Tomorrow on the TV show: BAD creationist arguments

Well, it appears that tomorrow is the annual episode where the first half hour is preempted by Mormons. So it’s going to be extra short. You should tune in anyway at 5:00; we will start taking calls as early as possible, but if there aren’t enough calls then I’ll do my topic on easy evolution stuff.

In my February episode, I started what I intended to be a series on evolution. The February episode was about the reasons why evolution and atheism are so often linked. This episode will be mostly about incredibly lame anti-evolution arguments, many of them advanced by young earthers, that are even discredited by the saner creationists.

First I’ll be covering the generic “argument from incredulity” that is the cornerstone of many anti-evolution arguments. We’ll talk about evolution being only a theory, and being a theory of chance, Then I’ll briefly go over the motivation behind young earth beliefs, and some other arguments such as Lord Kelvin’s mistaken estimate of the age of the universe, the moon dust argument, and probably the Paluxy dinosaur tracks. If there’s time, I’ll wrap up by talking a little about the overall problem with the creationist approach, where they mistakenly believe that a solidly established scientific theory can be instantly dismissed with a single “magic bullet” argument.

If I don’t have time to do all this, the subject may continue into next month; I’m in no big hurry. Otherwise, next month Matt suggests that I temporarily turn away from creationism and go after the positive evidence in favor of evolution. This is assuming that I have time to appear, since I have to study for spring final next month. In any event, after that episode I’ll do one on intelligent design, likely recapping my review of Darwin’s Black Box and either my experiences at the Texas school board hearings or a recap of the Dover trial, which I know Matt has followed a lot.

If you have any additional suggestions regarding tomorrow’s show, leave it in comments.

A chocolate penis = “an all-out war on Christianity”!?

Well, blustery Catholic League bigmouth Bill Donohue has made it clear now. It’s not that there’s a statue of Jesus made of chocolate that’s sent him into apoplexy. It’s that you can see the Son of Man’s sainted peter.

“They wouldn’t show a depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. with genitals exposed on Martin Luther King Day, and they wouldn’t show Mohammed depicted this way during Ramadan. It’s always Christians, and the timing is deliberate.”

Can someone please explain to me Christians’ pathological fear of human genitalia? I mean, it’s like, the mere sight of a dick or a pair of boobs, and they run screaming into the hills, where they’re soon to be found shivering under a tree trunk and eating grass and bugs to stay alive.

Historically, if Jesus had been executed by the Romans by crucifixion, then it’s practically certain he’d have been stripped butt naked. It’s not as if the Romans had such tender sensibilities that they’d respect the dignity of someone they’d declared an enemy of the state and sentenced to death by covering him up with a loincloth. Good grief.

Donohue’s right that you wouldn’t create a statue of MLK on MLK Day showing him nude, because there’s no valid historical context for showing him nude. Duh.

Now we have this gallery director looking like he’s going to resign over this preposterous flap. Good grief.

Seriously, Christians. What is it with you and naked bodies? What’s the big deal? Grow up already.

“Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies.”

A fine quote from this most worthwhile essay by A.C. Grayling, criticizing religious belief as a practice and analyzing the roots of the “quarrel” between believers and atheists. Grayling, along with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, argued for the atheists’ side in a debate in England on March 27, which ended in a decisive victory for non-belief. The premise of the debate was “We’d be better off without religion.” And it carried by audience vote, 1205 to 778. Arguers for theism — Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey — found themselves thoroughly pwned. Seriously, America is slipping into becoming an intellectual third-world country compared to the UK and Europe.

Christofascism in the schools

One common whine of theocratic Christians is that mean ol’ atheists “took God out of the schools” with the 1962 Murray v. Curlett decision, and that America has been going to hell in a handbasket ever since. The omnipresence of 24-hour media makes rare, isolated crimes like Columbine stand out, creating a sufficient atmosphere of fear that people ignore the fact that overall, things like violent youth crime and teen pregnancy rates have been trending downwards steadily over the last few decades. (Unlike the Christians, I am not arguing a direct causal link here; only that the argument that crime increases if people aren’t having Christianity shoved down their throats is demonstrably false.)

Christians respond to the lack of state-mandated religion for students by complaining that this is anti-Christian presecution in action. And yet, a scan of the real world whenever religion rears its ugly, pock-marked head in a scholastic environment very often shows that the reverse is true. Christians take on a mob mentality and mercilessly harass and intimidate anyone who even suggests that open, unconstitutional religious activity in public schools might be inappropriate.

When a teacher in a Florida school complained that the principal was inappropriately placing Christian paraphernalia around the flagpole, she found herself suspended on trumped-up charges of helping a student cheat on a test, and has been blackballed in the rest of her community. A more open-and-shut case of religious harrassment you couldn’t find.

It’s entirely legal for students to do the babble-to-your-invisible-friend-around-the-flagpole-after-school thing, just as it’s entirely legal for them to take their Bibles to school, for them to pray on their own when they get a free moment, or whatever. The only thing the Constitution prohibits is the school itself, as a government-run institution, either making religious exercises mandatory, or creating an atmosphere in which students and faculty who choose not to partake in these primitive rituals feel shunned or threatened.

For the principal and other school administrators to participate in the after-school flagpole prayers created a legally questionable situation. And that is all this teacher did: raise questions. For this, she finds herself victimized, threatened with her livelihood, and defamed. Even some parents who are supportive of the teacher have been threatened.

Several parents would not comment on the record, and one mother asked that her name not be used because she “was threatened to not be allowed back on campus if I say anything about it.”

Threatened by the very same “loving,” “moral” God-botherers who think that their brand of righteousness is what is needed in our schools and workplaces — hell, just about any public venue they can grab — if the horrors of the secular, liberal world aren’t to destroy the fine fabric of our godly civilization. And if you disagree, don’t show your faces around here, bitches. It’d be a shame if somethin’ was to happen to ya.

It’s sacrelicious!

Man, and I thought Piss Christ was funny! A Manhattan art gallery has begun displaying a life-sized statue of a nude, crucified Jesus made entirely out of 200 pounds of chocolate! Hey, chocolate, Easter &#151 the connection makes sense to me.

Predictably, Catholic League blowhard Bill Donohue has blown a gasket. Thing is, I’m not entirely clear what he’s offended by — that Jesus is made out of chocolate, or that he’s in the nude (which he most likely would have been had he really been a victim of crucifixion). I know there’s a scriptural ban on graven images, but the Catholic church has ignored that one for centuries. So what’s a little chocolate hurt?

Well, it could have been worse. Think how livid Donohue would be if the artist had had colored eggs falling out of Jesus’s…uh…

Okay, okay, I’ll stop. This is a family blog.

What part of omnipotent does Dan continue not to understand?

Right on cue, Dan Marvin has tried to respond to my last couple of posts about the Problem of Evil. Here’s one typical passage.

We wouldn’t know how God is righteous as he is, everlastingly, and give him glory for it if it hadn’t had of been for unrighteousness, we wouldn’t know he’s loving as he is if it hadn’t been for sin, we wouldn’t know he’s holy if it weren’t for judgment.

Sharp-eyed readers will note this is the very point I addressed and destroyed in my original post. Dan does not recognize that he has in no way refuted me. As usual, he’s simply dodged the issue. If God were omnipotent, he could have given us a full understanding of sin, unrighteousness, and evil and still created a world in which no children ever get raped. That’s why omnipotence is, like, way kewl. You can do anything, right?

Dan also seems to think my solution — simply that God could have created no human beings with a propensity for pedophilia — constitutes the complete removal of free will and establishment of a “dictatorship.” Yes, Dan is exactly this stupid. Creating no humans who can rape a child is no more an imposition on free will than to have created no humans who could fly by flapping their arms or breathe underwater or teleport from one side of the planet to another. I desperately want to be able to teleport. Think of all the time saved sitting in traffic. But I can’t! Oh no! There’s no free will!

(For those in the crowd working at Dan’s level of understanding, that last bit was snark.)

What part of omnipotent doesn’t Dan understand?

The irrepressible (I’m sure people around here have other adjectives they’d prefer) Dan Marvin keeps on keepin’ on in the comments. This time, he thinks he’s come up with a real stump-the-atheist slamdunk. Behold.

So I pose to you “You are God” how would you do thing different then him to solve the issues that he has? Remember you have an entire race to deal with. Millions of variables how would you solve his issues? Play God for a day and set the world strait. Pick a subject of your choice and solve it better then him.

Ooo. Gee. If I were God. Wow. I have enough time trying to control my two dogs and my one-eyed cat. Don’t lay a whole God trip on me, man!

Dan here is basically saying, “Look, guys, don’t you understand that being God is hard work? I mean, he has an entire race to deal with! And having to choose between all the millions of variables, just think how hard it must be for him to solve all his issues! Could you do better? Cut the Guy some slack already!”

To which we calmly reply, Dan, you dink, your God is supposed to be omnipotent (no limits to his abilities), omniscient (no limits to his knowledge past, present, or future), and omnibenevolent (no limits to his goodwill towards humanity). Suddenly, we pesky atheists bring up things like war, pestilence, and child rape, and the only way you can defend your God’s inaction on these horrors is to transform him from the transcendent, supernatural, all-powerful deity you insist we must worship to save ourselves, into some pitiful, overworked middle-management schmoe who’s doing the best he can under really tough, trying conditions. And anyway, could we presume to do better?

Of course, any omniscient, omnipotent being who really wanted to sort out the millions of issues plaguing a whole race (I assume Dan means species; of course, there’s more than one of those around) could do so without lifting a finger, by an act of pure will alone. That’s the whole benefit of being, you know, omni-everything!

Dan really needs to understand what he’s defending before he tries to defend it. But it’s not as if I’m surprised his attempts at theodicy are as pitiful as every other argument he’s tried to present us over the past month.

In which another child is raped, and God’s nonexistence is again proved

Here’s a brief and sad little article. Country star Wynonna Judd is divorcing her estranged husband because he had sex with a minor under 13. In her public statement, she makes the kind of casually thoughtless religious remark that believers make which demonstrates how little they care actually to examine what they’ve been taught to believe. (Emphasis added.)

“Our family will pull together, begin the healing process and hopefully — by the Grace of God — become stronger. We will move forward with our faith, family and our friends to find resolution to this difficult situation.”

Cue automatic atheist response: If you’re so confident your God will help you overcome this “difficult situation,” where was He when your ex-husband was putting a tweener through the “difficult situation” of statutory rape? I guess God likes you better, eh?

Christians reflexively fall back on the Appeal to Free Will whenever the Problem of Evil — always illustrated to maximum effectiveness when a child is harmed — pops up to inconvenience their God’s best selling points, e.g., his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence. The idea is that God cannot ever interfere with our most precious gift, our free will, because to do so would make us “robots,” and God doesn’t want to be worshipped by mindless robots who don’t do anything that isn’t pre-programmed. No, He wants us to come to him by our own free choice and love.

What Christians don’t recognize is that the mere claim their God is omniscient negates the notion of free will. If God is omniscient, then he knows every choice you’re going to make from cradle to grave. Even if he doesn’t directly influence it, the mere fact he knows it calls into question that the choice is entirely yours. I’ve heard Christians engage in all kinds of rhetorical contortionism to squirm out of this one. My ex-wife tried to tell me that God “swears off knowing” certain things to allow for true free will. But you cannot “swear off knowing” something you already know. I cannot wake up in the morning and decide that I don’t know my address or my own birthday. I’ve heard that God’s omniscience means he actually knows all possible choices you might make. But this still means that in the end he knows which one you will make.

So either God is omniscient or He isn’t. If He is, human free will cannot exist. QED.

Another intractable problem plagues Christians who try to use the Appeal to Free Will to justify God’s allowing crimes like genocide, mass murder, or the rape of children. I’ve heard so many excuses here I cannot catalog them all. One of the few that has any persuasive power at all is that God must allow evil in order that people may have standards of nobility, courage, and goodness to which to aspire. Without Hitler, would those of us who opposed him have had the opportunity to present the world with a glorious moment of triumph for the concepts of justice, morality, freedom, equality, hope and heroism? If no one ever did wrong, how would you know the difference between right or wrong in order to choose the right?

Persuasive until, perhaps, you consider that such concepts were not necessarily alien to the world at large before the rise of Hitler or any other tyrant you might care to name. It’s not as if there was anyone sitting around in 1938 — other than the racist, lunatic demagogues (and no, they weren’t atheist) who planned the Final Solution, that is — thinking to themselves, “Gee whiz, I just can’t figure out if it’s right or wrong to murder millions of innocent people in converted gas chambers and dispose of their bodies in industrial ovens.”

That one needs a God to first draw of the list of what’s right or wrong before we can comprehend morality was handily disposed of by the Euthyphro Dilemma. Is a certain act right or wrong because God says so? Then what is His basis for characterizing them as such? Is an act — even one like child rape — morally neutral until God slaps the label “wrong” on it? Then His decision would appear to be entirely arbitrary, and God could just as easily have labeled it “right.” On the other hand, if God has reasons for labeling acts as right or wrong, then those reasons necessarily exist independently of God and are rooted in the observable, tangible consequences of the acts. Any thinking being can draw the same conclusions, and God becomes irrelevant to moral development.

Two more problems demolish the Appeal to Free Will as a rebuttal to the PoE.

  • Christians seem to forget that innocent victims have free will too. So in the spectacle of child rape, let us say we have three actors. 1) The rapist, whose free will is dictating, “I intend to rape this child.” 2) The victim, whose free will is screaming out, “Help, I don’t want to be raped.” 3) God, standing on the sidelines whistling and buffing His nails, saying, “Sorry, I simply cannot interfere. Free will, don’t you know.” Whose free will? Well, in this case, it can only be the rapist’s. God is in essence favoring the free will of the rapist over that of the innocent victim, rendering Him no less evil than the rapist himself. Thus Christians are put in the embarrassing position of realizing they have spent the last 2000 years worshipping the patron God of child molesters.
  • Free will only refers to the ability to want to do something. It refers to a mental process only. To interfere with an actual act in no way impedes the exercise of free will. The FBI might get a tip and thwart a terrorist attack before it occurs. Has the terrorists’ free will been violated? Not at all. Even as they’re being led away in cuffs, they still have every bit as strong a desire to inflict terror and violence. They simply cannot act upon that desire. A crippled man may want to walk, a person with cancer may want to walk out of the hospital in perfect health to enjoy a long life. They cannot do those things, but that will never stop them wanting it.

So the Appeal to Free Will is thus refuted. As long as there are innocent victims of evil, then the Problem of Evil will continue. And while the PoE does not necessarily prove that no God of any kind exists (the indifferent god of deism is utterly untouched by it), it does prove that no God that could possibly matter — that no God anyone would have any reason to worship and court favors from through prayer (and isn’t the act of prayer itself a denial of the Christian claim that God cannot intervene directly in human affairs, since prayers themselves are requests for God to do exactly that?) — exists.

The “Thou Shalt Not Judge” Mind Game

Often, the hidden messages of a phrase carry more weight than its literal interpretation. The phrase “Thou shalt not judge,” is a fine example. It’s an adaptation from a quote attributed to Jesus, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37). Although the Bible has other passages encouraging judging, the phrase in question has far more currency today, especially among liberal Christians. I believe its lasting popularity is due to a rather dark mind game that it carries with it. The mind game has several components.

First, the phrase is most often used in a context where some obvious wrong has been committed, but is being excused by the speaker. It’s one thing to acknowledge a mistake, learn from it, and make amends. It’s another thing entirely to sweep it under the rug. The hidden message is that you, too, have skeletons in your closet, so don’t draw attention to this one. Such a message is simply an abdication of responsibility.

The phrase is also often used between believers as a kind of collusion between thugs in the name of the thug boss, God. To use it is to say, “Keep your nose out of my business with the mafia boss, and I’ll stay out of your business. Otherwise, the boss will rub you out.” It is a kind of promise that if you excuse the speaker’s act of thuggery he’ll look the other way when you later commit yours. Occasionally, it’s used as a kind of religious tolerance mechanism to deal with the fact that there are thousands of sects of Christianity, each with their own unique and contradictory interpretation of the Bible. As long as the harm in question is directed against non-Christians, it should be excused in the name of ecumenicism.

At another level, using the phrase is admission that there is no solid morality on which to decide moral issues. With a lack of any sort of absolute morality from God, the speaker is left to create a smoke screen that distracts from this uncomfortable fact. The notion of an absolute morality from God is perhaps one of the most pernicious myths of the western religions.

Biblical passage is really a prohibition against being a hypocrite. That contextualized meaning has long since vanished, apparently. The hidden messages of the shorter phrase have far more utility. In the future, listen closely in the situations when “thou shalt not judge” is used. See if you can find someone avoiding responsibility for their actions or beliefs; looking to make a shady deal to downplay an act of thuggery; or hiding the fact that they don’t have a sound basis to tell right from wrong. When you catch someone using the phrase in this manner, call them on the carpet. Judge.