A Letter to Nelson McCausland

Texas SBOE have found a friend in Northern Ireland:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/may/26/northern-ireland-ulster-museum-creationism

If you haven’t been following, Culture Minister Nelson McCausland is pushing for museums in his country to promote creationism along side displays illustrating scientific theories of origins. One of his constituents shared a letter to McCausland with me, and also granted permission to use it at the AE blog. So, without further introduction, here is a reprint of that correspondence:

Mr McCausland

I am writing this letter out of concern, not out of religious intolerance or to force my own agenda. The concern is due to your letter to the National Museum trustees about the possibility of inclusion of alternative views of creation. I hope that you will take the time to read this to understand exactly why this is a mistake and hopefully to shed a little light on a few things you seem to be mistaken about.

Firstly I would like to highlight the fundamental flaws of creationism and the so called ‘scientific proof’ of it. I am not sure if you are aware of the Kitzmiller/Dover Trial in America 2005 when concerned parents took out a lawsuit against a public school district that required the presentation of intelligent design/creationism as an alternative to evolution as an explanation of the origin of life. Creationist ‘scientists’ were invited to the trial to show their evidence and prove that it was scientific, and they faced off against accepted science and scientists. It is worth mentioning that the scientist charged with defeating the creationist/intelligent design camp was a devout Christian (Kenneth Miller) and that the judge was also a devout Christian (Judge John E. Jones III) and a right hand man of George Bush.

It is not mere hyperbole to state that this was the most important moment in the defense of science. It was to much relief and satisfaction that the court ruled emphatically against the creationist/intelligent design position. In his 139-page decision Judge Jones took the creationist case to task and I find this point most relevant:

“ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.” (Page 89)

It is clear that when asked to come forward and put their case and all their evidence on the table they didn’t just fall short, they had nothing. It would be hoped that this would have put this situation to rest but it is still thriving in the United States and apparently in our home country. I recently visited a creationist seminar in a local church, and it disturbed me at what was being taught to the congregation as ‘fact’, I feel that people in the position of talking and administering to the congregation/public have a responsibility of being honest with what is fact and not bending evidence to fit the worldview they have.

To say that the world is 4,000-10,000 years old is nothing short of irresponsible, you have in a single statement infused doubt in people’s mind of the accuracy of geology, paleontology, chemistry, physics, biology, morphology, genetics, molecular biology, cosmology, biogeography and so on, all of which help each other positively in the proof of age of the earth. There is no mere speculation here, we can put the evidence on the table and show you how these things work and how they prove what accepted science is. I would hope that you have at least researched behind the claims of creationist science before publicly claiming them as a viable alternative but I feel you haven’t as you would have quickly seen that the so called proofs are nothing short of pseudo-scientific speculation.

Christianity is not negated by accepting the big bang or evolution; the scientific evidence can be seen as the method and not the reason. In fact there is a wide acceptance of these matters throughout the Christian community and I would urge you to read some of the American Scientific Affiliation’s work who are a fellowship of Christians in science. Science is not out to disprove god, and I would dare say it can’t, so there is really no need to want to put a faith-based position alongside science in a museum.

We have a responsibility in this world to operate within what we know, what we can observe in our shared reality. What we cannot do is subvert overwhelming evidence for the sake of a faith position, which is a dangerous path to put a society on. If we do this where would we stop? Would we also delve into pagan creation stories? If you want to open a display talking about religious creation mythology which covers the scope of all religions in our community I would be absolutely behind it but only if it was all inclusive and not running alongside scientific displays.

You made the point that the majority of this country is Christian and that this is somehow a justification for including creationist myth and I just want to say that it is a completely logical fallacy to assume that ‘might makes right.’ Science is in no way a democracy; it’s constantly scrutinized, re-evaluated and goes where the data takes us not where we want to take it. It is worrying to hear an elected minister talk in such a way and I’d hoped that our country would be able to be more religiously progressive given the past we have had, but this is in fact a severe step back whether you can see it or not.

If you feel strongly about this, as I am sure you do, then perhaps you could push for a public forum where we can get creationist science and accepted science to debate their cases. I assure you that it is not intellectual elitism or over-confidence when I say that it would become apparent very, very quickly that there is no case or evidence for creationist science and it would leave a lot believers confused as to why the people in power have been misleading them.

If religion is to survive in any meaningful context in this society it is necessary that it accepts reality, this in no way takes away people’s beliefs but will hopefully enrich their view of the world around them.

I look forward to your reply,

—Gareth

This is not Photoshopped

Seriously. It isn’t. This is an ad that appeared in my Facebook sidebar today, presented as is. Who knows, maybe Liberty U. is having a truth-in-advertising moment.

Bigots Don’t Get to Claim the Moral High Ground

Uganda plans to introduce the death penalty for gays, but the government there says it’s more likely that the bill will only pass with life imprisonment:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8693560.stm

I’m not sure why, but in the last week, I’ve been presented with several issues that all involve gay hate and persecution in the Christian community. I’ve wanted to post about it, but wasn’t sure how to put it into a concise and linear statement. So, I’ve given up trying; and instead I am including below some abbreviated recent thoughts I’ve sent privately to a few correspondents:

Correspondence 1:
…I’m getting near to a boiling point with the whole anti-gay thing and religion. It may be difficult to believe, but I actually am more angry at the religious persecution of gays than of women. With women, the idea is a submissive existence, where women are acceptable—but only if they know their place. But gays have no “place” in Abrahamic religion, generally. Even some of the most educated Christians I know seem to have difficulty admitting there’s nothing wrong with it. The stupidity they spout, such as “Well, that’s up to god, I don’t judge.” As though they think there is some sort of dilemma. Judge what?!

I met a gay guy this week who was raised by fundamentalist parents. They believe in faith healing, and all manner of garbage. They taught him that gays were vile, evil, crimes against nature, abominations to god, the whole nine yards. He said he didn’t really think about it until he hit 13-14 and began to have sexual thoughts about the other boys in his school. Then he started worrying and wondering why god made him with these feelings, but was going to send him to hell. He told me he would engage in regular teen-boy activities in his room, and then feel so bad about it he’d go and shower and scrub himself until he bled. Finally, around 17, he took a bunch of pills. He said the attempt was half-hearted. And I’m happy for that—because today he’s a talented musician with a lot to offer. About his parents, he said he knows they only did what they were taught, and they didn’t know any better. He loves them and says they took care of him and tried to keep him from harm. But I can’t help thinking of all the trouble they caused, and how easy it would have been to keep him from that harm, if only they’d just asked: “Why are we saying this is so bad?”

His father told him eventually that he’d always known/suspected his son was gay. He explained he couldn’t understand how a loving parent could suspect their child is gay, and still proceed to tell them all the horrible hateful things his parents told him about homosexuality.

I have brown eyes. Most people on the planet have brown eyes. That doesn’t mean people without brown eyes are unnatural. And it’s certainly no license to persecute or hate them. “Uncommon” should never be equated with “evil.” “Evil” needs far more justification than that.

I have trouble grasping how people who exhibit hatred and bigotry and persecution—even violence in some cases—against gays can be considered to be on the “right” side of anything, while a gay man who forgives all the pain that has been inflicted on him, and just wants to live and be happy and not hurt anyone, is the vile abomination?

I seem to be getting a lot of prods on this issue recently. And until social equality is reached in this arena, I suppose everyone on the side of reason should be weighing in on this. ACA always supports the Gay Pride Festival locally. And I think this is an issue that is ripe for constant hammering. Hateful bigots who comfort themselves that they’re on the side of right really need to be told as loudly and often as possible they’re on the side of pure, unadulterated evil.

I just need to find the right words. But maybe those are the right words? Maybe that’s all that needs to be said?

Thanks for your letter. Sorry that gay people everywhere have been somehow singled out to put up with the worst of this bullshit, honestly.

Correspondence 2:
Maltreatment of women gets a lot of media attention. And well it should. But to me, the crimes against the gay community are so much worse—not by magnitude of numbers, but by sheer irrationality and vilification. Even the most misogynistic religions will allow a place, however disdainful, to women. But with gays—I mean, I can’t imagine being stoned to death because of how I was born. I loathe to see a woman persecuted for refusing to wear a veil. But I know that horrible as it is, she can hide behind that veil and live in hopes the oppression will end. With “gay”—there is no “king’s X”—no compromise you can strike. What you are is wrong.

To try and make it more clear, I host a party every year in November at a local Lake lodge. I invite friends, and we hang out for a weekend. One year, a gay friend told me that the location I use is notorious in the gay community for a gay hate murder that happened there years ago.

Here’s the point that bothers me: There are men who will rape and murder women. But I am aware society condemns those men as monsters and criminals. We haven’t quite reached that level of understanding with “gay.” Today, if someone kills a “fag,” I’m disturbed to know there are still a number of people in our culture who think the “queer” got what was coming to him. Literally, he shouldn’t have been gay.

And there is no rational basis for this hatred and vilification. These are good people who happen to be a minority percentage who are attracted to same sex mates for whatever reason. They’re not hurting anyone. They’re not converting anyone. They just want to do what any of us do, and be open about who they are and live their lives. And for that, they are vilified and persecuted.

I recall when I was in church, “gay” didn’t even require an explanation for why it was a sin. It just was. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” right? Phenotypic attributes occur in populations on a bell curve—nearly across the board. You have the most dominant traits, and then you have less dominant extremes on either end, and a lot of diversity in between. I have gay friends who say they could have sex with opposite sex partners if push came to shove (some have even been married before), and others who say it wouldn’t be possible for them. I have straight friends who can’t fathom gay behavior, and others who say it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. In anthropology, you study different cultures around the globe, and by no means is homosexuality vilified in all areas like it is in our culture. And historically, it’s the same. Depending on where/when you happened to be born—you may be accepted, considered to be special to the gods, or executed.

There used to be a commercial where they sold contacts to change your eye color. In every commercial they shot, the woman they were selling to had brown eyes. Well, blue and green eyes are beautiful, I agree. But the fact is, if you want to sell contacts to color eyes, your target market is brown because brown eyes are the dominant trait in humans: Africa, Asia, South America, India, Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans, the Mid East—you get the idea. What if it was determined that since most people have brown eyes, eyes that aren’t brown are a crime against nature? Unnatural and therefore a sin? Punishable by death, imprisonment, or being persecuted and vilified by your society? Can you imagine the label such an initiative would get in today’s society? Not one person would think you were sane to suggest such a thing. And yet that’s exactly what we do to gays. And nearly all
the haters think you’re crazy to question “why?” To them, that question, by itself, is evidence of your own moral depravity. It’s “obvious” what’s wrong with these people—in the fundamentalist mind. They’re not the standard, so they’re wicked. But loads of people have attributes that are nonstandard, and we don’t think it’s fine to kill them. And the false facts cooked up to vilify it are just aggravating. I recall some years ago showing someone once that AIDS was most prominent in heterosexual, not homosexual populations. They refused to believe it until the statistics were staring them in their face. It’s frustrating to know good people who are subjected to this sort of prejudicial treatment, and then recognize a lot of people in our culture don’t understand what the motivation could possibly be to make it otherwise.

A Final Note
Just to add that the reason in the Christian Bible for condemning homosexuality is that it places a male in the position of a female. In other words, it’s a misogynistic argument that it’s wrong for a man to be used as a lowly woman. It’s a disgrace to male superiority, and any man who humiliates himself (puts himself on the level of a rank female) needs to die.

In Leviticus 18:22, the Bible says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” It’s right between rules against burning children as human sacrifices and having sex with animals. That’s where you rank if you’re gay, according to the Christian god (to whom these statements are attributed in verses 1 and 2 of the same chapter).

Later in Leviticus 20, which also starts out attributing it’s content directly to god, in verse 13 it says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

I can hear it already, though: “That’s the Old Testament.”

Yes, it is. It’s the Old Testament, the first part of your Christian Bible, and it says your Christian god instructed this harmful idiocy. You either believe these statements are correct and that god, in fact, did instruct His adherents to do these things—in which case you agree these statements, and any compliant actions resulting (such as murdering gay men) were actually justified by your Christian god (and therefore acceptable to you—if you are an adherent of this same god); or you think your Bible is incorrect when it comes to what it says god tells people to do, in which case, how is the book even helpful, as it’s admittedly untrustworthy?

If you believe your Bible is correct, and you agree with this content and worship this personality you think ordered the murder of these people as moral “law,” for the crime of not inheriting the most common phenotypic attributes of their overall populations, then as I said earlier, you are on the side of “pure, unadulterated evil.” You and your god are no more “moral” than another historic figure who also once decided that people with the “wrong” phenotypes should be removed from the human population.

Kcuf the muthakcufas!

So. We have artificial life. Kickass. But wait, what’s this? Why, right on cue, if it isn’t a bunch of showboating, pious old cretins in dresses wagging their fingers at the presumptuousness of scientists, and insisting that the creation of life is the sole purview of some invisible magic man in the sky they seem to believe in.

“We look at science with great interest. But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life,” said Fisichella, who heads Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. “We can only reach the conclusion that we need God, the origin of life.”

Now, one could respond to that in the usual way, by pointing out that before they can make claims like that about their God, they should prove the old spectre exists in the first frickin’ place.

But of course, we don’t even need to go there. Because the very idea of an organized crime syndicate responsible for enabling and protecting the largest and most appalling epidemic of child rape in the history of civilization having the audacity to lecture anyone, let alone scientists, on “the ethical dimension” of anyfuckingthing, is quite simply gobsmacking. Now, at least, you know why those guys wear those huge flowing robes. They need them to contain their colossal solid brass balls!

So all that’s left is to give this little ditty another airing, I do believe. Take it away, Timbo.

PS: The comments on that Yahoo news article are gold. The RCC has a serious public image crisis. I wonder why…

Draw Muhammad Day…

I support the efforts of Draw Muhammad Day. I took a few minutes and made a quick drawing and posted it to Facebook…and that was going to be the extent of my participation.

Fortunately, our local religion reporter made a blog post and she couldn’t have managed to misrepresent the subject more, if she’d tried.

I took the opportunity to correct her…and I was sufficiently irritated that I thought I’d copy that correction here. As next Sunday’s show is cancelled, consider it a replacement rant.

“Again, I thought this would fizzle out, but apparently it’s become all the rage to make a spectacle out of demeaning Muslims.”

How does this demean Muslims? Be careful you don’t break your back while trying to twist this issue to portray the Muslims as the victims…

The fact is that some Muslims have repeatedly demonstrated remarkable and violent hypocrisy when it comes to free speech. They demand that their views be respected by everyone else in society – and anyone who offends them may well suffer a violent response.

“If it’s true that the Prophet Muhammad is not drawn or depicted by Muslim artists based on Islamic beliefs, why revel in ignorance? In other words, if it were considered heathen-like behavior to draw Jesus, would that be tolerated with the same level of revelry – or is there something else at work?”

Of course it would be tolerated. What sort of journalist doesn’t grasp the basics of free speech and expression?

There is no right to not be offended. There is no right to impose your ignorance, fears and superstitions on the rest of society.

Why do you think this is happening? If there had never been a gross over-reaction to cartoons, do you think anyone would have organized people to draw Muhammad?

Do you really suspect that the individuals drawing and encouraging others to draw Muhammad are simply cruel-minded bigots poking a stick at the poor Muslims?

This is not only about free speech, it’s valid social commentary and a serious issue. There are people who travel with bodyguards and live under constant threat of violence or death for exercising basic freedoms that we should all support. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie and Lars Vilks.

What a staggeringly myopic perspective one must have to shrug this off as someone else demeaning Muslims.

Muslims, on this subject, have demeaned themselves.

A Zacharias follow-up

Because there was no indication Matt had done it, I thought it would be interesting to email the link to his post answering Ravi Zacharias’ “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist” to the contact address I found at the RZIM website. Monday afternoon I received this response, not from Zacharias himself, but the ministry staffer who posted the actual “Six Questions” article to the site.

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your recent email to RZIM in response to the article “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist” in our “Engaging Conversations” section of the website. I want you to know that I read the posted response in its entirety including the comments. On the whole, I found these responses to be very helpful and challenging. I am the author of this essay, and I borrowed heavily from a framework used in Brian McLaren’s book “Finding Faith.” I can completely understand how since you do not know me, the “tone” of this article seemed to be antagonistic rather than genuinely interested in either conversation or learning from your perspective. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I am seeking to learn, just as I assume you are, and I have learned a great deal from this post and the responses.

If you would permit me some time to more carefully reflect on what has been written, I would like to respond to you. While I know that what I may write will likely end up as “public domain,” I would appreciate it if we could exchange emails initially that are between the two of us. If you find something useful – either to critique or to stimulate further conversation, you are welcome to post it. But, let me do some thinking first, and then respond.

Again, thank you for sending this to me and for the very thoughtful
interaction that was presented in this post.

Sincerely,

Margaret Manning

Speaking Team/Associate Writer

So there. I replied that I would be delighted to continue a dialogue (which I’ll bring Matt in on, as he wrote the original post, of course), while assuring Margaret that I wouldn’t post any of it here without securing her permission. But I thought there’d be no harm in letting you guys know there was a response, and a polite and receptive one at that. It does appear as though Margaret had not in fact field-tested Ravi’s Six Questions among any actual atheists before. So hopefully there will be an eye-opening series of exchanges to come.

We get email: we iz childrens of teh Basement Cat!

Not much going on around here today. We’re just prepping for a busy Sunday, what with the textbook rally at the Capital in the morning, then the show at its usual time, followed by Threadgill’s. And here I was thinking part of the fun of being godless is you got to sleep in on Sunday! Ah well. Here is some kooky fun from the mailbag today, to put smiles on all your heathen faces. Also, our “Christian Psychiatrist” dude wrote me back, but I’ll get on that later. Toodles!

Dear Atheist Experience Show,

I think it’s a shame that most of the people who call-in to your show are either ignorant of the scripture or they are merely religious people that do not have a clue about what they are saying because they have never heard the voice of God anyways. It’s obvious that God “IS” real and it is also obvious that He has never sent anyone, an actual child of God, to speak on your show and probably never will. Here is why, all human beings in their natural born state are wicked and evil, such as yourselves. Most religious people, churchies, just cannot figure this out. You have experienced atheism, but you have never experienced God because you are the children of Satan. This is why Yesu, <– Jesus, said that a human must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This heresy that God loves everyone is a lie! God loves those who persues righteousness! God loves His children. Satan's children, the wicked, or the world will be burned up and then casted into the Lake of Fire. Another fact is, is that unless God draws you to The Christ then you "cannot" come to Him, nomatter what you do. I do not care what the world or atheist do, thinks, or says because it does not concern me and should not concern any other "real" Christian anyways. It's not a Christians duty to go around fixing the world because that's just impossible. Only God can fix the world and is going to do so in due time with some serious heat. In the end the losers become the winners and the winners just get burnt. You are not the Devil like many people say on your show, but you are one of his many children.

I think I actually will start calling Christians “churchies”! I like that!

A response to Ravi Zacharias’ “Six Questions to Ask an Atheist”-

Someone sent me a link to this via Facebook and after spending some time addressing it, I thought I’d post it here. It’s another long (though not insanely long) post, but it addresses the “questions” of a popular apologist that is often cited in e-mails from Christians.

Zacharias’ original text is in black and my responses are in red.


Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists. Here, then are six key questions you can ask of atheists as you engage them in honest conversation about the trajectory of this worldview:

First, we need to clarify that atheism isn’t a worldview. There are no tenets, dogma or edicts because atheism isn’t an “ism”…it’s simply the label we use to identify a position on a single question; do you believe a god exists? If the answer is yes, you’re a theist, if not, you’re an atheist.

Atheism can be the result of a worldview and it is certainly consistent with a number of secular philosophical worldviews, so for the sake of this discussion I’ll address the questions without quibbling over that detail but it’s essential to point out that there’s an underlying misconception that tends to encourage theists to frame their questions in a way that doesn’t really make sense.

1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Where did everything come from, and why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life? Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end? How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier? If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, where do we look to determine what is good or bad, right or wrong? If you are content within an atheistic worldview, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

The entire paragraph is an implied argument that if we haven’t yet explained the big questions (without making an appeal to the god hypothesis) that we’re then justified in accepting that a god exists. This is a thinly-veiled argument from ignorance, a classic logical fallacy.

In addition to that problem, the god hypothesis has no explanatory power. Explanations increase our understanding and we tend to explain things in terms of other things that we already understand.

Attempting to ‘answer’ the big question by appealing to the supernatural doesn’t accomplish this because it’s an attempt to solve a mystery by appealing to another mystery. That’s not an explanation; it’s a gap-filler. It doesn’t solve a mystery; it obscures it in an attempt to assuage our discomfort with the unknown.

How do we answer the big questions? The same way we’d answer any other question. First, we acknowledge that we don’t have an explanation and then we investigate until we do. The time to believe a proposed explanation is after it has been supported by argument and evidence – and not a moment before. Explanations are supported by evidence; they’re not supported by a failure to come up with a better response.

In the end, this question isn’t an implied argument for the existence of god; it’s an implied argument for belief as a means of placating curiosity and xenophobia. Accepting a pacifying non-answer retards progress toward discovering the real answer.

2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists taking their worldview more seriously like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault? These three atheists recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes. The experience of atheistic meaninglessness is recorded in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

The implication in this question is that if there is no transcendent, ultimate, externally imposed meaning that there can be no meaning. That’s a bit of an equivocation fallacy – conflating “meaning” and “transcendent meaning” and then spinning it into “atheistic meaninglessness”.

I have no crisis of meaning. A secular worldview doesn’t result in meaninglessness. My life has whatever meaning I attribute to it, and this would be true whether a god existed or not. Value is the result of desire and while he’d like to dismiss our “selfish interests, pleasures, or tastes” as negatives, that’s not the case. Our selfish interests can result in benefit or harm, all with respect to the things we value. He dismisses the very foundations of meaning in order to claim there is no meaning… that doesn’t sound like the “honest conversation” I’m looking for.

The broader, implied argument is that one should believe in a god because it’ll prevent you from feeling as though your life has no meaning. This is not an argument for the existence of a god; it’s an argument for belief which has no dependency on the object of that belief being true. It’s like arguing that one should believe that they’re holding a winning lottery ticket if it makes them happy.

The problem, of course, is that our beliefs inform our actions and our actions have consequences for ourselves and others. The person who sincerely believes that they hold a winning lottery ticket may well take actions that prove devastating when they discover they actually don’t have a winning ticket.

3. If people don’t believe in God, the historical results are horrific, so how do we deal with the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it? Countless millions lost their lives under these godless regimes, regimes more influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch (superman) than they were by transcendent morality.

Once again, we have an implied argument that has nothing to do with the actual existence of god but rather on the purported benefits of believing that a god exists; if people stop believing in gods, bad things will happen, so don’t stop believing.

The assertion that atheism leads to horrifying atrocities is simply not true. It’s a vile, slanderous charge, rooted in ignorance and deception that isn’t the slightest bit softened by Zacharias’ stylish, questioning form.

In the case of the examples given, atheism is neither necessary nor sufficient to be identified as the cause of the actions taken. In truth, the atrocities were the result of belief systems which, while consistent with atheism, are not caused by atheism. You simply cannot draw a causal chain from “I do not believe a god exists” to “I’m going to destroy religious organizations and religious people” without an additional belief — and it is that belief that would be the cause of the atrocities.

To claim otherwise is to claim that atheism necessarily leads to horrifying acts (which is what he’s trying to do) and there are millions of secular people who testify to the false nature of that assertion every single day.

Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took actions based on beliefs that are akin to religions. They were powerful
zealots of socio-political ideologies and a belief that the opposition must be eliminated. To claim that those beliefs were caused by atheism is as much a non sequitur as claiming that they were caused by a stomach ache.

Hitler, on the other hand, gave conflicting reports about his beliefs. He publicly and privately identified as a Catholic, yet there’s also testimony that he was anti-religious or anti-Christian at times. If he had done great work, I suspect that the Christians would claim that he was opposed to organized religion, but a devoted, personal believer. Because of the atrocities he committed, they take a different tact, labeling him an atheist.

We can no more know Hitler’s true beliefs about the existence of gods than we can know the mind of any other. What we can know, though, is that even if he was an atheist, that wasn’t the cause of the actions he took. As Zacharias points out, it was the ideology of the Übermensch (among other beliefs) that encouraged those actions.

While that ideology is consistent with atheism (everything except for a belief in a god is consistent with atheism) it is not caused by atheism nor is it necessarily connected with atheism. It is not, though, consistent with modern secular humanism.

4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer? Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of it being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable, since no interventions in this life or reparations in an afterlife are possible. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. There is only madness and confusion in the face of suffering and evil.

His claim is that suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, if there is no God. This is another roundabout way of saying, “Hey, you might as well believe, you’ll be no worse off” — another argument for belief with no ties to the truth of the proposition one is being asked to believe. It reminds me a bit of the people who try to claim that atheism is “just another religion” without realizing the implication of what they’ve just said.

I disagree with his assessment, though, that suffering is just as or more tragic if there is no god.

If there isn’t a god, then suffering isn’t the result of original sin or impious thoughts and it isn’t a test from God or a torment from demons and devils. If there is no god, then suffering is a natural part of reality and that means that we can equip ourselves to alleviate unnecessary suffering by learning more about reality. We can also take comfort in knowing that the unavoidable is actually unavoidable and not punishment.

If there is no god, then those who blame natural disasters on immodest women, abortionists, homosexuals and atheists are simply arrogant bigots and not the voice of a deity. That’s no small comfort and, since we’re talking about the impact of suffering, that’s a valid point.

We do not require a god for comfort, we can reach out to other people and we can reach within, to the confidence and security that is bolstered by the understanding that one is not simply a plaything of a transcendent being.

5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most? Whose voice will be heard? Whose tastes or preferences will be honored? In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway? Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong — really wrong? Where do those standards come from? Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy. Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

This is simply false. The standard by which I critique religion and religious people is not contingent upon the existence of a god. This is a thinly-veiled claim of “no moral authority” and it’s a bit like saying that a room full of people can have no opinions or shared principles without someone outside the room telling them what those views should be.

Secular morality is superior to religious morality in every regard, save one; religious morality is simplistic. Secular morality requires thought and effort, religious morality is for the lazy and the thoughtless — those who would be duped into thinking that something becomes ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for them, simply because of an edict attributed to some other being.

Religious people already intuitively recognize the superiority of secular morality and they’ve been adopting the moral views of the secular societies that surround them.

The Bible, for example, clearly and explicitly endorses slavery. For those who believe that the Bible is the ultimate source of moral law from the ultimate lawgiver, there is no moral justification for opposing slavery — yet that’s exactly what some of them did and what most of them continue to do. Nowhere does the Bible denounce slavery, it’s supported in Old and New Testaments; so why do Christians generally oppose slavery?

It’s because we live in a cooperative society which helps form and shift our values. While dogmatists were blindly proclaiming their god’s endorsement of slavery, freethinking people (religious and non-religious) were actually considering the subject and evaluating its impact on the health of society.

It was the application of reason that changed the moral landscape, not the God of the Bible.

6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent? How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why I am so unfulfilled or empty? Why do I hunger for the spiritual? How do we deal with these questions if nothing can exist beyond the material world? Atheists, particularly atheistic scientists go way beyond their scientific training when they depart from the “how” questions to prognosticating about the “why” questions. Even terms like “natural selection” seems a misuse of words, since only an intelligent being can assess options and choose. How do we get laws out of luck, or predictable processes out of brute chance? If all that makes us different from animals is learning and altruism, why do the brutish still widely outnumber the wise in our world?

He’s basically arguing that his desire for the transcendent can only be explained in a case where the transcendent exists. This is an obvious fallacy. If there are no aliens, why do people long for alien encounters? Does their desire only make sense if aliens are beaming messages to their brains?

More importantly, I have no longing for the transcendent and no hunger for the spiritual. If Ravi’s desire is sufficient to support the existence of the supernatural, then is my lack of desire sufficient to refute a claim of existence?

Finally, there are no “how” questions or “why” questions
— you can form the questions either way:

Why is the sky blue? How does the sky appear blue? What makes the sky appear blue? Where does the blue in the sky come from? When…well, maybe we can’t use every interrogative.

What he means by “why” would be better labeled “for what transcendent reason…”, but if he says that, he exposes a flaw that we can expose with another “why” question: Why do you think there must be a transcendent reason?

His answer to that question is obvious. He thinks there must be a transcendent reason because he can’t imagine that there couldn’t be and wouldn’t want to live in a world where there wasn’t a transcendent reason… yet another argument for belief or against the consequences of disbelief, with no bearing on the truth of the issue.

His claim that “natural selection” misuses words is a bit obtuse when you realize that the term is a metaphoric response to unsupported claims of supernatural mechanisms. Only someone unfamiliar with evolution or willing to misrepresent it to make a point would claim that this is a misuse. Would he object to someone claiming that something was “decided by a coin toss” since only an intelligent being can “decide”?

In the end, this is really the same as the first question: if there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered…

I think “does some god exist” qualifies as one of the big questions. If Zacharias was as interested in examining the truth of his religious beliefs as he is in defending his belief with appeals to the fictitious consequences of disbelief, he might see that.

We’ll have a hope of answering those big questions when curious thinkers, dissatisfied with appeals to mystery, question the claims of religion and investigate with any eye toward truth, rather than comfort.

We get email: another creationist punching bag

So today, there’s a fellow who’s shown up in our inboxes claiming, at different times, to be a “Christian Psychiatrist” (both words capitalized), a neuroscientist, and a physician, though his nick is “risky-kid,” which doesn’t sound like any doctor I want to see. I call bullshit. But maybe the guy got his degrees from Patriot University and that’s how they do things. Anyway, he caught me at the right time, and so if you wish to amuse yourself reading my beatdown, here ’tis. I’m in italics.


Caveat: you are likely to find the tone of this response extremely condescending and rude. This isn’t an apology, merely a heads-up. I’m afraid public displays of smug ignorance bring out the worst in me. It’s not a thing I feel I need to work on.

From:
Subject: RE: I am a thiest I come in peace
To: tv@atheist-community.org
Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010, 4:37 PM

My approach it an integrative evidence based approach, in which scripture and nature rightly understood always harmonize. If there are apparent contradictions I look for errors in both my understanding of scripture and my understanding of nature. I have found errors in both places over time.

What is your basis for considering scripture valid as evidence of anything in the first place?

I find Darwinian evolution held together only by an insistence on forcing evidence to be interpreted in ways that are favorable to that theory rather than actually letting the evidence speak for itself.

Good for you, but that only shows you fail to understand the evidence for evolution and how it shores up the theory.

The list of scientific evidence which refutes Darwinian evolution is enormous, but this email isn’t a place for me to recite all of such evidence.

Nope. Sorry. You don’t get to show up here and spout the same tired creationist canards without backing them up. And yes, we’re aware that there are loads of creationist websites out there making arguments against evolution that sound very scholarly and scientific. But has any of their research actually been reproduced by other people without an agenda to push? Where are the peer-reviewed articles demonstrating that evolution by natural selection has been refuted? I mean in legitimate, recognized scientific journals, not those the creationists print up to circulate amongst themselves.

Those biased by years of evolutionary education however have failed to see how subjective their thinking has become and instead criticize any interpretation that deviates from the “accepted” norm as “blind” or “faith” based.

Perhaps the “accepted norm” is “accepted” because it’s what the evidence actually supports. Seriously, you started out with basic scientific illiteracy and now you’re projecting the attitudes of creationists onto scientists, and you’re not even trying not to be lame about it.

Sorry, but until you show you actually know a damn thing about evolutionary biology, I see no reason to take any of this drivel seriously. If you wish any credibility for your claim that you have “read widely in the scientific literature”, simply demonstrate that you’re right and that you have the expertise you claim to have. Here is your assignment:

1. Explain endogenous retroviruses using the evolutionary model.
2. Explain the creationist alternative.
3. Demonstrate precisely how the latter refutes the former, with citations.
Extra Credit: Submit your work to Nature and win a Nobel Prize.

But when one has already concluded that creation didn’t happen, and evolution did, then all the evidence is filtered through a bias which prevents real learning.

Yeah, again, you seem to have covered the whole subject of projection pretty well in your training to be a “Christian Psychiatrist”. Of course, it could never be the case that someone who has already concluded there’s an invisible magic man in the sky filters evidence through that preconception, and has “real learning” prevented thereby.

As a physician, and particularly a neuroscientist, I do find the common theory that the brain evolved over millions of years to be unscientific.

Then I’m going to take a wild guess and conclude that you’re either A) not a neuroscientist B) a lousy neuroscientist.

I have never seen one scientific experiment, reproducible, in which any species, by forces of nature and environment grew new lobes onto its brain. This is what is commonly taught in the neuro literature and I ask what evidence to support this – of course there is none.

I thought you were familiar with the scientific literature. It took me precisely 2 seconds to Google this.

But tell me, where are the reproducible experiments that have shown Godidit? I mean, clearly, the scientific literature must be overflowing with them. Or is it that the Big Science Conspiracy has struck again, I wonder?

Really, only three things need to exist for evolution to occur, and they’re all things that we know exist: Sexual reproduction, heritable variation, and selection pressure. Perhaps you have some research that shows none of those things come into play in the process after all…?

Another equally resonable intepretation of the evidence is that a designer built and expanded His design to create variations on a theme. When we consider all the vehicles on the road from carts, to carriages, to bicycles, to autos, trucks etc. We can see various elements in common to all and order them from simple to complex, yet none would argue that these vehicles evolved on their own, all would rightly realize that designers included elements that are essential to the function of each (wheels) etc.

Yeah yeah yeah. And if you found a watch on the beach…

Honestly, there are 18-year-old biology freshmen who could explain selection to you. You’re making the basic creationist fallacy of comparing artifacts to natural organisms. The development from simplicity to complexity in evolutionary science really is Biology 101 stuff, and very widely understood by those, unlike you, actually versed in the field. Seriously, your remedial education begins here.

If that doesn’t interest you, then demonstrate, please, that the concept of a designer is scientifically falsifiable. What would a non-designed lifeform look like?

Therefore, I do not believe science has provided reasonable evidence to conclude a naturalistic explanation, and rather I find the weight of evidence for a designer

Huh? Then where is that evidence? All you’ve shown us is what you consider “reasonable interpretations” of evidence you haven’t even convinced us you understand at a baseline level. (Indeed you’ve shown pretty unambiguously that you don’t.) And all you backed that up with is whining about how you think scientists are all biased and subjective for not seeing your god in everything. You also seem to think that “integrating” modern scientific evidence with the writings of a Bronze Age holy book produced by an ignorant, pre-scientific, and primitive culture that barely even had indoor plumbing to be a valid approach to researching this vast and complex field. Which, frankly, makes about as much sense as figuring out how to get a girlfriend by integrating your actual interactions with women with the experiences of Archie and Peter Parker in comic books. In other words, you have something of a credibility deficit here.

and in fact find two antagonistic principles at play throughout the entire earth ecosystem – what I term the law of love, which is the principle of life, and the survival of the fittest principle (fear and selfishness) which is an infection which damages and brings death. Viruses, as I see it are examples of the infection to creation which damages and destroys, their very function is merely self replication and take without giving, and results in destroying the host and
itself in the end. This is exactly what sin is and does, selfishness, taking, destorying and dying.

Well I guess I have gone on long enough.

Long enough for me to conclude you are either not being truthful about being an actual neuroscientist widely read in the literature, or that academic standards for people in your profession have crashed through the floor. Perhaps you got your degree from Patriot University?