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?

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.

Can God and Evil Co-exist?

So I was watching a speech/lecture given by Mark Spence, who works for the Living Waters ministry. In it, he speaks about the conscience that is placed in all humans by God (You can read the preamble and watch the video here.)

During his lecture, he brings up the story of a little girl who went missing. Investigation found that she had been kidnapped, raped, and then tied up and buried alive. The story was truly difficult to listen to, but the way he parleys it into his next point is the part that staggered me.

“Don’t you want justice? Doesn’t it boil up inside of you?!

“That is your conscience, given to you by God!

“And if we have always felt that this type of thing is wrong, that means it did not evolve.”

I… Ok. Ok. Let’s decide where to start with this. These three statements contain so much wrong.

Have to calm myself down.

The first problem; he says the conscience is universal, but where was the conscience of the rapist/murderer? Did he know what he did was wrong?

The third line, there, is an unholy (ehehehe) amalgamation of evolution and religion. Of course our morals could have evolved; they had billions of years to evolve group dynamics and relative morality before there was anything even resembling a human on the Earth.

Your statement, that it had to come into existence fully formed, already assumes that humans were created all at once. There is no science that speaks to this idea.

Why is your Bible an absolute? Can you attest to its having been written by God? Can you attest even to the Pentateuch being written by Moses? Because I can attest to its having been finalized by a group of humans in the fourth century. How many Gospels were thrown out? What about the Christians between say the year 100 and 397? For those 297 years, did they accidentally read blasphemous Bibles that contained things that were later thrown out? Why did God wait until 360 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection to have a Canonized Bible?

If we are going down that rabbit hole, I really have to ask a question, one I have asked before, one I will ask again: If Adam sinned right out of the gate, and Jesus didn’t come until some 4000 years after Creation (by their own timeline). What was God doing for those 4000 years? Those people all just went to hell?

The reason I went down this train of thought is because things are not so clean and pristine as I’m being sold. The Bible is not a clean work, free of human corruption. And there are many pieces of provenance that show many of the hands that have touched the Bible.

Why does your messy conglomerate of books count as “Absolute, objective morality?”

If a book was written by a man, then edited by a second, then a third, then a fourth, repeat for x, you would question the authenticity of the book. If that man’s hand was Moses, apparently “Oh yes, absolutely correct,” is valid… But if that hand was “Dawkins”, you would ask a thousand questions. And when you have standards that only apply to your opponents, you should think about those standards.

Now, I realize as a human that I am flawed, and I have double standards–but I do try to resolve them where I find them. The issue with the double standards of “The Bible” versus “Literally anything else,” is that the double standard is institutionalized, codified, subscribed to, and referenced as “A good thing,” by many in the creationist movement…

Why is that? How is that?

Sorry, this got a little scatterbrained. I just don’t understand how it is so easy to write off certain questions for those in the Creationist movement, while levying those same complaints against their opponents, and when I try to follow that thread through my head I end up all over the place.

The Odd Problem with Learning from your Mistakes…

… is that your opponents will remember your mistakes long after you are dead.

This isn’t only about religion, but it comes up a lot in religious debates–between religious people and atheists, or religious people and other religious people, between atheists and other atheists, and I think it is setting everyone back, setting the whole human race back.

I don’t have the citation on me, but an article I read recently criticized so called “liberal views of morality” by saying “in the late 19th century, atheists were racists.” I’ve spoken about that idea extensively in previous posts, noting that “so were the religious among us,” because most people in that era were racist. Most people today are racist to some degree, though obviously not as bad as say… Turn of the century American South.

That being said, the whole argument is moot, isn’t it? “Remember that time when you were four and you peed in that guy’s shoe? You’re 28 now, and I still don’t trust you around my shoes.”

That statement is absurd, so why is it not considered absurd to say “19th century atheists were sometimes bigots,” or “But look at the crusades!”? Those were mistakes, they will forever be considered mistakes, and you will be hard pressed to find someone involved in main stream politics who says “The crusades were justified!” So why do things like this even come up?

Why do we talk about how a 19th century liberal philosopher was a racist? Why does that same 19th century philosopher undermine my ability to posit a better moral outlook today? The author I spoke at great length about in my previous series of posts seemed to think I am culpable for what other atheists have done (and his article can be read here). That completely ignores that fact that we have, as a society and as a whole, grown up.

Saying that the Bible, a book canonized in the third and fourth centuries, is the final word on morality is just a like a twenty-eight year old saying “Peeing in shoes at four was good enough then, so it’s good enough now.”

And saying “Some humans got it wrong 120 years ago, so you have it wrong today,” is grossly disingenuous.

So I’ll say it again; let’s work together, maybe? Find a better moral code, a moral code that improves the happiness of everyone? A moral code that does not accept or endorse bigotry towards people who have caused no one harm?

Or we can complain that old timey people were racist, and argue that this is somehow relevant.

Maybe that works, too?

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.