Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Twenty-One Theses

1. The Christian religion posits an all-powerful, omnipresent god who cares greatly about human beings as a whole and, indeed, who is concerned with each of us as individuals. Yet, in scrutinizing what is alleged to be god’s magnificent creation, the most conspicuous fact given by observation is god’s utter absence from it. If god exists, he is a silent, inert sluggard who cannot be bothered to make his existence manifest, despite the fact that, in biblical times, he was full of wonders, miracles and prodigies.

2. The Bible, which, according to Christians, is the inspired word of an omniscient god, does not contain the slightest shred of internal evidence to support that contention. Indeed, every single sentence in the entire tome could have been written by any first century commoner with the rare talent of literacy. Men’s ignorance in biblical times was so comprehensive as to be rather shocking; the Bible fully captures, and credulously regurgitates, the ancient ignorance of its time.

3. On Christianity, god is interested in human salvation, and the religion quite clearly holds that salvation is achieved through saving faith. It is interesting, then, that god has not been more proactive in disseminating this rather important point, given the fact that, even now, there are remote places that the Christian message has not yet penetrated. Christianity’s slow spread by the efforts of man indicates god, if existent, does not much care whether his message is heard.

4. With its bizarre tales and miracle claims, the Bible reads like any common collection of mythology. A world in which a virgin birth occurs, men rise from the dead, miraculous healings are effected and street magic is not mere illusion bears no similarity to, and has no relationship with, the world in which we find ourselves, where the laws of nature are immutable. When one reads mythology and legendry, one finds precisely the same topsy-turvy world one recognizes from the Bible.

5. Although even some Christians discount the factual veracity of most of the Old Testament, many still dogmatically hold to the myths about Moses and the Israelites. The best available evidence indicates the flight from Egypt, wandering in the desert and conquest of the Promised Land did not ever occur. Indeed, rather than the Israelites conquering Canaan following the Exodus, most of them, in fact, had always been there. That is, the Israelites were simply Canaanites who forged a distinct culture. The Old Testament contains nothing more than self-aggrandizing folktales.

6. One of the few theological tenets that are clearly open to scientific experimentation is prayer. And, in fact, the efficacy of intercessory prayer has been tested in a rigorous and credible way. The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), supported by the John Templeton Foundation, which attempts to wed religious and scientific thinking, found that intercessory prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from coronary artery bypass graft surgery. In this case, prayer was tested credibly and it comprehensively failed.

7. The fact of Darwinian evolution by natural selection contradicts biblical Christianity and shows it to be false. Although some proportion of Christians has succeeded, in their minds, in melding the Christian faith with recognition of Darwinian fact, this seems a fruitless exercise. There is not a whisper of Darwinian understanding in the Bible, which, as Christianity’s foundational text, purports to speak to questions of origins. Any “harmony” between Darwinian thought and the Bible is the product of an elaborate construct invented by scientifically aware Christians.

8. The Christian religion is fantastically solipsistic with respect to the human animal and its place in the cosmos. The Christian message specifically says that humans are god’s special creation—made in his image—and that, of all the creation, he is principally interested in us. This notion, of course, arose in a time of immense ignorance of the cosmos. We are a single species, on a single planet, part of a single solar system, in a single galaxy, in an almost unimaginably vast universe. Humanocentrism is a luxury of ignorance we can no longer sustain.

9. To cite god is to invite an infinite regress from which there is no escape. Any god character who is complex enough to design a universe—let alone to monitor every human being who has ever lived, listen to and answer prayers, and send a son to die for our sins—is statistically improbable exactly because of that complexity. Inasmuch as Christians offer no explanation for god’s existence, it is all but ruled out simply because of the statistical improbability of unexplained organized complexity. We can explain the human brain’s evolution; Christians cannot explain the organized complexity of god.

10. The faith to which one adheres seems, in the majority of cases, to be quite directly determined by (a) the faith of one’s parents and (b) the dominant faith of the society in which one is raised. Young children trust their parents—a fact that, quite clearly, has evolutionary benefits generally. However, it also means they are susceptible to parental religious inculcation, from which it can be difficult to liberate oneself. One wonders how many people adhere to Christianity, or any faith, as adults simply because they were raised that way.

11. Homo sapiens sapiens have walked the Earth, in something approaching modern forms, for the last 100,000 to 200,000 years. This is scientific fact, and no thinking person entertains Young Earth creationist piffle. This means, then, that for tens of thousands of years human beings lived, struggled, suffered and died—and Heaven watched, arms folded, in silence. After this interminable wait, which likely lasted well over 100,000 years, god decided that maybe it was time to intervene. His method of intervention? A nauseating human sacrifice in a very remote part of Palestine.

12. The world looks exactly as we would expect it to look if there was no god and no special interest in human affairs. Our planet is plagued with natural disasters in which people are killed indiscriminately—without any regard for their supposed righteousness or evilness. We do not find the slightest hint of ultimate justice in the cosmos. And god, who supposedly loves humans so dearly, demonstrates his laziness again. When there is a hijacking, he never zaps the hijackers with heart attacks. When a crazed gunman is on the loose, he never turns the bullets into popcorn. Love is in evidence; hate is in evidence. Only god is not in evidence.

13. Christianity loves to cloak itself in the raiment of meekness and humility, endlessly drawing attention to how humble it is. Christians call themselves lowly, sinful worms in god’s eyes, desperately in need of redemption through saving faith in Jesus. Although Christianity features an unquestionable tendency toward self-debasement, it is also fantastically arrogant. Fearing that the creator of the universe is upset with you is equally solipsistic—indeed, betrays equal arrogance—as enjoying peace from the belief that the creator of the universe is pleased with you.

14. The notion of an afterlife—surviving one’s bodily death—seems completely incompatible with our current scientific understanding. A blow to the head can rob one of one’s memories. Neurodegenerative disease, in some cases, can result in what might be described as the loss of the self. Phineas Gage suffered a traumatic head injury, the lasting effect of which was a dramatic change in personality. As Victor Stenger notes, neurological and medical evidence strongly indicates that our memories, emotions, thoughts and, indeed, our very personalities reside in the physical particles of the brain or, more precisely, in the ways those particles interact. What, then, would make it into the afterlife? Vague, impersonal energy?

15. To threaten small children with damnation to hell strikes me as a particularly hideous form of mental abuse. Our imaginations seem to be most vivid when we are children, and our credulity is at its peak. To small children, weeping and gnashing of teeth, not to mention lakes of fire, are not metaphorical descriptions of existence apart from god; to the undeveloped mind, they are real and haunting. One can only hope, when they grow and mature, they realize, to be a deterrent, hell’s awfulness must at least be commensurate with its ludicrousness. Because hell is infinitely silly, to deter anyone at all, it must threaten infinite punishment.

16. On Christianity, moral facts exist, because Christians stipulate that morality—what is good and what is evil—flows directly from god’s nature. They contend that god’s nature is unchangeable—cannot be otherwise—and, therefore, morality is objective. Yet, in conducting an evidence-based interrogation of the natural order, one finds no moral facts. Earth’s biodiversity is a bare fact. A conclusion flows naturally therefrom: A fact necessarily exists about the origin of, or explanation for, Earth’s biodiversity. Nowhere do we find the necessary existence of a moral fact, or any evidence that one exists.

17. If, as Christians say, morality flows directly from god’s nature, then any behavior god exhibits, and any action he commands or endorses, is necessarily righteous on the Christian view. In Genesis 19:4-8, the Bible character Lot offers his two virginal daughters up for rape to the men of Sodom, who surround his house. In 2 Peter 2:7-8, Lot is called “righteous” three times. The Bible, on Christianity, is the word of god; therefore, one must conclude Lot’s offering his two virginal daughters up for rape is consonant with god’s objective morality. Deuteronomy 7:1-5, Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and Joshua 10:28-40 demonstrate that god, whose very nature defines what is moral, sometimes commands genocide.

18. Men have been inventing deities for millennia, and Yahweh is just one in the near-infinite troop. As H.L. Mencken observed, the graveyard of dead gods, wherever it is, is well populated. I have little doubt that Yahweh’s grave is already dug, and that perhaps it is alongside the final resting places of Resheph, Baal, Anath, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Hadad, El, Addu, Nergal, Shalem, Nebo, Dagon, Ninib, Melek Taus and Yau. Then again, Yahweh’s grave might be closer to those of Amon-Re, Isis, Osiris, Ptah, Sebek, Anubis and Molech. RIP Yahweh.

19. Human beings, although clearly the most advanced species currently living on Earth, are easily deceived, deluded, confused and baffled. Our minds are well adapted for survival and for dealing with “Middle World,” where things are not microscopically small or cosmically very large, but they are still evolved organs with inherent limitations. Through a long period of trial and error, we can now conclude that marshaling evidence—relevant facts—is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth as we interrogate the world of experience. If Christianity is to be accepted, it must be on the strength of its evidence.

20. On scientific thinking, hypotheses are meritorious only to the extent that they (a) make predictions, (b) enable those predictions to be tested and (c) find that, upon testing, the predictions are confirmed. The Christian hypothesis, to its detriment, is exceedingly bad at having its predictions be confirmed. Let us take Genesis, for example. The creation chronology presented in Genesis represents a testable prediction. In recent times, science has been able to test that prediction. Rather than being confirmed, the prediction failed, because Genesis’ creation chronology is wrong. This is a strike against the Christian hypothesis. Archeological disproof of the Exodus narrative is another strike against the Christian hypothesis.

21. It has been said some people are so constituted that they cannot believe in god. I am not such an individual, insofar as I invite convincing evidence of god’s existence and workings. I shall not fall prostrate to god’s feet in any case, but I would believe god existed if the evidence were sufficient. Any moral opinions I articulate, including those in which I deem god’s actions evil, are expressions of my deepest nature; I am constituted as I am, and I can neither help nor change what fundamentally strikes me as grave evil, which would prevent me from worshipping god, irrespective of evidence for his existence.


Blogger BlackSun said...

Great stuff, as usual.

9:37 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Thanks, BlackSun!

I must say, it is the first time I was ever inspired by Martin Luther.

9:14 AM EST  
Blogger Tommykey said...

A lot of good points, and, if I may, a few constructive criticisms.

despite the fact that, in biblical times, he was full of wonders, miracles and prodigies.

But that’s the thing, we don’t consider it a fact. You might want to amend it to “despite the claim that.”

Christianity’s slow spread by the efforts of man indicates god, if existent, does not much care whether his message is heard.

That’s something I have brought up a number of times as well. Since the god of the Bible is supposed to be more powerful than whatever technology humans can come up with, then god surely had the capability of transmitting its message simultaneously to every human being on the planet in an instant. The all powerful creator of the universe essentially outsourced the spread of the message of salvation that is apparently of paramount of importance to people whose ability to spread that message was constrained by the technology of the day. It’s like a person in New York today sending an important package to someone in California via bicycle messenger rather than transmitting it via e-mail or overnighting it via Federal Express. The same criticism applies to Islam as well. Both religions, supposedly the product of divine revelation, had to wait centuries for Columbus to bridge the awareness gap between the Americas the rest of the world before the Native Americans could become cognizant of either of these religions.

A nauseating human sacrifice in a very remote part of Palestine.

I don’t know if I would call Jerusalem “a very remote part of Palestine.” That’s like saying the Yankees won the 2009 World Series in a very remote part of New York State.

Fearing that the creator of the universe is upset with you is equally solipsistic—indeed, betrays equal arrogance—as enjoying peace from the belief that the creator of the universe is pleased with you.

What strikes me as even more arrogant than that is the mental compartmentalization of one’s fellow human beings into the “saved” and the “damned” and the sense of self-validation that the believer seeks into considering him or herself to be one of the saved. A person can be a serial screw up in life, but the moment they find Jesus, they think it elevates them to some higher plain that gives them the right to pontificate to the rest of us. I remember some years ago, my oldest brother, was on a bit of a religion kick during another stint in AA told me “It’s too bad I won’t see you in Heaven, brother,” with the clear implication that he was going to heaven and I wasn’t. Of course, he has long since fallen off the wagon and no longer even makes a pretense of not getting drunk anymore. Meanwhile, I go about the business of being a father to my children, while my brother has not lived with nor actively parented his children for years.

1:35 PM EST  
Blogger Tommykey said...

What, then, would make it into the afterlife? Vague, impersonal energy?

Or, as I have asked sometimes, what about people who are born severely brain damaged or retarded to begin with? Does God give these people a pass?

I have little doubt that Yahweh’s grave is already dug

I suspect that Christianity will troop on somehow, though it will change into different forms. When a thousand years have gone by and the End Times have not occurred and there are human colonies on Mars and perhaps elsewhere in space, a new Christian movement might arise that argues that the End Times will be postponed until God has given the human race enough time to explore the universe.

To throw Islam back into the mix here, the future could render its claims even more absurd. Muslims on Mars will find themselves in the bizarre situation of trying to pray to Mecca five times a day when the part of Mars they are on will be facing away from the Earth and Mecca itself will be facing towards the sun. It would also present challenges to a pious Jew trying to observe the Sabbath while on Mars or in outer space. These things really demonstrate how utterly parochial are the claims of their religions, which rest upon the belief that they are the bearers of the true message of a universal creator.

1:36 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Thanks for the comments, Tommy!

As far as a "very remote part of Palestine," I guess I meant to convey the fact that Jesus did not preach in a center of power, influence, culture or intelligentsia. In essence, Jesus and his ministry sprouted among the uneducated peasants. I guess it was more a cultural commentary than a physical commentary about geography.

Perhaps, though, the wording is misleading.

Appreciate the constructive criticism!

7:21 PM EST  
Blogger Lvka said...

1. It's not a problem of "times", it's a problem of "who" & "where". God is neither dead, nor inactive, it's just that His wonders followed the lives of certain men (not all) in the past as they still do today. Some places have more of these men than others (Israel in the OT; Jerusalem especially; or sacred sites today [say, monasteries, for example]).

2. If You want to be redeemed, You have to be a human being: nothing more is required. The questions asked at the last judgement are questions which any man, regardless of education or social condition, is able to answer: either for his salvation, for his damnation.

3. The same as above: remember Neheman the Syrian, from the OT, whom Elijah healed of leprosy: was he not a pagan? Or Cornelius the centurion: why did the Holy Spirit descend upon him and his house? Was it not because of the good deeds which he wrought prior to ever hearing the Good News and receiving Baptism? Or the pagan Roman centurion who gave money for the building of the Jewish synagogue and was very humble and loving when asking Jesus to heal his servant (why care for a slave? why say to Jesus 'don't come into my house because I'm not worthy'?) Or the pagan Roman centurion who first believed in Jesus: This was truly the Son of God. Etc. -- So the problem is not with knowledge, but with having a soul and a heart and a mind able and willing to follow God's will.

4. Wonders unfortunately still happen.

6. The problem is not when miracles don't happen like clockwork, the problem is with the ones that do happen.

7. Does anyone interpret a prophetic writing about the distant future [like Daniel or the Apocalypse] literally? If not, then why say one MUST interpret a prophetic writing [since Moses was a prophet] about the distant past literally?

8. The surface of the earth and of the oceans, the vastness of the sky, and the number of the stars of heaven was and still is considered by us to be (as far as we're concerned) infinite. And the power and strength and size of certain animals is still admired by us. It was so in ancient times, and it's still the same way today. BUT we also agreed (in the past, and we still agree today), that quality is MORE important than quantity, and that a small and feeble man, as an INTELLIGENT LIFE-form, is the most important thing in all creation. And if there be other INTELLIGENT LIFE-forms on other planets, that they share in this grandeur.

10. That's why someone like You can write (living in a country and in a region where wonders don't happen) that there is no God, and that wonders were a thing of the past.

11. HOW did human beings live, and HOW did they die? And it is through our sufferings and struggles that we are redeemed ("comfort" and "the good" are not always the same thing).

13. I remember of a nun coming to St Basil and saying "I'm the greatest of all sinners", and St Basil reproving her for her false humility. :-)

15. Were it not for my stead-fast belief in the unpardonable sinfulness of suicide, and the eternity of hell's torments, we would probably not have this conversation right now. [Though, as an aside, I see hell's torments as internal rather than externally imposed].

17. I answered that on another recent post.

18. But the problem is that almost no-one conceives of a universe ungoverned by deities and/or other spiritual forces. Secondly, they had ordered pantheons of gods, having a chief God. (Monotheism makes two distinctions: the other gods are not like the only God, but are created Angels presiding over the various elements or stars or cities, etc; and that they are all moral: paganism is largely or mostly immoral). -- So it's not like there's no common ground whatsoever between all the various religions.

5:16 PM EST  
Blogger Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

Here’s the low-down, brudda: God is love, yet, God has rules, k? God gives you your whooooole existence to follow those rules. God is immortal, yet, we’re sinfull mortals with a limited intelligence and a finite existence. If we choose to walk AWAY from God, God’ll gently nudge U.S. back in the direction of eternal life through repentance, which I do every month (keeps me humble). If we croak in a state of mortal sin? Fornication? Adultery? Greed? Pride? And we mortals think nothing of willful sin? You go to the Abyss o’Misery PRECISELY because you thot nothing of mortal sin --- However, I’d personally die for you in an instant. Say we were in a bank, a person walks in with an Uzi saying, “One must die to satisfy.” I’d raise my hand quicker than a flea jumps into nowhere. Yes, I know, the world looks with hatred on the term ’to love’, yet, I’m not OF this world. I’m of the eternal; I have nothing here. If you read the story of Maximillion Kolbe, I’d do the exact same thing outta love for you, yet, I don’t even know you, yet, I wanna preserve and cherish life, for I’m a small peAce-de-resistance of a Larger Picture. God bless you --- That's my take. Tok2me, dude. I wanna find-out more about your hardboiled apathy.

2:36 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

What you refer to as "hardboiled apathy" is, in actuality, just fidelity to evidence and, more specifically, evidenced-based reasoning.

I understand what you believe. I understand your beliefs about people repenting of their sins. I understand your beliefs about unrepentant sinners and what you maintain god has in store for them. The purpose of this site is not to dispute the content of your theology but, rather, to articulate why I do not believe any of it actually connects to reality.

I am an evidentialist. My conclusions are based exclusively and dispassionately on the weight of the evidence. The evidential backing for Christianity—or any other faith system—is extremely weak and, thus, I am not a Christian but, instead, an atheist. If god deigns to provide humans with overwhelmingly convincing evidence of his existence, I will weigh that evidence and, if it is sufficiently persuasive, I will revise my opinion and believe in god.

My First Principle—that being, evidence is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth as we interrogate the world of experience—is non-negotiable and, by its light, all religions fail.

3:07 PM EST  

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