Category Archives: Religion

Cosmos Wars

CosmosStageThe creationists really don’t like the new Cosmos series. Of course, I’m sure they didn’t like the original either. CCCosmos Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Silliness:

But this sense of wonder does not touch the hearts of those who reflexively dismiss scientific findings as merely “materialistic” threats to their faith. They have no interest in knowing more about Halley’s Comet, or Andromeda’s trajectory, or indeed even in stimulating young leaners.

No, creationists took to the air this week to complain that their ideas were not getting equal time on Cosmos.

Danny Faulkner, an astronomer with the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, appeared on The Janet Mefferd Show to complain that “consideration of special creation is definitely not open for discussion” on Cosmos. The host added,

“…when you have so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution it seems to me that that might be something to throw in there, you know, the old, ‘some scientists say this, others disagree and think this,’ but that’s not even allowed.”

Actually, it is allowed. If creationist astronomers want to fund and produce a major television series that refutes Cosmos, they are perfectly free to do so.

Creationism: defender of superstition

“During more than twenty-five years of teaching and defending evolutionary biology, I’ve learned that creationism is like the inflatable roly-poly clown I played with as a child: when you punch it, it briefly goes down, but then pops back up. And while the Dover trial is an American story, creationism isn’t a uniquely American problem. Creationists—who aren’t necessarily Christians—are establishing footholds in other parts of the world, especially the United Kingdom, Australia, and Turkey. The battle for evolution seems never-ending. And the battle is part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers to society.” – Jerry A. Coyne. “Why Evolution Is True.”

Free to Discriminate

Kaleesha and I were discussing this recent attempt in Missouri to introduce a “right to refuse service” religious freedom bill yesterday and it occurred to me that there might be some merit to the idea. But it would come with a requirement. Allow business owners to discriminate but require a sign in several prominent places that clearly states who they will not serve. Then we, as customers and neighbors, will clearly see who it is in our community we should boycott. I have no interest in doing business with anyone who cannot tolerate (even better, accept and embrace) other humans because of some trait they were born with. It’s past the time we evolve beyond such cultural baggage. Here’s her post about it.

Actually reading the Bible

I’ve been reading the 1st draft of Kaleesha’s book and just about finished. She concludes with a kind of endnotes regarding her exploration of 14+ year exploration of Christianity and religion. At the end so that those that don’t want to be bothered with reading the details about religion don’t have to… I have to say, it is very interesting seeing the work she put into questioning what she’d been told was the truth. She’s not kidding when she says she studied her way out of religion. I don’t understand all the details but what I’m really curious about is how well Christians would be able to follow along. Or, put another way, how well have Christians actually read and studied the Bible and if they have really read it, really studied it, what do they think of the serious problems within it? Do they know the story of how it was written? For example, where did the story of the virgin birth come from? Who put it in there and why? It seems to be a pretty important part of the story for many people but if it’s not true, well, what other parts aren’t true? And if they have not really read it, studied it, why not?
I’m excited to be getting closer to publishing. She’s got a bit more editing to do and then it is layout time. Stay tuned.

Accepting Complexity

A few days ago we had a visit from the Johavah’s Witnesses. We glanced out the window and didn’t recognize the van. When I saw them get out I guessed pretty quickly who they were and excitedly put on my shoes. By the time I got out to the car they were already in conversation with Kaleesha. She didn’t see me approach from behind. She was being very polite, letting them talk for quite an extended period. I wasn’t sure if she was going to quietly listen and let them leave or confront them. I piped up from behind when they produced an article titled “Should you trust religion?”

“Oh, no, we’re atheists.” I wasn’t interested in anything but being blunt and to the point. I’m happy to engage with them but it will be on my terms if they’ve come to my house. So, I happily let that cat out of the bag. I won’t really bother recounting the conversation as they didn’t have much to offer. My basic suggestion was that we relied on and believed in science and that the Universe was plenty amazing without an imaginary god. But they did leave a few things and agreed to come back next week for more conversation.

So, what was it they left? Well, let me sum it up as useless. Not that I’d expect anything of use from them. One of the “publications” was about science: “The Origin of Life: Five Questions Worth Asking”. Essentially, it can easily be summed up as this: Life and the Universe are far too complex to be anything but the result of intelligent design. That’s it, just their assertion. We’re supposed to take their word. While they actually do a pretty commendable job of introducing some actual science, giving credit and acknowledgement (in a minimal way) to the progress made by various fields of science, they end each section with a sort of “God of the Gaps” argument. Essentially, they’ve taken some big steps backwards from progress made 60 years ago. At least according to this humble non-believer. During World War II German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.”

Charles Alfred Coulson, in his 1955 book Science and Christian Belief wrote:

“There is no ‘God of the gaps’ to take over at those strategic places where science fails; and the reason is that gaps of this sort have the unpreventable habit of shrinking.”

The problem is that science continues the march onward, making fantastic progress across the many fields. From microbiology to astrophysics, the gaps in data, the gaps in knowledge, are being closed at an amazing rate. The writing on the wall. God is no longer needed and is being handed his hat. Thanks but no thanks, we can use the scientific method to explore and understand the Universe.

Some of them seem to think that the meager offerings of the Bible are sufficient but it is far from that. It is a religious document written over a thousand years ago that does not deal with a scientific exploration of the Universe. It explains nothing. Our visitors the other day seemed to think that they could point to a passage here and there to somehow prove the Bible’s accuracy. Nevermind the contradictions that exist, a passage here and there do little to explain the mysteries that the scientific method has been used with such efficacy to explain.

“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.” – Carl Sagan

Of course science is just a method, a tool used by humans to learn. But we recognize that mistakes can be made and the method is design to confront the mistakes. Nothing in science is sacred or above challenge. New data can confirm our understanding or might be used to challenge it. That is the beauty, resiliance and utility of science and what makes it such a valuable tool.

Addendum: As planned, we were revisited by the JW folks and had a nice conversation. I expect it was pointless but who can predict. To put it simply I shared with them everything I’ve written here. Whether they will consider my thoughts and criticisms or not I do not know.

On being agnostic

When it comes to questions of god or spirituality I have, more often than not, been quiet on the subject. I’ve had plenty of conversations about it with friends and family and certainly don’t mind discussing it when asked. But I don’t generally shout it from the rooftops or buy billboards or create commercials for TV. In contrast I’ve been subjected to a constant stream of of ads in print, billboards and on television telling me that I need Jesus and that Mormon’s are awesome.

Enough. I’m done being silent. I’m fed up having religion pushed on me and being told I would burn in some nasty hot place down below. Fed up hearing about how there is a war on Christmas and Christianity. I call bullshit. If you want to believe in unicorns or the flying spaghetti monster or a Beluga Whale named Marv that can heal the sick with a wink, please, be my guest. But please, do you have to convert me? Must you push and push and push your belief into every corner of the planet?

Let me offer a few observations on your religion (if you have one).

1. It is, quite simply, make believe. I say this because religion is, more often than not, based on a book of some sort written by a guy (usually) or a group of guys (usually) that made it all up. Seriously. They made it up. No proof at all. I went up into the hills and heard a voice. On and on and on.

2. In any good creative story there is revision and boy do we have plenty of that. From year to year, decade to decade the rules change. Oh, you can do that now because some white dude in a closed room with other white dudes decided it is now ok. Or it’s not. I can’t remember. But, apparently these fellas have a hotline to the big fella in imaginaryville. It seems a bit fishy to me. No Marv, I was not offering you a fish.

3. Why the aggression? In it’s most recent form it is very interesting to look at the religious right in the U.S. They are in a constant cultural war against those that are different from they. I don’t doubt that much of this is a part of a scheme of distraction by those in power that would much prefer the vast sea of poor people fight amongst themselves but nevertheless it is a constant wave of aggression that often spills over to actual violence against very real people who’s sole crime is being gay or different from the believer in some way. Yes, apparently it’s okay to hurt people.

4. Why the violence? Yes, the aggression spills over to violence. Be it war or hate crimes, the history of religion is chock full of violence. I don’t think I need to create a sub-list here do I? Jesus carried a machine gun you say? Why not, it’s no sillier than all the other stuff he did. And Jesus said unto Marv, “I have no fish today.”

I could go on with this list and I probably will at some point in the near future. My reason for bringing this up today is that I’ve recently had a string of interactions with religious folks that pushed me to the conclusion that organized religion really does require a kind of willful ignorance and a partial if not nearly absolute suspension of critical thinking. There is a fear of the unknown. As the thinking goes, if I don’t immediately understand a particular phenomena it’s better to construct a story about how a wizard in the sky created said phenomena.

This is where science comes in. We don’t have to rely wizards an whales to make sense of the world around us. Just as Copernicus and then Kepler and Newton successfully challenged the make believe constructions of the church 500 years ago, today’s scientists are, everyday, moving our understanding of how the universe works forward. The scientific method is a fantastic tool in that it is the basis for getting at the truth. No, we don’t have it all nor will we ever. It is an exploration and the point is to make the effort. At no point is it helpful to step back and say, I don’t understand this right now so it cannot be explained and must be the work of a higher power. That is the moment of giving up and choosing to fill a gap in knowledge with silly putty. It’s not necessary. It is perfectly ok for us to have gaps in our understanding. There will always be such gaps and that’s what moves us forward.

So no, I won’t be accepting Jesus Christ and I sure wish you’d stop telling me I should. I’m not making a war on your religion though I find it interesting that you are so quick to think war is being made upon you. What I AM doing, in response to your constant crowing, is a bit of my own tweeting. Tweet tweet. Translation: there is no proof that there is a god. In many thousands of years no proof has been offered. Furthermore, your churches have historically, and are this very day, attempting to stand in the way of our understanding the universe. Please stop.