Sunday, 24 June 2007

Theism and Darwinian Evolution

Are theism and Darwinian evolution(hence ToE) compatible? This is a discussion of the problems involved in accepting a "theistic evolutionist" worldview(where God is defined typically as he is by most theists.)Personally, I believe that God's omnipotence suggests better methods could have been used than the theory of evolution.

First of all, religious people believe that there is some sort of "higher purpose" for man; the ToE suggests just the opposite--man is just another creature among many and is in no way "better" than any other. If man was so important to a god as end product, why did he not create man outright? Of course, in evolution there is no final goal, no "aim" to be consiously worked towards.(1) It is likely that man(or even intelligent beings) may not have existed at all had a slightly different evolutionary pathway been taken.(2)
As Sam Harris writes, "Over 99 percent of the species that ever walked, flew, or slithered upon this earth are now extinct. This fact alone appears to rule out intelligent design."(3) This seems incredibly wasteful for a so called omnipotent deity.
Also, the time period taken for evolution to evolve anything interesting on this planet was very long, are we expected to believe God sat there twiddling his thumbs(watching the brutality of the natural world) waiting for something halfway interesting to evolve?

Evolution is also a far from perfect process, in terms of a "good of the individual" view(which one presumes God would be interested in, he is interested in our eternal fate after all). Yet the human body is riddled with imperfections and useless bits, puzzling if God so badly wanted to create us in his image. This raises the question of why God would implement evolution to make these supposedly special beings.

The idea of a soul is also one that, to me, does not make any sense in terms of evolutionary theory. It is difficult to see how such a notion evolved, and being as evolution is a continuous process it raises the question of when God would have drawn the line between human and non-human, and given us souls. The only idea of consiousness that makes sense when we look at evolutionary theory is a naturalistic one.

(1) "Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan conseqences, has no purpose in view." --Dawkins, Richard The Blind Watchmaker (Penguin 1986 (Appendix 1991)) p. 21
(2) Chris Hitchens argues this in his recently published book God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion. He cites Stephen Jay Gould as saying that without an ancestor of ours known as Pikaia gracilens all of the modern vertebrates would not exist. (pg.92-93)
(3) Harris, Sam Letter To A Christian Nation, (Bantam Press 2006, this version 2007) pg. 75.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Only 71 People Are Going To Heaven!

[Note: This was originally written after the airing in Britain of Louis Theroux' documentary The Most Hated Family In America. It was on my original (now deleted) blog, but I decided to give it a re-airing here.]

There was a programme on this week in Britain about Fred Phelps' infamous cult, the Westboro Baptist Church. I, of course, watched this programme. In it, Louis Theroux spent three weeks with them in order to attempt to find out why they would do the things that they are infamous for.
The Rev. Fred himself was rude, nasty and insulting, surprisingly enough, as well as appearing to have the "don't-question-me" cult attitude. He seemed to be in the background but in control, sitting in his room(stroking a white cat--that's a given) letting everyone else get their hands dirty holding his hateful little protest signs. While he thinks about anal sex. Because seriously, there isn't a gay man who's ever lived that thinks about anal sex as much as these people.
Not to mention his batshit insane conspiracy theories. Because I'm sure that a so-called loving God goes around letting terrorists fly planes into stuff. And yes, I'm sure 9/11 was punishment to a nation that allows homosexuals--we'll just ignore the fact that there were sodomy laws in 14 states at the time, shall we? And I'm also dead sure that only Phelps himself has the right interpretation---as they all seem to believe--and the other thousands of churches are all just plain wrong. Because they say so.
I personally don't understand why we are supposed to worship this petty sex obsessed God, maybe it's just me but I don't see the appeal in it.
Shirley Phelps was the one who was actually doing the protesting malarkey. And she was absolutely crazy. Batshit insane. She and her little cult following--mostly children--stood at the side of the road with their signs. To a certain extent, they just look sad and pathetic. I mean, only three or so adults protesting?
Of course the fact that they want to go around protesting people's funerals is pretty sick, offensive, and disrespectful.
The main problem I have with their little church is what they are doing to their children, though. I mean, children that could have been no older than ten holding hate signs that they don't even understand what they mean: to me that is wrong. These poor children are going to grow up with a very skewed perception of reality: they are going to feel like everybody hates them. And because the outside world is so hostile, the only place they are going to belong is the Westboro cult. Which will only mean that the world hates them more...and the cycle goes on.
You could see the result of this in their teenage daughters and the woman in her early 20's: in general they seemed like nice people, but the force of this hateful religious indoctrination was so strong that they couldn't see that maybe they were wrong...I think they struggled aswell to see the true hatefulness of many of the things that their church preaches. Their minds have been severly damaged by this, and I personally think it is a very sad thing. I hope that there is some way that the other children can escape before they end up like this.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

So, What Exactly ARE Family Values?

What are "family values"? Well, it depends on who you'd like to listen to. The Religious Right likes to claim to have the monopoly on "family values". According to James C. Dobson and others like him, you're not a "proper" family if you don't conform to his ideas. And let's not forget that everybody who isn't heterosexual, or is divorced or a single parent, or supports the legality of stuff like gay marriage, they are "anti-family". This is nothing more than a cheap strawman. Nobody is "anti-family". Everyone accepts that the "one-man-one-woman-with-kids-married-for-life" formula is just fine and dandy if that's what you want to do with your life. We just appreciate that that formula is not suitable for everyone. So what exactly are my "family values"? My family values are understanding people's needs. My family values, in short, are love, tolerance and monogamy.
So don't let anyone ever tell you (if you are indeed a liberal on matters like this) that you are "anti-family". having a broader definition of something does not make you against it.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

On Moderation In Religion

Today's topic is: Should atheists, skeptics, brights team up with moderate religious believers to get rid of fundamentalist or extremist religion, or should atheists scorn religion altogether and attempt to get rid of faith(when I say this I don't mean forcibly.)

I'd like to start by saying that there are a lot of nice, reasonable, caring, and liberal people of faith. I even know some of them. Many religionists have contributed a lot to society. Many religious people have changed the world and fought hard to make it a better place. Alas, often against other people of faith with a different interpretation of the same book. I don't even think that most (American) fundamentalists intend to do harm, although they often do. Many of these liberal religionists decry extremism as well, and stand firm against the Pat Robertsons and Osama Bin Ladens of this world. Being as we both understand the dangers of fundamentalism, it would perhaps be best if we all opposed it as a group, and certainly we would be a lot more numerable if we did so.

However, is religion by nature "fundamentalist"? I would have to say yes. By the nature of it, everything that doesn't agree with the truth is wrong, and most religious people, even religious moderates, claim to have the truth. This sets religion up in a way so it is a very us-v-them mentality that cannot be proven wrong as such(because they will just say that they have faith.) (For an similar scenario, nationalism does the same thing: "my country right or wrong".) And of course, if you are wrong, you go to hell. Many communities define themselves in religious terms and this leads to war. And I'd imagine that even if one is a liberal religionist, it would not be difficult to slip into the fundamentalist mentality, due to this exclusive truth claim. God certainly does not seem like a moderate. Being as he orders death for those who don't worship him in many places(1). This leads us onto the fact that many people do not see the conflict as extremism-v-everybody-else, but see religion as a whole as dangerous. Being as these religious claims are false, we should use our reason to come to that conclusion.

It is definitely in our best interests to communicate with and listen to people of faith. For the mean time, it also may be best if we at least temporarily ally with like minded believers--atheists tend to have little political power, not very many numbers(in places like America) and it may be more tolerable to religious groups if their faith becomes more liberal from the inside. I think partly it depends on the issues involved aswell--regarding science and rationalism I think atheism and science must fight unreason fairly isolated; as reason and faith are opposites. On other, more societal issues contested by the religious right like abortion and gay marriage, anybody who fights for justice should join together, atheist or not.
Eventually, I feel that a world without religion would be much to our advantage and eventually, even if not at the moment, reason will have to stand alone.

(1) Bible: Deuteronomy 13.12-16, the Qu'ran 2.190-93 for examples. Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan debate this here:,536,God-Is-Not-a-Moderate,Sam-Harris-and-Andrew-Sullivan-Beliefnetcom


On what exactly, am I a skeptic?
I am a skeptic of the notion that any religious claims are true, and I am a skeptic of the notion that religion is good thing for society.

I am against the notion that one should believe without evidence, that one should believe solely on faith. It is self-perpetuating; just go on having "faith" anyway, even if you're wrong, even if the pillars of logic behind your arguments have been knocked away. Failing that, redefine "God" in such a vague way that one cannot refute it. These type of mental gymnastics allow for even intelligent people to believe ridiculous things.
Religion is not a good thing for society. In fact, it is one of the main things that is ripping our societies apart. We end up with ridiculous laws and pointless deaths because of religious hatred. You may like to claim that this is a "perversion" of religion, but often the fundamentalists are on the winning side of the argument theologically. Religions, with their exclusivist truth claims, may never be able to co-exist.