Discussion with a transcendendalist

Recently I received notice of a comment on a thread that I thought was dead and buried months ago. Apparently not so.

The article being commented on began thus: “Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a list of 15 anti-Muslim extremists, including writers, intellectuals, and activists. This “Field Guide” is meant to help journalists tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” by providing them with ammunition against outspoken critics of Islam.” On the list was Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I have to agree (on this very rare occasion) with The Federalist, that that is an outrageous claim. Muslims would call her an infidel (the title of her remarkable book), but she is not a terrorist. Her current goal in life is to make sure that girls are not subjected to genital mutilation, as she was as a child.

All of this is irrelevant to the subsequent discussion with Sophie B, which began last week when she chimed in on my post from seven months ago:

“I interpret that (Hirsi Ali’s condemnation of Islam) as saying very strongly that religion is a problem. It is. As Voltaire said: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Sophie responded:
“People have had religion for millennia. In many cases, it has been a positive for societies. Really intelligent atheists can recognize this.”

The implication that I was a not very intelligent atheist riled me somewhat and I responded:

“Yes. People have had religion for millennia. They needed an explanation for why we are here, and there are some 4000 creations myths. All but the one found in the Book of Genesis have been dismissed as just that – myths.
Since Darwin, there has been no need for a supernatural explanation of creation. Really intelligent believers can recognize this.”

And so it went on. Sophie:
” The purpose of religion is not to scientifically explain natural phenomenon. To the extent that it does; it is only incidental. Religion brings transcendence to people’s lives. That is its purpose.”

Me:
“As my favorite atheist (Richard Dawkins) says ‘What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding.’ If you want ‘transcendence’ – whatever that means – join a meditation group.”

Sophie:
Some point here? Religion provides transcendence; so do meditation groups, music, art, etc. People can get their transcendence where they choose.

Me:
‘And if you choose not to “get” transcendence? Is it mandatory for anything other than supposedly getting into heaven? Personally, I have never felt the need.

You want a point? Religions are manipulative and divisive. They play off ignorance and fear. They claim to have the answers, and Christianity’s answer to all the awful things in the world – things you might think a merciful god would prevent – is that suffering is good for you, and if you suffer enough in this world you will be rewarded with eternity in heaven (and no escape clause if you get a bit bored after a hundred thousand years).’

Sophie
‘People can choose whether or not to seek transcendence. It is their own choice. Don’t be silly here.

Not all religions are manipulative. If some are more than others; it is often because of human nature. Not all denominations of Christianity teach that suffering is rewarded or even required. You are speaking more of Catholicism here. The last sentence is silly.’

Me:
‘Not silly at all. Have you ever thought about what eternity in heaven means?

I guess it must be your transcendence which allows you to dismiss serious criticism of religion as silly. Lucky old you.’

Sophie :
‘C.S. Lewis has dismissed that argument. Mark Twain also used the argument but I assume he was choosing to display his sense of humor. On several different levels it is silly.For one thing, it assumes people are tethered to physical laws. Theism would posit that God & such transcendence exists beyond the physical. Measurement of time is also tethered to the physical world. We measure time by the rotations of the earth. Eternity would not be like that. The idea of boredom is also something that exists here in the shadows of the physical but may not in a transcendent condition. There is nothing that says the incorporeal life includes our fallen human state wherein we experience specific emotions connected to physical laws.

There are many many religions. I thought we were discussing religion in general. However, you seem to have a particular anger against Christianity alone.’

Me:
‘I’m not sure which argument C.S.Lewis dismissed. He was certainly a deep thinker, but being dismissed by a single person more than half a century ago, does not negate an argument. Personally, I see very little difference between an eternity of incorporeal life and being dead. But as I said before, I’m firmly tethered to the knowable.

My “anger” (your word – I would say disdain, scorn or derision) for religion is not confined to just Christianity. Any mono-theistic religion deserves as much contempt as I can pour on it.

The many, many others are little more than personal philosophies and generally harmless, albeit it quite silly (to adopt your favorite adjective).’

Sophie:
‘This is not an argument put forth by one person only. To declare that the unknowable can be known & completely understood only by the parameters of the known physical world is to state one is tethered to a very limited understanding. It is also to declare man is somehow the center of the universe. There is nothing that exists beyond his understanding.

But whatever. If that is the way you choose to see the world that is your own choice; your own business. You can also scorn whomever you like, but I would question the wisdom of it.’

Me:
‘ I commend you on the calm way in which you respond to my deliberately provocative arguments. I guess that is what having reached a state of transcendence does for one.

Arguably nothing does exist beyond man’s understanding. Think of the things of the past the did not “exist” in early human society – metals, nuclear power, DNA, planets, galaxies, black holes – because no one had yet “discovered” them. I have no doubt that there will be further discoveries, but it is extremely unlikely that life after death (an entirely human construct) will be one of them.

And you, of course, can choose to see the world as you do. You are not the only person who has questioned my wisdom in expressing scorn for religion. Not surprisingly those people are ones who are reluctant to examine the foundations of their deeply held beliefs.’

Sophie :
‘Theists posit a reality beyond this present reality. It would not accord with our physical laws at all. Therefore life after death would not be proven scientifically since it occurs outside physical parameters. All the wonderful scientific discoveries still occur inside this physical reality.

From your perspective, why not just enjoy the varieties of religion in the world? After all, I cannot see a National Geographic writer treating his subjects so derisively. I know many atheists who are kind & not particularly angry at religion. They simply do not believe.’

Me:
‘I gave up all pretense of believing in the teachings of the Anglican Church when I was 12. For the next 50 or so years I was a mostly silent atheist, but then the damage that religious conviction does to the world began to get to me.

In January I spent 8 days touring Israel, visiting the “shrines” of the three major religions, plus the Bahai in Haifa. For someone who does not acknowledge the God of Moses, it was an uncomfortable experience to say the least. Here’s the problem. They can’t all be god’s chosen people, but they act as if they were.

They – a generalization, of course – also act as if there is only one way to live your life: their way. And even religions can’t decide within themselves what that way is supposed to be.

The US Constitution states quite clearly that the government should do nothing to promote a particular religion. That part of the First Amendment is violated every day when children are expected to pledge allegiance to one nation – UNDER GOD, or when government meetings (from school board and city council to the House and the Senate) begin with a prayer. Sorry. An invocation. They are all supposed to be ecumenical, but they all presuppose a belief in a deity, one which atheists choose not to believe in.

I have had enough of other people’s beliefs impinging on my life. I object to being included in prayers without my consent. I object to religions enjoying tax exemptions. I object to people getting away with murder (literally in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists who withhold medical treatment from their children) because of their beliefs. I object to religions, cults and sects expecting respect because of their deep-seated beliefs. Like you really deserve respect for basing your life on words that were apparently spoken by a burning bush. Anyone who takes the Book of Genesis seriously should not be respected, they should be locked up in a mental institution.

Incidentally, I do not consider myself an atheist. That is far too tame. A-theist implies that there there is a god, one which some people obstinately choose not to acknowledge. Anti-theist would be a better description.

As the late Christopher Hitchens put it: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”

There is no god. And if there is an alternative reality, we are very unlikely to experience it.’

Awaiting her reply.

Posted in Religion | Leave a comment

Ending the Disqus-sion

Dear Disqus friends and acquaintances,

Today I am cancelling my subscription to sites like Conservative Free Press; Restore American Glory; IJR; Town Hall Daily and a few others where I have been commenting for the past couple of years. This is not because – as some friends suggest – it has been a colossal waste of time.

On the contrary, I have learned a lot about the country while researching answers to questionable statements about what it is really like in the US in 2016/17.

I have learned, I feel, how to disagree without being disagreeable; to challenge unsupported statements; to remain civil no matter what; to tone down the sarcasm, and to follow up on the occasions when sources were cited. And to apologize if I was wrong.

I have been told that I should go back to where I came from and stop criticizing the US; that I am arrogant, condescending and going to hell; that I am an idiot, a moron and a few things one does not mention in polite company.

Along the way I have made friends with some kindred spirits and I have managed to find common ground with the most unlikely adversaries. So, no, it has not been a waste of time.

But I am moving on because I need to concentrate on saving the world! I need to work on my campaign to be mayor of this delightful small city I live in, and I need to work on the three books that I have in the pipeline.

So “Disqussers”, have fun Disqussing, and try to BE NICE, because, It’s a Better Way.

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

God, greed and Government part 2

Next is greed. Some call it consumerism, some call it capitalism. By whatever name, it is one of the least appealing aspects of the United States. It is what gives the United States a less than stellar reputation in the rest of the world. It is why I was reluctant to bring up my children here. I have to tell you that the inequities and frequently reprehensible money-making practices in this country are making communism seem very attractive. I don’t mean Marxism or Maoism, or even the hippy communes of the sixties. But life based in and on communities is increasingly appealing.

I was shocked to read a few years back that the basic principle of the Harvard Business School is that the only thing that matters in business is profit. What an utterly appalling idea. But how widely it has been adopted! Ethics, concern for the worker or the environment, fairness, equality be damned. All that counts is the bottom line.

I’d like to know where the other entrenched business principle comes from, namely that bigger is better, comes from.

These two ideas have turned the United States into something that is far from a democracy, if by democracy one means majority rule. Dubya was not elected by a majority. That is a fact, but not one that I can easily tie to my current theme of greed. I can’t actually point to any one special interest group that bought his election. That is due to my ignorance, not to the fact that it didn’t happen.

This country is no longer a democracy. It is not so much an oligarchy (although the 1% certainly are in control) as it is a corporatocracy, to coin a phrase. Corporations buy politicians who will then enact the legislation that serves their interests.

I suppose one can’t actually eliminate the stock exchange, although I wish one could. It is irrelevant to the vast majority of Americans who do not have any disposable income to invest, while small investors are at the mercy of speculators who manipulate the market for their own gain. The price of stocks can so easily be affected by positive or negative reports (which may or may not bear any resemblance to the true situation) that the real value of a company is often obscured.

I live in a company town funded by an amazingly innovative company which has quite literally changed the world for the better at least four times. But, every time they announce some new positive development, the stock goes down. How can that be? Surely, positive announcements make the company more attractive, and so the stock should go up? It doesn’t seem so, and the CFO of the company explains that stock values have nothing to do with the intrinsic worth of the company, instead it is at the whim of the mutual fund managers.

So is the Stock Exchange actually a good idea? It has become one giant casino, a word carefully chosen to represent not only a gambling den where the odds strongly favour the house, but also the less well-known Italian meanings: casinò = the gambling place; che casino = what a mess, guadagnare un casino = to earn a helluva lot of money and casino = a brothel. So whores earning too much money and making a mess, just about sums it up.

Yet, the concept of the stock exchange has allowed gamblers to make a huge amount of money. It is no longer the mechanism to invest in promising or successful businesses. Rather it has become a market for speculators who don’t make anything and don’t build anything. They mess with other people’s money to make themselves rich. And they are aided and abetted in this legal but largely unethical scheme by the government which gives tax breaks for gambling debts and other financial losses, while capping the tax on capital gains at a mere 15%.

Maybe one way to curb greed is to tax all unearned income (including inheritances and stock options) at, say, 80%, as has happened in the past. A small per transaction tax on stock trades wouldn’t hurt either.

There is no shortage of corporations whose greed and reckless disregard for the effect they are having on the economy, the environment and political stablility is bordering on criminal.

I am not among the 58% of Americans who believe in the Devil, but there is one corporation that is truly evil. One which we’ll call They Who Must Not Be Named, because otherwise they are likely to sue (and win).

This corporation’s development and marketing of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, as well as its aggressive litigation, political lobbying practices, seed commercialization practices and “strong-arming” of the seed industry have made the company controversial around the world and a primary target of environmental activists. As a result of its business strategies and licensing agreements, the company came under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in 2009. (Thank you Wikipedia for a very well-documented entry).

This company is nasty. It is the epitome of the “we’re here to make money and damn the consequences” mentality that is destroying the fabric of American life. They have chuckled gleefully (on tape) over their price-fixing policies and feel that they “should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food (because their )interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.” The FDA can cite and chastise, but when you have the deep pockets and huge legal department that Mon…… (oops) has, you fight every case and if necessary pay some pathetic little fine and move on.

Other nasty corporations are (many) banks. We – stupid us – lend our money to banking institutions so that they can play the markets and make lots more money. I don’t have a huge problem with that as a deal, but in return I would expect a few basic services, such as giving me access to my money when I need it. I have a problem with a bank that cannot move my money somewhere else when I ask it to, that speeds up my withdrawals and slows down my deposits so that it can charge me hefty NSF fees on multiple withdrawals because they process the largest check first.

Stories of bank insanities are legion and they are all about giving back to the depositor the least possible amount of his or her money.

None of this nickel and diming is necessary, as long as the banking institution is content with good profits instead of usurious ones. We have a flourishing (the second largest building in town) Credit Union, which offers excellent customer support and every service that a customer could possibly wish for (but even they have difficulty moving my money to foreign parts because of more and more onerous “security” regulations.)

And I won’t even touch on insurance companies because the very thought sends my blood pressure soaring and I almost start to froth at the mouth.

#Occupy Wall Street is underlining the evils of corporate greed very well and the movement raises many questions that need to be considered very carefully:

  • What will the workforce of 2020 look like, where are the jobs
  • Is capitalism the only way to go
  • Is socialism really that evil (WWJS)
  • Is the Stock Exchange a good thing for the country
  • Should banks be more regulated
  • Are banks necessary
  • Should stock options be abolished
  • Should stock transactions be taxed
  • Is bigger better
  • Is there an alternative to a wealth tax
  • Is it right that I have and you don’t
  • Isn’t ethical more important than legal
  • What about the common good

And so on. I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would sure like to see people talking about them.

 

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

God, Greed and Government Part 1

Government, Greed and God.

These three words, in no particular order, sum up the problems facing the United States today. The problems are huge and the solutions, of necessity, radical.
While my mission is to save the world one compost heap at a time, I do have some thoughts that could possibly save the United States.

As it is government that would have to implement solutions, let’s start with what needs to change in government in general and Congress in particular.

The 20% of the population who DO approve of the job Congress is doing, must not watch the news or read newspapers very much. Members of Congress seem to spend very little time actually in the House (just look at the empty seats even during a high profile debate, if debate is the right word); they are either planning their re-election campaign or schmoozing with lobbyists. The simple way to eliminate both those time-wasting and expensive activities is term limits. Or rather term limit – one term only. The term can be quite long 8, 10, 12 years, but one term only, with the possibility of recall if the incumbent turns out to be a real dud. This would apply to the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives and down to the local level. As things stand now, if you want to be a Representative, you have to wage a protracted and obscenely expensive campaign to get elected, you spend a few months settling in, and then you start campaigning again for the next election which is a short 18 months away. You are besieged by lobbyists who promise support in return for favourable votes for their special interests and you are pressured by your party to vote along partisan lines if you want party support in the next campaign.

I am sooooo not a Republican, but I have a lot of sympathy with the idea of smaller government. Why, for example, should the Federal Government pay for an unnecessary and largely unwanted Transportation Center in my small town? Or to put it another way, why should the people of Arizona, Nebraska or Vermont pay for our little folly.

I even have sympathy for the idea that there is no need for a Department of Education, whose main aim seems to be that as little information as possible is passed on to the next generation. There is so much information to be passed on that we should be working extremely hard to make sure that every child learns something different. A good education doesn’t mean graduating children who have all managed to memorize the same small body of knowledge. A national curriculum based on text books is the surest way to dumb down the population. Standardized tests show nothing more than how many children have learned how to take tests. And they are unnecessary. Teachers know whether their students are learning, principals know who their good teachers are.

A good education results in an adult who can think, who is curious about the world, who may know very little about the Civil War but has the tools to find out if he needs to know more. A good education results in an adult who is open-minded and sympathetic to other ideas, someone who can look at any situation and assess its merits based on facts. And it matters not one whit whether said adult knows the date Columbus sailed the ocean blue, or whether the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of its two adjacent sides. What matters is that said adult has learned to think, and along the way has accumulated a fair knowledge of the subjects that interest him.

Government is intrusive on so many levels. Take New York State liquor laws.

The South Africa that I grew up in did not allow women in bars. Some establishments, like private clubs, were allowed to have Lady’s Bars, but the drinks had to be poured somewhere else. Were women so stupid that they didn’t know whiskey came out of a bottle?
In New York you cannot carry a bottle of wine or tequila or whatever out of the store unless it is in a bag. Why? New York State purveyors of wines and spirits cannot sell beer. They cannot sell mixers. Why? You cannot return an unopened bottle of wine or whiskey. Why? Eighteen-year-olds can vote, drive and die for their country but can’t drink. Why?

In Australia there was once the five o’clock swill. Bars were open only from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. So what happened? Men got out of work, headed for the nearest bar and downed as many Fosters as they possibly could in two hours which lead to the practice of lining tankards up on the bar and filling them with hoses. Then, the men reeled home and either abused their wives or fell asleep at the dinner table.

On the other hand you have Italy and France, where drinking wine is part of life from a very early age. In Italy my two year old daughter served grappa to the monks of Farfa Abbey. In both countries, drinking is as natural as eating. Sure there are some winos sleeping under bridges, but the only time you see someone drunk and disorderly it is a tourist.

Regulating the consumption of alcohol is about the most counter-productive activity I can think of, as Prohibition proved, and current legislation confirms.

This is my particular pet peeve. Everyone has one, and government would do well to listen to complaints and consider the unintended consequences of intrusive legislation.

But, back to elections.

If re-election is not an issue, each member of Congress is free to make a reasoned, unbiased judgement each time a vote is called for. In effect, each member is an independent, who can pick and chose which way to go. In effect, each member can weigh each vote on its merits and vote his or her conscience, influenced only by the will of the people in his or her constituency.

And that first election campaign? Three months, tops. If you can’t get your message across in three months, then you don’t have a lot to say. Because we are striving here to have elected officials who actually represent the people, it is a given that campaign contributions are limited to individuals, and limited in size. No $100,000 contributions from corporations or influential individuals. Up to, say, $5000 per person. The number of contributors says a lot more about how you represent your district than the size of the donations. Besides, with a short campaign, you don’t need all that much money. Especially not if there were to be some public funding for equal air time, giving everyone who wishes to serve their country a chance to run for office. Holding public office is a chance to serve one’s country, to do some good, to make a difference. It is very much akin to serving on the Board of a non-profit organization. You give your time for a number of years and then make way for someone else.

It should not be a career.

To quote Jim Hacker in the incomparable BBC programme “Yes Minister” “A career in politics is no preparation for government.” and “Being an MP (Member of Parliament) is a vast subsidized ego-trip. It’s a job that needs no qualifications, it has no compulsory hours of work, no performance standards, and provides a warm room, a telephone and subsidized meals to a bunch of self-important windbags and busybodies who suddenly find people taking them seriously because they’ve go the letters ‘MP’ after the their name.”

So that just about takes care of Government.

Posted in Corporations, Politics | Leave a comment

What makes a conservative.

I didn’t really intend to post this, but i know of no other way to get a document into an online discussion.  I look forward to some feedback.

 

Conservative principle as applied by the right As applied by the left
• Freedom the 2nd amendment, the freedom to make up and spread rumors freedom from crushing debt because of medical or education bills.
• Faith Worship however you like, but goddamit you had better worship (and preferably at a Christian church) Worship if you want to – or not.
• Family support thrice married sexists, encourage women to stay with abusive partners, the patriarch knows best support couples who genuinely love each other and their chuldren
• Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life Human life above all else, no matter the quality. Animals? Who cares? Quality of life is more important than life itself.
• American Exceptionalism No comment Realization that perhaps, just perhaps, the USA is not the greatest country the world has ever known.
• The Founders’ Wisdom and Vision a new scripture perhaps the Constitution is just slightly out-dated
• Lower Taxes for the rich and businesses for everyone
• Limited Government let’s eliminate any programs that help the people let’s eliminate waste
• Peace Through Strength we’ll show them peace through diplomacy
• Anti-Communism anyone who is not a conservative is a communist also anti-communist, but in favor of looking after those who need help.
• Belief in the Individual As long as they agree with me Everyone has equal worth
Posted in Being a decent human being, Corporations, Guns, Health, Laws and regulations, Politics, The Constitution, Wealth disparity | 2 Comments

Courage

Today i tool part in the Turkey Trot in Hornell, NY.  There was a fun run for tiny tots followed by a 5k run for the energetic, and a 5k walk for the rest.

My son and his step-daughters ran and for back in a respectable 28 minutes.  My daughter-in-law (who had just come off an overnight shift took my two grandchildren and got back in just over an hour.

I started the walk with them but quickly fell back.  I do not exercise at all.  Kitchen to the front door to pick up the newspaper is about it.  So when I saw a woman on crutches I thought I would walk with her – that would be about my pace!  We came in last. (Without her I would have come in last anyway) but our time was 1 hour 8 minutes and some seconds. Pretty damn good if you ask me for a young woman who had been in a car accident, had her leg crushed and pelvis broken, and a 69-year-old who never exercises.

The time was unimportant.  We finished.  And we had a wonderful experience.  Thanks Leah.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Dawkins v. Comfort : proof of God’s existence

This was a book review delivered live to the Friends of the Library.  There may be one or two passages that are unclear because I have not included the passage that I read from the book.  If you want clarification, just ask.

 

When I agreed to join the Books Sandwiched In committee I warned them that I might not have too many useful suggestions as I only read books about compost. And God, muttered Brad, in reference to my then most recent letter to The Leader.

The letter was in response to some Catholic columnist who was quite disparaging about atheists who “choose” not to believe in God. My response was that non-belief is not a choice, but rather the logical outcome of learning and thinking about the world around us, somewhat similar to a child realizing that the Tooth Fairy is not the only explanation for the money under her pillow.

So I suggested, and offered to review, The God Delusion, which I had only recently discovered. The author, Richard Dawkins, is an Englishman who is sometimes called the world’s best-known atheist. I ceased believing in God some 50 years ago, a fact which was, until recently, known only to my family and very close friends. I am now as outspoken as Dawkins and so I worried about my ability to review his book in an impartial manner. The solution seemed to be to follow the PBS system and have an opinion from the other side.

By great good fortune, as I was wandering towards the checkout at Wegmans, my eye fell on this book with the wonderful title “How to Know God Exists – Scientific Proof of God” What more could I ask for. Not just arguments in favor of God’s existence, but scientific proof! Then I worried that I had not chosen a book of sufficient gravitas to go head to head with Dawkins, a biologist and scientist of some note (he is a doctor of Science which is a couple of levels higher than a PhD). As it turns out Ray Comfort (the man who – unlike theologians and philosophers before him – is able to prove that God exists) has in the past challenged Dawkins to a debate and cites him in this book. His book also uses many of the same arguments that Dawkins does, with startlingly different conclusions.

So how to review in 35 minutes two diametrically opposed views of the world? I have decided to concentrate more on the books, than on what they say, although of course it is impossible to separate one from the other.

  • The first thing I will look at is the motivation for writing each book.
  • Then I will assess the quality of the arguments put forth, trying to evaluate objectively whether these arguments support the authors’ basic premise.
  • And along the way I will read passages chosen to illustrate writing style, use of language and persuasiveness allowing you to decide for yourselves the intrinsic worth of the books. It is possible that the passages will have been chosen because I totally agree – or disagree with them! Again I leave you to decide.

So let’s begin.

Ray Comfort is from New Zealand, now residing in California. He is the founder of the Way of the Master Ministry, Living Waters Publication and the author of some 60 books, including God Speaks, Made in Heaven and God has a wonderful plan for your Life, all published by his company. His stated reason for writing this book was – and I quote – “People are going to hell, and they need to be warned.” The book is written for a popular audience and I suspect, perhaps unkindly, that there was a strictly commercial motive.

Dawkins’ is the author of books like the Blind Watchmaker, the Selfish Gene, and Climbing Mount Improbable, published by Norton and in paperback by Penguin. His stated motive for writing this book was to raise consciousness in four areas. He also expressed the hope (but not the expectation) that anyone reading the book would be an out of the closet atheist by the time they finished it.

To reduce the arguments of both authors to their simplest form, Comfort says that you can‘t have creation without a Creator while Dawkins says that evolution is a much better explanation for how we got here, than God. It could also be said that Comfort starts from the given that God exists and sets out to support that belief, while Dawkins starts with the thought “Does God exist?” and tries for over 400 pages to ANSWER THE QUESTION.

To support his argument Comfort uses the example of a Coke Can. (1) Page 14. This example may have been tongue in cheek, but he cites other examples such as a high-rise building and various inanimate objects. His foray into showing that the living world was designed involves a banana which he (again tongue in cheek) compared to the coke can with a wrapper and a pull tab. Predictably atheists made fun of him but he claims that he’d “rather risk someone making a monkey out of (him) for presenting evidence that God exists, than to have scientists make monkeys of us all by claiming that we’re related we’re not.”

All I can say to that is that Mr Comfort has obviously never even met a monkey, let alone comforted a tiny, traumatized orphan. They are just like us.

Further support of the idea of a Creator springs from “proving” that evolution is just a flawed theory and not a fact. And this is where his scientific – which he defines as knowledge-producing – proof comes in. His science is based on intellectual knowledge, subconscious knowledge (we just know) and experiential knowledge (I have had a religious experience). His intellectual arguments against evolution are that it is “absurd in the highest degree” to think that the truly amazing variety of life we see around us got here by chance. The next logical step is that if it did not get here by chance then it must have been designed by a Creator, a belief summed up – and repeated in the sentence “All I need is eyes that can see and a brain that works.” Dawkins has quite a lot to say on this subject as well, citing many natural wonders, including one of particular interest to anyone who has looked at Glass from the natural world at CMoG (sponge Euplectella)

In the chapter titled “Is Evolution Scientific?” Comfort begins with this paragraph: The foundation of atheism is a belief in the theory of evolution. If evolution can prove that we got here by purely naturalistic means, then belief in a Creator would be unnecessary. So in their desire to eliminate God, many people to choose to believe that evolution is true – without first examining the evidence to make sure the facts support it.”

To test the validity of the theory of evolution, he examines how the universe began, how life came from non-life, and how we got such a diversity of life. He, personally, – and like most of us – has no answer to any of those questions. But instead of trying to understand the answers that scientists have proposed, he immediately defaults to the position that the universe and life in all its complexity must have been created by God. “Remember, if a Coke can coming into existence by itself is obvious nonsense, why is the Big Bang theory any more scientific?”

And (5 – p. 38) “There are only two choices: Either no one created everything out of nothing, or Someone – an intelligent, omnipotent, eternal First Cause – created everything out of nothing. Which makes more sense?”

The last thing I will say about Comfort is to quote his 100% scientific proof of God’s existence – his words not mine – If you will seek God’s forgiveness through the gospel, He promises to personally reveal himself to you. That’s your ultimate proof.

In a sense he is right. If you believe God exists, then he does – for you. But belief didn’t create the world.

So that takes care of Comfort, now I can talk about the important book. And I do think it is an important book. It is also a long book and fairly dense in terms of information and argument. It is not, however, hard to read. Going through it for the second time I began listing the passages I wanted to read aloud. I soon realized that I would need a couple of days to include them all. So I must reluctantly confine myself to discussing his four areas of consciousness raising plus one or two passage to show why it is such a delight to read.

If I have one major criticism of his book it is that he talks about all this conscious raising, but does not spell out exactly what the issues are, so that I could just cut and paste his list. Nor does he put consciousness raising in the index so that I could just turn to the relevant page. No, with total disregard for a reviewer like me, he makes the reader compile his own list, or read the book again, carefully noting each page on which the phrase is used.   Two are easy, but the other two that I have identified are so closely related that I fear I may have missed one.  No matter, I will just label another section as the fourth c-r. Just about any section would qualify!

To introduce the concept of consciousness raising he talks about the feminist movement, and I will quote his introduction to Natural Selection as a Consciousness raiser at some length. It is, after all the central argument in the book:

He then goes on to talk about the late Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and other marvelously zany romps through fantasy and science.

Adams underwent a conversion first to agnosticism and then (quite late in his short life) to atheism as a result of reading the two of Dawkins’ books, ones which – he takes pains to point out did not intend to convert. “… it (evolution by natural selection) all fell into place

Natural selection is central to the book. The early chapters – The God Hypothesis and Arguments for God’s Existence – look at what other people think or have proposed. He defines deism, polytheism, agnosticism and secularism. For the last, he frequently quotes the Founding Fathers of the United States, adding the opinion that they would be appalled by the current state of religiosity.

Chapter 4 – Why God almost certainly does not Exist – deals with probability, dismisses completely that chance had anything to do with making the world what it is, and offers natural selection as a more intelligent explanation than Intelligent Design. In fact, he does exactly what Comfort fears most: by showing the beauty and simplicity of evolution, he makes God redundant. He is supported in his claim by one Peter Atkins, and Woody Allen, no less.

In the later chapters Dawkins tackles the anti-atheism arguments such as If there is no God why is there so much religion, or How can we be moral without a religion to guide us or What’s wrong with religion anyway?   He looks at these from a Darwinian perspective and does indeed find that religious activity springs from behaviors which ultimately benefit mankind in terms of natural selection. He is fairly scathing in his assessment of what is wrong with religion P23

That leads to the c-r which is so important to him that he states it again and again. He says in the preface “ (There is no Catholic child, etc)

He views as indoctrination at best and abuse at worst, the common practice of imposing your religious beliefs on your children long before they are able to think for themselves.  In a section showing that we do not get our morals from the Bible, for which we can be extremely grateful, he rips into the Bible as the scripture with which he is most familiar. he asks “Do those people who hold up the Bible as an inspiration to moral rectitude have the slightest notion of what is actually written in it?” p281

Then he gives details of a study in Israel where a large group of school children were read the story of Joshua and the sacking of Jericho. P289.

Then the children were asked “Do you think Joshua acted rightly or not?” What do you think the answers were? 66% totally approved of Joshua’s actions, some going as far as to say that he eliminated the danger “that the Sons of Israel would have assimilated among the Goyim”. The oldest of these children was 14, the youngest 8.

There was second, control part to the experiment in which Joshua was replaced with “General Lin” and Israel with China. In this group only 7% approved of the General’s actions.

His third consciousness raising – atheist pride -stems from the fact that his wife, when asked by her parents why she had not told them she was so unhappy at school replied “I didn’t know I could” He argues that it is quite alright for a child to break away from its parents religion, even to reject religion completely. In his words “ You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” He argues very convincingly that there is a need for those of us who think the same way to speak out.

And what should we be speaking out against? This is what I am calling his fourth c-r, and I am unable to keep my own feelings out of this part. Like Dawkins I want to call attention to the unacceptable intrusion of religion into every day life, particularly here in the US. Me talking: the first amendment may indeed grant freedom of religion, but it in no way allows freedom FROM religion. To admit to being an atheist is a death-knell for any hopes of entering public life, where the most important qualification for office seems to be the most strident proclamation of faith. Back to Dawkins: The status of atheists of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago…

This has come about because of the underserved respect that religion is accorded, not to mention the tax breaks. It is enough for someone to say “it’s against my religion” and everyone falls over themselves to accommodate those beliefs, no matter how outrageous, out of respect! This book has some hilarious passages. They are funny in the way Stephen Colbert is funny. Both men quote other people’s beliefs or statements almost verbatim, but with a sly comment that shows just how ridiculous they are. However, I am certain that many Americans, and many Muslims, would not laugh – they will be too busy taking offense. Or in the case of the Danish cartoons, manufacturing offense. He quotes Douglas Adams again.

Adams died in 2001 and Dawkins’ book is dedicated to him with the quote:

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” I would add, If you do believe in fairies, keep it to yourself, and don’t expect me to believe in them too.

Even if you have serious doubts about evolution and tend towards Comfort’s view of creationism, you have better things to do in this life than to read his book. It is poorly written, ill-informed and illogical. It will do nothing to make you think about anything or to consider your beliefs in a different light, or even to uphold that which you already believe.

Even if you have grave doubts about evolution and are quite certain that you will never give up on God and the religion you currently espouse, please do read The God Delusion. This book makes you think and question from page one. It presents cogent arguments, and many memorable quotes from amazingly unexpected sources. Just see, for example what Barry Goldwater said about religion and politics – no wonder he didn’t win! Whatever you think of his views, Dawkins’ erudition is stimulating and his writing is a joy to read. He may not change your mind, but I very much doubt you will feel that reading his book was a complete waste of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes not used:

 

1998 survey found National Academy of Sciences – 7.5% belief in a personal God

biologists – 5%

 

All of us are atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in – some of us just go one god further.

Science is corrosive to religion and vv
“god”is shorthand for the part of pysics which we don’t undersand.

 

Dawkins’ definition of a personal God – a supernatural creator that is appropriate for us to worship.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment