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Native Beliefs

Today it occurred to me, I don’t know why we give the Native American religions a free ride. Well, yes I do, it’s because we don’t have a Native American with 181 delegates backing him on the promise of eradicating women and gays because the spirit of the buffalo entitles him to make being different from him illegal. But from a purely philosophical standpoint, they’re just as full of shit as all the rest of the supernatural belief systems, but at least in the part of the country where I live (one of the ones with the heaviest Native populations remaining), anyone who celebrates the wind spirits and talks to the trees seems to get a free ride from the rationalist folk.

Some of it, of course, is that they’ve never been taken all that seriously to begin with. Animists, and their honky successors of various new wave religions, are always taken with a grain of salt, and people tend to be a lot less shy about asking “you don’t really think there’s healing energy in that crystal, do you?” than they are asking if someone really takes their cues from an illiterate Middle Easterner from Roman times. On top of that, because there’s no established church, animism feeds well into the American desire to be considered “spiritual, but not religious” without being accused of copping out of the debate.

I’m not saying animists aren’t good people. I do think that if they had been accepted into the power structure as Jews had in 1st century Palestine or Christians have in 21st century America, corruption and intolerance would affix itself to their belief system just as readily as it attaches itself to any other religion, because one of the greatest weaknesses of religion is its very virtue of the necessity of faith. If someone is already willing to believe in an omniscient being, spirits in the trees, or just some vague force without having any proof of its existence, then they’re agreeing to believe in something that doesn’t exist. Or at least, it’s not necessary that it exist in our perception of reality to believe it.

That’s a powerful, powerful, device, and if the people in authority follow a doctrine with that allowance, the doctrine is quickly corrupted. The movie Troy beautifully illustrates a scene where Trojans went to crazy lengths to justify how their belief system compelled them to go to war with the Greeks. Well, of course they wanted to go to war with the Greeks, but the reality was against them. It was a military mistake and a diplomatic disaster. But they really wanted to give it a shot, so rather than turning to evidence-based observation. they turned to faith-based religion.

Meanwhile to the east, a band of African itinerants traversing through Asia suffered the opposite problem. Theirs was not that their opulence gave way to base desires, but that base desires interfered with their need to live with limited means. It’s difficult to keep your people happy living on nothing but dry bread and steady exercise when your neighbors walk down gold-lined streets and get together in the afternoons for orgies. But as it became to difficult to explain to their people why they had to be extra-careful about what they ate since they lacked sanitation and their numbers were small enough that they really needed to be careful about inbreeding and love triangles, they came up with a different tact: if you don’t listen to us God will destroy you. Where reason fails, religion begins.

Reading through the Jewish religious documents, it seems apparent that the first couple tries didn’t stick. They made for some good folk tales but didn’t encourage proper behavior. So the rules became more specific. God became more wrathful. Characters were no longer centenarian myths, but people they actually knew: Moses. King David. Solomon. The stakes were raised until gentiles were no longer regarded as simply other people but as enemies. To be continued

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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Proving Invisible Jesus

The following question came to me from Facebook:

There is not one piece of evidence of Jesus’s existence until 70 years after his death, when historians acknowledge having heard of the myth. What possible evidence could you have for his existence?

A little background is necessary, of course, such as: why would I, an atheist, be defending the existence of Jesus? And, why would I, a cynic, be so insistent that someone whose existence cannot be proven did in fact exist?

First off, the reason why I would be defending the existence of Jesus. The first reason, of course, is that the conclusion I have drawn from the research I’ve done is that he unquestionably existed, and if I am to attack theists for ignoring evidence that does not support their cause, so to must I admit what appears to be the truth, even when it doesn’t seem to support my side of the argument. The second reason is that the existence of Jesus is a straw man. As I have discussed in earlier posts, atheists should be able to concede virtually everything to drive the point home that even if virtually everything Christians (in particular) say is true, it still doesn’t prove or even suggest in any way that there is a God, or that any of their other supernatural claims hold true. By asserting that Jesus did not exist, the Christian presumes that we believe the following premise: “Jesus does not exist, therefore Christianity is wrong.” So, if they can prove that Jesus exists, they can render the conclusion invalid. The true atheist believe is that Christianity is wrong, regardless of whether there was a Jesus or not.

Second, why would a cynic be so confident in Jesus’s existence? Isn’t it more accurate to say that there’s no way for us to know? Again, I’m always uncertain of that kind of assertion, because it’s all too common for Christians to say “well, there’s no way for you to know for sure whether there is or there isn’t a God, so wouldn’t it be safer just to join us?” It’s true—nobody can know for sure whether God exists. That’s why monotheism has lasted so long—it was well enough written so that nobody could ever disprove it, as opposed to (for example) Greek religion being disproven the first time we flew a plane over Mt. Olympus. But the evidence overwhelmingly supports the nonexistence of God, to the point where anyone who claims his existence must eventually simply say “well, you just have to have faith that he exists.” In other words, you have to ignore reality to think there’s a God.

Well, you have to ignore reality to believe that Jesus was never real. Now, history is an incredibly unreliable science. By definition, almost. It’s very difficult to know what will be important in history, which is why we don’t know much about the childhood of an Avonian writer until he started writing plays in London for the Queen herself. We also have to piece together history with what we have available, which is why the world knows every most intimate detail about the childhood of a teenage Jewish girl but not of the young Austrian painter who would grow up to have her killed. Finally, history is written by the victors, one of the many reasons why we’re here talking about the proliferation of African and European-based monotheistic religion and not of the dreaming rituals of the Australian aborigines.

Fortunately, there are a few rules that historians follow which make for very reliable data, even with unreliable evidence. The first is Occam’s Razor. History is rarely complex. This is how we dismiss nearly all conspiracy theories, as well as a good deal of ideologies. Occam’s razor comes up frequently when Christians find themselves forced to defend discoveries made after the bible was written: if the only way that your belief system can be justified is (for instance) by saying that dinosaur bones were systematically placed in the Earth’s crust by God for the intent purpose of putting your faith into question, you are in serious, serious denial.

Second step—if history is written by the victors, what is the stuff that the victors wouldn’t want you to know? If the Soviet history books say that V.I. Lenin spoke in baby talk or the English history books say that King Richard VI had a humiliating stutter, you can believe that those things were true. If the victors could write those facts out of history, they would have, but they can’t, because there are recordings.

Finally, look for extraneous information and figure out why it’s there. In the words of William Shakespeare (if he even existed), “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Are they giving you an alibi? What is it they don’t want you to think they were doing? Why did the Romans have a horribly written, utterly unbelievable story rife with contradictions about an escaped Trojan traveling to Italy to found Rome? Could it be that early Rome’s whole justification for Imperialism was that they were the new Greeks?

Now, with the Old Testament, we don’t have to dig too deep to attest to its accuracy, because its authors were terrible liars. Virtually all of the principal characters lived to be 500-600 years old. Really. Moses was told the Ten Commandments by a burning bush, on a hill with no other witnesses. You don’t say. The entire planet was flooded for forty days and forty nights, with the only animals surviving being those on Noah’s Ark. Tough break for the wolves, who weren’t indigenous to the Nile Basin, but a hearty congratulations to fish.

The New Testament is a little more difficult to simply brush away. For one thing, Romans kept pretty good history. Also, the New Testament was written as more of a history of man, not of the supernatural. But it also appears that the authors of the New Testament were talking about the life of a man who most certainly existed.

Without getting too deep into the history, the New Testament is a spinoff of one very specific part of the old testament: the birth of a Messiah. The claim, as we all know, is that Jesus of Nazareth was that messiah. Now, right off the bat, we have a very believable premise: that a group of people around the Jewish year 3100. After all, the Torah gave pretty specific data on when the messiah would be coming around, and that was the time. They also gave a very specific location: Bethlehem.

The Bible does say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He better have been, or the whole premise for the book is shot. However, how he got there, and why he didn’t stay, and why there are no documents which indicate that he was there, is inconsistent and very difficult to believe. It’s perfectly believable that the Romans wouldn’t have cared about some Jewish kid in a cellar, but weren’t they there specifically for a census? And then, while it’s completely believable that King Herod would have ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, it’s a little strange that there would be no record of every single child in an entire principality being killed, and once the story goes on to describe how Joseph, Jesus, and Mary escaped the massacre, the story gets far-fetched indeed.

Seems the New Testament authors are liars after all. They’ve failed every rule of historical believability—the story is so convoluted that it’s hardly believable, the details are so intricate that they seem to be covering something up, and the story sure does come out making Jesus look good and the Jews in power look bad.

But wait… if they’re lying about the birth of Jesus, why didn’t they just say “yeah, he was born in Bethlehem. He’s the messiah, isn’t he?” Why start the story with a tale so ridiculous that even Jews at the time would think it was too far-fetched to be real? Remember, these are the people who don’t bat an eyelid when they say their hero can pull thousands of tasty cooked fish out of thin air if the occasion called for it. It seems that they’re going out of their way to explain away how someone who everybody knows was born to a carpenter in Nazareth could be the messiah born of a virgin in Bethlehem. It would be pretty embarrassing for Christians if their dude wasn’t even born in the right place to the right people. So the story of the nativity seem to prove two things: 1. there was a Jesus of Nazareth, and 2. he wasn’t born in Bethlehem.

The same can be said for the end of the story. According to the Torah, the messiah was to expel the Romans from the Holy Land, give the land back to the Jews, and usher in the end of existence, carrying his chosen ones with him to heaven. Jesus was about three years into his preaching when the Romans grabbed him, tossed him up on the cross, and he died. There’s a reason why the Bible focuses so much attention on Jesus’ last days—because it takes a serious amount of spin to justify why their hero was caught in less time than it takes to get a B.A. in Theology. The fact is that Jesus met very few of the criteria of the Jewish messiah, and those criteria that he did meet, he knew perfectly well what the conditions were and he went out of his way to meet them (really, you don’t think that by the end of his ministry Jesus couldn’t find a better mode of transportation than an ass?).

Go back to what the original intent of the New Testament was: to prove that Jesus was the messiah. If they made this dude up, they did a shitty job. You could say that the entire thing was a meticulously spun tale, crafted just right to make it seem like a real person with real flaws but with divine lineage, but they just weren’t that good at telling bullshit stories 2,000 years ago. No, there’s really one big obvious answer: there really was a Jesus of Nazareth. He really did preach. He really did go after the moneylenders at the temple. He really did preach on the mount. He really did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, and he really was betrayed and crucified. Because even 2,000 years ago, nobody would have thought it was a story even worth listening to if it weren’t about someone they knew was real.

And again, at the end of the day, it just seems like it’s not a smart thing to argue against. There’s a chance that Jesus wasn’t real. But if the atheists are eventually the victors of history, they would be smart to leave Jesus in there. There’s just too much to explain to justify his nonexistence, and in any case, two thousand years from now historians may look back and say, there sure is a lot of documentation of this Jesus fella, and how embarrassing would it be for our atheist overlords if that guy really existed?

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Atheist Temples?

An atheist proselytist in England is embarking on the construction of not one, but several Atheist temples in the UK.

The temples will have all the symbolism that one would expect from a religious monument, and could be a huge step in legitimizing the atheist community. On the other hand, it goes against the disestablishmentarianism that so many atheists have pride in?

What do you guys think? Good idea? Bad idea? Or like so many Christian institutions, is it just a fair way of recognizing that there can be multiple denominations of atheism itself, those in favor of organization and those against? Or is it simply a good excuse to finally be able to use the word disestablishmentarianism in context?

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Gay Marriage

I don’t like to use the term ‘gay rights.’ There’s only one type of right: your right to liberty. —Ron Paul

Okay, how about ‘gay restrictions’?

As often happens, with the issue of gay rights we suffer the problem of religion demanding seemingly contradictory rights. They stand by their right to the freedom of religion, but argue that other peoples’ religious beliefs are immoral or deviant and thus should not be allowed. They argue that marriage is a religious tradition and thus reserved for the churches but argue that the government rights that come with marriage should not be granted to non-Christians.

Those are all the easy arguments to make, of course. What I stated above is the “weak argument” in favor of gay marriage—it doesn’t have anything to do with whether gay people should actually have the right to marry, and there’s nothing to actually contest or debate. Choose a side—either you agree with me or you don’t.

From the beginning, this blog has argued that secularism holds the absolute truth—that an hominem or status quo arguments are not necessary to show that non-religion is the superior solution. Let’s presume that every single objective argument that comes from the Religious Right is true. Even then, it is clear that same-sex marriages should be completely legal.

The arguments:

  1. Gay marriage is immoral and damaging to society.
  2. Gay parents are unable to raise their children as well as straight parents.
  3. The purpose of marriage is to procreate, which gay couples are unable to do.
  4. Marriage is a religious ceremony and therefore should not be celebrated by people who defile the religion.
  5. Tradition has always been defined as a man and a woman.
  6. Permitting gay marriage destroys the sanctity of the institution (see also #4).
  7. If we are to allow same-sex marriage, we should just as easily allow people to marry multiple wives, or their dog, or a toaster.

Now, I am not saying all or even any of these things are true. However, by simply going back and forth with “no, it isn’t!” “Yes, it is!” we make no progress. Here is our argument that every single one of these could be true and it still stands to reason that gay marriage should be not only legal, but protected as a basic right.

First of all, what exactly are we arguing to protect? What is the definition of ‘marriage’? If you start by saying “the definition of marriage is a bond between a man and a woman,” you’re not trying to come to any sort of consensus, you’re trying to shut up the other side. What is the agreed definition of marriage? Here’s our suggestion: Marriage is the introduction into one’s family of someone not related by blood. Unlike many of this blog’s definitions, this one does a pretty good job of capturing what makes marriage so beautiful. It is not only an expression of two peoples’ togetherness, but a responsibility that is not owed to any other individual. You cannot run away from a marriage as readily as you can a friendship, or a job, and by getting married, you’re agreeing that you would never want to.

gay marriageSo now we look at the arguments. Gay marriage is immoral and damaging to society. Since when has that been illegal or even frowned upon? On the contrary: there is a long tradition of marriage being a form of ownership, of a woman being forced into the familial bonds of a man, or of a man and woman of royalty from two countries being burdened with the bond that their respective countries desire. And even outside of the cultural tradition of arranged marriages, it is to this day an expectation of two friends who have caused an accidental pregnancy to get married before the child is born—if they are to raise a child, they should be obliged to each other.

When a couple marries in anticipation of a child, does that undo the fact that they had premarital sex? Absolutely not, and their conservative family members may still condemn them for their “sin,” but they will follow it up by saying, “at least they did the right thing.” They’re having a child, but they’re committing to raise it. All is right with the world. Having a baby isn’t the only reason why people commit to each other—maybe they want to live together. Maybe they can’t afford to support themselves on their own. Maybe they live in different countries and it’s the only way they can be together. In fact, it seems like marriage is used as a necessary solution for all sorts of problems. Marriage in itself tends to be used to ‘right’ a ‘wrong,’ so why wouldn’t otherwise deviant behavior (homosexuality) be justified by them vowing to stay together ‘for the right reasons?’

Now for procreation. I’ll allude to the obvious here, that there are 132 million orphans in the world who need parents of any kind. Many gay marriage opponents try to make the claim that two loving gay parents is equivalent to a single mother, which everyone agrees is less ideal than two loving parents, and the obvious response to that is that two loving gay parents are actually pretty similar to two loving parents, in that they are. However, in this blog, we’re ceding every single point to the opposition, so we’re going to say: what if gay parents are worse than straight parents?

When was bad parenting illegal?

Why should it be legal for fathers to be abusively anti-gay but illegal for fathers to be gay and tolerant? Even if you say being gay is deviant and disgusting, so is leaving your children with some dude you met in a bar, or blowing pot smoke in their face just to see how they act, or intentionally terrify them to force complacence, or pull them out of school for fear of them learning about genetics. Yet all of these are not only legal, but there are some circles of our culture which actually condone each of those actions, and defend their right to do so.

There’s a Public Service announcement right now in Portland which says “you don’t have to be perfect to be a parent.” It’s from the foster care service, trying to find parents. Mind you, they’re targeting people who aren’t procreating. Some who can’t, some who don’t want to anymore, some who can’t afford to raise a child from 0 to 18. Imagine in another state, running that same ad, only to turn gay parents away, telling them, “yes, we’re desperate for imperfect parents, we’re desperate for people who want kids but can’t have their own, but we won’t take you.” Being an imperfect parent is not only legal, but greatly desired over non-parents.

Now, for the religious aspect. No church should have to marry a gay couple if they don’t want to. There, that was easy. Now, as for others, their marriage doesn’t affect the church. I’m not only atheist, but I write a pro-atheism blog in my spare time. Yet I’m married, and no religious person would ever suggest that I shouldn’t be. So why would I have the right to engage in the sacrament of marriage, but not a gay couple?

But that’s beside the point. Here’s the point: since when was marriage a religious right? If marriage were a religious ceremony, betrothed couples would be granted no rights that the church isn’t permitted to give. That means no tax deductions, no cohabitation rights, no special visitation rights, no making decisions on the others’ behalf. They can sit together in the pews and they can be buried together, and that’s it. You want all those other rights that are given to domestic partners? Get a civil union with the gay people.

Never mind the fact that the early Christian religion actually did not recognize marriages. Holy blogger man, are you serious? Yeppo. It was not until St. Ignatius decided a hundred years into the church that bishops should marry betrothed couples in the church. Before then, marriage was considered a pagan excuse for mindless fucking. So if the church really wanted to remain pure, they’d reserve marriages for they gays and sluts, and forbid good Christians to marry at all. I mean, if they’re really observing tradition.

To be continued…

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Who are we?

It’s interesting to see what kinds of sites link to this blog. Most referrals come from blogrolls or my facebook page, but there are a few of the sites that share our thoughts on what it is to be atheist:

Censorship in America
Rare diseases
Alternative religions (multiple sites)

So what is atheism? A censored minority? A rare disease? An alternate religion?

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Proof

 

Let’s say that tomorrow, the world is presented with definitive, inarguable proof that God exists. Which would be the largest faith community to recognize and affirm His existence?

Atheists.

On average, anyway. Because if God happened to be exactly manifest in the form that one particular denomination believed, that denomination would immediately point to the proof and triumphantly declare that they were right all along. Now, most people of any faith willingly agree that no faith has it absolutely right. But even if there were one that was 100% correct. Let’s say it was the Ba’hai.

Would all the people of faith, the other billions of non-Ba’hai, admit that they were wrong? Absolutely not. Ask a believer now, and their likely answer will be “it’s a ridiculous question, because it’s not true. I’ve never even heard of the Hi faith, how could it be real?”

We’ve addressed this arrogant fallacy before, that while people of faith say that God is Supreme, they also tend to believe that it is their faith in God which proves his existence, thus suggesting that man did in fact create God, but the reason I bring it up now: if every non-Ba’hai in the world generally agrees that they’re full of shit, and every non-Mormon in the world agrees that they’re full of shit, and every non-wiccan agrees that they’re full of shit, then why do Judeo-Christians have any reason to believe that they’ve got the inside track? The answer is simply that they don’t. But just as all non-Ba’hai feel safe that they can dismiss the teachings of Bahaullah without fear of going to Hell (which the Ba’hai would agree with. So, win-win), so too do all the world’s Jews who refuse to recognize Jesus as the messiah, and all the Christians who refuse to recognize Muhammad. Elvis exposed the hypocrisy of institutional religion when he wore the star of David, cross, and chai on one big necklace, saying he didn’t “want to miss out on heaven due to a technicality.” Houses of worship put a great deal of effort into turning people away from Elvis’s philosophy: there is no room for multiple interpretations. You believe in our faith, and none others. Or, as God put it:

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I, the LORD thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.Exodus 20

The atheist argument to those who don’t respect it as a belief system is that everyone is mostly atheist. There have been a hundred religions in history, give or take… a Christian, by not having any other gods before him, pronounce that they are atheist to 99% of the world’s religions. Atheists don’t believe in Mount Olympus, and neither do Christians. Atheists don’t believe we came from teardrops, and neither do Christians. Atheists don’t believe that there is one omnipotent God, and neither do Buddhists, or pagans, or animists, or the cavemen, or North Koreans, or ancient Greeks, or Persians, or any other non-monotheist faith in history. And of the monotheist faiths, Christians are atheist towards Allah, Muslims are atheist towards Jehovah, and Ba’hai are atheist towards the Trinity.

But there is a difference between a true atheist, and a person of faith who is “atheist to all other religions.” That difference is that people of faith are absolutely certain that all other faiths are wrong. Most are so convinced that they’re so obviously the only correct ones that they love to ask atheists: “okay, you say you don’t believe in Hell. What if you’re wrong?” The expected answer being, okay, I’ll believe in Hell, just in case it actually exists, and therefore by believing in it I won’t go there. Aside from the paradoxical nature of that logic, if atheists were so easily swayed, they wouldn’t be atheists. They’d be in a Kool-aid cult.

The fact is that most atheists have a very good reason for not believing in God: they’ve never seen him. They’ve never seen any evidence of him. Every single thing that religious people claim is the work of God has been very clearly and unambiguously explained through human reasoning, or is still questioned. There is not a single thing that people of faith have been able to point to and say “that. For as long as that exists, there can be no doubt that God exists.” Many have tried, as we discussed last week, but none have succeeded.

But the second one comes up, atheists will promptly say, out loud, that we were wrong. Obviously, such a time has not come, but there have been countless instances where rationalists have let go of at least part of their beliefs. We atheists used to believe that the Earth was a large, flat disc that the sun revolved around. We have since admitted we were wrong. We then believed that you could sail west from Spain and land in India. We have since admitted we were wrong. We then believed that caucasians and blacks were two separate races, independent of each other both in quality and in soul. We have since admitted we were wrong. We then believed that any time an egg was fertilized in a woman’s body, barring some horrible tragedy that egg was virtually guaranteed to mature into a child. We have since admitted we were wrong. We then believed that homosexuality, pornography, and drug addiction were contagious maladies that could be spread and would infect us and drive us insane. We have since admitted we were wrong.

So a Christian, not paying attention, may gloat, “well, you seem to be wrong about a lot of things. Seems reasonable that you might be wrong about God.” Actually, we’re not wrong about any of those things. Because the second we realized they were wrong, we moved on. In fact, if you ask around, the only people who still believe any of those things… are religious. They have tied their belief in God to all sorts of beliefs that have nothing to do with where we came come or why we’re here.

They’ve forgotten their original quest of trying to understand the world around them and become obsessed with fighting moral wars and bolstering their numbers. They’ve become so obsessed with the minutia, things that matter to people and nothing else, things that are so ensconced not in natural law but in social order, that they no longer recognize the reality in front of them if it endangers any of the beliefs that they would be damned for eternity if they disavowed. They would deny their own God if he was standing right in front of them, if their self-interested pastors said He wasn’t what the church represents.

True atheists have no such reservation. We have all the knowledge that has accumulated over the centuries pointing to the nonexistence of God. But if He were to appear tomorrow, we would welcome him with open arms, and we would admit we were wrong. Then our children would learn what we pass on to them, about our round earth, about racial equality, about biology, about tolerance, and about God, and our children would be right about all those things.

Yet there would still be the millions upon millions who ignored the coming of the Lord and insisted that he was a fraud, a blasphemy. Like how pagans view Jews, how Jews view Christians, how Christians view Muslims, how Muslims view Ba’hai. All of them, literally arguing about nothing. At least they don’t still think the world is flat.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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From Descartes to Darwin

Darwin was wrong. So was Jesus. And Einstein. And Plato. And that weird dude from 7-11 that you told gave you the wrong change but he insisted that donuts were no longer on sale. Maybe not about that specific issue, but he was at least partially at fault. You were wrong, too. It’s nothing to be afraid of… in fact, quite the opposite. We cannot allow fear of being wrong to dissuade us from offering up ideas. And similarly, we have to ignore anyone who tries to shut us up because what we said wasn’t spot-on accurate. Christians should understand this concept quite readily. After all, their favorite authors have things like this to answer to:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she must be silent.” Timothy 2:12
“Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us / He who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” Psalm 137
“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” 1 Peter 2:18

Christians have a lot to answer for if they fail to recognize that a document can be imperfect. They seem to be less excited, however, about providing any kind of leniency to Charles Darwin. First off, we have to consider why nonbelievers are beholden to Charles Darwin at all. My theory—and I could be wrong—is that religious folk can’t wrap their head around the concept that atheists don’t take their marching orders from a single individual. I’m not talking about God—even within the monotheistic faiths they make the claim that God is not a single individual. I’m talking about Jesus. Mohammed. David. Siddhartha. Zarathustra. Kim Il-Sung. Religions are formed by cultures, by hundreds of years of development, but are often credited to a single individual.

To fit that custom, many are tempted to consider atheists followers of Darwinism. The fact of the matter, though, is that nobody thought Darwin was on to anything even when he was alive. He wasn’t persecuted like Jesus or Peter were, his contemporaries just thought he was wrong. He was also late to the party—exactly fifty years before Origin of the Species was published, French Zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published Zoological Philosophy, which amongst other things scientifically proved that the theory of evolution by mutation was bullshit. Lamarck’s main theory was much simpler: if the only food is ten feet above the ground, the long-necked giraffe will eat and the short-necked giraffe will die, and that’s why the world doesn’t have any short-necked giraffes. Lamarck’s ideas, what we now refer to as “survival of the fittest,” were absolutely right, but they weren’t sexy. And as we’ve discussed before, for philosophy to survive, it has to be sexy. It also failed to answer the important question: where did the long-necked giraffe come from in the first place, if not from God?

Lemarck was too French to suggest that any of this was possible without God. French weren’t too big on being not Catholic. One of the great pioneers of atheist thought, Descartes, was French, and spent his entire life fighting off accusations that he was anything other than Roman Catholic. In fact, while we all know his most famous line, the cogito, few know the context in which he said it. “I think, therefore I am,” was Descartes defense against those who accused him of denying the existence of God. His argument:

If we cannot believe in God, we can not be sure of anything at all. But I am sure of at least one thing: I exist. I am.

In other words, there must be a God, or we wouldn’t even be here. This, from the founder of modern rationalism. Such is the religious pressure of the land of Jean d’Arc.

England, however, was much more secular, as happens when your state religion is based off an old King’s desire to get with his booty call, and there were many influential philosophers, writers, and scientists who made incredible discoveries free of the pressure of conforming to dogma. One of the most important was Alfred Russel Wallace, a hard working biologist who had been able to show a clear connection between animals and the place they lived, leading to the conclusion that animals who were a natural fit for their own environment survived, while animals who were a poor fit for their environment died. It was simple, obvious, and irrefutable. But it wasn’t sexy.

No, the sexy came from a rich, young adventurer with mad mutton chops by the name of Charles R. Darwin.

Charles Darwin, or as I like to call him, Chuck D, didn’t spend quite as much time proving his theories as Alfred Wallace, and his theories were not as sound as Lamarckism, but they were sexy. Lamarck’s world was that of rimmed glasses and pocket protectors. It wasn’t cool to be a Lamarckist. But Darwin talked about things like turtles crossing the Atlantic, and mutant butterflies outsmarting their monstrous prey. Darwin’s world was that of X-men and underdogs. Sex-y. Unfortunately, Darwin didn’t really have all the data he needed to support his theory, but he had to get published quickly or Alfred Wallace would beat him to the punch, so he released Origin of the Species, and history was made.

His discoveries were all the rage in the 1860s, when Darwin was the old, long-bearded man that we all think of today, and his thoughts inspired an entire generation of young biologists, attracted to the idea that any of us could sprout wings at any moment, or that every time a lizard had children, any one of them could be a dragon. Of course, that’s bullshit, and we all know it, but it’s sexy. It’s fun to think about.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Darwin’s theories were only popular for about forty years, until Mendel was able to prove the existence of genetics. From that point on, we realized that Darwin’s idea of transmutation and traveling turtles was, essentially, wrong, and while the theory of evolution is often credited to his name, he was by no means the first person to come up with the idea, and in fact there were contemporaries of his that were even more on base but just didn’t have his business sense, and ultimately, Darwin’s work was obsolete in less than a single generation.

And this is what sets rationalists and fundamentalists apart. Rationalists aren’t looking for someone to follow. They aren’t looking for a club to join so that other people will know they’re going to heaven. They’re just concerned with the Truth. And in our search for the truth, we’re always coming up with new ideas and new theories, and challenging the ones we already have. Sometimes, as with Descartes, we have to consider the context in which their beliefs are expressed. Other times, as with Darwin, we have to take what we can from it and use that as a launchpad to move on to more accurate and useful theories down the road.

When Christian fundamentalists mock the concept of Darwinism, dismissing the idea that monkeys are turning into humans, they’re absolutely correct. The idea that a monkey will spontaneously mutate into a thinking human being is the primitive mindset of people hundreds of years ago, the kind of idea that people would enjoy for thirty years or so before they grow up and start searching for more serious answers.

That’s why, despite their popularity 150 years ago, there just aren’t a whole lot of serious Darwinists around anymore. Because we rationalists kind of think that believing something that someone professed generations ago which has since been roundly disproven is, well, stupid. It’s what we’ve been trying to tell you people for years.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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