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.

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Departing from History

     What could keep us from repeating history? Are Americans on a historically determined arc from liberty through chaos to tyranny? In profound ways, we really are different from any prior culture. Through science, modern people have unraveled truths of nature and ourselves that settle the primordial questions of mankind. Superstition and religion are inbred in us—science has told us even that—but rational, scientific explanations for phenomena are ineluctably supplanting those of faith and fantasy. Fundamentalists dispute Darwin’s theory of evolution, but they do so increasingly with arguments about data and gaps in the fossil record. Essentially, they have conceded the main point, which is the efficacy of the scientific method. This is an enormous difference. Further, the discoveries of science are accessible as never before. If the Library of Alexandria preserved ancient wisdom for many centuries, it was nonetheless limited in effect because limited in access. Moreover, it could be burned in a day—and was. By contrast, the Internet cannot be destroyed by anything short of an extinction event, and its information is in principle available to all people everywhere at trivial cost. This is another enormous difference between our world and the world of our ancestors.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Civic Virtue and the Relevance of History

     This blog has proceeded from the point of view that America is accelerating through unprecedented change. A phase transition, if you will. The problem is how to navigate changes like these. History, perhaps, can provide clues to what we can expect. For instance, the Romans went from a city of citizens all of whom performed military service to a city of subjects who outsourced their defense. Is our professional, all-volunteer force—which looks eerily like the Roman army after the Marian reforms—a precursor to an outsourced military? Ultimately, there were hardly any Romans in the Roman legions. In our case, perhaps we will hand over our defense to drones and robot soldiers. Such mechanical mercenaries will be less susceptible to economic temptations than the troops of late Antiquity, who were happy to bankrupt the empire and dethrone emperor after emperor with demands for ever higher wages. On the other hand, what of the corporations that soon may provide robo-troops for a fee? History tends to validate Machiavelli’s famous warnings against mercenaries.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Catching Up

     So much has happened this year that, with professional commitments and the rapid pace of developments, it has proven impossible to comment on it all.

     In politics, it appears the gerrymandering of districts has created safe seats for partisans of both parties. Not surprisingly, such representatives see themselves as holders of a mandate not to compromise on principle. Nearly every political question can be reduced to an expression of principles, and so there is a hardening of partisanship.

     In morals, the consensus on ancient norms is changing—has changed. Whatever the merits of the underlying arguments, it’s clear the mores have changed when we see gay soldiers and Boy Scouts, legalized marijuana, and women in combat. Good or bad, these changes are stupefying in scope. As a member of the badly named Greatest Generation put it to me recently, “I never thought I’d see that.” The one consistency in the moral realm is the continuation of the judiciary’s practice of legislating morality from the bench. If the people of California amend their state constitution to define marriage as an arrangement between one man and one woman, well, we certainly can’t let them do that. After all, it’s…immoral.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Stoic Manner

One thing I have always liked about the president is his manner.  Whether it bespeaks Stoicism or icy calculation is another matter.  Here, at least one writer has hinted at the former.  In any event, the rest of her article on the utility of Stoicism in modern times will be of interest to those who have a sense that even without the Christian God there is a need for virtue in our conduct, whether we are soldiers, statesmen, or merely citizens of the Republic.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Worth Remembering: Murray

“Everyone who cares at all for truth needs some court of appeal from the mere judgement of the world.”
Gilbert Murray, Stoic, Christian and Humanist

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Worth Remembering: Bronowski

“The world today is made, it is powered by science; and for any man to abdicate an interest in science is to walk with open eyes toward slavery.”
—Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values