect.

“Gun control background checks would cost us x billion dollars over x years!”

You can’t say “they would save 200 lives,” because you can’t prove that empircally. So from the standpoint of statistics, the fiscal conservatives are winning… Because you can’t prove a single college shooting didn’t happen.

The really enraging thing, for someone like me who loves to debate, is how much this silences the debate, the legitimate debate, on the whole topic. It just makes me sad, because what is a life worth? What is ten lives worth?

Theoretical conversation:

Me: “How much money do you think we should spend to defend against school mass-shootings?”

Straw Man: “There should be no limit! Life is precious, something about God and the Ten Commandments!!” (Disclaimer: I am using the religious angle because someone forwarded this email chain to me without fact checking: )

Me: “So lets start with a fairly cheap background check program that would prevent people with criminal histories from easily obtaining fire arms.”

Straw Man: “THAT WOULD BE IMPINGING UPON MY RIGHTS! Guns didn’t kill people, that crazy person killed people!!”

Me: “But what if we stopped that crazy person from getting guns before he killed people…? Then that crazy person could not have racked up a two digit body count! Certainly, he wouldn’t have with a knife!”


Right then. You know what? You win. Let’s not even try. Hell, let’s not even talk about the issue.

Internal Moral Relativism

On certain Christian websites, moral relativism is derided almost as some sort of modern evil. “How do you know what is right and what is wrong if you don’t have an absolute source of morals? You need God to make your world make sense.”

The problem I have always had, but haven’t fully articulated, is the problem that there is always moral relativism, and specifically so in the Bible. Perhaps, actually, most egregiously so in the Bible.

At first glance, the Bible offers some fairly clear rules, but if you start thinking about it too much, things get… Weird.

I mean, let’s rank some of the moral precepts of the Bible, and I think you’ll find we can do this with some degree of objectivity.

Let’s open with the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” That one’s pretty easy.

Unless you work on the Sabbath–then you can be stoned. Therefore, since you are allowed to kill someone for breaching the sanctity of the Sabbath, our list looks like this, ranked from most severe to least severe:

1 – Breaching the sanctity of the Sabbath.
2 – Killing.

In fact,  the punishment for MANY things is killing. Killing is obviously not a moral absolute, otherwise you couldn’t use it as a punishment, because you wouldn’t morally be allowed to. So let’s list a few things in the Bible that are worse than killing: Talking back to your parents, homosexuality, bestiality, theft, lust, adultery, worshiping different gods, living on the land God has set aside for you (even though he set it aside after you settled there, and even though he didn’t tell you).

Even in the modern world, as laid out by the Assassination of George Tiller, there are modern Christians who still subscribe to moral relativism. “His aborting of human fetuses is more evil than my killing him,” is the logic employed.

The counter, of course, is that “Death is OK, if God tells me it is OK,” but the problem is the application of that in the absence of God’s final approval. The best the modern Christian can do is to apply their own slant on it, but here’s the thing:

If God has laid the Commandments upon our soul, and if He is the ultimate authority, why does it feel so wrong to contemplate killing prostitutes? Are you miswired? Have God’s Comments, writ upon thy soul, gone awry?

“Jesus commanded us to love, and freed us from The Law!”

Then God’s commandments aren’t writ upon our soul? Like our souls just had a cosmic dry-erase marker applied? But then, why is the application of Old Testament verse allowed at all? How do we know which parts were stricken from the record?

What did Jesus mean by the following? 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven..” (Matthew 5:17-20) 

Until heaven and earth pass away. That is the King James, by the way–the NIV is a bit looser with its translation, stating instead “Until all is accomplished.” Those two sentences mean very different things to me.

Long story short, though, even if we are free from The Law, which parts? The Commandments were part of the law. Again, are they really writ upon my soul, if they are changed/abolished? If you are still skeptical, then consider the fact that breach of any of the Ten Commandments is punishable by death, and this is the second commandment (Exodus 20:4):

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…

Again, NKJV. Is that commandment writ upon thy soul?

So there, there is a large degree of relative moral ideas in the Bible. You can say that God is the ultimate moral authority, but God is not here to adjudicate… Which leaves man, fallible man, to judge how laws from 2000-3500 years ago apply to our lives today. How do you do that? By relating a situation in our life to a situation in the Bible. One might even say you rate a situation relatively to a situation in the Bible.

But you definitely have moral absolutism. Just applied in a relativistic way. Cough

A Mess of Words

The below is going to be a very ugly stream of consciousness. This isn’t just me thinking that out in advance, I am writing this disclaimer after I have already written the nearly unreadable, nearly incomprehensible, all-over-the-map blog post that is the gigantic mess of words below. Once I get some of the jumbled thoughts off of my chest, I am hoping I can write something more focused again some day in the future.

The thing that makes it hard for me to write is that everything that goes through my head seems like old news to me, and thus I believe that it is obviously old news to everyone else. That being said, as I travel from place to place, listen to one speaker or another, read books on philosophy, fantasy, religion, and a huge number of other topics, I further realize that not only is this thought in my head not common, it is possibly even considered unimportant… And yet, the more I think about it, the more I think that it is the question that could lead to the greatest internal mental revolution for a huge number of people.

Why? More specifically, why do I believe what I believe?

I am about to sound like a four year old child, but the number of “why” questions you are willing to answer to yourself is, at the very least, an indicator to how secure you are in your own beliefs. I can’t make you answer the question, of course, and the answers I posit below may not apply in the slightest to you… But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, so I figured I’d get it off my chest.

To contextualize, I have been thinking about this question for at least the last decade; I can’t say I asked it when I was a small child, far ahead of my time, but I am happy I managed to consider the idea at all.

The reason, though, that it is truly at the forefront of my mind right now is that I am reading the book God’s Crime Scene by J Warner Wallace. Without getting too deeply into it, I can say that in the first half, most of what he says is a fair enough assertion, and as likely as anything else we have managed to come up with in absence of evidence… But in the second half of the book Wallace makes spurious claims relying on wildly non-representative comparisons. These comparisons are grounded in the idea that the answers to the questions such as why does the universe exist are unsatisfactory unless there is a God outside of the universe pulling the strings.

A significant portion of the thought in this book comes from the idea that he is an ex committed atheist. He explains, if you read between the lines, the reasons he went from atheist to theist (at about the age of 35, nearly as I could tell at a glance). A question that was not answered to my satisfaction was why he was an atheist at all.

The questions I have for Mr Wallace all come down to “why”?

I wanted to rank the questions by ease of answer, but there is never an easy question where it comes to the topic of the Almighty, so I’ll just stream of consciousness a little.

Why is it possible to invoke “God” to escape the infinite regress? To explain the infinite regress, it basically asks “What came before the universe? What came before that? What came before that?” Another line, “Who created the universe? Who created that? Who created that?”

To many religions (and in this case specifically Christianity) it is alright to call upon an Eternal God to have created the Universe, but to reiterate: Why is that OK? If God can be eternal, outside of time and space, why couldn’t matter have been eternal?

Why do you draw the edge of the Universe, or the edge of time as we know it as a barrier? I am not asking this question from the perspective of science, I am actually asking from the perspective of faith. Why do you believe God can be eternal, but specifically believe that matter, the universe, and space cannot?

I will speak briefly to the science, though it is largely immaterial to this question. As it stands, we cannot get data from a time before the big bang–though this does not mean there was no time before the big bang. There are theories, though with our current tools it is impossible to say with any certainty.

Why does one need to have an answer to the “why” of the universe? Mr Wallace makes a terrible error, I think, in describing his argument for why God created the universe. Specifically, Mr Wallace cites the fact that not having a “why” answer for the universe is intellectually unsatisfying; this makes the common error of assuming the universe is an agent that cares whether you are intellectually satisfied. For the most part, Mr Wallace does not make errors such as this frequently, but he makes such assertions far too often to be fully comfortable.

The type of logic in the previous paragraph is very much an article of belief, at least in my estimation. That may be incredibly potent in confirming for oneself a personal belief, but to an outside agent such as myself it is a gross error that focuses my mind far more on similar errors. As you get further into this book, you realize the author builds the house on a foundation that requires you to accept it as you move forward, and if the foundation is sand (as it appears to me) the house will fall over sooner rather than later.

Mr Wallace describes himself frequently as an ex committed atheist, but I am not sure he knows what that would mean; I am not sure it would be possible to describe it to him, or have him truly describe it to us in a way that is truly satisfactory. This might seem simple, and on the surface it is, but when speaking about the deepest questions of the universe, of life, of belief, why should we accept the answer on the surface?

Wallace describes himself as being a committed atheist in the past due to his outright rejection of the supernatural, of the idea that there is no ‘magic’, so to speak. He does not describe the evidence that led him to this belief, but being as he was raised Roman Catholic, we have to assume there was an event or a thought that led him away from the Church, though I haven’t read what that might be (Cold Case Christianity, a book very highly regarded in apologetic circles, is on my reading list still). That being said, it does tell us a lot about him; Wallace is a man who needs answers. The need for an answer led him away from the Church, I believe, in that he thought God did not give him the answers he was looking for in his younger years. The need for answers led him back to the Church, when science was unable to tell him why the universe existed–and for this assertion, I have his book God’s Crime Scene as reference.

Why am I going on about this? Mostly because I need to relate it to other types of belief. To do this, I’ll describe why I believe what I believe and how it relates and contrasts to being a “committed atheist”.

I do not believe there is “No God”. That being said, I do not believe there is “A God”. Personally, the question of why the universe exists is academic to me; the answer, either way, would satisfy curiosity in me but would not largely affect my life one way or another. Why should it?

I believe you should be good to other people and animals, and yet I am an atheist. Most Christians seem, for reasons still unclear to me, to find this reasoning unsatisfactory. Why should I need a perfect standard of Goodness, as so many apologists claim God is, to decide the morality of an action? I will admit, I subscribe to a certain type of moral relativism, but there is no perfect standard in my world.

How do I justify my morals, then? That’s fairly simple, and it is certainly something the dedicated apologist may latch on to and claim as their own, but here it is:

Don’t do to other people things that I don’t want them to do to me. It’s basically the golden rule, and even Jesus himself seemed to think it could be somewhat divorced from the Bible (as he was a Jew, and to disregard The Law would have been anathema). Why should I have more of a right to be happy than someone else? To reword, as I am wont to do, if an action would make me unhappy, I should not do that thing to someone else. If an action results in positive happiness, if that action were done to me and would make me happy, then there is an argument for its improving the world.

“But Chad, how can you say a rapist isn’t acting morally then?” This is a rewording of a frequent charge levied against the atheist by several religions. In this case, I have an answer, though: who is made unhappy by the rape? Just the victim? No, the victim, their family, their friends, the public at large, is made unhappy by the act. “Ok, but why are they made unhappy?”

Some times, the amount of effort strong apologists put into justifying rape “on behalf of the atheist” is frankly fucking disturbing. I don’t like swearing, but it is really justified in my mind here. “You can’t objectively define the morality of rape, therefore it is OK to you.” How the hell does one make that charge?

I am sorry about that aside, but it is something that really bothers me. The reason they are made unhappy, to get back on topic, is simple; something was done to a loved one that the loved one did not want to happen to them. To go one step further, something very preventable that someone did not want to happen to them happened to them. Had the person who was raped said “Yes, I am OK with having sex with this person,” it is not rape. That may seem obvious, but for some reason I feel compelled to mention it. The difference between “love” and “rape” is two or three letters long; “yes,” or “no.”

And that is where the moral line gets drawn.

This is just one small example, one part of the large question of “why?” Why do I believe what I believe? To me, the perfect world is one where everyone is happy. “Why?” Because I want to be happy, I enjoy the feeling. “Why?” I am wired that way. “Why?” Survival, probably, but even if it isn’t directly related to survival, why should the why need an answer? To restate something from above, it would be nice, but in this case is not required.

If answering “why” isn’t required for the big questions, why should it be required for the small questions? Now we are getting into waters murkier than I am qualified to answer, so I will just give some opinions.

I would like to know why Mr Wallace considered himself a “committed atheist.” I do not need the answer to this question, but it would resolve a lot of my curiosity. I think the reason he became an atheist would give a great deal of insight to the reason he went back to Christianity.

Let’s go further down the path of why I believe what I believe.

To use Wallace’s own analogies, I think the legal system is somewhat flawed, and based too strongly on the human desire for answers. I know that criminal courts work on the idea of “innocent until proven guilty,” and “guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” but the problem is that many innocent people end up in jail. This is because there are only two possible verdicts in the criminal justice system, “guilty” or “not guilty,” and I think that entire line of thought permeates humans too strongly. I can see why this might be, since it is not so easy to tell a person “we don’t know if you murdered Chuck, but we’re watching you.” That being said, the question of “Is there a God” shouldn’t require an immediate answer–an atemporal being who exists outside of Time and Space can probably wait for us to answer the question. If belief in God is a requirement to get into Heaven, Heaven will be full of people who care little for science or evidence, care little for the exercise of the human mind, which is an odd thing. A quote that has always resonated with me is:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.” -Attributed to Galileo

I would find it confusing to think that the God who gave us these senses would ask us to believe in Him without evidence. YECs would tell me that they have all the evidence they need, but in full ignorance of the irony, they can only translate that evidence under the presupposition that the Bible is correct and true. I have never heard of a non-Christian scientist who has viewed the evidence and decided that the Earth is 6000 years old; that should worry them. When the YECs make statements along the lines of telling scientists to get off their lawn because they have the answers, I always think the same thing: “If your science is correct, secular scientists will eventually agree with you.” I don’t see that happening, but if they are right, and scientists are open minded, we’ll get there.

I don’t believe they are right, and I believe the evidence against them is nearly insurmountable, but I also realize the science of tomorrow will be as incomprehensible to me as astrophysics would be the a citizen of Rome in 300CE.

Let’s talk about presuppositions, while my mind is in that direction. Scientists are accused of presupposing the world is ancient, that the universe is older than that, etc, etc. It’s so odd, since these were not the first assumptions made by human scientists and philosophers. The idea that the world is millions or billions of years old has no supporting declarations prior to the 18th century, or thereabouts. Before then, people believed the earth was fairly young (the date of 10,000-6,000 years old was a 15th century hypothesis, as I recall). The point here is that the scientists were seeing a deluge of evidence that suggested that the Earth was older than generally assumed, and were working on moving their model of the Earth in accordance with the emerging body of evidence. The funny thing is how obvious some of that evidence is; to quote Bill Nye’s outburst from the Nye/Ham debate: “There are trees older than you think the Earth is.”

On the other hand, it is their scientists who defend their presupposition as correct. Why is it correct? Because the Bible said so. There is no amount of evidence that would dissuade them, as evinced by Ham’s declaration of that very statement during the debate.

That is the difference, in circumspect, between a hardline (committed) atheist and a scientist, I think. There are certainly scientists who are willing to make a strong prediction (Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins come to mind) but they make this prediction less out of presupposed belief than because it fits the evidence as they see it more closely. If the evidence aligns with the idea of God, then I would imagine you would have several scientists citing not the Bible, but the evidence. As it stands, even the scientists who stand on the side of YEC word their discoveries in ways that would be considered scientifically dishonest; “and thus, you see that the experiment fits within [book] [chapter]:[verse].” That isn’t how you should do science, not as the scientific method is concerned. When you can say “This evidence points to an Earth that is 6,000 years old specifically, and addresses concerns such as 11,000 year old trees, 500,000 year old ice sheets, and all the other hosts of evidence that suggest the world is older than my hypothesis,” then you will have a lot of people starting to take notice. As it stands, I do not presuppose the world is old, but the current evidence as I understand it is that the world is, at the very least, over 500,000 years old. I do not understand enough of the specific methods of geology to make a definitive statement that the Earth is definitely 4 billion years old… That being said, I do believe the Earth is 4 billion (or so) years old, as I do trust the wide body of evidence that attests to this fact.

If we find something that proves we have been wrong, then we’ll go with that. One of the theories proposed by YECs that would account for various dating methods is a period of accelerated decay. “Before the flood,” goes the reasoning, “radioactive elements decayed at a drastically increased rate.” Never mind that there is no proof that this happened other than “it would fit the Bible,” what about the fact that the world would be far more irradiated? That being said, this is an example of a place where, if they could produce evidence that shows this did happen, then I would revise my model of the world. Hell, as of February of 2015, new evidence suggests the Big Bang model is incorrect… But not because the universe is younger–it is because the universe is much older. (I only just discovered this research while looking up stuff for this mess of a post.)

The Big Bang, goes the new theory, was just another event that occurred in a much older universe.

And, if the research bears out, my internal model of the universe will change to account for this new information, rather than stubbornly clinging to an outdated model.

Funny how that is.

A rant about gun ownership

So a debate about gun ownership broke out because of a web comic, due to the fact that people are willing to get up in arms about anything. That being said, there was a comparison made about how it is more difficult to get a driver’s license in the US than it is to own a fire arm. This gem happened:

‘For the record your drivers license is a privilege so the state can mandate testing, etc. Firearms ownership is a RIGHT and not a PRIVILEGE so the government shouldn’t even be able to legally perform a background check currently. Most of the laws they have regulating firearms are already infringing on our rights.’

I don’t even know where to start. But I mean, for people like this, if the next amendment said “Right to own nuclear weapons,” this person would be on the market for a nuke in a day, never thinking about what they’d use it for.

The whole situation seems silly. “A diagnosed psychopath should be able to own a gun, no questions asked, because some politicians said so in 1791. I don’t even know why we are questioning it.”

And that is about as deep as the rabbit hole goes, as nearly as I can find, with some of these people. Now, don’t get me wrong, a psychopath shouldn’t be disqualified from owning a gun based on that alone–but like every other citizen, they should have to work for it.

It gets even more ridiculous when people mention that the Norway mass shooting caused more deaths in a single day than any US mass shooting. Yeah, it did, no one would deny that–the thing is, the firearm death rate per 100,000 citizens in Norway is 1.78, whereas it is 10.64 in the US. These are per capita rates, so you can’t even use Norway’s small population to justify it. And to clarify and restate, this is “death by firearm”, not just “overall homicide”.

“Yeah, but Mr Liberal Guy, you are not considering the fact that people would still murder or commit suicide with other weapons if guns were more difficult to come by!” No, I think you are failing to recognize the reality in this one, Straw Man Conservative (I am nothing if not self aware).

The issue here is that the person above, while serving as a straw man, is making a black and white dichotomy. “One step towards reducing murder would not stop murder, therefore we should do nothing. Duh.”

So let’s do a small bit of math. The current US deaths per capita by firearms is 10.64. Let’s say gun regulation reduces that number by only 15%, to 9.04 per 100,000 citizens. Some back of napkin math shows that this will save around 8000 citizens.

But you’re right, why would we do that? They were probably all criminals anyway.

Or are they? The bulk portion of the US death rate by firearm is suicide, clocking in at 6.7 out of 10.64 of the firearm deaths per capita. One thing guns are very good at is killing at short range. How many of these suicides would have occurred if the person could not have done so quickly and easily, with a minimum of pain?

I know where your head just went, and I will tell you now that I realize that some of those people would undoubtedly still commit suicide without access to a gun, but this is not black and white. I think reducing that number by any margin would be considered as success.

Maybe, though, maybe I was the crazy one all along.

You know, in retrospect, I can’t recall the last time I heard suicides brought up during a debate on gun ownership. I mean, I know I have heard it brought up, but it isn’t the primary point, is it? Which is odd, considering over 60% of gun death in the United States of America is attributable to suicide… But that falls in with the much older phenomenon of ignoring mental health issues. You’re right, criminals would still likely find ways around gun regulation, but if suicidally depressed people had less access to guns, how many lives could we save? Using the same napkin technique above, if we reduced the number of suicides due to firearm by half, the number of suicides prevented would account for saving the lives of some 10,000 individuals, saving their families from reading their suicide notes, saving their friends from the confusion and torment of the eternal “what-if”. If 10,000 suicides were prevented, 1,000,000 lives could be saved from that grief, that hell (I am using Dunbar’s Number to ballpark that number. Some suicides would affect more, some less.).

But going with the theme of me being the crazy one and not you, I’d probably fail to pass muster for gun ownership while you would pass. The world is a funny place.

A Deeply Seeded Misunderstanding

Whenever I feel listless, a passing depression, I can always go to AiG to inflame my passions (the floweriest way to reaffirm my living, if only to be angry at people purposefully misrepresenting my views, and the views of my peers).

To wit, this article that misses no opportunity to misrepresent the views of a very large swathe of the scientific community. Claiming evolution is a god of the gaps, and claiming that a high school biology professor would be stumped by a question as simple as “How does biology work?” To be fair, that last point may be less a show of weakness in the Theory of Evolution so much as it is a weakness of the public education system in certain regions. That’s neither here nor there, I suppose, just incidental.

To claim evolution is a god of the gaps shows either blatant willful ignorance or malicious intent; no one can live in the 21st century and display such a wild misunderstanding of evolution, and of the scientific field in general (though I recognize that I am being optimistic at best). The author draws frequent parallels to common “god of the gaps” terminology, repeatedly claiming that a professor of microbiology will answer any query regarding evolution with “evolution did it,” an obvious parody of “god did it.”

I recognize that there are many well respected scientists who will say that there was no supernatural agent involved in Creation, as a strong prediction rather than a hypothesis, but it seems even to me that the fairest conversation between the greater scientific community and the Creation science community would start and end with “Why do you fight science? If your God did it, will we not find his fingerprints as we move closer and closer to the answers we seek?”

The Creation Science movement had their hypothesis written for them several hundred years ago, and have decided that there is no room for improvement, studying all evidence through that lens, trying to come to a conclusion that was already written. Science does make hypotheses, and even makes strong predictions, but evidence that does not fit the hypothesis is (ideally) not bent to fit. The hypothesis is modified, and experimentation continues. Humans, of course, will attempt to justify their own hypothesis and bend evidence to make it fit, but that highlights the importance of blind peer review.

I think a fairly pure hypothesis, without the biases on display here, is this: “Life likely began via a natural process of which we are currently unaware.” Now we try to find what the process is. If we find God, then God it is. If we find another process, it is very easy to predict the line of the YEC; God kicked it off. When we find the process that started biology, they will claim God created chemistry as a precursor to biology. If we find out the mechanism of how the first matter formed, we will be told that God created the laws of physics to allow chemistry. When we find out how the laws of physics formed… Well, I don’t know where the goalpost will move to, but I will likely be dead by this time, and smarter people than I will be carrying this debate on.

That is the ultimate weakness of the YEC; the dogged reliance on a bronze age text, and the constantly moving goalposts make it seem almost like children who constantly change the rules to make sure they win. Now we enter territory that is almost quintessentially American; the idea of the flip flopper. No, I am not accusing the YEC to do so, that would be silly.

Evolution is the core of a flip-flopper, and that is not an insult. Based on what you know, you make a call. Then if the information available changes, so does the call. This is not a weakness, this is prudent. If you stand by something in opposition of all evidence, “on principle,” you have erred greatly–and yet, as the documentary “Outfoxed” showed constantly, changing your vote as information changes is apparently shameful to certain demographics in the United States. I believe, truly I do, that young earth creationism has taken root in the United States because of the fertile soil that praises strong predictions, and for some reason demonizes changing your mind. Science seldom makes blind strong predictions; you need evidence. Science is a shifting field, admittedly, because evidence is constantly changing. Scientists are getting better, getting smarter, coming up with ever more ingenious experiments and tests… To compare science in the 21st century to Darwin’s “On the Origins of Species” (as the YEC movement often does) is incredibly disingenuous. We know more than Darwin did, we have better data collection than Darwin did, and as the saying often goes, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” We do not take Darwin’s work wholesale, we have improved on his ideas, refined the field. We have, to use the American colloquialism, flip flopped–but we did it because the evidence required it of us.

And the fact that the YEC will stand on a single hypothesis against all evidence… That is the true weakness.

There is one line that shows the true misdirection of the AiG writer more clearly than any other. “Evolution makes no useful contribution to scientific and technological advances.”

You see, the YEC will tell you that adaptation, not evolution, is the mechanism that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics. They will tell you that adaptation, not evolution, at play when a new strain of a deadly virus comes into play.

Adaptation is evolution, and I still can’t even begin to understand how the mind of anyone can so fully ignore the very idea of evolution that they are completely blind to the fact that they admit that evolution is the mechanism by which every living thing operates.

The only part they disagree with, it seems to me, is where it all started. As science moves closer and closer to the answer to that question, it is only a matter of time until we watch them pick up the goalpost and move it again. And again. And again.

Arguing Against Invisible Opponents

A lot of the animosity that exists right now between Atheists and the Christian sects in North America is just poorly aimed propaganda that causes undue inflammation and fighting.

To say something similarly obvious to the previous statement, water is wet.

That being said, despite it being obvious, Christians and Atheists keep fighting in the public arena and it is truly bothersome–especially when they show they are self aware, but do it anyway. That is a topic for another day, I fear; the point I am making here is that too many people don’t understand what they are fighting–a grave breach of Sun Tsu’s Art of War. Know your enemy as you know yourself.

I am given to rhetoric, but I want any Christian reading this to know that I don’t truly consider them an enemy–but in debate, I think, it is more important that you understand your opponent’s side than it is that you understand your own in many cases.

I have not had a conversation with a Christian who actually understands (or cares to understand) what exactly it means to be an atheist; to the most evangelical, the very idea of understanding an atheist is somewhat absurd, and that is a problem (Romans 1:18-23 and all that). Conversely, the issue with atheists is that many of our side generalize all Christianity as backwards thinking (at least, the most vocal members do), or those that admit much of Christianity is net positive still think of most Christians as “the enemy.” (Ominous music plays.)

The thing is, in most cases (please note the wording, I did not say “in all cases”), atheists are not debating Christians and Christians are not debating atheists. Both sides are debating their own idea of the other side, and not listening to each other (though, admittedly, no one is ignoring the rest of the world as well as the modern US YEC movement is ignoring literally any dissenting voice). It makes me sad when I read something like this.

This Christian, in a nation that is VASTLY majority Christian, seems to feel that she is truly persecuted, and that Fox News is her only place of safety and trust. To quote, “Roger Ailes’s Fox News has succeeded in no small part because he doesn’t treat Christians as though they’re Darwin’s missing link.” No, Ms Author, Fox News does not treat Christianity like a missing link–Fox News treats Christianity like the only link. You might think this positive, and Fox News’ viewership numbers would certainly corroborate that, but the issue is that ignoring minorities is kind of similar to persecuting them in the exact same way you feel persecuted. But it’s ok, I suppose, for Christians to persecute those evil atheists who murder babies; after all, Christians are the majority, therefore persecution is TOTALLY ok, so long as it is pointed at the minority.

Where have I heard that idea before? Eh, I’m sure it’s not overly important.

Another article by the same author advocates teaching Intelligent Design in schools, due to the fact that ID is not Creationism with a God, it is just the hypothesis that the universe was created by an intelligence that may or may not be God, therefore, TOTALLY NOT RELIGIOUS. The article was written in 2005 and ID was fairly young at the time, so I almost gave the disingenuity of the article a pass before I recalled that the author was still citing that article in her current works. To claim that ID is totally free from Christian (or other) religious influence is an outright fabrication these days, or any day, really.

You know what, though? I am fully aware of the irony of what I am about to say, but I don’t have many people I know who would fill the gap of evangelical Christian…

I feel like we could solve the issue much more easily if we would stop posting Op-Eds and blog posts and actually… You know… Spoke with each other. I mean, it might be crazy, but it could work (maybe) even better than shooting blindly at where we think the other person is.

“But what about the Nye vs Ham debate, and other debates?!”

Those aren’t conversations. Nye and Ham worked within the rules of the debate to completely ignore each other in favor of trying to convert a straw man to their side; that is kind of how debates work. To be fair, that is kind of how they are supposed to work–but they aren’t exactly the right tool.

I don’t know, sometimes I just wish I could sit with a strong evangelical Christian and have a conversation. I have in the past, but I was too immature to use it for the opportunity it truly was at the time. I think I could have a better, less adversarial conversation if I tried again today. If only my younger years (like… At least a year or two ago!) hadn’t poisoned the well, so to speak.

Intelligent Lack of Understanding (Or Honesty)

More days, more AiG.

One expects creationists and Creation Scientists to dance around language where it comes to evolution, but so often it comes at the cost of either sounding like they don’t understand evolution, or using language that is meaningless if the listener doesn’t understand evolution. Or, perhaps more maliciously, relies on the ignorance of the user to even make the semblance of a point.

To wit, the linked article.

“But are there such things as beneficial mutations? In short, no, but let me explain.” Alright, friend–explain away. She goes on to detail how an improved resistance to antibiotics in bacteria often results in something something metabolism issues. She explains that the improvements come at a cost to survival in some other way. She explains that in the absence of antibiotics, nonresistant bacteria actually survive better.

This is the perfect example of evolution. Of survival of the fittest.

The thing is, antibiotic resistant bacteria don’t tend to grow in environments free of antibiotics. And that is exactly what evolution would predict. If every step of evolution was like a level up in World of Warcraft, where you get survival bonuses right across the board, every species would be perfect. But they aren’t.

Survival of the fittest, evolution in action, is all about small improvements that help you survive in the environment you are in. A Tibetan (the subject of another evolution-centric post I have made) won’t have the same survival traits that someone from Jamaica would.

Perhaps more real world examples are in order. Take the Cheetah; evolved almost purely for speed. The drawbacks is that they have very low stamina compared to other species, and sacrifice maneuverability due to the way their hip and shoulder joints work. They didn’t just get “Faster, stronger, better,” there was an obvious cost and an obvious benefit. They are not everywhere in the world, they evolved to fit a niche in the flat plains of Africa. Their survival traits would be worthless in the mountains for example.

Segue that into a mountain goat, which tend to be rather slow and comically awkward at times–but they are able to climb mountains in ways the boggle the mind. The thing is, if they lived in the same environment as a cheetah, in Africa, the goat would be eaten hilariously quickly. That is evolution.

MRSA doesn’t need to survive among non-resistant bacteria to be considered an evolutionary step. They have evolved to become the fittest survivor in hospitals, where antibiotics are used frequently.

The author of the linked article does not want to admit that, though. “One step forward for person A is one step back in situation B” is still evolution, even if they don’t want to use the word.

Perhaps even more egregious, then, is the paragraph where she states that while there are mutations that make people immune to HIV, and while we don’t know of any directly related drawbacks to being immune to HIV, they must be there because God. And I don’t even know where to go with that.

I know I am preaching to a group of people who mostly accept evolution, but I really wish I could just… I don’t know. Discuss what so many creationists think evolution is. They have said, frequently (and in some cases directly from the mouth of the prophet, Ken Ham), “That’s not evolution, that’s adaptation.” As though that is some kind of defense. As though adaptation is not the cornerstone of evolution. They are dancing around the words, which is fine in some cases, but it works because they actively campaign to make sure children (and by extension adults) don’t know any better.

“In addition, the detrimental effects may not be detrimental enough to affect the overall fitness of the individual.”

To paraphrase: “It isn’t really negative, but I really have a vested interest in convincing anyone who will listen that evolution isn’t real.” Oh, it might sound like I am being callous, but to fully appreciate the scope of it you have to look at the context.

“There are people who are immune to HIV, but it isn’t really evolution because there are drawbacks that are so small I can’t really quantify them.” That is focusing on the wrong part of that story so hard that I think I felt a gust of wind purely from the effort of it.

“Again, the mutations only improve a person’s chance for survival in a given environment (external or internal), such as if the person is exposed to HIV or cancer develops within a person’s body.”

More paraphrasing: “Yes, there is evolution, because evolution predicts that exact behaviour, but I choose to call it by a different name.”

And here is the worst quote. This quote is the true showing, the true face, of the creation scientist unmaked.

“… [F]or one thing, beneficial, information-gaining mutations would have to be a regularly occurring phenomenon and would have to “build” on previous mutations so as not to be “undone” and to keep the evolution going “uphill””





Evolution is not necessarily an uphill process.

Mutation can certainly undo other beneficial mutations.

Conditions change.

Imagine a gene that makes me immune to a disease that was naturally wiped out 20 million years ago. When I evolve a new function (maybe my eardrums are 10% more sensitive or something, thus allowing me to hear the intruder in my house, thus allowing me to fend him off, thus allowing me to procreate), perhaps I lose that immunity. But you know what? I am now better equipped to survive in my current environment than I would have been with my less sensitive eardrum and immunity to a disease that no longer exists.

This happens all the time. Think of Darwin’s finches; when their beaks changed size and shape, it may have made them unable to process nutrients (ie: eat) as well on their parents’ home island, but that means absolutely nothing to them on their new island, because their beak is awesome at eating stuff on this island. They have lost viability in an irrelevant environment, but they have certainly improved their survival chances in their current environment.

The repetitive use of “in their current environment” is important, because it is no less evolution if you lose something that was no longer undergoing active selection pressure.

It is by this mechanism that land dwelling animals lost their gills, obviously great for surviving water based environments, in favor of better lungs. Better lungs granting longer stamina, less stress on the heart, less stress on the body. So what, we can’t breathe under water any more? I am glad I don’t live underwater, and I would still certainly call that an improvement.

Absolute Truths

Absolute truths are absolute, unless they are inconvenient, then we can throw them out (temporarily) and pick them back up–like setting aside jewelry before a fight.

I was getting a little bit jittery for Creationist Propaganda, since it is currently the off-season for Creation Today’s broadcasts, so I just decided to hit up some random articles on AiG to get those creative juices flowing. I was not disappointed.

This particular article details the fight between absolute Creationists (we were created as we are, and that’s an end to it) and evolutionary Creationists (God created the universe billions of years ago, and then set the pieces to moving).

It is almost comical to read the AiG writer, who toes the line of calling the Scientist in question “racist” but never actually crosses, for his handling of Neanderthals. Reasons to Believe (RtB) posits that Neanderthals were created as animals before Adam and Eve, and thus likely didn’t have souls. AiG argues that of course they had souls, because they could use tools and communicate, and for some reason that counts as (this term was new to me) “image-of-God behaviour”.

AiG even posits that Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with humans, meaning they accept the evolutionary worldview of human development with the only exception being timeline. They even argue that you can see the fingerprint on our DNA left by breeding with Denisovans! Of course, the survival of the fittest, advantageous traits being passed on idea at play here is not evolution! It is adaptation! Which is totally different, guys! Because we can’t compromise; once we’ve told you that the sky is purple, the sky stays purple.

The thing is that this seems almost a tacit admission that non-humans interbred with humans, though I feel like I can smell their counter-argument coming; Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Humans share a Biblical Kind, a kind of superspecies that exists to make their scientific models work–and it did hurt me a little, to write “scientific” in that context. The ultimate concession, a line that would actually have found a warm, friendly home in any paper refuting young earth creationism, comes in the statement: “Neanderthals must, based on genetic evidence, have either been cousins, cohabitants, or ancestors of anatomically modern humans.”

We have a genetically distinct species as an ancestor of a more modern genetically distinct species, but it’s not evolution, guys! The fact that you just described one of the major foundations of evolution be damned (literally)!

The thing is this; AiG is willing to slip into evolutionary talk as long as they never say the word evolution, and generally only so long as they are refuting someone they don’t like (admitting humans share a kind with other species comes dangerously close to admitting we are just another animal, but maybe I’m the crazy one).

The other thing they lean on is not just short time frames for this human genetic distinction, but incredibly short time frames. Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other ancient human species (ancient according to that dirty “science” crowd), developed, lived, and went extinct within the last 3500 years or so. Their evidence for this is “ignoring any and all dating methods”, stating that “fossilization is always rapid,” and that “The tower of Babel.” If that last one seems a little bit decontextualized, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. That is a quote; all genetic diversity in humans happened only after Babel. For some reason. In fact, all diversity is “easily understood as the natural consequence of the dispersion from the Tower of Babel.” I decided to use their exact words; the problem I have when anyone says something is so easily understood that they needn’t explain it is that sometimes I don’t understand–and finding an explanation can be difficult sometimes.

I suppose I understand to a degree, but only in a wildly theoretical, ridiculously impractical world view. Since the Tower of Babel probably instantly teleported humans to the ends of the Earth– I mean, I doubt they just started migrating slowly, otherwise how would there have been fully realized civilizations that bear absolutely no resemblance to Judaism in North and South America millennia ago? They needed time to set up shop, build some truly impressive structures, generate new religions, forget their roots (And that would have been hard, since the first post Babel generation had heard the voice of God), and then meet with their new Christian Overlords, all within a thousand years or so.

I understand that humans work hard, but what I want to know is this; how is it that Judaism was born in the Middle East, survived the flood in the Middle East, and after all humans were scattered to the furthest reaches of the Earth, it was only the Jewish people in the Middle East who remembered their God? Every single other faction magically forgetting him? That seems… Improbable to me.

I will close with a statement that boils the absurdity down as far as I can:

“Humans were created, fully formed and free from the need of evolution, 6000 years ago. The fact that we are arguing for large scale genetic diversity and massive changes through adaptation don’t affect the first sentence for some reason.”