On AETV today

Matt’s still out sick, so it’ll be me and Tracie today. One of the things I’ll be doing is responding to an email from a young atheist viewer in Italy, who’s asked for help in arguments he’s having with a Christian professor. I thought this one would be fun to smash live for all to see, instead of just via email response. The professor makes statements in his email to this viewer reflecting such poor thinking that, if the educational system in Italy is so bad that a man this stupid can achieve a career in academia, then it frankly makes Texas look not so bad.

See you on UStream in about 4 hours! Consider this post an open discussion thread on today’s show.

Heartless

So there’s this young man of Japanese/Italian descent, name of Takumi, by all accounts very smart and outgoing, with fluency in seven languages. He’s suffering from a condition called Ventricular Septal Defect. He has three holes in his heart, and this year alone he’s already had two heart attacks and a stroke. It would be nice to know this young fellow had the support of a loving and devoted family to see him through his health crisis. But that’s not the case, you see, because Takumi is gay, and his family are devout churchgoers. So instead of getting him proper medical care, they beat him up and threw him out of house and home. Because being religious is all about that family values thing, of course.

Happily, we live in the Internet age, and so with the help of online donations and spreading the word via social networks, Takumi’s been getting by, barely. One can only cringe at the thought of all the gay kids living 20 years ago, who didn’t have these resources to fall back on. How many gay sons and daughters, who only wanted a little love and someone to call family, have been killed by hearts hardened into hate by religion? (Hey, not bad, that one. It’s nice when you can combine a rant with some alliteration.)

The Vatican: A Nation of Sexual Perverts

It seems that the Vatican has been in the news a lot lately. It appears that the Pope was personally involved in a pedophilia cover up. A scandal has broken in Brazil. There’s an international inquiry into a Catholic cult and its sexual-predator leader who was a favorite of John Paul. A Vatican homosexual prostitution ring was exposed. Given the frequency and longevity of these problems, one can be certain there are systematic problems with the Catholic Church and its leadership.

It seems very clear to me that the sexual perversions of the Catholic Church are systematic, of their own making, and that they are powerless to fix them. Let’s take a look at the contributing causes.

  1. Sexual control. The Vatican would like to control everyone’s sexuality. Most people don’t like to be controlled and people will be sexual despite attempts at control. One of the side effects of abstinence-only sex education and virginity pledges, for example, was that teenagers opted for “porn star sex,” to circumvent the control. The Vatican has mandated the missionary position and prohibited condoms for its laity to increase the number of potential future tithers. In the US, most Catholics ignore such mandates. Priests don’t get to ignore the Vatican, so they have to find their outlets somewhere outside the realm of normal sexuality.
  2. Guilt. Promoting guilt has been a holy cash cow for the Vatican. Believers are held to an unreasonable standard of being “without sin.” They fail by design and have to confess their sins and receive penance. The mechanism reinforces the guilt and binds the believers closer to the church. The vicious cycle perpetuates with the church gaining control over the believer. When guilt is combined with sexuality, it can become part of the fetish. Forbidden fruit is sweeter and the more forbidden, the better. Promoting guilt about sex has the inevitable consequence of warping sexuality.
  3. False hope. A person who is aware he has a problem will gravitate to an institution that purports to have a solution. By promising an omnipotent entity that can solve any problem, the Vatican draws in the people who are most desperate for a “cure.” Such people are most likely to embrace the dogma and blame themselves when it fails. From an outside perspective, it is clear that the Vatican has yet to “cure” anyone.
  4. Convenient cover. Positions of authority and trust provide the best cover for someone who should not be trusted. Such a person can abuse the authority while publicly condemning exactly what he is doing in private. If a predator has risen high enough in the ranks, he can even use his authority to ensure he will never be investigated or, if he is, avoid damaging penalties. The recent case of Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado is just one example.
  5. Temptation. Any organization playing a public service role will provide many opportunities for interaction with people who can be easily persuaded to “return a favor.” Service organizations that focus on children are naturally going to attract pedophiles.
  6. Abuse of power. By playing the role of “father” and “the representative of God,” priests have a variety of ways of manipulating the victim. Threat of God’s wrath can make a potent silencer. Most victims have already given the church a great deal of control over their lives. It is very difficult to extract ones self from such a web. Even if a victim is steadfast in defending himself or herself, he or she can be bullied by agreeing to be silent in exchange for a payoff. A less powerful organization would not have the luxury of this bullying. Most people who donate to a church are not aware of the percentage of their “charitable donations” are used to perpetuate abuse. Moving abusive priests between churches is an obvious abuse of power. So is actively obstructing investigations, as the Pope has done. He even claimed diplomatic immunity as head of the Vatican to evade a lawsuit.
  7. Evasion of responsibility. The Vatican’s response to the pedophilia scandal has been a long study in the art of responsibility evasion. The Vatican has blamed the victims, gays, the “permissive culture” of the United States, gays again, the devil, and gays. They have whined that the abuse scandal interferes with their “charity work.” They have whined about the cost of reparations and how they can’t afford it and they will go bankrupt. They have insisted that church-state separation allows them to do anything they want without consequences. They have said they were unaware that pedophilia was harmful to the victims. They have blamed the moral character of the priests (deflecting from the systematic cover up). They have pretended to self-police. They have prayed, confessed, and invoked God. They have cried “religious persecution.” They have claimed that other professions have just as many pedophiles. I don’t know of anything they haven’t done or said to deflect responsibility for their problem. The Vatican is quick, however, to make pronouncements about sex or condoms while claiming moral authority from God. Such ballsy displays of hypocrisy should lead to worldwide ridicule – not blind subservience.
  8. Complicity of the laity. Despite decades of controversy, Catholic laity still funds the church. Such people clearly care more about magic crackers than their fellow human beings. Non-Catholic Christians have also abetted the crimes of the Catholic Church through the bogus concept of religious tolerance and “thou shalt not judge.” This complicity has meant that the systematic abuses of the Catholic Church in the US have gone largely unpunished by the US legal system. Fortunately, other countries value their citizens above long-standing pedophile rings. Perhaps some justice will come from Europe.

Of these eight causes, the first six are intimately tied with the Catholicism. It is unlikely these causes will ever change. The last two are more about how the public responds to the abuse. While the Catholic Church will always be a spawning ground for sexual perversion, public outcry has some potential to limit the power of the Catholic Church and reduce its numbers. There is clearly no God available to clean up their mess, but the proper application of secular laws and lawsuits can go a long way to cleaning up this festering problem and reducing the number of future victims.

Should U.S. Law Require Church Approval?

On page one of Monday’s Austin American-Statesman, the headline (“House Approves Health Care Bill”) dealt with the passage of the new healthcare reform bill. One issue that was contentious was the way abortion would be handled. Whether you agree with healthcare reform or not, whether you agree with abortion choice or not, this quote, within the article, should send a shiver down your spine:

“A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed skepticism that the order would satisfy the church’s objections.”

I didn’t realize U.S. law needed to even consider church objections. But there you go.

In case you’re feeling prankish on Facebook…

There’s an amusing page called Pray for Richard Dawkins, and it’s maintained, as you might guess, by someone guzzling whine-and-cheese by the gallon.

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Richard Dawkins’s story reads very much like Paul’s. Dawkins is arguably the most influential atheist and persecutor (although not physical) of Christians in the world today. Like Paul, he believes that Jesus is a lie. Like Paul, he’s a well-respected leader of a movement that opposes Jesus. Like Paul, his conversion would be nothing short of a miracle from God, and an amazing witness to people everywhere.

I’m dying to know exactly how and when Dawkins has ever “persecuted” anybody. Unless, of course, this is the typical Christian usage of the term “persecution,” usually parsed as “Waaah, you’re not validating me! You’re telling me my beliefs are wrong, and I can’t respond to you, and that takes away my feelings of entitlement! How dare you disagree and make me feel stupid!” I’d say that’s pretty well confirmed by their careful admission that Dawkins’ “persecution” is “not physical.” Then what, simple disagreement with your beliefs is “persecution”? Yeah, asshole, tell that to someone who knows what persecution really looks like — they’re the ones with numbers tattooed on their arms — and see how sympathetic they are.

Bogus “persecution” claimed as an exercise in ostentatious self-regard is, of course, the Christian’s problem, not the atheist’s. But what else is funny is how the screed goes on to reveal how silly Christian beliefs are, and how its own most devout believers don’t think through the ramifications of what their faith calls them to do.

To wit: the page owner is flush with excitement at the prospect of Dawkins’ possible conversion. An “amazing witness,” to be sure! And so the point of the page, apparently — because if it weren’t for his Facebook fans God would just be totally SOL — is to rally Christians to pray en masse for just such a miraculous conversion. Evidently God can’t be bothered to give prayers a hearing unless they’re part of a class action.

But wait a teeny tiny little sec. Isn’t God supposed to be omniscient and everything? And if that’s so, isn’t he pretty well aware of Dawkins and his very public atheism already? It’s not as if he needs a heads-up. So wouldn’t he already have made up his mind, knowing the future infallibly and all, about converting Dawkins? Suggesting otherwise just makes both God and his followers sound like some idiot kids in a chatroom.

Xian4Ever yo HeavFather whats up?!?

YHWH Im good, my child

Xian4Ever dude I mean God there’s like this d-bag Dawkins? Totally wrote a book, talking shit saying you dont exist!!!1! Srsly!

YHWH ORLY? WTF!!

Xian4Ever No shit its like a WHOLE FUCKING BOOK. Says your like a teapot or something

YHWH OMme! Heh no worries, I’ll totally school that bitch LOL

Xian4Ever LOL!!!

No, something tells me an omniscient God would pretty much already have a fellow like Dawkins on his radar. Which, of course, prompts the question of why said conversion hasn’t occurred yet. After all, Scripture does make it abundantly clear that God, once he’d had enough of Saul’s bullshit, just came right down and laid the divine smackdown on the guy, and it wasn’t as if he needed a bunch of Facebookers jamming the prayer lines then. No, God just got shit done.

So either God knows, and he’s waiting for some great stage moment for maximum dramatic effect. Or maybe he wants Dawkins to remain an atheist. Maybe God’s divine plan is to reward not the believers, but the skeptics, the more vocal the better, for using their gift of reason so well. Or maybe God just doesn’t care. Or maybe he’s just made up.

Anyway, if you’re on Facebook, I think ‘twould be amusing to flood the page’s membership with atheists cheering Dawkins on, eh? If Dawkins’ fans vastly outnumber the prayer “warriors,” maybe that’ll get God’s attention and get that miracle conversion underway, eh? Or it may just be another opportunity to mock playfully how childish the whole concept of God really is.

Randi comes out

While it would be lovely to live in a world where this sort of thing didn’t matter, we just aren’t in that world. And it’s always courageous to stand up for who and what you are in a world where hate and intolerance are so institutionalized, even if it takes you into your 80’s before you do it.

Now again, compare how positive and life affirming such outings are in the case of Randi, Neil Patrick Harris, and other prominent figures who have recently done so, to how negative and fraught with anguish, self-loathing, and confusion it is in the case of conservative and religious figures whose delayed moments of self-awareness have to clash with a lifetime’s indoctrination in the ideologies of fear. I think people ought to be much more worried about catching teh God than teh gay.

Excerpts from a Conversation

I recently had an exchange with a fellow atheist, and wrote quite a bit about a lot of different topics. A few observations I made could be of interest on this list, so I decided to post one or two things from that dialog. Well, that and I felt a need to prove I can post a “normal sized” blog entry.

On Anti-Atheist Prejudice
We get regular letters from young people (and on occasion older ones) who say they’re afraid to “come out”–in the same way a child might be scared to tell his parents he’s gay. Or they say they’ve lost their faith, and now their spouse has withdrawn from them, and their relationship is frozen. People who believe don’t understand there is this deep-seated prejudice. They think “nobody’s forcing you to believe anything–stop your whining.” But they don’t understand their son or daughter is in their bedroom upstairs writing to a group of atheist strangers on the Internet they’ve seen on Youtube saying, “I think my parents will throw me out of the house if I tell them I don’t believe in god.” And the kid is writing to us because he can tell us about his deepest beliefs–but he can’t speak to his own parents about his thoughts and feelings. How sad is that, really? If I were a parent, I don’t think anything would make me feel more like a failure than to find out my child was confiding in absolute strangers rather than me, because I had convinced him through my comments and prejudices that I would despise him if he told me what he really believes or who he really is. But I can guarantee you that if these parents found these letters–they’d hammer the kid about contacting us, and not reflect on their own views that made their kid so distrustful of their capacity to accept and love him despite any ideological differences. This is the stuff that really breaks my heart when I read it.

On Missing the Forest for the Trees
[A particular theist] won’t move toward replacing [religion] with Humanism, because he accepts there is a god. In one conversation he defends the idea of considering it a miracle if there is a horrible plane crash where everyone, except one child, dies. Focus on the child who survived–not the 200 people who just lost their lives. This sort of microscopic focus is par for the course with religious people. I once likened the Intelligent Design argument to Wile E. Coyote’s inventions. The believer has this amazing capacity to focus on a few specks of things and make them meaningful–totally disregarding this ridiculously vast universe in which we float amid vacuums, and radiation, and supernovas and hurtling comets–just a mess of chaos held together through physical laws. Somehow they are able to drill down to “people” and say that demonstrates a “purpose” to the whole mechanism. That would represent one of the most inefficient designs ever produced–if people on Earth really are the point of this whole universe. All this for some speck of existence in some far corner? And yet they see this as crystal clear. If you believe god exists and is good, and you can discount 200 dead bodies (and 99.9 percent of the universe) for one child–what ratio of bad to good would it take even to get you to say, “Even if this god exists, what a monster”?

On Responsibility
I like that you break down Euthyphro briefly as well. Christians rarely break this down. They seem to just have some amorphous surface sense of getting morality from god/the Bible–but don’t really consider it as a question of how that mechanism would function. After talking to them, you get to a point where they assert basically that you can use your personal (presumably god-given) morality to judge god as good, but you can’t judge god as bad. In my own mind, if I can’t fathom how a command could be moral, then I shouldn’t follow it, regardless of who issued it. To do so is immoral because to do so is irresponsible–but that’s faith, right? Kill your own child if god requests it. What I would say is that I can’t take responsibility for a thing if I don’t understand what I’m being asked to do. “Just following orders” is not an example of personal responsibility. But the Christian sees a “responsibility to god” as being on a higher order. They see the atheist exercising personal responsibility as wrong–since the atheist is not shouldering his “responsibility to god.” We end up being “irresponsible” for wanting to know exactly what we’re doing and what the reasons and implications are for the action, before we’ll do it.

The skeptic, however, looks at it like this: If it seems bad to kill my own child, I need to ask for an explanation–and refuse to comply until I get it. If I’m going to commit an atrocity, I think it’s fair to at least ask to know why I’m being asked to commit it. To you and I, that’s reasonable. The idea anyone would object to it is mystifying.

However, the theist sees this as presumptuous and arrogant. I will admit there may be some good reason I hadn’t thought of that would get me to comply; but I can’t say I’m “taking responsibility for my actions” if I’m simply deferring to a fiat-style command with no personal understanding of what I’m doing. In no other context, outside religion, would either the theist or the atheist consider that a description of “being responsible.”

So, in Christianity, if you want to take real responsibility for your actions, by understanding thoroughly what you’re doing, you end up being labeled someone who “does what he wants” because he doesn’t like responsibility–you refuse to own up to your “responsibility to god.”

Summary
In the end, I added notes about what I posted previously–that the doctrine of total depravity makes it more “sensible” to trust people who say you can’t trust them, than people who consider themselves and others fairly trustworthy. And I noted how in the post on hymns, the idea of a brutal human sacrifice is trotted out as an example of unmatched love and mercy. Ultimately I ended the exchange with this thought:

What would it take to screw a person’s head on this “wrongly”? I submit it takes the first several years of their life spent in a Sunday School with mom and/or dad endorsing the entire process.

More on McGrath

I actually found another exchange between Alister McGrath and Richard Dawkins that is set up in debate format. This series, also on Youtube, is in seven parts, unlike the more conversational series I described in my last post about these two men, which is in 15 parts.

McGrath authored a book in response to Dawkins’ book “God Delusion.” But I’m not critiquing his book, just his arguments as he speaks to defend his faith against being declared a “delusion.”

My first objection came in part 2, where McGrath said (emphasis his):

“In the brief time available, what I thought I would do is to try and engage with what seems to me to be the strongest argument in Professor Dawkins’ book. And that is that there is in some way a link between religion, between belief in god, and violence. Because I think that is a very significant issue, and one that really does need to be addressed.”

Note to theists: This is not only not the “strongest argument” to demonstrate belief in god is a delusion, it’s not even an argument that is generally ever used to demonstrate belief in god is a delusion.

There are mainly two situations I observe where atheists appeal to the harm caused by religion:

1. “Why do you care?”
The first is when asked “Why do you care what other people believe?” And in that case, it’s extremely relevant. The reason it is important to “care” what a religious person–let’s say a Muslim extremist–believes, is as easy as 9-11. People act on what they believe. What I believe matters. What you believe matters. What other people believe matters. Not everything a person believes has consequences, but when something they believe can be demonstrated to have consequences for others, it’s justifiably important to others.

Some beliefs seem to have a capacity to motivate people to do terrible things. Religion is in that category. Many religious people are good people. Some are dangerous people. The issue with religion is that it’s often the case that the dangerous people explain their harmful actions by pointing directly and unambiguously to their religious beliefs. They aren’t bad people who “just happen” to be religious.

I’m not talking about the guy who attends church every Sunday, but secretly molests his daughter. Yes, that guy “just happens” to be religious. Nothing within his religion justifies abusing his child. But the activities of Muslim extremists are absolutely driven, at least in part, by religious belief. That familiar shout of “Allahu Akbar!” says it all. They aren’t a group of people doing bad things who “just happen” to be Muslims.

But none of this has anything to do with whether or not their belief in god is a delusion. God may exist and may be the cruel and abusive tyrant they prostrate themselves to regularly. I don’t believe that’s the case, but my doubt has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that extremists do horrible things. The best I can do in response to this single fact is to say that if their god exists, I don’t like Him. I can’t conclude from it that their god is probably not real. There is simply no way I am aware of to make a logical connection that someone doing horrible things, even for their god, means no god exists. And I’m sure Dawkins understands this. And I’m baffled McGrath doesn’t understand that Dawkins quite probably understands this–which is what caught my attention.

2. Morality requires religion
The second reason I see atheists broach the fact that religious people can be driven to do horrible things because of (not in spite of) their religion, is as a portion of a defense to the spurious claim that religion is somehow a bastion, or even the only means, of morality. And this would generally be put forward along with examples of nonreligiously motivated acts of kindness.

So, that’s really it. Those are the two reasons I most often see atheists appeal to religious harm. As a foundational argument for unbelief it’s rarely used, and I’d spit milk through my nose if I ever heard Dawkins use it in that way. Certainly it cannot be among the “strongest arguments” for god as a delusion, for the simple reason it offers nothing whatsoever to undermine the claim “god exists.”

Many atheists criticize religious harm. But there are very few who hang their unbelief in god on it. It is the rare atheist who says, “I just can’t believe there could be a god who could allow such things in His name.” That’s a variation on an informal fallacy, the Argument from Incredulity. I do recall, though, in my religious indoctrination, being taught that this was a common atheist argument against the existence of god. But, based on some other statements McGrath makes, I don’t suspect his use of this particular strawman is due to indoctrination. And I’ll give my reasons for that later. For now I will just say I’ve never personally interacted with such an atheist–although I do recall at least once coming across something similar to that statement online posted by a self-labeled atheist. So, I don’t doubt such atheists exist. I just doubt they are so numerous that this point about religiously motivated harm could be justifiably labeled the “strongest argument” in Dawkins’–or any atheist’s–arsenal against belief in the existence of god. Not many atheists use it, and it’s a glaring fallacy. It would seem reasonable that the “strongest argument” would have to be one that attacks the root–god’s existence–not merely a branch–how believers behave.

If we believe gods can exist–but there are none to examine–we cannot logically rule out the possibility of apathetic or cruel gods. In fact, cruel or uncaring god models would subvert many atheist rebuttals, such as the Problem of Evil and Euthyphro. To assert “my preferred model of a kind god doesn’t appear to exist, therefore no model of god can exist” is egocentric in the extreme–and logical garbage, to boot. There are a variety of decent reasons to support unbelief; however, “religious harm” is not among them.

Note to theists: If you are responding to someone who is saying your belief in god is a delusion, and you think their “strongest argument” is that some religious people are horrible, you are either arguing with that one-in-a-million atheist mentioned above, or you don’t really understand the point you’re being presented with.

McGrath then goes on to say: “The point I’d like to try and make is this: Religious belief is ambivalent. It can be destructive. I think we need to be very, very clear about that…That is a significant danger in any religious belief system. And indeed one of the reasons why I, myself, was an atheist for some time was that it seemed to me logically inevitable that if there were no religion in Northern Ireland, there would be no conflict. Likewise, at the time I was studying the sciences, and it seemed to me obvious, again, that if the sciences were right, then there was no need for god at all. This could be safely disposed of with the greatest of ease.” (Emphasis mine.)

Let’s hold right there for a moment. I can grasp his second reason–the bit about science. You can legitimately cut out parts of models that aren’t necessary–as we all learned from the old children’s tale, “Stone Soup.” Howeve
r, how does that first reason figure? Let’s say it’s true that if you could eliminate religion from a region it would result in the end of conflict. How do you get from there to “I don’t believe god exists”? There is no rational path between that statement and atheism.

McGrath actually says this is one of the reasons he was an atheist. To demonstrate the absurdity of what he just said, let me restate it almost verbatim and put in something else that can sometimes cause harm, besides belief in god. Let’s see how it translates: “One of the reasons why I, myself, was an unbeliever in the sun for some time, was that it seemed to me logically inevitable that if we didn’t have sunbathers, there would be a lot less skin cancer in the world.”

To deny the existence of something because you dislike its effects is not rational. Someone asked in the other post about McGrath, why he had been an atheist. I’m wondering, if his reasons for unbelief really did include “religious harm,” does he then assume other atheists are atheists because they are similarly impaired when it comes to understanding where the implications of religious harm are or are not logically employed? Could he be reasoning that because he held to an unreasonable connection between religious harm and the nonexistence of god, that’s why the rest of us keep bring up religious harm in atheist-theist debates? If that’s what is happening, then his own experience has put a bias in place that interferes with his ability to understand what the atheist is actually saying. Even Dawkins admits he could be wrong that god is a delusion; but if he is wrong, it won’t be for reasons that stupid.

In my prior post, McGrath seemed to be thinking Dawkins didn’t know you can draw conclusions without iron-clad evidence, even while the real question was: Why do you feel compelled to take that leap of unjustified faith at the end, when you could stay rational and stop where the evidence ends, with an honest statement that there is insufficient evidence to justify that last leap? In trying to analyze these exchanges, I see twice now where the problem is that McGrath is misunderstanding Dawkins’ points in ways that presume points only an idiot would make. If theists generally think this way–and I certainly recall thinking this way–it’s no wonder they see atheism as the irrational position. They have no idea, really, how the position is supported. I am beginning to see more clearly the dire need to get information out to the public to dispel misconceptions about atheism. Is this really how people think we reason? Even though I thought this way myself, as a fundamentalist Christian, I suppose it never dawned on me how powerful these misconceptions–these strawmen–can be.

He goes on to point out religion is powerful and transformative. Agreed. That is precisely why it’s so dangerous when it goes bad. He says we need to be aware that religion going bad is a possibility, but there are other possibilities. Agreed. Not all religious people are oppressive or murderous. Did someone say they were? While I could imagine an atheist who might make such a wild accusation–that atheist wouldn’t be Dawkins, or anyone at AETV, or any atheist who contacts us generally. So, who is McGrath talking to?

In support, he quotes Shermer saying that religion causes horrible atrocities, but that many believers do good things. Is he assuming atheists don’t know this? The question from critical atheists is whether those people could be motivated to goodness without religion–which McGrath agrees comes with some powerfully harmful baggage. McGrath criticizes Dawkins for not giving credit to religion in “God Delusion” for the good associated with it; but Dawkins wasn’t making a case for religion. He was explaining his reasons for being against it. Touting positive attributes–that religion, itself, shouts nonstop from every rooftop–would seem unnecessary and out of context. Is there anyone in this debate who isn’t already well acquainted with Christian charitable efforts?

The question is actually, “Does a motivated Baptist do more good than a motivated Humanist? Is belief in god required to motivate people to do good?” And the answer is, “Clearly not.” Is it required to motivate people to do bad? Also, absolutely not. It motivates both good and bad in people. But without it, we could still motivate people to do good through Humanist endeavors that work toward the good of mankind and the planet–but don’t demonstrably result in people blowing themselves up. Also without it, the threat of the “bad” it generates would be eliminated. Surely there would be other ideologies out there to motivate horrors, just as we have others to motivate goodness. But without religion, there would be one less to motivate horrors. And the positive force it represents–the motive to do good–could be shouldered just as well by secular outlets for humanity which would remain available.

Here, in clear terms, is what I mean: Let’s say we find a treatment for all terminal varieties of cancer that permanently paralyzes 20% of the people who use it, but positively cures the other 80%. If we later discover a similar cure that paralyzes 10% of the patients, and cures 90%–would anyone argue we should continue using the first treatment for the “good” that it does, if it offered no added benefit over the new drug? Who could reasonably, in good conscience, suggest such a thing?

I may do more on McGrath. I’m not sure. I see a benefit to examining the communication divide: what atheists “say,” versus what theists “hear.” Understanding not only what sorts of misconceptions theists hold, but also why they hold them, could assist in moving dialogs along at a quicker pace. It would be, I suppose, “increased understanding,” not to increase respect, but rather to increase communication efficiency.

That would be my goal. Whether or not I achieve it is another matter.

The “Ressurection” Guy Writes Back

The young man featured in Martin’s last “resurrection” post wrote back to me on a response I had offered him. My original response wasn’t nearly as long and thorough as Martin’s. I had only asked a simple question:

To paraphrase: “Many Christians assert the resurrection stories align perfectly, and this is evidence of their truth. You are writing to say they are not aligned, and this is evidence of their truth. My question is: How do we identify a falsehood if stories that are either consistent or inconsistent are both evidence of truth?”

Since other people as well replied, I didn’t expect an answer from such a brief note from me. But when he wrote back he explained he’s in a confused state where he doesn’t know what to believe, and he’s contacting us mainly as a sounding board to see what we say to evidence and reason that seem convincing to him currently. He even added that what we said, he thought, “made a lot of sense.” I admire that he’s even asking questions. And I also understand how indoctrination can make nonsense sound sensible. So, even though the rebuttals seem obvious to me, I do get that he really doesn’t see them.

His point back to me was to issue another question. He thinks it is valid to consider that many parts of the Bible are myth, and not all literal. I agree. The difference between us is that I classify anything that isn’t demonstrated in reality (or conflicts with demonstrated reality) into the “myth” category, while he is trying to sort out which of the things that defy reality are “literal.”

He expressed that he has heard that god wrote to Hebrews in terms they could understand—to the mind of an ancient Hebrew—and that’s why the content is sometimes wrong or less than perfect. He asserted further that if the Bible is concerned with how to get to heaven, rather than how the universe works, then it’s not right to judge the problems it presents in its less-than-accurate models of reality. He gave me a quote from Galileo to support this. It is ironic the quote he offered was from Galileo—a man who dispelled more than a few erroneous Christian beliefs, some of which were supported by Biblical texts. Nobody would know better than Galileo that the Bible got it’s “reality” a bit muddled. But he excused it by saying this isn’t the point of the Bible’s divine message.

Again, I asked the same question (again to paraphrase): It is either the case that you are right, and a god wrote a book using ancient Hebrews, that was riddled with the misconceptions and ignorance we would expect to find in the ancient Hebrew mind, or it is the case that it actually is a book written by ancient Hebrews including all the misconceptions and errors within it we would expect to find in an ancient Hebrew mind, but attributed to a god in the same way many other cultures have developed similar stories about gods that sound like their own minds. If this book contained correct and advanced scientific statements, would you then consider it’s not from god, since it doesn’t sound like an ignorant Hebrew? Really, I think that if it had that sort of really good and sufficiently advanced grasp on reality within it, you’d be writing to say anyone should see no ancient Hebrew could have produced such knowledge out of his own head without an advanced intelligence to guide him. So, I’m back to the question: If god writes books that sound just like books ignorant people write—how do we tell books written by gods from books not written by gods?

I also suggested he do some research into the canonization process to make his own assessment about whether that sounds like a good strategy for a god to use to get his message to mankind.

What’s interesting to me, as well, is the emphasis this young man puts on the idea that god inspired the Bible. He’s putting the cart before the horse. The question of whether or not god inspired the Bible can only be relevant after the question “Does a god exist?” has been answered. And I did bring this up with him as well—that I don’t see any reason to believe a god inspired anything until I see some demonstration of gods in reality.

Eventually, I’m betting, he’s going to get to that point—to the realization that the real question here isn’t what god does or does not do, but whether there is a god at all. We can start the dialog at the middle or the end, but until that question is resolved, no claims about god—god’s actions or attributes—matter.

And I wonder how long it will be before we get to ID? To the point where I’m asking the same question about the universe: How do we tell a universe without a god from one with a god where god makes it look like he’s not there? There’s an old saying, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” I would like to change the ending to “then why would you assert it’s a god disguised as a duck, rather than a duck?”

I’ve said before that it’s a testament to the awesomeness of nature that so many people can’t believe what they see before their very eyes. It reminds me of Matt. Yes, I agree he’s awesome; but that’s not what I’m driving at. Matt does magic tricks. The last one I saw was a really good one where he sat me down with zener cards and “I” was able to predict all of the cards before he turned them over, on a table right in front of me—supposedly a “test” of my “psychic abilities.”

I joked with Matt that one problem with the trick is that he can’t do it without me—since psychic powers like mine are demonstrably very rare from even a cursory survey of reality. I don’t know many people who could do what I just did sitting at that table—successfully predicting every card without so much as breaking a sweat!

Of course, we all know it’s a trick—even if we never find out how it was done (and no, he didn’t tell me, and I knew better than to ask). But what a testament to the wonderful illusion of that trick if someone was thoroughly convinced that it had to have been done through magic—real magic: “No mortal man could possibly have done what I just saw. Matt has magic powers, the ability to draw out my psychic capacity in some way.”

If I walked away convinced of that—what a trick that would be! Now, it would pay no homage to Matt’s real skill as a magician in one sense, since I failed utterly to appreciate the work that really went into creating such a brilliant demonstration of mental manipulation. But in an odd way the fact I would seriously doubt his skill as a magician, and become convinced the trick is real, demonstrates how well the trick was executed.

And nature is exactly the same. What a testament to nature’s amazing presentation that so many walk away convinced that what they see happening each day, before their very eyes, is completely impossible without magic.