Four Things

Image credit: istockphoto.com

There must be four gospels like there are four winds of heaven and four corners of the Earth, wrote Irenaeus. This appears to have been the first Christian figure to compile the four gospels we know today as official canon, and this is the kind of criteria he used. Infighting, alterations, the dropping and adding of books, book burning, mass violence, conquest, slavery, oppression, political selection,editing, the borrowing and re-purposing of past religions continues but the history of the Bible and Christianity is not what this piece is about. Following Irenaeus, four claims made by theists have been on the wind, occupying my own mental space as of late as I've gazed up at the heavens. I've set out to thoroughly dissect them, conclusively. I submit my thoughts that they might be as useful to others as they were therapeutic for me to record.

1. "Non-believers have no moral foundation."

Theists have a horrible moral standard, but they accuse non-theists of having no standards. But generally our standard is universal humanity: the facts of our nature, that we're an interdependent social species with empathy built into us as we have to live together. We can recognize the point in it--that if one group's rights are curtailed ours could be next, etc. We realize we need accurate facts to build our morality on so we indeed appeal to science, understanding there may be facts we presently lack. We try to learn from history. Witness the difference between treating the physically or mentally ill as if they were cursed or possessed by demons (views the Bible espouses) and recognizing them as victims of microorganisms and chemical imbalances, where sick children are taken to the doctor and not the exorcist.

The theist MO is to be a minion. It's might makes right. But how is obedience to authority morality? How is this wise? We follow laws in society because we recognize their benefits and we try to change them or have revolutions if they're fallacious or unbeneficial. We don't blindly and unthinkingly follow laws just because the government said so and is the foundation of morality, it exists because we support and allow it to collectively. If authority is morality any authority could be the foundation of morality, where will that lead (see North Korea)? Shouldn't morality best be bottom up and decided on and discovered and recognized based on our human nature and because it works and makes sense, just like our laws?

Theists special plead and state their god is special, but this is the laughable thing they always do. Once you go from saying there is some thing out there we could call a god to giving specifics about it--it's eternal, the most perfect or just being--you are just making bald-faced assertions that you have no idea about and you're exponentially decreasing the probability that anything you're saying is true or the being you're describing is real. One could ask just where your god got its morals just like you can ask just where did it come from. If it has good reasons for its moral orders we can appeal to those reasons without the middleman. Further, "god's" morals in scripture, and its apparent morals in nature are abhorrent and few would emulate or wish to advocate them minus ridiculous excuses. Further, he has no claim to moral authority or accountability when murderers can come to Jesus and go to heaven while billions go to an eternal torture chamber he's made for not believing something-the most sadistic and unjust idea ever created. In fact, one would be in prison or an insane asylum if one followed the Bible literally.

And what of the fact of all the gods and religions out there? Just all the sects of one religion who agree on little and endlessly slaughtered each other before the coming of secular governments based on the universal humanity and reason and fairness that non-theists advocate? Religion's track record for all of history is almost comically bloody. How is this objective, it's obviously not wise or unifying. If you base your morality on religion, what happens when you lose that religion? On the other hand, you'll never stop being a social animal amongst social animals who generally feels bad at treating another poorly and risks getting treated poorly if you do. Appealing to invisible authorities that can't be justified to non-adherents is a great way to dismiss your fellow humans, and to lose your own humanity, as again history and current headlines all too often attest.

Secular morality is superior to religious morality.

2. "Man is corrupt and his efforts to ‘play God’ will destroy him."

"Increasingly, modern science pursues powers traditionally reserved for the almighty. But those who encroach upon the province of the gods realize too late that the price for entrance is destruction."

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So goes the closing narration of the opening episode of the modern 1990s "The Outer Limits" TV show, reminiscent of theist arguments one hears stating that we must "trust in God, not in man" and "science is more dangerous and culpable than religion". So, lightning rods, curing diseases, connecting the world, feeding the multitudes, diminishing poverty and ignorance, doubling life expectancy, scaling the heavens and the stars, understanding the world so that we have leverage on it is destruction? The destruction was already there, that's what compelled us to overcome it. A meteor could have always wiped out life just like a nuke could. But in the latter scenario we have an opportunity for reason and survival (and an opportunity to survive any future meteors). Risk is involved (we're not gods and there are no gods to protect us), but no more than the risk that the "gods" already placed upon us. Just what would the writer of this narration and his theist counterparts have us as a species do?

The replacing of revelation with investigation has been the single greatest and most transformative boon to the human race. Scientific values of objectivity, rationality, open testability, cooperation, and skepticism are bulwarks against darker impulses of bias, prejudice, superstition, and hysteria. It's taken us from cave dwellers to space explorers and creates an overall story that makes belief in human potential the "justified faith" I wrote a whole book about. Every bit of the mind-boggling progress we have seen, including us now being in the best time to be alive in history by virtually every measure, is due to human thought, empathy, cooperation, and action at their most sublime. Meanwhile, imagine if in all these many thousands of years in which the faithful have cried out to their gods in vain and religion had total control and manipulated and profited from this situation, though never able to prove any of its claims, or uncover any knowledge, or truly better people's lives, imagine if it had modern weaponry in its crusades of righteous tyranny...

3. "Christianity is rational."

"God" sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself and create a loophole for his own rules, no better way could be thought of, because an uncomprehending rib woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat fruit and pursue knowledge (putting these things in place and knowing what would happen), then cursing all innocent descendants for it? Very rational. A human or blood sacrifice that wasn't really a sacrifice somehow "saves" mankind, and most are still going to hell anyway? Magnificently rational. Sickness is caused by demons requiring exorcism, you don't need to wash your hand before eating, mud and spit cure blindness, faith makes you immune to poison? Quite rational. Having your story be so similar to dozens of gods and myths that came before you? So rational. Salvation depends on belief, which is involuntary (something a god would know) and bad,vague, contradicting, or no evidence? Quite logical. Having your book be filled with barbarism and contradictions? Necessarily logical. Allowing endless religions and sects? Ingenious. Allowing your religion to have a comically horrific history, spread by bloodshed, force, and accident, in which no one can still agree on much of anything? Wise. A man-god predicts his own return within the lives of his listeners, 2,000 years ago now? Sensibly compelling. Three is one and one is three? Deeply comprehensible.

An infinitely loving god allows and causes random atrocity and calamity, regardless of the victims' beliefs or virtue, the scale and depths of which would make most human beings' stomachs turn? Intellectually unassailable. A being is omni-everything that created all in perfect knowledge and power yet makes mistakes, has regrets, and blames things on everyone else? Mentally immaculate. Believing still that the ultimate answers MUST be magical and supernatural despite this NEVER being the answer up until now? Brilliant. Eschewing all the evidence of bottom-up evolution and obstinately demanding complexity requires a designer who would be infinitely more complex? Supremely reasonable. Holding or commanding faith (as if this is a reliable path to truth) above reason, revelation above investigation-exactly the opposite of the means by which all our progress has been made? Irreproachably sagacious.

Seriously?

4. "There must have been a creator."

Doesn't it make more sense that a universe came first, not a mind, not some super person? In what space does god exist then, and has he just been there, alone and bored forever or does he have company? If complex things need a creator, who or what created god? If god needs no creator and always existed (put aside that this is unsupported special pleading), why can't the universe be the thing that's always existed? It's much simpler than a god and we know it does exist. Doesn't science show, anyway, that things are evolutionary and bottom up? Wouldn't something as complex as a god need to have evolved (if you're not going to again employ special pleading)?

Isn't god just magically poofing things into existence, or himself poofing into existence, just as magical as virtual particles poofing into existence? Except, we know virtual particles exist and do this because we detect them (and wasn't our visible universe once at this quantum size of scale?). And again they're simpler than a god. God is used to explain complexity but does it really, doesn't it just add more complexity and explain nothing, or at least sets the need for an explanation back a step? And what is "God"? It looks to me like an anthropomorphic projection born of cosmically microscopic human fear and ignorance but isn't it possible there are things one could call "god" that aren't conscious minds, or that are but are just advanced life?

Don't physicists say the universe, at its most fundamental level, is just quantum fields with no trace of purpose or goals? How purposeful or blissful is it to shun the only world we know we have for one of many unsupported hypothetical ones where you spend eternity on bended knee, endlessly praising a master who also is responsible for the endless torture of billions of good people and loved ones?

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