Yet more sequins for god

You may recall that irritating essay by Nicholas Wade in which he butchers the philosophy of science — well, his book is out, it’s gotten a mixed review in the New York Times, and Jerry Coyne mentions that it’s Templeton-endorsed. It’s all the kiss of death as far as I’m concerned — I don’t think I’ll be reading it. Ophelia Benson will be reviewing it for Free Inquiry, so maybe she’ll change my mind.

Although I doubt it.

I don’t know. It seems like there’s this weird industry generating lame apologetics for religion now, busily churning out half-assed books for the faitheists. To me, it looks like a gang of people making up bushels of glittery, repetitive sequins to dress up the Emperor’s nudity. I think they need to spend a little more time figuring out exactly what they’re going to stitch them to.

The presumption of Rick Warren

Rick Warren regularly scribbles up these cloying little messages he calls the Daily Hope — and rather than hope, they offer nothing but trite platitudes and unfounded certainty about a godly purpose that I find extremely discouraging. How can people find this lying tripe uplifting?

God deliberately shaped and formed you to serve him in a way that makes your ministry unique. He carefully mixed the DNA recipe that created you. David praised God for this incredible personal attention to detail God gave in designing each of us: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous” (Psalm 139:13-14, NLT).

Not only did God shape you before your birth, he planned every day of your life to support his shaping process. David continues, “Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16, NLT).

This means nothing that happens in your life is insignificant. God uses all of it to mold you for your ministry to others, and shape you for your service to him.

This man needs to spend some time doing recombination experiments with fruit flies. They’re simple and revealing. For instance, genes for body and eye color (called yellow and white, respectively) are located close together on the X chromosome of Drosophila. If you cross a female carrier for the yellow body and white eye alleles to a wild type male, you will discover that the male progeny (which inherited a nearly empty Y chromosome from their fathers) reveal the rearrangement of alleles that occurred during the production of the female egg. Most will have inherited one of the non-recombinant X chromosomes from their mother, for example, either a chromosome with two wild-type alleles, so they look wild-type with grayish bodies and red eyes, and others will have inherited an X chromosome with the two mutant alleles, so they’ll have yellow bodies and white eyes. And some will have inherited a chromosome rearranged by recombination events, so they’ll have gray bodies and white eyes, or yellow bodies and red eyes. And of course, if you do lots of crosses, you will get occasional mutations in those genes that produce completely unexpected results.

The important point, though, is that you learn quickly that the distribution of progeny is dictated by chance, not purpose. There is no benign allele sorter who recognizes that white eyes, for instance, are deleterious, and therefore carefully arranges each meiotic division of the egg so that the white allele gets discarded in a polar body. No, it’s random — chance alone “mixes the DNA recipe” for each individual. I am the product of a random assortment of half my father’s genes and half my mother’s genes, as are my brothers and sisters, and we’ve each acquired some deleterious and some advantageous alleles, all by chance. We are all a throw of the dice, or a chance hand dealt from the deck.

What Darwin revealed, and has since been explained in greater detail with our understanding of genetics, is that there is a historical bias: individuals who had the most lucky throws of the dice are more likely to produce offspring with their fortunate distribution of alleles. Again, it’s not because a god shines down upon the lucky, it’s because the lucky acquired an advantage, and that advantage can be propagated into successive generations. Nothing more. No purpose, no intent, no plan required. We look at the distribution of traits in a population, and it fits a chance distribution, sometimes modified by natural selection.

And that’s the way I like it.

I have been dealt a hand by chance, and some of my cards are real stinkers — one side of my family, for instance, has a history of early heart disease. I don’t like the bad luck there, but that it is by chance alone is far more reassuring than the idea that a meddling deity chose to give my father a battery of risk factors that led to his early death, and that he also chose to stick me with some of those, too. If a loving god were actually paying “incredible personal attention to detail”, you’d think there would have been some quality control in spermatogenesis that might have weeded out some of the defective alleles, or more precise matching of sperm and egg to make sure all weaknesses in one were compensated by strengths in the other. This doesn’t happen.

While we have all the flaws concomitant with being children of chance, we also have an advantage: we’re free. There is no cosmic fiddler. There is no domineering father in the sky who has a mission for us, who decreed at our birth that there is something we must do with our lives, who has slotted you into one specific role without your consent. You are not driven by an arbitrary external purpose, and you should find the idea of such a daily dictator of every detail of your existence abhorrent to an extreme.

It’s a real mystery to me why anyone would find the deterministic slave-philosophy of Rick Warren at all appealing or consoling, especially since the evidence all says that it is wrong, as well. There must be something some people find pleasant in surrendering responsibility to an imaginary scapegoat.

Personally, I appreciate the fact that I’m a combination of traits, some lucky and some unlucky, that are mine and not the product of the whims of some puppetmaster. I’ll make of them what I can and what I will, and who I am is my responsibility and to my credit or blame.

Hey, now, don’t challenge me in a poll

It’s like taunting the bull while standing in the middle of his field. It’s just not smart. Anyway, there’s another of these online polls ranking atheists, and Hemant Mehta has come out on Twitter threatening to destroy me in the voting. You know I can’t stand for that. Go vote!

Who is the Most Vocal Atheist of the Year?

Richard Dawkins
49 (25%)

PZ Myers
52 (26%)

Christopher Hitchens
33 (17%)

Bill Maher
21 (10%)

Dan Dennett
4 (2%)

Sam Harris
4 (2%)

Victor Stenger
3 (1%)

Michael Shermer
6 (3%)

Dan Barker
10 (5%)

Hemant Mehta
90 (46%)

I’m so sorry for you, Indiana

But then, you elected this profoundly stupid man to be your governor, so it’s all your own fault. I was reading an interview with Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana that was just embarrassingly bad.

To me, the core of the Christian faith is humility, which starts with recognizing that you’re as fallen as anyone else. And we’re all constantly trying to get better, but… so I’m sure I come up short on way too many occasions.

Our country was founded -this is just an historic fact; some people today may resist this notion but it is absolutely true- it was founded by people of faith. It was founded on principles of faith. The whole idea of equality of men and women [and] of the races all springs from the notion that we’re all children of a just God. It is very important to at least my notion of what America’s about and should be about and I hope it’s reflected most of the time in the choices that we make personally.

The core of Christianity has never been humility, but arrogance. This is a faith that claims its followers have privileged contact with an immortal, omniscient being, that claims that believers are especially loved by the most powerful intelligence in the universe, and that those who believe most devoutly will be rewarded after death with cushy lives in paradise, while the rest of us burn in torment for eternity. Governor Daniels needs to crack a dictionary.

a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

There is nothing humble in believing one has an inside line to god. Sure, Christians talk about being “fallen” and “sinners”, but what it’s all about is false modesty: we’re all fallen, but Christians get to be saved, and you don’t.

Our country was founded by people of diverse faiths, many of which modern Christians would not recognize as anything like their beliefs; Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine only get to be kept in the fold post mortem because they’re Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine, but anyone who says the things now that they said in life is a heretic and apostate.

Equality was not one of those principles held to with any consistency by the founding fathers. Slavery was condoned. Slavery was justified by the Bible; what kind of “just God” orders his people to slaughter whole nations and enslave their women and children? Equality was an ideal of the Enlightenment (implemented poorly, in fits and starts, and with its own share of blood and pain), not Christianity. The Christian ideal was a hierarchy on earth and heaven; a monarchy topped by a god.

Mellinger: Is there part of you that is bothered by the aggressive atheism of a [Sam] Harris, a [Christopher] Hitchens, a [Richard] Dawkins? And what I mean is… this atheism is a little different than atheism has been in the past because it does seek to convert people.

Daniels: I’m not sure it’s all that new. People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we’re just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists -Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth- because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth.

Everyone’s certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they’ve come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world.

There is no eternal standard of right and wrong. It has changed from generation to generation; what was considered right and wrong in the Biblical Middle East would horrify us with its injustice if implemented in 21st century America, and reciprocally, a Judean priest from the 1st century BC would be calling for the wrath of Jehovah to fall upon those licentious, evil people like Pat Robertson or James Dobson, who lead millions into a life antithetical to ancient Jewish custom.

It is revealing that when Daniels speculates about what matters if there is no god, all he can imagine is the worship of power. That tells you exactly how hollow his morality is at the core; he cannot imagine a good life without a priest telling him what is right and wrong.

I’d answer differently. In the absence of a god-given absolute morality, all that matters is how we treat one another in this one life we have. What flows naturally to me is not brutality, which requires an absence of awareness of the suffering of others, but recognition of the fact that my fellow human beings really are my equals: we’re all going to die, we only have these few brief decades of life, and who am I to deny someone else the same opportunities I’ve been given?

Skipping past the obvious falsehood in his comment — Hitler was not an atheist — it is an absurd non sequitur to declare that awareness of our mortality leads directly to oppression and abuses of power and the selfish acquisition of power at any cost. There are no gods, no objective enforcement of a benign morality on us, and that has a couple of consequences. One is that we ought to reject out of hand any claims to morality based on theocratic morality as false; we should not aspire to build a just society on lies. Another is that we should do as Daniels says but patently does not do, and think very carefully. We should build our morality on reason.

I think it’s obvious, actually, even if it is a non-trivial problem. I can at least say that my ideal society would not be led by an autocrat who thought power was a sufficient justification for his actions, the conclusion Daniels thinks is natural for atheists, nor do I think that a culture built around obedience to tradition, as interpreted by a tribunal of priests, is my idea of a desirable society. And I’m an atheist. Why would a mindless ratbag politician like Daniels think that my dream world would be led by a dictator? I get so tired of being told by the ignorant that my goal is to put a Stalin in power, when they dream of a Palin.

I hope you do better in your next election, Indiana. Try to find someone who doesn’t confuse faith with justice next time, OK?

Aww, someone didn’t like what I said. Timothy Stone just had to write to me to argue that he wasn’t really being ignorant…while telling me I’m going to hell for not believing in his god. These guys have no sense of irony (also, the formatting of the email was even more mangled than what I show here. I have no idea why he decided the last half looked better in blue.)

The core of Christianity has never been humility, but arrogance. This is a faith that claims its followers have privileged contact with an immortal,
omniscient being, that claims that believers are especially loved by the most powerful intelligence in the universe, and that those who believe
most devoutly will be rewarded after death with cushy lives in paradise, while the rest of us burn in torment for eternity.

This is an example of someone who really does not get Christianity at all. With all of the doctorate degrees that you have and all of the power that you have, you simply
have failed to understand what God is all about and what humanity is all about. You could not get it more wrong.

The entire point here is that there are two types of people in the world, people who accept God and those who don’t. There is nothing arrogant about that.
It is, what it is. I can’t judge you personally, but I would believe that if a person did reject God and they died that person would end up in Hell.

See you don’t believe any of this, but belief does not matter. It is all real no matter how you try to hide or not. All of the events of all of our lives are being recorded.
You can say you don’t believe all you want. None of this matters. I know you think everything is a myth with the exception of science and the scientific method, but
that is simply not true. That is a lie that you keep telling yourself because you don’t want to accept God. No matter what proof is given, you will never ever believe in
things beyond the this natural world.

What if you tried to give a scientist the facts that Atoms existed and what if he never believed the scientific method, what if he believed his own methods.
My point being that some people have agendas and no matter how much proof or what kind of proof you give them, they still won’t understand.

Heaven and Hell are real. Hell is not meant for people, it is meant for other spirit forms that you don’t believe in.
However, there are some people in there because they just outright rejected God and then they died and it was too late.

I know how you work, you will call me a loon and then brand people like me a moron for what we believe because you think that everything that isn’t scientific
in nature is just myths and fairy tales. You do this every blog post and you beat the same horse over and over again with nothing really new.

Anyway, the only way to make you really understand all of this is when you die. However, it will simply be too late.
My hope is that you turn your life around before you die at least. I may not like what you say, but I would not want you to go to Hell.

PZ and the preacher?

A small mob of atheist students (and a confused, deluded mob of hapless Christians) are going to be making a trip to New Orleans to help rebuild homes. This is a wonderful idea, and I commend all of the students, even the misled theistic ones, for making the effort. However, they need money to cover expenses. Not a lot, just $1500, so they are doing an online fundraiser on 16 January.

I’m not quite sure how this is going to work, but they are asking for donations that will give you a chance at prizes…and the opportunity to ask questions of some poor preacher man in a webcast on blogtv.

Pastor Weyer must have one of those martyr complexes. I’m going to be on with them in an interview, and I think we should chip in a little extra every time we make him cry. If you’ll all make some good donations here, I’ll try especially hard to twist the knife on his foolishness. Fun and profit for a good cause, how can you lose?

At least one of my votes still makes me happy

Obama has been a disappointment (but still better than the alternative!), but one candidate continues to make me happy: Al Franken. He recently tacked a praiseworthy amendment to a defense bill: there will be no defense contracts to companies that “restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” I’m rather appalled that such rules exist in some companies, and it’s about time that someone shut that kind of criminal behavior down.

The weird thing, though, is that 30 male Republicans lined up to oppose that bit of legislation. What’s the matter with those cretins? What possible reason would anyone have to defend the right of corporations to protect rapists?

Ave atque vale

I’m a fan of the comic strip Lio — the one with the weird little kid with the pet squid and whose antics clearly make him a descendant of the Addams Family. The strip for Christmas eve was a little different, though.


It hit home for me because the day after Christmas is my day of melancholy. It was the day after Christmas, 1993, that I got a phone call from my mother to let me know that Dad had died, unexpectedly, suddenly, quietly. It’s a memory that colors my holiday season every year, and it’s a strange thing — the grief and sadness never go away. One of the lies we always tell ourselves is that the pain will go away with time, that we’ll get over it, that time heals all wounds, and it’s not true. Every loss is forever raw, and we can feel it all again with just a thought or a reminder, like a Christmas phone call to the family. The older you get, the more of these moments of grief you accumulate, and they never leave you.

[Read more…]