Saturday, September 5, 2009

Get in the Sack for Sept 6, 2009 - Pope Benny

Right now I would take homeopaths and I'd put them in a big sack with psychics, astrologers and priests. And I'd close the top of the sack with string, and I'd hit them all with sticks...And when someone asks the big questions - I don't know what happens after a I die, or what happens when my loved ones die, or how do I stop myself from dying - the big questions and they give you a nice bullshit answer and you say 'Well, do you have any evidence for that? and they say "There's more to life than evidence". Get in the fucking sack.
-Dara O'Brian

It's almost embarrassing to read the ongoing debate between atheists and theists sometimes these days. The extent of ridiculous hyperbole sometimes makes my brain hurt to the point where my ears nearly bleed. This is especially true of statements may by some theists, particularly those of the fundamentalist Christian variety, about what atheism is and what it means.

Take Eddie Snipes, a writer for the Examiner, whose four-part series of articles on evolution is maybe the staggeringly display of mind numbing stupidity I have read in a while. His description of Charles Darwin, the theory of evolution, genetics and atheists is so twisted that when I read it I thought I had slipped into a parallel reality where words had totally different meanings. Consider this gem from this series called "Natural Selection - Atheism Trojan Horse." (oh and please note he hasn't discussed natural selection that remotely reflects science and appears to not have any real clue what the Trojan Horse is or what it is a metaphor of.):
The evolutionary theory was born out of a desire to provide an explanation of the origin of life without a Creator. Since the goal is to distance themselves from God, disproving the argument will never change the mind of an atheist. Their primary goal is to remove God so when one argument fails, an alternative version is formed. Let me also clarify that many call themselves atheists because they have only been exposed to the crafty arguments of atheism and are not aware that the evidence contradicts the doctrines of atheism and agrees with the scriptures.

When I refer to atheism I am assuming that the reader understands that I am referring to those who are in rejection of the truth and will not be persuaded in the face of any evidence. Many will be open to the truth of scripture when they realize that they have been hoodwinked by the one-sided propaganda that is being passed off as reason and free thought.
To point out everything that is wrong with these two paragraphs would take an essay in and of itself. Just discussing how Darwin's studies that resulted in the theory of evolution by natural selection was a justification to prove "atheism" and reject "the truth" could fill an entire university paper. The fact is that, despite what Eddie and others might say, Darwin did not set out to disprove theism any more than astronomers set out to disprove Bigfoot. Darwin, like all good scientists worked within the scientific method that seeks natural explanations for natural phenomenon. And if you think "god did it" works as a scientific explanation, consider how happy would be if that was your doctor's explanation for why contracted a serious illness, gave you a prayer book and sent you on your way. Antibotics are for the heathens!

However painful it would be to read all of Eddie's postings and tear them down here to put him in the sack, there appeared a far worthy subject who makes Eddie's musings on atheism seem like the zenith of intellectual activity by comparison. The present Pope of the Catholic Church.

Now, truthfully, one expects more from a pope than the level of mental knuckle dragging found in some corners of the Examiner. After all, Pope Benedict is a well educated man, leading a church that is well over a thousand years old. But alas, that appears to be much to hope for.

One of the more pitiful theist arguments is what is sometimes called the moral argument for god. I have dealt with this a few times on the Handbook, so I won't get into a full discussion here. But the argument basically says that because there are morals, there must be a god. The low brow version of this argument says "if you don't believe in god, you are an unethical, evil schmuck." Essentially the idea here is that if you reject believe in a god (usually this means a specific god like Jesus.) then you are only left with your pitiful, evil, useless human mind and emotions to sort out what is right and wrong. So corrupt are we as a species that if we did not have a Bible or Koran we would simply run about killing and raping each other at will....and probably would not regard said killing or raping as particularly bad.

As Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens often point out, however, the person who says they would be a wanton killer without the 10 Commandants has revealed more about themselves than the content of a holy book. The fact of the matter is that religion or a belief in a god is not a requirement for moral or ethical action and, indeed, as I have pointed out before, theistic concepts of good and evil in the context of a all power god are, at best muddy.

However, the usual "whats to stop you from raping people if you don't believe in god" got an original, if just as stupid, spin recently thanks to the Pope.

During a recent speech, the Pope declared that environmental damage caused by humans is the fault of - wait for it - ATHEISM!!!!
Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where his existence is denied? If the human creature's relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the ‘final authority,’ and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.

That's right folks - unless you believe in the Christian god and the Catholic church you are unable to figure out that running about and torching rain forests or making gorrila vests is a bad thing.

The hilarious part of this is that Christian environmentalism - that is environmentalism that uses the Bible as its principle justification - is a relatively new thing and is largely found not in Catholic circles but in emerging evangelical moments in the United States (which has caused an rift within the American evangelical communities). The first line of that paragraph is more reflective of the changing moral zeitgeist than it is of what a sky god apparently wants or the moral failings of non-theists.

For most of the history of the Christian faith, proper treatment of the environment was simply not a question. Well, why would it? It wasn't really a question for anyone was it? The environmental movement, as we have it today, doesn't get going until the 1970s.

So what does the bible say about the environment and how humans should use it? Well, since the bible contains zero scientific information (you know, because its authors knew nothing about science and, in any case, their purpose was to write a book of religion, not science) the answer is not much. However, in the Old Testament were are told god gives humans - or more particularly men - dominion over the Earth. For centuries the usual interpretation of this was not the present day spin the pope is using of environmental stewardship. That is a modern concept driven not by religion but by environmental and political activism. No, the most common view of the bible in this regard, and one that you still find in more right wing circles is that god gave the planet to us and said "Do whatever the hell you want!"

More seriously, the Bible does not really provide any basis for the protection of the environment at all. The texts do not urge us to protect animals from extinction or preserve our water quality. They make it clear that we are here for a good time, not a long time. This planet and everything on it is a mere test, the appetizer before the main course. This entire world will vanish in a bloody Apocalypse in which Jesus will return the earth will burn and a new world will be put in the old one's place. Powerful mythological stuff, but if one takes it seriously protecting the environment would seem daft. I mean, why protect this lot if its all going to be wiped out in war and fire anyway? What's the point? Jesus is on his way back to open up the can on everyone isn't he?

On the other hand, if one understands that human beings are merely one species among countless others, and that despite our powerful technology the worse we can do is destroy ourselves not the planet; and if we realize that our fate, as a species, depends entirely on the survival of our ecosystem, then protecting the environment becomes a critical matter of self preservation. Contrary to what the pope claims from his palace in Rome, a world view without a god makes protecting the environment and the other creatures we share the world with all the more important.

So Pope - get in the damn sack.