Friday, December 15, 2006

Seeing Through The Bullshit has a list of stupid questions it is posing to atheists, humanists, naturalists and agnostics. Although the utter silliness of the questions makes them unworthy of our attention, I nevertheless have answered them in the way the writer so obviously felt nobody would. You see, this Christian question writer clearly thought atheists would run screaming from nihilism. Unfortunately for him, with respect to at least one individual, nihilism is perfectly consonant with living a happy earthly life. I wholeheartedly embrace life’s meaninglessness, our species’ intrinsic equality with fireflies and the fact that, after death, we all entirely will cease to exist.

"If all of life is meaningless, and ultimately absurd, why bother to march straight forward, why stand in the queue as though life as a whole makes sense?" ---Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

While life, indeed, is meaningless, people still have goals they wish to achieve. "Playing by the rules," as it were, often helps to achieve these various--ultimately meaningless--goals.

If everyone completely passes out of existence when they die, what ultimate meaning has life? Even if a man's life is important because of his influence on others or by his effect on the course of history, of what ultimate significance is that if there is no immortality and all other lives, events, and even history itself is ultimately meaningless?

Life has no meaning. It, really, is as simple as that. I don't know why people bother looking for this non-existent meaning in the first place. After all, we don't endlessly wonder how anteaters possibly can live when, ultimately, they have meaningless lives.

Suppose the universe had never existed. Apart from God, what ultimate difference would that make?

None. Only that all of our meaningless existences never would have happened.

In a universe without God or immortality, how is mankind ultimately different from a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs?

We are not different. That, right there, is the key.

What viable basis exists for justice or law if man is nothing but a sophisticated, programmed machine?

Societies live under governments. Those governments may enact any laws they wish. The laws do not need a viable basis for justice, since "justice" is an invented concept similar to the invented concept of morality.

Why does research, discovery, diplomacy, art, music, sacrifice, compassion, feelings of love, or affectionate and caring relationships mean anything if it all ultimately comes to naught anyway?

They don't "mean" anything at all. They are ways to pass our time, and maybe wring some joy out of life. Why this strange, frantic search for deep meaning? Why can't music simply be a way of getting earthly pleasure? The search for deep meaning is, well, meaningless.

Without absolute morals, what ultimate difference is there between Saddam Hussein and Billy Graham?

One is a secular nut, and one is a religious nut. Otherwise, pretty much the same.

If there is no immortality, why shouldn't all things be permitted? (Dostoyevsky)

Because that's not government's style. Government exists, largely, to prohibit things. Is that the way it "should" be? That, actually, is a false question, because "should" is nothing more than opinion. Nobody should do anything, nor should society act in any particular way.

If morality is only a relative social construct, on what basis could or should anyone ever move to interfere with cultures that practice apartheid, female circumcision, cannibalism, or ethnic cleansing?

There is no good basis for interference. Why can't we leave people alone, already? Every culture and society ought to be granted the right to self-determination, free from outside meddling.

If there is no God, on what basis is there any meaning or hope for fairness, comfort, or better times?

Because this universe has been godless from the start, and we all are familiar with fairness, comfort and better times. Thus, those things can arise even in a godless, meaningless universe.

Without a personal Creator-God, how are you anything other than the coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before you and all memory of your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness?

I am not anything other than that. None of us is. Humans are just another species of animal, roaming this planet like the rest of our animal brethren. We eat, sleep, reproduce and then die. That's it.

Here's the best summation of me (all people, actually): I am, in short, an overgrown clump of cells endowed with emergent consciousness, effective mobility and a pair of sunglasses.

Why isn’t that enough?

Season's greetings!

Saturday, December 2, 2006

The Inerrancy Delusion

Anybody who knows me will attest to the following: Never has skepticism had a more faithful follower. Quite literally, I am skeptical about everything. In fact, I even am skeptical of a notion such as “Fetal defenestration is immoral.” After all, I can conceive of no laboratory test that could be conducted which would demonstrate the immorality of fetal defenestration. [Morality cannot be measured, tested, quantified or gauged via scientific instrumentation.] With such a high degree of skepticism, naturally I look upon extraordinary, supernatural claims with tremendous suspicion. And, as any individual familiar with the Bible will agree, that particular tome is chock-full of extraordinary, supernatural assertions (for example, the Jesus resurrection tale and the Lazarus corpse-to-companion resurrection tale). Considering that the events of the Bible happened millennia in the past, how possibly could they be substantiated now? Theists have the answer.

Many Christians claim the Bible is inerrant. By virtue of its inerrancy—indeed, by definition—all the fantastical stories in the Bible must be true, resurrections included. The presence of the stories in an inerrant book is sufficient to substantiate them. This answer is satisfactory for about 12 seconds. Thereafter, one recalls the gross inconsistencies, historical inaccuracies, scientific impossibilities and internal incoherence contained within “the truest book ever composed.” A book containing grotesquely egregious inconsistencies, by definition, cannot be inerrant. Inerrancy also eludes any tome that has its historical facts wrong, or its scientific principles scrambled. Indeed, I intend to demonstrate here that the Bible is so unreliable on even the most mundane of matters that it surely cannot be trusted with respect to extraordinary, supernatural claims.

Prior to pontificating any further, I turn the stage over to Tom Flynn, writing in the December 2004/January 2005 issue of Free Inquiry. In the following passage, Flynn explains some of the basic inconsistencies in the much-beloved Christmas story. It seems that Matthew and Luke simply cannot agree on anything:

The popular image of shepherds and wise men side by side before the cradle? Matthew says wise men. Luke says shepherds. Neither says both. The star in the East? Only in Matthew. ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’...but only in Luke. Matthew never heard of them.

But then, only Matthew heard of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents…That’s right, the indiscriminate killing of every male baby in Judea—with one significant exception—did not merit Luke’s attention. On the other hand, no Roman historian chronicles this atrocity either, not even Flavius Josephus. Josephus reviled Herod and took care to lay at his feet every crime for which even a shred of evidence existed. Had Herod really slaughtered those innocents, it is almost unimaginable that Josephus would have failed to chronicle it.

Matthew says Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, moving to Nazareth after their flight into Egypt...But Luke says Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth all along; Jesus was born in Bethlehem only because Joseph and Mary had traveled there to enroll in the census...Roman records mention no such census; in fact, Roman history records no census ever in which each man was required to return to the city where his ancestral line originated. That’s not how the Romans did things.

Unfortunately for biblical literalists, the Bible’s indisputable fallibility does not end there. We are provided with conflicting genealogies tracing the ancestral lineage between David and Joseph. In the genealogy according to Matthew, there are fewer than 30 generations separating David and Joseph. In the genealogy according to Luke, there are more than 40 generations. According to Matthew, the relevant son of David is Solomon. According to Luke, the relevant son of David is Nathan. According to Matthew, Joseph’s father is Jacob. According to Luke, Joseph’s father is Heli. The lists have little crossover. Again, these are the mundane, little details that the Bible has all fouled up. One also must wonder why the scribes bothered to list Joseph’s two ancestral histories. After all, Jesus was born via mammalian parthenogenesis. As Dr. Richard Dawkins, in "The God Delusion," rightly observes, “...if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph’s ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfill, on Jesus’ behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David.”

I submit that, considering the Bible’s gross inconsistencies on mundane, ordinary details, Jesus’ alleged life must also be treated with extreme skepticism. Although I believe it’s probable that Jesus, as a man, actually existed, I doubt very much the narrative commonly accepted among Christians. It is notable that Jesus’ alleged life has nearly all the hallmarks of the classic hero myth, on which many religious characters were modeled. In "The God Delusion," Dr. Dawkins writes, “...all the essential features of the Jesus legend, including the star in the east, the virgin birth, the veneration of the baby by kings, the miracles, the execution, the resurrection and the ascension are borrowed – every last one of them – from other religions already in existence in the Mediterranean and Near East region.” In trying to adapt Jesus’ life to conflicting mythologies, the aforementioned contradictions were created. Dr. Dawkins continues, “...Matthew’s desire to fulfill messianic prophecies (descent from David, birth in Bethlehem) for the benefit of Jewish readers came into headlong collision with Luke’s desire to adapt Christianity for the Gentiles, and hence to press the familiar hot buttons of pagan Hellenistic religions (virgin birth, worship by kings, etc.).”

Some of the most convincing evidence demonstrating that the Jesus narrative with which we are familiar might be fabricated comes from Saint Paul. One of the earliest associates of the Christian church wrote voluminously about Christianity...but did not seem to know one thing about Jesus’ life as we know it. The admirable film The God Who Wasn’t There broke down Jesus’ crucial life events and then showed just how many Saint Paul apparently never had heard of. Even the things Paul did know about, such as the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, didn’t happen in the real world, but rather in a realm of myth. There’s very little evidence that Paul ever seriously considered the notion that Jesus walked the same ground as he did. Another meaningful bit of evidence relates to secular historians. No such historians, who lived at the same time as Jesus did, ever made mention of the man. Yes, secular historians did mention Jesus after he was dead. However, none mentions him while he was alive and, allegedly, working amazing miracles.

With respect to Jesus, my conclusion is as follows: Jesus probably lived, but his life was nothing like what is portrayed in any of the Gospels. His life, as recounted differently in each Gospel, was a construction to fulfill the scribes' varied agendas. His life simply was wedged into the writer’s mythology of choice.

And, finally, to biblical veracity.... Letting my arguments speak for themselves, I will close with a question to which I hope I have given readers the answer. If the Gospels are demonstrably contradictory, historically inaccurate and fallible on the most mundane and ordinary of details, why should one believe them when it comes to their most incredible, extraordinary claims? In the final analysis, it seems inerrancy has come up bankrupt.