Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 2)

My continuing response to this article telling me what New Atheists fear.

My last piece of commentary on this article was related to the notion that the very things Christians accuse Atheists of, they, too, are guilty of. That is a double edged sword, I am happy to admit — a realistic self appraisal should note one’s own weaknesses. Often, atheists are equally in breach of what they accuse Christians of doing.

But that’s… That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Why can’t our moral breaches be “because we are human,” rather than “because of what we believe about what happens after we die”?

Of course, I’d like to expand that thought and leave the reader an exercise in the process. The Catholic Priests who have been accused (and those whose victims produced tangible proofs)–did they engage in latent homosexual pedophilia because they were Catholic? (Protestants, your vote may carry less weight here… Also, that was a joke.) Did Hitler kill the Jews because he was a Catholic? Even if you want to argue against his religiosity, he claimed religion as his motive, his basis — if you are going to hold Stalin as an example of “A man who outright said he did these things because he was Atheist,” you actually open the door for the Hitler counterpoint, because Hitler said in a speech regarding culling the Jewish population, “As a Christian, I Feel that My Lord and Savior was a Fighter” . Let’s look at the individuals is what I am saying here — no one would accuse Hitler or Stalin of being particularly sane or reasonable.

Perhaps it was a weakness of my Christianity that had me drift almost inexorably away from the Church, but I never understood the pervading thought that God need be at the center of all parts of your life. I think politics is where this shines both most brightly, and yet appears black as pitch.

People are easily sold when an idea is framed well — I think the Republican promise to terminate the Estate Tax during the 2012 election cycle is a particularly disturbing example. Mitt Romney was speaking to a group of people that ranged from fairly poor to upper middle class, and he exclaimed to great applause “Tax was already paid on that estate! The government shouldn’t take money for something already paid for!” What he did not mention is that the Estate Tax only comes into play for inheritance greater than $5.4 million, and that this change would affect literally zero of the people cheering for it, while presumably reducing the available tax revenue for critical services such as maintenance of highways, federal infrastructure spending, federal spending on health and education — all things so incredibly important, and already over burdened and over budget. This was a bit of an aside, but it just goes to show that things can be packaged and sold easily.

Where this gets particularly difficult is with cardinal sins. Many Christians are staunchly pro-life (the no exceptions type, such as in the case of rape or incest), so any politician can slide in a great deal of otherwise incredibly negative (or outright sinful) legislation under the very wide shadow created by their pro-life stance. I am not so ignorant as to say all religious people are single issue voters, but I know for a fact that many are — I have a family member who could hear “I will vote pro-life in every case!” And then vote for that person in every election, even if that was followed up with “And to do it, I will cut food aid for starving countries, cut spending on education, cut spending on healthcare (thus causing far more deaths than ‘abortion in the case of rape’ could possibly account for), and then kick a puppy!”

You may think I am being overly cynical, but I’ve spoken to this family member, using very similar language, and she stands by abortion as the definitive portion of the previous scenario.

In much the same way, Republicans have framed the political landscape to be “We are the party of Christ, look how pro-life we are! And look how much the democrats ignore the Bible!” The United States are still overwhelmingly Christian, and given various lawsuits that have been raised in various places in the States it can be inferred that “Separation of Church and State” only applies to non-Christian (read: heathen) religions in many cases. Note, please, the wording; I did not say all, and I did not say most, but definitely religion is enshrined in the current political landscape.

But under the shadow of Pro-Life, they have cut what they call “Entitlement” spending, because a single mother working three jobs and still needing food stamps can obviously be described using the exact same words as a 16 year old who gets a Porsche for her birthday instead of the Ferrari she asked for. The first is spending that protects those in need. The second is, much more clearly, “entitlement”. But that’s not the package all of this is being sold under.

This is a personal question, but I have always wondered (given the liberal use of “Entitlement spending” to describe things such as food stamps and universal healthcare) where the line can be drawn. Where do entitlement and charity cross? I mean, if the government gave money to Iraq, that is considered “Charity” and “Foreign Aid,” but where they give it to their own people it becomes “Entitlement”? Is that the line, people within the borders are worse? Why is it Charity when a Church sends missionaries to third world countries to improve infrastructure, but when a government does that same thing, it is considered a waste in so many cases? And a flagrant abuse of taxpayer dollars when done within the country’s borders?

Why did I go on that political rant? Because the author states: “It’s inconceivable that a professed unbeliever could become president of the United States.” I would say that statement is too passive; “It is inconceivable that anyone not professing a strong Christian doctrine could become president of the United States,” would be more accurate I think. But why?

If candidate A proposed the exact same legislation of candidate B, why should a belief in God tip the scales? If you say a belief in God gives you a stronger core morality, why have so many republicans who profess Christianity been caught in extramarital homosexual sex scandals? Or, to quote again the Catholic priests who are now convicted pedophiles, would one of them going into politics poll favorably? A pedophile versus an atheist?

Again I say, look to the actions of a man, and his words, not his private beliefs about an afterlife. As nearly as I can tell, my morals are very near to Christian values, yet I have no belief in an afterlife, and that discredits my place in public discourse in the United States. Why is that? I can’t say I understand it. And I haven’t even had a sex scandal yet!

The author calls into question the shifting moral zeitgeist, stating that atheists in the 19th and early 20th century believes some obviously illiberal things, therefore who’s to say that what we believe now won’t be irrelevant in 70 years more?

Here’s the thing, Christianity is (again) prey to the same foibles; slave owners used the Bible as justification. The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, has been called timeless… But my own personal statement, “to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it,” and to attempt to minimize any negative impact I may have on others in my life, can be expanded universally. If we all cared for each other as much as we professed to, the world would be an amazing place.

I am about to give you two statements. See if you can spot the difference:

“It’s probably just as well that the current generation of atheists seems to know so little of the longer history of atheist movements. When they assert that science can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way.”

“It’s probably just as well that the current generation of Christians seems to know so little of the longer history of Christian movements. When they assert that religion can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way.”

I’d like to think that point makes itself, but Christianity defended slavery, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition. Hitler framed the Holocaust using his own personal Catholic belief.

His own personal belief. Now here’s the fun question: How do you know your beliefs are the right ones? Hitler thought his were. They were evil. Stalin thought his were. They were evil.

So here’s an idea, you may find it crazy, but I came up with this idea, where we get people together, we don’t even ask what their religion is, and talk about how we can increase the happiness of the entire populace. And then see what happens! (Pro tip: half the people will be racist, the rest sexist. Because humans are generally pretty terrible. If you don’t fully believe me, allow the people to attend anonymously, see how they act when no one knows their name.)

“How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism.”

I, too, can make unfounded claims and then say “I have a source!” and then not tell you what that source is!

Mocking aside, altruism and reciprocal altruism has been observed in many species outside of the human race. Various primates and some birds (everyone needs to learn more about Crows!!!) have what appears to be a sense of justice, or at least a propensity to shame members who break certain rules that we would generally link to morality. If you are sticking with “God given morals,” I would ask “Why would God have given the same moral set to about half of a percent of species?”

I can explain group dynamics to a degree using science. Explain to me your side, and I will direct you (again) to various works of biologists. I am most familiar with the works of Dawkins, are are many–and I don’t mean The God Delusion, that is an offshoot. He is a professional biologist, and most of his published works are related directly to the science of biology, and too many people forget that. I seem to recall a saying that could explain it: “A man can raise sheep for 20 years, and be a shepherd… But if he speaks once against religion, he is now only an atheist.”

I’ve raised several questions, and summarized the first half of the top linked article exactly. I think that is a good place to end this part. Obviously, there’s more to come.

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