Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Argument from Mundanity

Dr. Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are among the most intellectually formidable, witty and persuasive atheists currently writing. Although Dr. Harris tends to attack theism from a philosophical standpoint, and Hitchens prefers consulting history and using religions' own texts against them, both have elegantly articulated a sound, unanswerable argument against Christianity (and every other religion currently vying for adherents among people who ought to know better). I shall call it The Argument from Mundanity.

In the minds of many Christians, the Bible was written (or, at the least, inspired) by the creator of the cosmos. This fantastical entity, children have been inculcated to believe, is comprehensively aware of the thoughts and inner conflicts of every individual roaming the planet. Certainly, considering its author, one might expect the Bible to be full of dazzlingly specific information (of which none of its readers previously had been aware). Considering the author, it should be the pinnacle of intellectual achievement, featuring innumerable accurate tidbits about events and discoveries still to come. Yet, this certainly is not the case.

More eloquently than could I, Dr. Harris articulates the point in "Letter to a Christian Nation," writing, "...just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as 'In the latter half of the twentieth century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computersthe principles of which I set forth in Leviticusand this system shall be called the Internet.' The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you."

Indeed, it should.

The reference to the first century should immediately grab one's attention. It is easy to forget just when modern religions, such as Christianity, were invented. The Bible was written some 2000 years ago (obviously with some texts older and some more recent). During the time Jesus is alleged to have walked on Earth, our species suffered from embarrassing, comprehensive ignorance. The most basic of scientific truths eluded our distant ancestors, who concocted a vastly smaller universe of which Earth was the center, a demon theory of disease, and a climatic paradigm from which rain-dances sprang. The most knowledgeable individual in the first century now would be a pitiable foolan ancestral curiosity.

Hitchens observes this very fact in "god is not Great," writing, "One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobodynot even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atomshad the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to thinkthough the connection is not a fully demonstrable onethat this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell."

The Bible presents plenty of positive assertions that are plainly false, and these have been mined by atheists for decades, if not centuries. I shall not regurgitate those. This essay's focus is Christianity's sins of omission, the punishment for which should be universal apostasy among all intellectually honest individuals.

Let us start with Genesis, which has been corrupting the United States' science classrooms for much too long. Hitchens demonstrates the level of ignorance Genesis reveals.

Why, he asks, can Genesis be proven the mundane work of ignorant humans in merely a paragraph? "Because," he writes, "man is given 'dominion' over all beasts, fowl and fish. But no dinosaurs or plesiosaurs or pterodactyls are specified, because the authors did not know of their existence, let alone of their supposedly special and immediate creation. Nor are any marsupials mentioned, because Australiathe next candidate after Mesoamerica for a new 'Eden'was not on any known map. Most important, in Genesis man is not awarded dominion over germs and bacteria because the existence of these necessary yet dangerous fellow creatures was not known or understood. And if it had been known or understood, it would at once have become apparent that these forms of life had 'dominion' over us, and would continue to enjoy it uncontested until the priests had been elbowed aside and medical research at last given an opportunity."

Dr. Harris picks up the argument, making the salient point that a great deal of human misery could have been wiped out had the Bible simply provided a single nugget of previously unknown medical knowledge. "Why," he asks, "doesn't the Bible say anything about electricity, or about DNA, or about the actual age and size of the universe? What about a cure for cancer? When we fully understand the biology of cancer, this understanding will be easily summarized in a few pages of text. Why aren't these pages, or anything remotely like them, found in the Bible? Good, pious people are dying horribly from cancer at this very moment, and many of them are children. The Bible is a very big book. God had room to instruct us in great detail about how to keep slaves and sacrifice a wide variety of animals. To one who stands outside the Christian faith, it is utterly astonishing how ordinary a book can be and still be thought the product of omniscience."

Here, one thinks of the approximately 10,000 distinct religions infecting our otherwise-sophisticated species. Of all the religious texts I have ever read or heard of, none has been the source of new knowledge about natural principles or the miraculous impetus for a scientific leap. Rather, each has been the work of mere humans, serving up large doses of primitive superstition, baseless moralizing, useless commandments and promises just beyond the reach of confirmation. If one religion of the 10,000 actually were true, I should think its veracity would be proved by its unique ability to reveal (think 'revelation') factual information before scientists had discovered it. Then, religion would spread by the power of its evidence, rather than spreading, passively, by the coincidental geography of one's place of birth and, actively, by parents' talent for inculcating their defenseless, trusting young.

To this point, I have presented The Argument from Mundanity mostly from the perspective of Christianity's failing to reveal accurate information about the natural order. Let us now take a different tack.

Although no scientifically aware individual would even give Christianity's metaphysical claims (human resurrection, talking nonhuman animals, et al) a second look, some such people might have previously credited the faith with some measure of creativity and imagination. Sadly, this can no longer be done. Virgin birth, to take just one example, turns out to be a cheap knock-off of preexisting lunatic derangements. Human parthenogenesis is the very height of mundanity.

Hitchens sets off with a verse from the book of Matthew, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." "Yes," Hitchens begins, "and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother's flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia."

So, now, not only do we have infinitely various god characters, boasting infinitely various skill sets, demanding infinitely various behaviors, promising infinitely various rewards (and haunting impressionable children with infinitely various torments), we also have a historical landscape (perhaps, in this instance, 'fairyscape') littered with virgin births and fatherless offspring. Advocates of one man-one woman households would be positively aghastwere they not unlettered. Let it be declared: The Bible is not imaginative, even on the level of a book of ancient Jewish folklore. Rather, it is tiresome, pernicious, obnoxious andmost unforgivablyutterly mundane.

A shockingly brilliant man called Dr. Carl Sagan, whom the world misses greatly, took considerable interest in UFO abductees' tedious tales. The aliens described, far more advanced than we, always related the most humdrum drivel to those they took aboard their spacecrafts. They neglected to mention HIV to abductees taken in the late '70s. They carelessly omitted Saddam's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction when they abducted individuals in the late '90s. It seems the only knowledge they wish to impart is that which humans already haveor philosophical platitudes of which we have too many. They never divulge new information for which scientists had been struggling mightily. Dr. Sagan, in fact, suggested the following request for anyone who ends up meeting a highly advanced alien: Ask it to deliver a short proof of Goldbach's Conjecture. To my knowledge, E.T. has been stumped so far.

Next time you read the Bible, which allegedly was inspired by the creator of the cosmos himself, remember this uncomfortable fact: its utter mundanity betrays its decidedly terrestrial origin.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The major flaw with this argument is that the information demanded is outside the scope of the work. I may as well ask why you didn't bother to mention what you had for dinner last night or whether you've got any interesting vacation plans for this summer.

In fact, given that Genesis says that the tree of knowledge is the Wrong Way, adding "oh, here's some of that knowledge to make you more like a god" would be a bit out of character. (Yes, I know... "How convenient!")

9:50 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Here is the problem with which Christians must contend: We now know, through the mighty research of science, that our universe is mind-bogglingly vast. There are more than one hundred billion (10^11) galaxies in the universe, each containing hundreds of billions of stars. The sun—the center of our solar system—is just an ordinary star, in an ordinary galaxy. Our universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. And, who knows if we might live in some sort of grand cosmic multiverse, of which our universe is merely a tiny component. Our species shares this planet with innumerable other creatures, including bacteria, germs and these odd entities called viruses.

Yet, when the creator of the cosmos wrote a book, he decided to write about the proper way to hold slaves and the methods by which to keep and sacrifice animals. The creator of the cosmos wrote a book that looks suspiciously like the work of primitive, ignorant, unlettered commoners living in the first century.

How curious….

To say that actual knowledge is outside the Bible’s scope is to claim to know the mind of God. You might allege that the Bible is meant to present Jewish history, provide moral guidelines and inspire Christian faith. However, to say medicine, astronomy, biology and other proper fields of scientific study are beyond its bounds is to make an unjustified assertion for which no real evidence exists.

The problem of biblical mundanity—utter and complete ordinariness—is strong, sound and, in my judgment, unanswerable.

11:33 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

I second Jolly on that one. As I like to argue, it seems rather bizarre that an all powerful deity would create what is essentially an infinite universe, and then on one small planet in that universe, he is going to pick a band of desert tribespeople to be his "chosen" people and demand that they sacrifice lambs to him.

2:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous GreenTangent said...

One of my favorite arguments along these lines comes from a mid 80's comic book: "Why would God care about what we do? It would be like a human ruling over a Petri dish of bacteria"

7:02 AM EDT  
Blogger Teejay said...

You put an awful lot of thought into this and it is thought provoking. It's good to be passionate about something, that is what makes life worth living but have you considered that you are not going to change the minds of those who do believe in the Bible anymore than the "believers" would be able to convert you to their way of thinking. I have a saying: "every mind is a world." The world will continue to go on with every person believing what they believe (until and if something within them changes that), so my advice is... continue with your beliefs and your passion but don't let it rule you or get the better of you. Enjoy life, exist, be you, just be. Try to live with a clear conscience and accept yourself and those things in life that must be accepted to find peace. Find your bliss and follow it. From a fellow truth seeker and self imposed philosopher.

4:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Lavi D. said...

God is Man's ultimate vanity.

The thought that some super-thing somewhere would give a shit.

6:59 PM EDT  
Anonymous Emery J Hernandez- Garcia said...

Making “perfectly accurate predictions” would make it to where there would be no faith factor in believing in God. God knew that there would be people like you that would not believe, but one day you will. What if life is through and you find out there is a God? You burn in hell! What do you believe happens after death? Do you really think that we happened on accident! We are handcrafted by GOD that is the only explanation to anything! Every single part of our body that does a job was placed there to do that job! Do you honestly think we just showed up here from a cosmic boom? A 2 year old could choose the truth from these two situations; A God created us and the world handcrafted us that’s why everything has its own working order or We blew up from black mass and out of all the pieces in the universe somehow particles got together and somehow they connected and happened to be in working order to where we have all the parts of our body we need! Ha that’s funny! Throw all the pieces you need to build a house together in something and just shake it around! No matter how you shake it, it’ll never form a HOUSE! Grown ups can be retarded as heck!

You are ignorant! I have been close to death and without knowing God felt the presence and heard his voice! I was saved by him and touched by his grace! If I had not been I would not be alive! Shortly after I BROKE my arm and it was healed within TWO DAYS! Explain that! Explain coming back to life with NO DOCTORS AROUND!!

EXPLAIN FEELINGS, EXPLAIN CALMINGS, EXPLAIN ALL THE THINGS HE HAS DONE IN MY LIFE! You sir are causing people to go away from God and you will be punished more than those who listen to you! But only God can save you now!

And in the bible it does mention a dinosaur type thing you retard!!! Just not in genesis! Genesis does not list every animal duh!!!!! It does not say fish, bears, lions, cheetahs, birds and what not because it doesn’t have to!!!

Humans were meant to suffer. God himself suffered. The reason god didn’t put all the answers you want is because we have to grow we have to learn for ourselves. He could have gotten off the cross and lived forever but he simply didn’t to die so that you have a chance to live eternally and one day you will see that! If we had everything baby fed to us what would be the point to living! Everything happened for a reason. If he would have told a writer of the bible to write about the internet or whatever else they would have had it then, the world would not be the same. It’s not about fortune telling you idiot!

And if it was meant for us to have a cure we would! Do you know how many ppl are saved from watching or having cancer victims in their families or friend groups? If you wanted cancer explained in the bible he wouldn’t have to do that, all he would have to do is say the word and cancer would be gone! He did it for my grandmother! And her lungs had 99 percent failure and now they are 1 percent failure in a matter of weeks!!!! This makes Christians stronger!!!
.
Again with flat out evidence! Get over it! It is about faith do you not understand “OH SLOW ONE!” IF EVERYTHING WAS SPELLED OUT THERE WOULD BE NO ONE TO BELIEVE IN GOD BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE IN HIM AND WHAT HE CAN DO! It would only be because it’s supposedly proven!!!

Honestly I couldn’t read anymore of your dumb writing! You are ignorant and may god help you is all I can say. Everything I believe I have learned and seen for myself, you sir are a disgrace! One day I would love to meet up with you and hear what you have to say. Hopefully I could change your mind and let you see the light! It’s an amazing feeling! And that empty feeling you have will be gone! Through the bad and good times!

God bless

Emery Justine Garcia!

16 years old!

Midland Tx

Believer in GOD now and forever!

7:27 PM EDT  
Blogger DoctorBoogaloo said...

Mr. Garcia, who is only sixteen, was about to croak when God spoke to him. (An overdose of those special mushrooms will do that every time.)

Then he broke his arm and it was miraculously 'healed' within two days... and no doctors entered the equation. I'd like to know:
a) without a medical diagnosis -- or at the very least one of those Satanic X-rays -- how did he know it was actually broken?
b) if God healed the 'broken' arm, how come it took the Big Guy two whole days?

Humans were 'meant' to suffer? Jeebus, Emery, they really got to you, didn't they? (But just a thought on that point: if humans were meant to suffer -- and your grandmother was down to her last one percent of lung capacity -- how come your 'God' stopped the suffering? Oh, right, I forgot. God does it all. He's one crazy sonombitch.

Guess what? God just spoke to me. He told me it's time for a beer.

9:59 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Emery,

Your post appeals to numerous fallacies, including Pascal's Wager, and betrays a deep misunderstanding of science and evolutionary biology. May I suggest a thorough course in Darwinian theory and, perhaps, some detailed study of the cosmos?

It's a shame you've been inculcated at the young age of 16--clearly before you've gained full intellectual prowess.

I hold out hope you'll come to embrace rationality and science-based reasoning.

And stop with the friggin' exclamation points!!!!!

11:28 PM EDT  
Blogger Lui said...

Emery, what you need to realise is that in a century or so, as science and reason continue to march forward, and as more and more people contine to wake up and see the inane, boring and pestilential doctrines of religion for what they really are, everything you just said will be seen as a sign of utter derangement. Make no mistake: threatening us with eternal damnation just because we don't partake in your delusions does not speak very highly of your ability to think through an argument. It just shows that threats are all you have. If the only thing you're going to bring to a discussion is raw emotion, then do not expect your viewpoint to be valued.

"What if life is through and you find out there is a God? You burn in hell!"

That's a rather nasty, venomous thing to say, and the sheer viciousness with which you say it is truly frightening. I can see that you've been thoroughly brainwashed and are starting your adult life on a low note. Just take a minute to think of how ridiculous it sounds to someone who isn't a believer. On the one hand, we're expected to believe that God is graceful and benevolent; on the other hand, we're supposed to believe that God would send us to hell just for not believing. You believe in two things that are mutually incompatible, yet you see no contradiction.

"Do you really think that we happened on accident! We are handcrafted by GOD that is the only explanation to anything! Every single part of our body that does a job was placed there to do that job!"

Please read a book about evolution and learn about how it actually works before presuming to lecture us on how it works.

"A 2 year old could choose the truth from these two situations;"

Really? What formal education has a 2 year old had? Or do you mean to tell us that you think at the level of a 2 year old, and see no need to advance beyond that?

"Throw all the pieces you need to build a house together in something and just shake it around! No matter how you shake it, it’ll never form a HOUSE! Grown ups can be retarded as heck!"

It's so very sad (and pathetic) to watch the spectacle of a creationist know-nothing mouthing mindless nonsense as though he knew what he was talking about. It embarrasses all who are present. If you knew the first thing about evolution, you'd know it has NOTHING to do with the stupid fantasy you've just laid out. Only ignorant people think it does, probably because their heads aren't exactly being utilised for the noble art of investigation but rather to blindly believe.

"You are ignorant!"

I think you've shown everyone that you're the one who's ignorant.

"I have been close to death and without knowing God felt the presence and heard his voice! I was saved by him and touched by his grace!"

Let's think about that for a moment. God chose to intervene on YOUR behalf, but he allows millions of others to die, including children who often suffer horrendously? Sorry, what did you say is so special about you again?

"Shortly after I BROKE my arm and it was healed within TWO DAYS! Explain that! Explain coming back to life with NO DOCTORS AROUND!!"

I don't think it's up to us to explain anything. You're the one making wild assertions. If anything, you should explain to us why there were no doctors around.

"You sir are causing people to go away from God and you will be punished more than those who listen to you! But only God can save you now!"

I'm sure that Jolly appreciates knowing that he's turning people away from God. I would be appreciative too. It's no wonder you have to turn to such idiotic threats in your desperation to turn the tide. It won't work, of course, because people are starting to see, more and more, the ethical and intellectual bankruptcy of believing under the cloud of a threat.

"And in the bible it does mention a dinosaur type thing you retard!!! Just not in genesis! Genesis does not list every animal duh!!!!! It does not say fish, bears, lions, cheetahs, birds and what not because it doesn’t have to!"

Funny also that it doesn't mention the meteorite that struck off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico which wiped out the majority of species on the planet. You'd think that things like that would get noticed, especially by an all-mighty God.

"And if it was meant for us to have a cure we would! Do you know how many ppl are saved from watching or having cancer victims in their families or friend groups? If you wanted cancer explained in the bible he wouldn’t have to do that, all he would have to do is say the word and cancer would be gone! He did it for my grandmother!"

Again, this narcissist diatribe, this notion that somehow you and people you know are special enough to warrant God’s loving attention. Why don't we just stop research into cancer and take up prayer? Or shut down every hospital? Is that what you're proposing?

"Everything I believe I have learned and seen for myself, you sir are a disgrace!"

No, your selfish attitude is a disgrace. Tell us why we should abandon our grounding in scepticism and rationality based simply on your say so.

"It’s an amazing feeling! And that empty feeling you have will be gone! Through the bad and good times!"

Not only do you have a direct hotline to God (and he values you above of millions of other people, let's not forget), apparently you're also a mind-reader and know about Jolly's "empty feelings". That's says it all, really. For you, it's about feeling, not thinking. And you have the temerity to call us ignorant. This can only be seen as ridiculous.

Growing up, you will discover that what we want to be the case isn’t always what is the case. You will also, hopefully, discover that mere belief is a cheap travesty in comparison to sincere, hard-won knowledge. Please take heed of your ignorance and stop advertising it. There is nothing wrong with being ignorant; we are all ignorant about certain things. You’re ignorant about biology and cosmology. I’m ignorant about building bridges and business management. But just because there’s nothing to be ashamed of in being ignorant, does not mean that it is anything to be proud of. Don’t waste your youth and potential; challenge yourself and expand. Never settle for mundane falsehoods and complacency at the expense of knowledge. You owe it to yourself more than you’ll ever owe it to any God or other fictitious entity.

6:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Haha, this is what I mean when I call Hitchens and Harris "lame".


The Bible is boring to me, therefore it is not true.

5:32 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Rhology,

That is a flagrant caricature of my argument.

Here is my argument: Christians presuppose that the Bible is the product of an omniscient god. However, if one examines the contents of the Bible, its mundanity is inconsistent with omniscient authorship. A primitive first century commoner could have written every sentence in the tome. In other words, the Bible presents no brand new information about the natural order or the universe in which we live.

9:28 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home