It has been a while since I last made a post, so I figured I would collect my thoughts on two issues and compose “short takes” on them.
Dr. Richard Dawkins, one of evolution’s foremost proponents and atheism’s most ardent defenders, was at his most brilliant in articulating the following devastating observation in "A Devil’s Chaplain":
…modern theists might acknowledge that, when it comes to Baal and the Golden Calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra, they are actually atheists. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
I once posed a query that I termed The Unanswerable Question for Christians. It read: “If Christianity is the one true faith, and God wants everybody to go to Heaven by accepting it, then why did it take our species (which is about 195,000 years old) approximately 190,000 years to discover it (while in the meantime worshipping all manner of 'false' Gods and following scores of 'fake' religions)?” This, essentially, is the same point Dr. Dawkins raises. Looking back through history, we see myriad gods and goddesses (about whom we all are now atheistic), exhibiting diverse natures, preferences and degrees of anthropomorphism. Highly regarded deities, such as Enlil, now have literally no followers.
Does this give modern-day theists pause?
I have no doubt that Sumerians were supremely confident in Enlil’s existence, just as were other ancient civilizations in their own respective deities. Today, equal confidence is in abundance. Tom Cruise is convinced of Scientology’s veracity. The 9/11 hijackers seemed quite sure that they were destined for eternal paradise in Allah’s warm presence. Various cults throughout the years—Jim Jones’
I often make the following request of Christians: Present extraordinary evidence that Yahweh exists, to the exclusion of other God characters.
I have yet to see any convincing evidence for any individual deity. Indeed, the former Christian in me fears that, sometime in a future, Yahweh will be looked upon exactly as Mithras is at present—a quaint storybook character of antiquity.
Shifting gears now, I quite often make the point that Christianity has more than its share of ludicrous, impossible claims. I often cite Jesus’ alleged asexual birth, his alleged bodily resurrection (not unlike George A. Romero’s famous zombies) and Bible characters allegedly living to be nearly 1000 years old, to name a few. However, there is one ludicrous claim that, to this point, I have not addressed. This is ironic, given that I used to be a Catholic. Reading Dr. Daniel Dennett’s wonderful new book, "Breaking the Spell," has gotten me interested in the truly laughable idea of transubstantiation.
In an essay, Dr. Dawkins writes, “It is easy and non-mysterious to believe that in some symbolic or metaphorical sense the eucharistic wine turns into the blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, however, claims far more. The ‘whole substance’ of the wine is converted into the blood of Christ; the appearance of wine that remains is ‘merely accidental’, ‘inhering in no substance’. Transubstantiation is colloquially taught as meaning that the wine ‘literally’ turns into the blood of Christ.”
Bearing that backgrounder in mind, consider Dr. Dennett’s observations:
But what could you do to show that you really believe that the wine in the chalice has been transformed into the blood of Christ? You could bet a large sum of money on it and then send the wine to the biology lab to see if there was hemoglobin in it (and recover the genome of Jesus from the DNA in the bargain!)—except that the creed has been cleverly shielded from just such concrete tests. It would be sacrilege to remove the wine from the ceremony, and, besides, taking the wine out of the holy context would surely untransubstantiate it, turning it back into ordinary wine. There is really only one action you can take to demonstrate this belief; you can say that you believe it, over and over, as fervently as the occasion demands.
Indeed, Dr. Dennett often makes the point that well-adapted religions have been designed so deviously as to eliminate the possibility of real, objective testing. As such, faith is encouraged and empiricism rejected.
Consider the following:
- Christians admit that there is no way to confirm Mary’s virginity at the time of Jesus’ conception.
- Christians admit that there is no way to confirm the ages at which Adam and Noah (if they even existed) died.
- Christians admit that there is no way to confirm that Jesus, after suffering the ravages of brain death, spontaneously came back to life, suffering none of death’s nasty symptoms.
- Finally, we see that Roman Catholics also are unable to confirm that the wine in the chalice has become a dead man’s blood.
I suppose, at last, this is the question: Should manifestly extraordinary claims, such as talking nonhuman animals and asexual human reproduction, be accepted by faith or biblical revelation?
The answer is clear: No.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. When religions' devious designs effectively preclude empirical study, faiths betray the flimsy foundation upon which their assertions rest.