Friday, December 13, 2013

Atheism Confirmed, Part II

     Graver still for the theistic cause, every year brings us explanations for what we observe in nature that are better than the explanations found in the Bible. We know now that epilepsy is not caused by demons; we know how to treat leprosy; we know the Earth orbits the Sun. Science has provided well-tested theories of nature that answer far more than the counterpart answers found in the Bible. Science gives us historical linguistics; mythology, the Tower of Babel. Mythology speaks of a divine column of fire and smoke at the top of a mountain; science speaks of a volcanic plume. The more one reads the Bible, the more it appears to be stuck in the Bronze Age. To credit the Bible as anything more than mythological literature produced by human beings at pre-scientific points in history would require abandoning robust explanations of natural phenomena in favor of superstition. The gaps in scientific understanding, those murky niches in which some of the faithful insist God may be hidden, are in fact already too narrow to conceal the Lord of Hosts. Like Victor Stenger, we must conclude the Biblical God is a failed hypothesis.

     Many Christians do acknowledge that the Bible should not be read as history. They prefer it as divine poetry, or sacred metaphor, the moral excellence of which establishes its supernatural truth. Until I actually began reading the Bible myself, I was prepared to accept that whatever its truth content, it might have social or political utility as a moral guide. Indeed, there seemed to me no reason to doubt that the book might even contain useful insights about human nature, which presumably hasn’t changed much in the past few thousand years. I was therefore astonished to find God allowing, endorsing, even commanding the worst behavior of which humans are capable: genocide, slavery, ritual murder, capital punishment for innocuous offenses, etc. How can believers defend Jephthah’s sacrifice of his own daughter? Or the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Joshua at God’s command? Or the casual endorsements of slavery? Or God’s breathtaking insistence on the death penalty for a man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath? Moreover, I began to see the full moral implications of concepts like Hell or the flood of Noah. A God that could preside over such enormities is morally unworthy of worship. In my view, there are no sufficient answers to these objections. Clearly, the God of the Bible does not exist except as a creature of fiction. For that fact, having now assimilated the horror of Biblical immorality, I am grateful.

     What are the implications of these discoveries? I cannot yet see. The more I reflect on the comparative dangers of liberal economic policies and conservative religious ones, the more the latter seem the greater danger. So long as conservatives promote Biblical values, they retard human progress. And even we secular conservatives must ask ourselves to what extent the picture of society we wish to conserve reflects religious values.

     In my case, finding one answer has raised a whole new set of questions. Is there any point in retaining even the label “conservative?” With the historically unprecedented and burgeoning abundance allowed by science, to what extent do social and political traditions that grew up in an environment of scarcity remain relevant? Historical institutions may have been as beautifully adapted to the needs of our species as our pre-historical instincts were adapted to the African savannah. Now that we have grown beyond both environments, perhaps our historical institutions have become as poorly adaptive as our ancient nutritional strategies? We evolved to survive intermittent famine. The instincts that conveyed selective advantage in such times now tend to produce obesity. Perhaps insisting on old standards of conduct, even the virtues and social structure required for civic republicanism, merely produces unnecessary unhappiness. Worse, perhaps in battling to preserve the institutions of the past we are unwisely delaying the advent of a superior future.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Technical Difficulties

     Not sure what Blogger has done with the pictures.  Will attempt to reload them if necessary.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Atheism Confirmed, Part I

     About two years ago, I began a review of Christianity to see whether my late-teen rejection of the faith remained justified. Having concluded the inquiry, it is time to report what I found. Briefly, I have found God. I know Him now, who He is and where He came from. It is undeniable that He is nothing more than a human creation. Ingersoll was right. Russell was right. Mencken was right. Hitchens was right. Dawkins and Harris and Stenger and Dennett—all are right. The God of the Bible is a contradiction, a monstrosity, an impossibility, and He is so to a far greater degree than I perceived at 19 years of age.

     Four main lines of objection militate against the existance of the Biblical God. They apply with similar force to all the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and the like. They are objections from logic, from history, from science, and from morals.

     At the outset, even brief reflection discloses that the God concept is self-contradictory. More fully: Logic, such as the arguments apologists use to prove a First Cause, reveals that an omnipotent being is a contradiction in terms. For example, consider whether God could create an object so massive even He could not change its velocity. Any possible answer contradicts the definition of omnipotence. Adding omniscience to omnipotence only heightens the contradictions (e.g., could God keep a secret from himself?). Innumerable such contradictions arise from any logical analysis of the qualities theists claim are essential to the God of the Bible, and so the very system of logic they wish to use to establish a First Cause defeats their own notions of the Being they posit as that First Cause. Whatever the First Cause may be, logic tells us it cannot be the Biblical God.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Partisan Politics, Part II

     There are many plausible reasons for the media’s hatred of the Republican Party. Chief among these, in my view, is the Republicans’ embrace of the Religious Right. Nothing so antagonizes the intelligentsia as Biblical literalism does, as well it might. The God of the Bible endorses slavery, genocide, child sexual mutilation, the subjugation of women, and the damnation of everyone, no matter how otherwise praiseworthy, who does not ultimately confess his or her faith in an implausible savior. It is understandable that educated Americans would begin their search for political affinity with this question: How can I, a thinking and decent person, count as allies people who accept all the evil in the Bible as the literal word of God? Most in our universities and the media are unwilling to do so. Well, so far I cannot blame them. On the other hand, the Republicans are not wrong about everything. Unfortunately, the natural partisanship of human beings too easily yields a politics of simple opposition: What my enemy endorses I must oppose. Since the Republicans endorse and accept the Religious Right, I—so reasons the intelligent Leftist—must oppose the Republicans on everything.

     It is for this reason I have come to believe that the Religious Right is dooming the Republican Party. Perhaps, if the Republicans divest themselves of the fundamentalists, they will stand a chance of fair reportage. Realistically, it may be too late in the day for that. Alternatively, they could make it their business to recapture the media and the universities and the courts—the Long Campaign—but I do not see them even making the attempt. Short of that, and the odds are anyway still pretty long, they will simply have to abandon the Biblical literalists and their fellow travellers. The Earth was not created in six days; Adam was not made of mud; Eve was not made from Adam’s rib; there was no worldwide flood; Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed by God in punishment for homosexuality; sex is not a sin; and any text that approves what Joshua did to Jericho, or that fails to condemn slavery, or that prescribes stoning for adultery, or that endorses everlasting torment, was not inspired by a God worthy of worship—these must be planks on a new Republican platform.  Otherwise, the Republicans are likely to calcify into a religious millstone that drags down sound fiscal policy.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Partisan Politics, Part I

     During the last hundred years of the Roman Republic, before Cæsar launched the transition to autocratic rule, there developed two main coalitions in Roman politics. These were the Populares, who promoted the interests of the poor, and the Optimates, who promoted the interests of the rich. Earlier in Roman history, the ancestors of these political coalitions were the plebeians and patricians; in those days, there was no distinction between economic and social class—generally the rich men were aristocratic patricians, for instance—and something of this class loyalty persisted all the way down to the time of Marius and Sulla. It was the plebeian Gaius Marius who adopted the Populares, while the patrician Lucius Cornelius Sulla advanced the cause of the Optimates. Ironically, in the very next generation, the patrician Julius Cæsar became a Popularis, while the plebeian Pompey Magnus wound up defending the Optimate cause. One might think that as social and economic class began to dissociate, party cohesion would likewise have melted a little. Instead, it seems to have intensified. The Optimates and Populares found themselves literally at each other’s throats, unable to compromise on anything. Ultimately, their mutual antagonism led to social and political chaos, which in turn almost begged for an authoritarian solution. Augustus’ long and stable reign yielded the material benefits that political chaos always endangers. He proved in the laboratory of history that the Romans, whose ancestors had sworn never to tolerate a king, ultimately cared more about bread and circuses than they did about liberty.