During the Labor Day weekend, I spent a good portion of it going through all the comics on the Jesus and Mo website. For those not familiar with this strip, the premise is that Jesus and Mohammed are roommates somewhere in the United Kingdom who spend a lot of time at the neighborhood pub being challenged about religion by an atheist barmaid. Moses is a mutual friend of Jesus and Mo who does not live with them but drops by for periodic visits.
The comic strip is a remarkable blend of philosophy, theology, and humor that appears twice weekly and if you start from the very first strip in November 2005 and go through to the present, you get a good introduction to many of the issues concerning religion and atheism that this blog has been addressing, except that the strip says things more concisely and is funnier. It is well worth your while to read all the strips.
It is also very insightful. This strip from 2008 made me suddenly realize that we new atheist scientists have been going about things all wrong in our attempts to show that being an atheist makes the most sense intellectually.
The trouble with scientists is that when we are asked a question to which we don’t know the answer yet, we say we don’t know the answer yet. This is our usual reply when religious people ask, “What existed before the Big Bang? What caused the universe to come into being? How can matter arise out of nothing? How did the laws of science come into being? How was the first life form created?”
Religious people seize on these frank admissions of ignorance as if they are a fatal weakness of science or of atheism and their theologians triumphantly claim that religion does provide answers to all these questions and is thus superior to science, since this shows that religion has ‘ways of knowing’ that are superior to science.
But what are their answers really? When you come right down to it, what religions do to get ‘answers’ is simply make stuff up. They have no evidence or proof for their answers or even decent arguments that are not circular and self-serving. But once you invent an imaginary entity to which you can assign any powers you like, you can give facile answers to any question.
Here are some examples:
Q: Who created the universe and matter and the laws of science? A: God.
Q: How did he do all that? A: He is omnipotent so he can do anything.
Q: Why does he allow evil and suffering? A: Because he loves us.
Q: How does that make any sense? A: He has a cunning plan.
Q: What is the plan? A: It is a secret.
Q: Why? A: We are not ready to understand it.
Q: When will it be revealed? A: When we are ready to understand it.
Q: Why don’t we see any evidence of god? A: He carefully hides the evidence from us.
Q: Why? A: Because he has a cunning plan.
Q: What is the plan? A: It is a secret.
And so on, ad infinitum. You could easily write a computer program to provide these kinds of answers.
Scientists should take a cue from the theologians so that whenever we are confronted with the kinds of questions that religious people love to ask, like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is the purpose of beauty?” instead of answering honestly, we should simply make stuff up too.
This was the genius of Bobby Henderson. Rather than debating the existence of god, he simply made up a new deity called the Flying Spaghetti Monster and challenged traditional religions to explain why theirs is more credible than his. This, of course, they cannot do. So the Flying Spaghetti Monster now proudly stands as an equal in the pantheon with Amun, Zeus, Odin, Krishna, Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Zoroaster, and others. To get a sense of how many gods there have been in the history of the universe, the website Machines Like Us has compiled an alphabetized list, though the FSM is inexplicably not included.
So taking my cue from Jesus and Mo (and Bobby), here are some sample answers that I will give in the future to some popular questions:
Q: What existed before the Big Bang? A: Shirley MacLaine, in the very first of all her previous lives.
Q: What caused the universe to come into being? A: Shirley sneezed, and this was the Big Bang.
Q: Where did all the matter come from? A: Shirley baked it in her oven.
Q: Who created the laws of nature? A: Shirley again. That amazing woman can do anything!
Q: By what mechanism did the first life form come into being? A: Shirley gave birth to it.
Q: What is the meaning of life? A: To propagate Shirley’s genes.
Q: What is the purpose of beauty? A: To give pleasure to Shirley. She likes pretty things.
Actually these answers are even better than the ones provided by standard theology because they involve no secret cunning plans. Shirley tells her followers everything.
Truly Shirley is the greatest of all gods.
POST SCRIPT: Happy Birthday, Baxter!
The wonder dog is four years old today.