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.

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Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 4)

And now we conclude our rebuttal of this article, which is purportedly about what makes New Atheists stay up at night, sweating in fear of the Truth of Religion (I think).

The fourth section lasted several paragraphs before tripping over a line that shows a misunderstanding of general atheism by the author. I suppose this isn’t surprising, and his misunderstanding is slightly less militant than Phil Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty) who seems to think that Atheism is a path whose inevitable conclusion is killing and raping your family. 

I think the misunderstanding starts with the author’s assertion that “Above all, these unevangelical atheists accepted that religion is definitively human.” I think he takes that to be a validation, that humans are religious because … Reasons? The evolutionary psychology of Religion is an incredibly interesting field, and while we certainly cannot say with definitive conclusion what caused religion to spawn across time and distance as it has, we have very compelling theories as to why religion may be built into the human brain.

The issue I have, then, is that the author claims “Why should religion be universal in this way? For atheist missionaries this is a decidedly awkward question,” as though he knows the mind of the atheist.

I have not had questions about this very idea for a long time–I do not even recall the source from which I took a compelling answer. The odd thing is that the author seems to be so sure that religion is part of the human experience, yet ignores the fact that the staggering number of religions and superstitions seem to indicate a disparate beginning. Certainly this author writes from the standpoint of a Christian, but there are many hundreds or thousands of religions, most forgotten now, that predate even the earliest records of Judaism. Considering Adam and Eve are supposed to have regularly talked with God, starting only shortly after creation, it is odd that there would be religions older than such ideas.

Now, we have to consider geography in looking for religious roots and histories. I cannot say I am a historian, just a layperson who reads about this stuff frequently, but why should North American religions have so little in common with middle Eastern religions which again have so little in common with sub-Saharan religions?

The Creation narrative shoots itself in the foot, especially considering how recently all of humankind is supposed to have been in close geographical proximity (more recently than 4400 years ago, according to young earth creationists). But let’s give the author the benefit of a doubt and assume he does not subscribe to young earth views–I would still ask him why he would think religion is universal because of his particular God, and not because of any other mechanism? Certainly, evolution gives us a good reason for having many different religions (and a reason for having religions at all), but why should an all-knowing Creator-God spawn as many religions as there are peoples?

And I am not going to assert this question is awkward to you; my mother, a devout Catholic, answered that question for me in an instant and without hesitation. Her answer was not based in doctrine, but her answer was at least logically sound.

“Yet they never ask what evolutionary function this species-wide phenomenon serves.” I’ve answered this indirectly (and directly) during this series, but that statement is objectively false. Rallying around an idea larger than we are allows us to form strong tribal bonds. Even the ideas of theism (rather than just the idea of theism) even crafts rules almost hilarious transparent to scrutiny that would create group relationships. A Christian sect that preaches love and tolerance will gain members who wish to love and tolerate, and they will defend each other, give each other food and money. Charity, a core doctrine of the Church, gains additional members and gains members powerfully.

Pagan cults? Even fertility cults? They create a strong endorphin and dopamine reaction within its members, a simulation of love (or just ‘love’ as the case may be) between its members, again creating strong tribal bonds.

The idea of having a ruler chosen by a higher power, such as Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, and Middle Ages Kings, gives the people following that leader a reason to swear fealty. Many who have sworn fealty to a single person will defend each other, defend the tribe, defend the border.

No, Mr Author, this is not a question I am afraid of. The evolutionary benefits of religion are far reaching and apparent.

“If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?” If your version of giving value to a life is standing in opposition of rights for homosexuals, picketing abortion clinics that serve women who have been raped, kill doctors in the name of … Not killing? If those are the things that give meaning to your life, I think the idea of love and tolerance have flown over your head. If you think your religion of love and tolerance allows for racism, or hatred, then it is not a religion of love and tolerance.

Oh, I realize that not all Christians spew bigoted hatred, and that is why I don’t preach for the abolition of religion. That being said, I do have to admit that I do not have a clear idea of how we can make the world a better place in the context of religion. The Bible belt, with its latent racism, weird cult offshoots of your religion (Warren Jeffs still creeps me out something fierce)… There’s so much wrong with the world.

There are things wrong with Atheists, too — I won’t say there is something wrong with Atheism, because not believing in God is an incredibly wide net. Most atheists don’t believe in atheism, as many religious adherents tend to frame it–that is a uniquely religious view of atheism–we just don’t believe in God one way or another. While the metaphor isn’t perfect, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have each posited in their own way that “I don’t play tennis, therefore should I identify as ‘a-tennisist’?” Like non tennis players simply don’t think about tennis, many atheists simply do not think about God in any of His/Her/Their incarnations.

Obviously I do not fall under that umbrella; I think about it in that I am here writing. Many religious adherents have stated they believe atheists “hate” God, or some variation of that thought, but I don’t hate God–I just think the general conception of God has so many faults I cannot believe in Him or Her as He or She stands. Too many humans have given God too many different and wildly incongruous personality traits over too many years for me to believe that God is timeless and eternal and wholly separate from Earth. There are too many inconsistencies in the Bible, for all Kent and Eric Hovind have tried to convince me otherwise (even a cursory reading of only the most popular parts of the Bible can find several inconsistencies).

“More than anything else, our unbelievers seek relief from the panic that grips them when they realise their values are rejected by much of humankind.” No, Author — why must you ascribe thoughts to me that I have never had? I am not panicked any more than you are by the fact that there are people who do not believe as you believe–I just despair that there is so much sadness and inequality, I despair that there are those that are starving not because of a lack of food, but because of a lack of human decency. I despair that there are sweatshops in far too many countries, and that so many people so readily support them in the quest for a dollar. If there is a flaw in my vision of morality, please tell me and I will attempt to rectify. I do not believe my morality is flawed merely because a 9th century BC shepherd didn’t think of it first, nor because a 1st century Ascetic did not preach them on a mountain (though, to a degree, he did what with the Golden Rule and all).

What I want is not to press my ideals upon others–what I want is a dialogue whose goal is purely to identify how to improve the human condition, to improve happiness worldwide. I understand there are those who would want to stand by their prejudices and racism, but here is my rule of thumb in a nutshell (if you can find fault in my method, I will attempt to improve it):

Homosexuality, whose happiness does it damage? Strict religious devotees. Why does it damage their happiness? Because someone told them to.

Strict religious devotees, whose happiness do they damage? Homosexuals. Why does it damage their happiness? Because a 4th century book told those devotees to treat other humans as less than human (or at least as less than themselves).

Which seems more grounded in the ideals of the Golden Rule?

This is obviously a small scale application, but I do hope it paints a picture of how we could use a series of similar questions to create a morality that maximizes universal happiness.

Then again, maybe I am just a crazy optimist…

That wraps up the article. I think I have, through the last four parts of this series, tackled his most egregious statements he made as to my own personal beliefs. I think his article shows a closed mindedness, and being as made simple statements that a conversation with even a single atheist could have proven false, I feel as though the author is as set in his beliefs as he believes your everyday atheist is.

I realize I may have asked similarly vacuous questions in the past, I am young, I am no professional writer, and I started this blog largely to work through my own personal crises. Given the audience that John Gray (the author) is writing for, I would expect a higher level of journalistic integrity from him than I would hold myself to–and yet while well written from the standpoint of “Yes, I can read that easily,” it is poorly sourced and contains no small hints of biases and latent … Theicism?

I like that word. I am keeping it.

Anyway, I think the average atheist is far more reasonable and open to skepticism and doubt than the author believes. Certainly, I am open to free discussion and alteration of my ideas, and I certainly am not free from the doubt of what happens to me when I die, so maybe it is just that I am the wrong kind of atheist. *Shrug*

Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 3)

Alternate title: Nietzsche’s Problems with Scientific Racist Nazis

The third section of this article starts off with a bang leveling so many unfounded claims that the Bullshit Per Sentence ratio in that first paragraph reaches Fox News levels.

The problem with having the answer to a question asked is that so often you are ignored. I am not the first to posit a morality based on mutually assured survival (one would think the acronym MAS would resonate a little with the religious crowd, no?). Given Evolution seeks survival, and people working together survive best, I can’t see why I should have so much trouble selling this as a sort of prevailing morality.

Anyway, this author is stuck to the idea that saying you do something “Because Science,” is some sort of binding holy oath, and if one person happens to say “Science shows racism is the cool thing to do,” all other scientists are now (for some reason) obligated to agree.

I don’t understand the thought process here. As I’ve mentioned before, saying you’ve done something in the name of science does not indicate that any science has, in fact, been done. (Yes, I will use science as a verb. You can’t stop me.) While Nazis may have claimed their racism has roots in science, no data was shown. Where were the experiments? The predictive capabilities? Oh, the Nazis did plenty of experiments, but very little data was found regarding racism. We did learn a TON about the human body, and you are welcome to throw that out if moral grounds require it of you — I don’t condone what the Nazis did, but it cannot be undone, and their actions (ironically) have probably saved or improved more lives than World War II ended. That, dear author, was done in the name of science. Science gone mad, science gone wrong, but that is science — experiments were done, data was collected, predictions made, and treatments for a huge variety of diseases or conditions were created.

And in all of that, nothing data-wise to show that the Aryan Race was genetically anything other than “A bunch of white guys.”

Another issue I take with this author is his use of “liberal morality” as some sort of talisman, as if it is liberals only who have a different idea of morality, as compared to conservatives. Please allow me to paint a picture, using only a few words, and you can tell me why it is liberal or conservative, or why my version of morality is in some way skewed.

Evolution has a goal of continued survival -> Survival is easier in groups -> Larger groups survive better -> To have a large group, you must get along (more or less) -> To get along, you must help each other.

The terminating point there is more important than I can probably ever describe. What I do, to make others happy, to try to get along, to empathize and help, to love and like and assist, all of that moves towards a goal of social cohesion, of group survival. But it doesn’t have to end here — if we accepted those of other nationalities, of other creeds, of other social groups, we could ensure the survival of not just our group but of our planet. If the Russians and Americans and Chinese would just treat each other with due respect, give each other the benefit of human decency, we wouldn’t have to be afraid of any wars — a year from now, ten, one hundred, one thousand. That is why I will try to press my morality against yours, against those who would quote Leviticus and hate gays, over those in all centuries up to and including the 21st, who quote the Bible as supporting their right to own foreign slaves, to those who enforce border guarding with force–that force extending to murder.

Is there really anything so futile as killing people because of invisible lines that someone several hundred years ago drew? This isn’t purely about religious morality, this extends beyond it, to being a kind human to those even if the Bible doesn’t tell you that you have to.

And there’s the rub; people will be nice to those they grew up with, hate those that the Bible tells them to hate (As the WBC has informed me), and then treat with general indifference, to the worsening of our entire planet, anyone outside of the above two groups.

And my “liberal morality” is “highly questionable” as per the article. I can’t even describe how sad that thought process makes me.

The author then makes a claim that the New Atheists wish for a world where religion never existed, but this is purely academic. It doesn’t matter if they want that or not, they can’t have it, so let’s not even waste breath and distract each other with talking about it. I don’t want a world where religion never existed–I don’t even care for a world in which religion doesn’t exist going forward… All I want is a world where all humans are just decent to each other, regardless of race, religion, creed, nationality, gender, sexual orientation… How about we treat each other decently based on the highest order thing we all share; species. We are all humans, and as far as your God is concerned, I think we are all equally human and equally culpable for our own actions.

The problem I have is that too many people rely on religion for their horrible motivations. Oh, I realize that saying “I do this for God,” is just as vacuous to you as “I do this because science,” is to me. The problem is that while science has strict codes of conduct regarding what actually counts as science, the Bible is a mess, a hodgepodge of conflicting language and ideas–it makes it easy for you to quote a Bible verse regarding your own morality while I can counter with a Bible verse supporting my own version. As far as Biblical morality, perhaps it is you who will settle the ages old argument that Jesus and Paul had as to whether or not Christians should follow Jewish law. (And for those who have not read the Bible recently, Jesus unequivocally says during the Sermon on the Mount that, and I am quoting here, “17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-21)) Now, some have claimed that “until all is accomplished” means “Until Jesus died and was resurrected,” but that point was clarified with “Until Heaven and Earth disappear,” which has obviously not happened. Some people even like to quote Matthew 5:17,18.5, completely ignoring the part about Heaven and Earth. 

So until I see you sacrificing Doves every day you are ill, we can both agree that what counts as righteous and even moral in the Bible is no more immune to scrutiny than my own version.

And here, speaking directly of Nietzsche’s atheism, there is another correlation/causation fallacy. To go one level deeper, it is a chicken first or egg first debate. Did modern moral ideals come from religion, or did religion merely codify existing modes of thought? I know I don’t know the answer, but it has been a very long time since an evangelical elephant preached to me, but I know that an elephant sacrificed himself for the goodness of his herd in 1894, and there is not one iota of evidence to show that he was Christian. If morals come universally from religious texts, I would challenge the religious apologetic to tell me by what method birds were taught the methods of reciprocal altruism. One may say that they were put in birds by God during creation, but then I have to raise the same point as I did in part 2; how did God select which species got morals that humans would identify with, and which species are morally bankrupt? Again, evolution ties this ribbon beautifully, but I am certainly open to your making an attempt at it.

“The idea that the human species is striving to achieve any purpose or goal – a universal state of freedom or justice, say – presupposes a pre-Darwinian, teleological way of thinking that has no place in science.”

I don’t even know where to start with this sentence. Religion does not exist in a bubble, free from scientific principles–evolution existed before Darwin wrote of it, and whether religious adherents recognized it or not, they were agents of that overarching idea through all of history. Remember how I mentioned that evolution favors group survival tactics in many species? What is religion if not a group of like-minded individuals. Also, this sentence tries to place some sort of overarching goal on us of the author’s devising, despite the fact that a master goal already exists: To Survive.

Below that overarching master goal there are group goals and personal goals, but there is no other species-wide goal save to survive and pass our genes on to the next generation of survivors.

Since the goal of which he speaks doesn’t exist, one can brush away his assertion of presupposing a pre-Darwinian way of thinking. To quote Ron Swanson “Everything I do is what an award winner would do, for I have won an award.” Religion has a huge place in evolution, a place without which the human species may have fractured and died — but that does not forgive the Crusades, or the Inquisition. That does not forgive 9/11, or any of the subsequent bombings. That does not forgive the 2011 Norwegian Massacre. And just because we did need religion does not mean we do need religion.

Please permit me a metaphor:

When learning to swim, I needed water wings. Later in my life, I did not require water wings.

Religion is our moral water wings, but now we are racing against people who are good at swimming. Anyone wearing a flotation device can tell you that swimming at speed is almost impossible while wearing it–it may have helped before, but relying on the Bible for morals has been holding us back in recent decades. I am not saying abolish religion, but perhaps you can take off the water wings for a lap and see how moral you can be without the Book of Leviticus and its many Abominations.

It is at this point that I have to point out why my version of morality is so likely to succeed and make predictions based on that assertion. In a racist morality based on “science”, it can be predicted that only one race should survive, and that requires the death of many other humans, not of your selected race. How do you prove that those humans are less deserving of life than you? You cannot, therefore you reach a brick wall, a place where no amount of posturing and rhetoric can unstick you.

With an evolutionary morality based on mutually assured survival, and strong group cohesion within the entire human species, where is the brick wall? Where do I have to make an unfounded assertion requiring the rhetoric of a salesman to break through? As the group of morally bound people slowly grows, eventually all are members of the group, cared for and appreciated by every other member of the group. Mutual care and appreciate leading to mutual happiness. Eventually, the happiness of all members, in a perfect world.

I realize the world isn’t perfect, but in the morality of group happiness, I think malefactors will be punished very similarly to how they are today. There will still be racism, I know I can’t stamp that out with flowery optimism. But without set boundaries (you can only live with us if you accept our God(s)), I think the global community could grow much more quickly than it is today.

That being said, religion (despite its strict dogmas and threats of hell) has been unable, over 10000 years or more of human history, to curb our tribal instincts and desire to kill — and I doubt my way would have any greater success. The only thing that would be gained by eliminating religion would be to remove one more reason fanatics use to kill each other. And that is my pessimistic thought for the day.

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.

Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 1)

I think I may have used this title for a blog post before, but I’ll bet I spelled it differently, thus it is COMPLETELY UNIQUE.

In any case, this specific post is in relation to this article, whose author claims to know what has New Atheists all up in a tizzy. I — it is difficult to know where to start. Going through the article from top to bottom has proven surprisingly lacking in usefulness. I am going to start with a line that the author got amazingly correct, and I assure you, by reading context it was obviously accidental.

“In fact there are no reliable connections – whether in logic or history – between atheism, science and liberal values.” That is perfectly correct. I am an atheist. I am also a liberal. Further to that, I also believe science holds the answers to many questions over which religion attempts to claim absolute dominion. That being the case, and all of that being true, I would still never say my atheism led me to science, that my science led me to being liberal, or any other iterations of that web. These are independent areas of my life.

What led me to losing God was the inability of Christians to answer my questions. For my long time readers, you will remember (I hope) that I am still open to returning to the fold, should I receive satisfactory answers to so many of my questions. If you want to bring me back to the Light, I’d recommend starting with my blog post from yesterday, and answering what it is that would allow for men and women to be born with psychopathy; a complete lack of empathy, and almost no morals to speak of built into them. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

Back to the core point, though; why should my atheism ever be brought into the conversation when we are talking about human rights, or politics, or anything else? I do not support human rights because I am atheist, in the same way I hope your religion is not the only reason you support human rights. Were I to show incontrovertible proof that God did not exist, would you immediately support torture programs? To flip that, if you were to show me incontrovertible proof that God does exist, it would not affect my life. I like to live a good life, give to charities where I can afford it, show empathy to those in pain. That would not change, God or no, and even I would not accuse the average person, saying thus: “You are only moral because of God!”

So why is it so easy for so many Evangelical Christians to say “You support eugenics because you are an Atheist?”

That brings me, then, to the title. Atheists have done some awful things in the past. They have said some awful things. So have Christians. For some reason, many Evangelical Christians are oddly comfortable with saying “Stalin was an atheist, and look at what he did,” but will completely reverse their stance when you say “The Pope was a Christian, and look at the Spanish Inquisition!”

“Obviously,” they reply, “That Pope was a bad Christian.” Or, another tack, “We’ve made mistakes, but we’re better now!” They are allowed to say this, but when I say “I am in no way related to Stalin, I do not support Stalin’s views and methods, and I do not follow some core doctrine of atheism,” I am accused of at least one of several things. The first is the odd accusation of “If you don’t believe in God, how can you believe in anything! If you don’t believe in anything, you will believe everything!” (I think that is one of Eric Hovind’s favorite quotes.) I am accused of being some kind of passive atheist, that if I don’t have some kind of leadership in my beliefs, I can, again, believe in anything. That I am subject to my own whims. That my violent, baser nature can be curbed only by God, and that (this next one is a little bit hyperbole) I am a murderer waiting to happen because I don’t have God in my life to stop me.

I will concede that, as an atheist, there is no higher power to stop me from killing a hundred people then myself. There is no afterlife, no eternity in hell. That being said, what about Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre? In the name of God those men and women died. Oh, a corrupted version of God, not any recognizable form of Christianity, but that leads me to my next point.

People have been good in the past without God, and people have been evil in the past with God. Going into the future, people will do good in the name of God, and in the future people will do good in the name of humanity.

But that’s the rub; if someone supports eugenics, there seems to be some press to put a religious spin on it. But it can exist completely independent of religion. While you may have a block that prevents this thought from occurring to you, I would like to walk you through a thought experiment.

Imagine a world where there is no cancer. We never found a treatment for it, it just went away. There is no ALS, there is no Huntington’s disease. Not one person is born with Down’s Syndrome, not one person born with a deformity. The average life expectancy is pushing 100 years, and in the later stages of life a 95 year old is easily as spry and active as a 55 year old today.

This is all easily achievable in two generations, by my own layman’s estimation. All it requires is some light selective breeding on the part of humans. Maybe a taste of Eugenics.

Do I support eugenics? No, not personally. That being said, independent of religion, I understand that the benefits of it could be vast.

So why does an article like the above linked exist? Why is it that anyone today is allowed to say “Well, Haekel was an atheist, therefore everything he said and did was done and said because of his atheism”?

The author continues, hitting another accidental mark if only because of phrasing, “When organised as a movement and backed by the power of the state, atheist ideologies have been an integral part of despotic regimes that also claimed to be based in science, such as the former Soviet Union.” (Emphasis mine.)

I can say “I am murdering you for science!” I could say that, and it would be meaningless. Equally meaningless were Stalin’s plans, his policies, where he tried to back them with science. Where Haekel claimed that “… Other races are inferior scientifically,” he produced no evidence. He had no scientific standing.

His statement held as much water under scrutiny, an EQUAL AMOUNT, to when Jim Jones said “I do this because God told me to.” There is no evidence, no backing. No reason to take that statement as anything other than the idle personal speculations of a man who did not have the data he required (or had a surplus of crazy, as the case may be). Was Haekel an atheist? Yes. Were there racist atheists? Yes. But, and this may surprise you, there were also racist Christians. Please, keep yourself calm, these types of revelations can change your world–but it’s OK, everything will settle down with time.

The funny thing is that while Haekel baselessly claimed his racism had scientific backing, the Christian racists backed their racism in various Old Testament verses. Some of them believe that skin color (specifically, darker skin color) may even be the Mark of Cain! (And before you tell me that it is only Mormons who believe that, my Catholic Grandfather will preach the same idea to his death, I am sure.) And yet, so many seem blind to the apparent blatant cognitive dissonance.

The article linked is very long, and there is a lot to cover yet — and I will, again, put Part 1 up and then never follow up. There is much more to be said, and I hope I find time to say it all.

Missing the Mark

More AiG reading, in response to yesterday’s celebrations of Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday, and I find myself again reading too much into things and then writing stuff about those thinkings.

You see, in response to the scientific world celebrating the venerable scientist’s birthday, AiG published this article, declaring that February 12th be celebrated by the Church as Darwin was Wrong Day. Never mind the fact that I can find nothing of the Biblical teachings of love and tolerance in this proclamation from the great prophet Ken Ham (PBUH), the article itself makes so many cringe-worthy statements that it actually blew my mind a little. There were gems like “The evolutionary worldview is an attempt to explain the universe and life without God.” I think that misses the mark; it assumes that evolution started with the intent to write God out of science, which is just patently untrue; evolution was stumbled upon while trying to understand how the world works, and understand our place in it. The fact that we were looking and could not find God is not our problem, because our goal never had the word God in it in the positive or negative. How about the fact that we understand things like antibiotic resistant bacteria through the lens of evolution? I know it is your opinion, theoretical young earth creationist, that genetic information cannot be created — so how is it, then, that MRSA has become so resistant. Did it always have the ability to resist bacteria? Did it just have to believe in itself? Is it the plucky nerd in the 1980s romantic comedy that science clearly represents? Or did its actual genetic makeup change to allow it to resist the killing influence of traditional antibiotics?

Accidental self awareness is one of my favorite forms of comedy, and this statement made me laugh ruefully: “Sadly, many Christians buy into this religion and simply squeeze God into the gaps somewhere.” As though you don’t squeeze God into the gaps everywhere? When science says it doesn’t know something yet, you completely ignore the word “yet” and scream victory from the top of mountains, declaring that science doesn’t know so God did it. And that doesn’t constitute using God as some kind of mortar in the brick wall of knowledge? (If that metaphor missed the mark, as many of my own tend to, I was using the gaps between bricks as the gaps God fills.)

I do appreciate the journalistic integrity in this sentence, as the word “known” could have been left out to solidify his beliefs, but it plays nicely into my own narrative as written: “There are no known exceptions to this law.” The law in question is the law of Biogenesis, where life comes from; and they claim that life and only come from life. But as I’ve mentioned, we haven’t found the way life originates from non-life conclusively yet, though we are making strides. Richard Dawkins has a very good theory, I think, it’s just too bad we don’t live for 100,000 years to test it — we may never see it happen in nature or in a lab, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look.

“Yet, according to evolution, the law of biogenesis had to have been broken at least once when the first single-celled life emerged from non-living matter.” Therein lies the rub, friend; how many particles are there in the earth? How many atoms, how many molecules, how many bacteria — and, forgive me for my limited ability to observe, but you’d be hard pressed to watch every molecule in the Earth all the time every day. Who is to say that there are not new forms of single-celled organisms popping up in the deepest craters of the Earth every day? Just because we haven’t seen it yet doesn’t mean it can’t happen, and given the statistical numbers at play here, the chance of it happening could be very remote, and yet the law of large numbers need only account for one of them.

I don’t want to spend a whole paragraph on this one: “There never was a time when life arose from non-life because life came directly from the Life-giver, our Creator God, just as it says in Genesis. And that’s what observational science confirms!” Where did God come from? What evidence have you that He Himself never had a beginning. I mean, an infinite life form raises some serious concerns, like what was He doing before creation? Why did He choose to Create when He did? He was just randomly strolling through chaos for infinity quadrillion years, then created us?

“There is no known mechanism that can change one kind of animal into a totally different kind.” That one is false, and can be proven so using their own definition of kind without a great effort. This article explains it more thoroughly than I could, but suffice it to say that if a kind is an animal that can interbreed, then we have observed kinds changing into other kinds, and it happens all the time. Long story short, while a reptile may still be a reptile, it cannot breed with other reptiles that its parents can breed with, therefore it is a different kind. Perhaps I have misunderstood your definition of “kinds”, but I was under the impression that “kinds” can always interbreed.

“However, most mutations are negative or neutral to the organism.” This author is fighting their own conscience, I fear. Read that sentence over and over again, it is the greatest he has written, and possibly the most accidental. “Most”. That single word changes the sentence, ruins the picture, spills ink all over it. His admission that “most” mutations are neutral or negative leaves the door wide open for those very few, those rare, those amazing mutations that allow evolution to function. Yes, 99,999,999,999/100,000,000,000 mutations may be bad — but given the population of our wonderful planet, that still leaves the door wide open for beneficial mutations to function on an evolutionary level. Even in your 6,000 year old Earth, denying evolution based on the “most mutations are bad” argument is incredibly facile.

Now, this quote is going to be a long one, but bear with me for just a moment. “Evolution predicts that the human body should be filled with vestigial organs. These are supposed to be largely useless leftovers from our evolutionary past that have either lost their function or have reduced functionality. Over the years, around 180 organs have been labelled as vestigial, such as our appendix, coccyx, and pineal gland. This label hindered research into the actual function of these organs because, well, why bother researching a leftover of evolution?” (Emphasis mine)

That is the ultimate argument for our side, and I have no idea what level of cognitive dissonance allowed the writer to make that argument in favor of the YEC side. Their entire stance is predicated upon the idea that “The Earth is 6,000 years old, so why would you even want to research ways to tell its age?” That is the exact argument they just accused scientists of making, and then they made it for their side and I don’t even wblwblwblbwlwblbwlbwlwb. Woah, sorry. My brain went into a reboot condition there, the amount of willpower it takes to hold up that level of cognitive dissonance doesn’t fit into my mind’s calculation space.

Now I’ll give you a pair of quotes from that article, make of them what you will.

First: “God created the original kinds in Genesis and placed within each one the genetic information needed to survive in a changing environment. God knew that the Fall and the earth-changing global Flood of Noah’s day would come and, in His wisdom, He designed organisms with the genetic variability to be able to survive.”

Second: “Of course, because of the Curse and the Fall, things do not work quite the way God designed them to.”

Allow me to make one point of my own in this rebuttal, if you would indulge me. How do you account for things such as Cancer and Down’s Syndrome, in a world crafted by your loving God? These come not from some outside influence, not from some sin, but from our own genetics rebelling against us. Even accounting for mutations, why does the genetic information required to create cancer exist, if no new information can be generated by mutations? Are you saying God wrote cancer into our DNA?

Just a thought.