Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Dangers of an Easy Answer

My wife has a friend who is a de facto creationist. By that I mean that she is a strong believer in Christianity and the veracity of the bible. Because of these beliefs and the insulating, isolating influence they can have she knows very little about the theory of evolution, let alone the various proofs for it. I find it very difficult to be in the same room as this person for the simple reason that she’s a perfectly lovely woman and I have no desire to make her cry and yet it is very difficult for me not to question her thinking.  In a conversation that touched on religion my wife asked her friend a series of questions that she couldn’t answer. She then uttered a sentence that absolutely flabbergasted me when my wife told me about it. She said “I know people who could explain what I think…” How, I ask you, can you believe something as a guiding principle of your life without having a strong enough grasp on it to be able to articulate it? Thinking about this brought me to the concept for today’s post: The dangers of the easy answer.

The oversimplification of the incredibly complex state of the universe in reality is, I think, one of the non-theist’s largest problems with theistic thinking. It is for me at any rate. My problems with it are A) that the easy answer is almost never the correct answer.  Ex: Humanity blipped into existence in it’s current state due to the will of an all-powerful entity. In fact, evidence shows us that the real answer is much more complex; humanity gradually evolved over a period of millions of years from a common ancestor shared with higher primates. B) The conviction in the easy answer actually blocks progress toward the discovery of actual, verified knowledge. There are a great many people in the western “civilized” world who honestly and deeply believe that the world is six thousand years old, in spite of more than a century of evidence to the contrary! C) Easy answers breed a sort of intellectual complacency that destroys curiosity, hinders inventiveness and causes a stagnation of forward movement.

If you’re one of those people like my wife’s friend who believe unquestioningly in the veracity of the bible (or other “holy” book) what incentive is there for you to explore, or question, or research? What possible inducement to study anything other than said book is there for you? The quick answer is: none. Why would you bother? In the case of my wife’s friend she openly admits to avoiding knowledge and situations that might contradict or challenge her faith. You’ve been told, likely from birth, that the pronouncements of this book are true and inerrant. You believe that. So what if a bunch of scientists say otherwise? They’re just people after all; you’ve got the ultimate source, a source which is incapable of error (insert deity here).

One of the major draws of religion, I believe, is that it simplifies things for the believer. It takes away the unknown and replaces it with comforting absolutes. No need to consider, instead have faith. No need to study, just believe. This aspect of reality makes you uncomfortable?  That’s OK, god doesn’t like it either, and those that do will get theirs don’t fret. Again, my wife’s friend admits to this line of thinking, especially the last couple of sentences.

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King said a mouthful there. The certainty and absolutism that religion provides is something that science just can’t match. Science isn’t based on certainty; it’s based on a reasonable, rational measurement of probability through observation and extrapolation. It tells us how things are or how things appear to be based on available facts. It also requires study, an honest effort to understand, and a willingness to alter our thinking if our ideas are demonstrated to be false. A scientific understanding therefore takes a great deal of work, study, and introspection. Because of that fact the religious view will always have an advantage because all that is required to be a theist is a willingness to embrace the various principles of the chosen theism wholeheartedly and without question, and because as doctor king states, most people just don’t want to think too hard.

The danger of the easy answer is simply this: an easy, all-encompassing answer insulates it’s holder from having to take stock of the reality around them. It shields them from fact by masquerading as fact itself, and leads them to believe that they know far more than they do. The easy answer is illusion. Real answers come only with great effort.

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Account Of An Atheist

         

          In the “About” section of this blog I state that the main purpose of this page is “to encourage thoughtful consideration of what you, the reader, believe and why you believe it.” The various posts on this site explain a lot of the “what” I believe so I thought I’d devote this post to the “why” and touch on how I came to believe the things I believe.

First off I wasn’t raised in a purely secular or atheistic household. My mother was, at least nominally, a Roman Catholic. We went to church, sometimes regularly, at other times more sporadically. My sister and I were baptized, had first communions and attended Catholic schools.  There was, however, no talk of god in our house, no bible on our bookshelves, and never any strenuous  attempt made by our mother to ensure that we followed her, or any, specific religious tradition.

To understand why I think the things I think you have to understand the sort of person I am. I was always a studious, curious, opinionated, (and I flatter myself to say) bright sort of child. I’ve never been the sort of person to accept what I’m told without question, or to accept an answer that was less than completely satisfying. The more I learned about the Catholic faith the more questions I had, and the more less than satisfying answers I received. I learned, as a lot of children do, that the primary requirement of religion was faith: that I was required to accept and believe what I was told without the benefit of any proof whatsoever, or even convincing argument in its favor. This automatically put me off. In every other aspect of my education and life I was required to think, to explore, to study, and to judge whether something was reasonable, but in this area I was just supposed to accept? This never seemed right to me.

I was and am an extremely imaginative person, I understand what it is to build large and complex fictions to entertain, escape, and even cope with uncomfortable truths. Even at a young age I think I recognized that there was little difference between what I did in my own mind with my various stories and the religion I saw laid out in church.

I read the bible all the way through for the first time at about thirteen or so years old, and by the time I finished reading it I was certain that not only was it not really true, but that it was an excellent thing that it wasn’t true. My education had only reached the end of grade school at this point yet I’d already been exposed to enough science and history to know that the bible was just flat out wrong on several points (like these).

I’ve studied several versions of Christianity, some Islam, some Buddhism and even some Hinduism as well as Greek, Roman, Norse, and Egyptian mythology and they all strike me as similar. They all reach for answers to the tough questions, and attempt to explain how and why we’re here. Unfortunately for religion we now have the technology and understanding to search out and discover the actual answers to the big questions, and our studies so far have led us to the knowledge that every religion past or present is just riddled with errors and falsehoods. They all oversimplify incredibly complex realities in order to make them palatable and understandable to the masses without the need to actually study. They all seek to capitalize on the natural human fear of the unknown and specifically the fear of death. They promise to reassure you that you won’t really die, all you have to do is accept their system and worship with your whole heart (and often wallet) and you won’t just die and be lost, you’ll be reincarnated and come back, or ascend to the halls of Valhalla, or be rewarded with Paradise or Heaven, or achieve Nirvana. To my mind there’s no distinction between the ones that are still called religions and the ones that are have been reclassified with time and labelled myths. They are all, quite apparently to me, designed to explain and make sense of the world, to provide purpose in life, and consolation about death. The problem is that even a moderate understanding of how the world actually operates can’t help but conflict with a religious view of reality. Science gives us much more plausible, testable, and falsifiable explanations for how the universe came to be, how we came to be, and why we are the way we are. It achieves what religions throughout the ages and around the globe have pretended to achieve, it provides genuine answers, builds our understanding and improves the quality of our lives.

My atheism is the result of years of questioning and studying. It is rooted in a critical examination of the claims of religion and a general understanding of the truths of science and history. It is the assertion that there is not enough evidence or good reason to convince me of the existence of a deity. My AntiTheism however is a related but separate thing. It is the assertion that the very idea of a deity, the very practice of religion is a damaging and dangerous practice which divides us as a society, builds artificial barriers between us, and acts as a roadblock to genuine understanding. This is also based on my understanding of history, but also my understanding of current events. To me the good that religion can do (the charity work, the sense of community, the comfort it brings to many) are not justification enough to balance with the horrors, ignorance, bigotries, and hatreds which religion has always fostered in our society. Both my atheism and my AntiTheism are based on my personality, my knowledge, my understanding and my morality. They’re not simple beliefs or positions arrived at lightly but thousands of hours of introspection, study and consideration distilled and concentrated into a few simple words.

A wonderfully thought out and written explanation of a complex (and simple) subject.

Average Atheist

Dear Paul,

I had a chance to share our correspondences with my wife last night and I think you’ll find her initial reaction as entertaining as I did, especially considering you hinted at a similar feeling in one of your previous letters. She said: “Can’t you find a way to make these letters shorter? You write too much; just simplify it.”

I took her idea to heart and I want to attempt a “shorter” version of my feelings towards religion and atheism.

View original post 1,711 more words

Rising Above Emotionalism

   

      This will be a short post. It’s meant to address a problem in the debate between theists and non-theists. It’s a response to a particularly thoughtless and insulting action by an acquaintance which set off a firestorm within his family( several members of which mean a lot to me) The situation  illustrates a common and recurring  problem with the conversation however and so I address my comments to the wider audience.

I see, and I’m sure anyone else involved in the conversation sees it to, a great deal of anger, animosity, bitterness and name calling in the debate between the theist and the non-theist. I see it coming from both sides, as well as those who claim not to have a side. I really don’t see any purpose or need for this in the conversation.

For the non-theist:

If your position is based on a healthy skepticism as well as a thoughtful examination of fact and probability it shouldn’t be necessary to attack the person you’re speaking to. You should be able to make your case more than convincingly without needing to resort to this kind of overt and negative emotionalism.

For the theist:

If you can’t take part in the conversation in a thoughtful and unemotional way, if your faith can’t stand up to being questioned or challenged then perhaps it would be better if you didn’t take part in the debate to start with.  If you’re going to take part however don’t prate about tolerance and understanding with one breath and then deride and name call with the next. This is disingenuous as well as being just plain hypocrisy.

For both sides of the argument:

The point of this debate should be about improving the human condition. It should be about encouraging thought and skepticism and enhancing understanding of whatever side of the debate you come down on. If your position is based on your emotions, and your feelings that’s fine, but if you can’t control your emotionalism and have a mature, grown-up outlook on your subject then please don’t participate. The rest of us, those of us who have thoughtful, rational, reasoned things to say on the subject are hindered by your presence. These kinds of reactionary and bigoted histrionics are one of the reasons why progress on this debate is so difficult to achieve.

Everybody, we’re not children, this is not recess, can we please stop with the name calling and hair pulling and approach what I feel is a very important and integral conversation with the thoughtful circumspection it deserves and demands? If you want to call people names, and vent your inadequacies on the world feel free, but in doing so you abdicate your right to be taken seriously and any claim to rational reasonable discourse. Everyone, let’s elevate our thinking a little please.

A Pretense of Pluralism

      I’ve already written about the concept of Religious Pluralism, but an article I read yesterday made it clear that I missed an aspect of pluralism in my previous article. The aspect that I neglected is the fact that under the idea of pluralism any faith system will be respected and accepted, except of course for a complete lack of faith. The pluralistic believer will accept the beliefs of a muslim, or a hindu, or even a new ager with complete equanimity, and yet will not miss a beat in discriminating against and excluding those who  have no faith system whatsoever.

As an example consider the story of George Pratt, an 11 year old atheist from the UK. George was asked to leave his scout troop after he refused to take a pledge swearing allegiance to god and the queen.

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/atheist.boy.refused.membership.in.scouts/30849.htm

Apparently one can not be a scout in England without having faith in some kind of supernatural power. The article makes it very clear that the kind of supernatural power doesn’t matter, just as long as there is one. One has to wonder how a theistic belief system helps a kid tie better knots, or start better camp fires. Of course that’s not really what it’s about. The requirement of a belief in god is so blatantly about the (incredibly dubious) concept that one requires a faith of some kind in order to be a moral and upstanding citizen.

Now in the case of the boy scouts, they’re a private organization and are free to set whatever rules they’d like. Do they discriminate against Atheists? Absolutely. Do I find this reprehensible? I sure do, however it’s not really my point.

The point I’m trying to make here is the hypocrisy involved in the idea of pluralism. The boy scouts would declare themselves a pluralistic and inclusive organization. They would and do trumpet the fact that they’re accepting of all faiths and yet they feel the need to discriminate against those who simply reject faith. In the United States poll after poll between the late 1950s and this year show that at least half of the population wouldn’t vote for a qualified candidate who happened to be an Atheist, but what’s more, they dislike, distrust, and disapprove of us. http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheistSurveys.htm

One question on a poll even demonstrated that 38% of those asked would be upset if their child announced they were marrying an Atheist. Does anyone doubt that the majority of these respondents would be some of the loudest advocates of respecting other people’s beliefs and vocal in their declaration that it’s wrong to discriminate against anyone for their beliefs?

The moderate who advocates pluralism hasn’t done anything incredible or overly inclusive here. They’ve simply shifted the focus from struggling (openly) against the various other systems on the block to focusing on their shared enemy, the non-religious. The acceptance and inclusion apparent in this point of view, it could be argued, is no more than a thin veneer of reasonability to cover a much deeper mine of divisiveness, and exclusion.

Atheism as Optimism

I don’t hate god, I don’t believe there is a god to hate. I say this because one hears on a regular basis about how “Atheists hate god” which, to me, is roughly equivalent to the statement “adults hate Santa Claus”.  That being said, I have to admit if somehow incontrovertible evidence of god was granted to us tomorrow it would not change my position as an AntiTheist. As a matter of fact such proof would likely cause a great deal of anger and resentment in me. My atheism is, I believe, rooted in sound rational and reasonable foundations of historical study, some scientific understanding and a critical analysis of both the reality around me and the world as it appears in the various “holy” books. That being said I have to admit there is another aspect to my atheism. Some of it, I have to admit, is just plain old human optimism.  That’s right, optimism. I am comforted by the notion that the world we inhabit is not the design of some higher life form. It gives me great solace to see that there is no puppeteer on the other end of the strings, and that in the end it is us who have to decide the shape of the world we’re going to live in.

The concept of the existence of a deity who watches with indifference as suicide bombers, ethnic cleansers, and radical anti-abortionists kill and maim in its name is abhorrent to me. I find the idea of a god who would litter the world with various competing faiths and then sit back and watch the millennia of fear, horror, death, depravity and deprivation that had to ensue as a result truly disgusting.  I see nothing worthy of worship in the characterisation of deity laid out before me by the various faiths. In every case you’ve got an all-powerful entity whose primary entertainment seems to be pitting one group of its creations against another. For example, we’ve got the ancient Jews against the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15: 2-3) which was only one group which the Jews were expressly ordered to kill and pillage in the book or Muslims commanded to fight and kill disbelievers (quran 2:191). These are only two examples. There are a great many more.

I am happy to know that there is absolutely no objective reason to believe that there is a force in the universe which hates some of it’s creations so much that it has ordered the rest of us to shun and kill them. I’m delighted that there is no evidence to support the idea that after we die the vast majority of us will be consigned to a place of fire and suffering for not fully embracing the proper method of worship.

The characterization that “atheists hate god” is incorrect, as I stated at the beginning of this post but if there was a god to hate the god of the abrahamic faiths would certainly be deserving of that hatred, as well as fear, mistrust and disgust. I personally can’t think of anything more reprehensible than to claim to love something while threatening it with pain and death if it steps out of line.

The optimism comes into play with the conviction that these systems of belief are entirely man made. This is optimism because if we made it that means we can unmake it. Whether or not this will ever occur is another matter, but the possibility exists and that makes me hopeful. I believe we can eventually transcend the strictures, fears and prejudices of our ancient past and put aside the divisive, damaging and dangerous concept of theology in favor of a truly humanistic system.

The Parity Disparity

This is Malala Yousefzai, she is a fifteen year old girl from Pakistan who has earned great fame for advocating the education of girls in her country in spite of a Taliban ban against educating females. On October 9th of this year she was the victim of an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman, she was shot twice, once in the head and once in the neck, luckily she was not immediately killed and is being treated in England. However the Taliban has vowed to kill her should she survive her wounds. The extremist Muslim group has issued a statement defending the attempted killing on religious grounds, saying anyone who “campaigns against Islam and Sharia (Muslim law) is ordered to be killed by Sharia.”

Malala is, sadly, one example of a much larger problem within not only Islamic circles but in theistic circles as a whole. It’s just one more example of the crimes and injustices that can be justified by placing your faith in a system which is based primarily on an ancient document riddled with long out-dated strictures, biases and prejudices. Islam and Sharia are no different from Christianity in this respect. Neither of these systems has ever been about promoting equality between men and women, in spite of what modern apologists would have us believe.  The bible is riddled with instances where women are judged to be inferior to men, in many cases property of men, unclean, mentally deficient, morally unwholesome, and generally untrustworthy ( Genesis 3:16 Leviticus 27: 3-7, Deuteronomy 5:21 Deuteronomy 22:23-24  Ephesians 5:22-23 are just a few examples) The quran is no better for this in spite of all the talk about the strictures placed on muslim women being a sign of respect for them, and a desire to keep them pure. The text itself says quite plainly that while a muslim woman has similar rights to a man the man is a step above the woman (2:228) It also says quite plainly that a woman is worth one half of a man (2:282) and that men are in charge of women because allah made men superior to women (4:34)

This is not, as some would have us believe, “misinterpreting the text” or being too literal in our interpretations. This is simply reading the text. There are literally billions of people around the world that hold to faiths that contain these statements. Is it any surprise that the plight of women around the world for centuries has been, and in some places remains to this day, atrocious? These two books have influenced law and culture around the globe for centuries.  Thirteen centuries after the supposed life of Christ Thomas Aquinas wrote the following:

As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.”

Aquinas’ various writings on the nature of women have been used by the Catholic church to defend their misogynistic position against female clergy and to justify the male dominance of women for centuries.

This is just another example of the negative legacy of religion. Would there have been universal equality for women if christianity and islam had never existed? No, I am not naïve enough to believe that. The subjugation of women is a common theme in most ancient cultures throughout the world, regardless of belief system. My particular opinion is that without the influence of these systems of belief however the ancient strictures and biases against the opposite sex would not have survived as long as they have, and the journey toward equality would not have been as painful and halting as it has been, and remains to be to this very day.

Just a Quick Rant

I have a great many beefs with the theistic way of thinking, I can’t help it, it’s just the way that I’m built, but there are only really two reasons that make me feel the need to speak out against it. The first is that it is simply too dangerous, in this day and age, to allow any system of belief that not only allows but requires a suspension of rational inquiry, and even a suspension of secular moral judgement in favor of some “higher” mandate. As Christopher Hitchens liked to say “The suicide bombing community is entirely religious.” In my view it is not alright for people to believe whatever they want, not when what you believe requires you to act in a way that is detrimental to others.

When someone has a physiological imbalance that causes them to act in dangerous ways they are treated or at least sequestered away from the healthy population. When someone has a psychological problem that causes anti-social behaviors they are treated with drugs in order to bring them back to the realm of the real, yet there are absolutely no constraints on a person’s philosophical outlooks. You’re absolutely free to believe whatever you want to, even when it can be demonstrated that those beliefs themselves are the root cause of various inequities, bigotries, falsehoods, and in a great many cases even acts of great violence. I’ve said this before but I think that at our current state of technological ability we’ve lost the right to maintain our illusions about existence. Can anyone really argue that the world is made safer by the practice of religion? Can anyone really say that the world is more united by it’ various faith systems?

My second major beef with theistic thinking is this: It makes otherwise intelligent people say and do incredibly stupid things. Here are a couple of recent examples:

http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2012/10/08/republican-candidate-fuqua-endorses-death-penalty-for-rebellious-children

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/06/paul-broun-evolution-big-bang_n_1944808.html?ncid=webmail1&utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/10/09/975021/arkansas-state-rep-if-slavery-were-so-god-awful-why-didnt-jesus-or-paul-condemn-it/

In each of these examples you’ve got educated, accomplished people, all of them either holding a place in or seeking election into, the government of their nation and yet every one of them holds terribly bigoted, hateful, and verifiably  false things as absolute truth and right for no other reason than because it says so in their holy book. Paul Broun is a doctor, and a member of congress’s house science and technology committee. This incredibly educated, and one has to believe, mostly rational human being professes to believe that the planet is only 9000 years old, and that the theory of evolution by natural selection is “a lie from the pit of hell.”  Loy Mauch, a state rep from Arkansas makes a case FOR slavery, his position based solely on the fact that his bible has NOT ONE WORD to say against the practice. Mr. Fuqua is in favor of the biblical law which requires that rebellious children be stoned to death! These are only three examples. There are many more, from the woman who kills her child because “god told her to.” To the nation that declares “holy” war against the infidel because they are mandated to spread their faith.

Theistic thinking is a breeding ground for falsehood, bigotry, and hate. It is a block to unity and progress, and a danger to every man woman and child on this planet. As a justification for monstrosity, ignorance and atrocity it is unparalleled in history. It is a system of thought in which rational argument and discussion are made impossible and truth becomes so subjective as to have no valuable definition.  It’s the conversation between children where one asks “why” and the other says “because” on endless loop.

I honestly and fervently believe that the only hope for mankind to survive and grow as a species is for us to put aside our fables and wishes and approach the world from a place of reason and rationality. To concern ourselves with the world we live in and the fellow creatures we share it with should be the only goal of a united humanity. We should point all of our energies toward enhancing the experience of living in this world for everyone and stop concerning ourselves so much with otherworldly claims rooted in the natural human fear of death and the unknown. We only get one life, shouldn’t we spend it more fruitfully than concerning ourselves with the wishes and dictates of supernatural creatures that more than likely aren’t there anyway?

A Problem of Pluralism

“No one has the right to tell anyone that their beliefs are wrong.” “People should be free to believe whatever they like.” “There are no “right” or “wrong” beliefs.” These are things that you’ll hear a lot if you speak on or debate the topic of faith. This is the concept of Religious Pluralism, the idea that all beliefs and belief systems are equally valid and equally deserving of respect. It sounds, on its face, like a reasonable and high-minded point of view, inclusive, reasonable, a very live and let live sort of outlook. Yet there is a serious flaw with the idea of Religious Pluralism, the flaw is simply this: Each and every religion mankind has ever come up with is absolute. Every one of them claims their doctrine and tradition is right good and true while asserting at the same time that all other belief systems are false, wrong, incomplete, or even evil. Religion by its very nature rejects the idea of pluralism; what’s more it often requires an absolutist perspective from its adherents.

Religious pluralism is the invention of the modern religious moderate. That species of theist who can pick and choose which tenets of their scriptures to believe in while flatly dismissing some and metamorphosizing others into metaphor and poetry in need of scholarly interpretation. Pluralism becomes the shield behind which the moderate can take refuge. “You can’t challenge the irrational things I believe because I respect the irrational things you believe.” At the same time it becomes another weapon in the fight against the rational naturalistic outlook of the non-theist. It’s “impolite” to question why someone believes in something without a basis for that belief. It’s crude and overly simplistic to state that a position that has no rational objective basis for truth is most likely false. Instead, it would appear, the more acceptable and “polite” tack is to accept that religious faith, all religious faith is valid, not only valid but equally as valid as reason. This is, at least to me a fallacy of the most monumental type.

Pluralism only works if the believer is willing to concede that their beliefs exist solely in the province of their own minds for no other purpose than their own psychological wellbeing. If you’re willing to allow that your beliefs have no bearing on the material world, no basis in history or science, that it is a mental construct designed to comfort you personally that is something different.  In this case, as a strictly personal belief, one could make an argument for the case of pluralism. However if you’re claiming that the stories in your text are true, that the bible is historically accurate, and that the dictates of said book are fact and globally binding, then pluralism is an absurdity.  How can you genuinely respect a belief system that you truly believe is wrong, or evil? How can you claim to respect another faith while living in certainty that its practitioners are misguided, deluded and destined for a fiery damnation in the next world?

It’s a smoke screen, a high-minded get out of jail free card that the moderate uses to justify the imbalance between the rational part of themselves that allows them to function in the modern word and the part of themselves that hangs on to bronze age mythology and supernatural occurrence as reality. However not all beliefs are valid, and certainly not all beliefs are equally valid. If I claimed to believe that the mantle of the earth was made of toast for instance no thinking person would advocate my right to hold such a belief because, aside from the fact that we can prove it is not so, the idea itself is simply to ludicrous for anyone reasonable or even moderately informed  to credit. Yet the beliefs that A) Muhammad ascended to Heaven on a flying horse and B) that no such thing ever happened in reality are equally valid and equally worthy of belief? This is the worst kind of relativistic nonsense.

Aside from that it’s also incredibly dangerous. We live in the most dangerous and precipitous period in human history. There exist, at this very moment weapons of such incredible power that a single human being can kill millions, or make entire landscapes uninhabitable for generations. Add to this the fact that there are literally billions of people on the planet who believe that there is an invisible person in the sky who likes some of us better than others and will in fact REWARD them handsomely for killing those others. This is an unsupportable situation. We’ve grown past the point where we have the luxury of being allowed our illusions about the world and how it works. With the powers we now command we cannot afford any view but those founded on reason and rational decision-making.

The moderate who champions pluralism gives defense and tacit approval to the suicide bomber who blows up a bus, or the gang that beats a homosexual to death because he’s a homosexual in defiance of god’s will. The fundamentalist cannot exist without the moderate, shoring up his position, fighting for his rights, fighting against the right of the secular world to impose a moratorium on the very fount and source of his various madnesses, while all the while decrying the actions of those whose only real crime is faithfully  following the dictates of the faith that the moderate picks and chooses from.

The Omnipotence Problem.

The world was made perfect, humanity was made in the image of the creator and endowed with free will and free choice. The “fallen” “sinful” state of the world is the result of the wrong choices made by mankind as a result of free will and only an acceptance of god and its will can heal the broken world and ensure paradise everlasting. These are things that we’ve all heard before. This is the theist’s justification for the state of reality in the face of their assertion of a loving god, however there is one major problem with this argument. The problem is the idea that “god” in this scenario is omnipotent and all-powerful. Why is that a problem?

If you’re going to assert an omnipotent creator then you’re required to accept all that that entails. First off it means that if such an entity existed it would have been intimately aware of the ramifications of it’s creation before it had even begun. Long before the big bang ever banged an omnipotent creator would have had to know, by definition, every movement of every molecule,   and every thought and action of every microbe, animal and individual within this imagined creation.

Free will is defined as: “The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate. The ability to act at one’s own discretion.”  This, obviously, is not possible in a universe monitored and maintained by an all-knowing all-capable life form. If the omnipotent god hypothesis is true then it follows that you act the way you act not because you choose to but because said god chose to allow you to by the initial act of creation. It is patently ridiculous to think that we are in some way capable of acting in contravention to the will of something that is truly omnipotent.

If the god hypothesis is true it leaves us with only two possibilities:

1) There is an omnipotent god and we are, all of us, fulfilling his original design every day: If this possibility is true it would mean that all of the horror of history the witch hunts, inquisitions, holy wars, genocides, murders, rapes and various other atrocities were foreseen and are part of the design. If this is the case then how can we possibly take seriously the idea that this creature we call god has any warm feelings at all for us and what makes it worthy of anything but our distain?

2) The god which created the universe is not omnipotent and is subject to errors and mistakes: this possibility addresses the fact that god is apparently so displeased with the make-up of it’s creations, so reproachful of the instincts and drives which it implanted in us to begin with. If this option is truly the case though why is there any reason to believe that worship of it would result in anything of better design or construction than that which is already before us?

So either god is perfect all knowing and coldly indifferent to the trials and tribulations of we lower life forms or it is loving but bumbling and incapable. These are, in my view the only rational possibilities available under the umbrella of the god hypothesis.

Of course there is another possibility. It is possible that we are natural phenomena resulting from a complex and not fully understood process of growth change and development. It is possible we are beholden to no one and nothing for our existence, and that we are limited to a finite period of time before we break down and cease to be. Under this possibility our actions are explained by our upbringing, culture, traditions and education. Our various crimes and cruelties are explained by the fact that we are imperfectly evolved creatures whose adrenal glands are too large and whose frontal lobes are to small. Under this possibility we live in a universe of cause and effect in which we have to make a conscious effort to better our own circumstances and those of the fellow creatures around us or simply watch them both deteriorate. This possibility requires us to act as stewards of ourselves and our world. To take responsibility for the shape of our reality and to put away the notion that it will all work out regardless of us. It requires us to act. If not out of any altruistic motivation then out of simple self-interest. In my view this possibility is the one most likely to result in the kind of radical shift in perception and action that I honestly believe is necessary if we’re to survive as a species. Whether or not the god hypothesis is true is, to me, of less importance as whether or not it is good for us collectively. I think an honest weighing of the pros and cons throughout our history points to the fact that it is not, and yet we cling to this support blanket while it’s influence divides us, distracts us and ultimately imperils all of us.