Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sound Off 02-07-09

At the risk of swaying anyone's answer to today's question, I'd like to state up front my view on the religious indoctrination of children. I feel that, if we teach young children that they are evil by nature, and that only through God's word can they be spared a fate worse than death in the fires of Hell, then the likely upshot is we have retarded their moral development. As a human child matures mentally, she is naturally inclined to acquire and fine-tune a sense of moral reasoning; but the admonishments of religious morality ("thou shalt not... or else") represent a less advanced stage of moral development and, since they are presented as absolutes and beyond questioning, they delay or even preempt more advanced stages of development. When such a child reaches adulthood, she may very well be incapable of restraining her "base and evil" nature, should her fragile bubble of faith burst.

Today's question: Is it wrong of adults to indoctrinate children into religion? Why or why not?

The Redemptive Message of Positive Atheism

One of the guiding principles by which we have directed the development of our articles and themes is the avoidance of framing atheism as an alternative dogmatic system to religion. That is, atheism is not an alternative worldview to religion; it is not a dogmatic system. It is a positivist system of reliance on what is empirically known and framing questions that can be answered within the context of the phenomenal world. In addition to this concern, we have also been somewhat discontent with the negative implications of atheism. Atheism is non-belief in God or gods. The atheism platform, so stated, is essentially negative: it is framed on the denial or negation of the supernatural. Though my blog post's title is somewhat a violation of our "no-alternative" axiom, I would like to posit a positive framework for atheism that I feel is essential to the survival and happiness of the human species.

Atheism is a denial of the supernatural. Atheist metaphysics are purely naturalistic—they allow no room for the supernatural; all is material. The most positive assertion for atheism I feel is metaphysical monism. It is metaphysical because it relates to the super-ontology of the cosmos. It is monistic because it denies the presence of pneumatic or supernatural existence. All existence falls into the matter-energy continuum of the cosmos. The matter-energy continuum is monistic; it affirm existence to be in the confines thereof and nowhere else. Metaphysical monism is the key to the redemption and/or preservation of our species.

Religion has conferred on mankind a fundamental sense of dualism in which the human is seen as possessing a bipartite nature consisting an earthly, temporal body and an eternal, ethereal, non-material spirit or soul. This dualistic or dichotomous view of humanity is a deeply ingrained belief in our religious-spiritual lives. Metzner (1996) states, "Spirit, we imagine rises upward, into transcendent realms, whereas nature, which includes bodily sensations and feelings, draws us downward" (p. 65). In this manner the human spirit is deemed to be superior to the "lower nature" or the "flesh." This dualism of the mind or the spirit at war with the flesh is expressed well in Paul's description in Galatians 5:17:

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

So, as Paul asserts, we are besought by two selves, two natures that vie to control the human. On the one hand is the "natural self, which is earthly and sensual, and tends downward," and on the other hand is the "spiritual or mental self, which is airy and ethereal, and tends upward" (Metzner, 1996, p. 66). The human self-ascribed dualism of spirit-matter holds ecologically disastrous consequences for both humanity and all elements of Earth's sensitive biome.

Metzner (1996) states the following:

…this dissociative split in Western humans' identity become clear when we reflect upon the fact that if we feel ourselves mentally and spiritually separate from our own nature (body, instincts, sensations, and so on), then this separation will also be projected outward, so that we think of ourselves as separate from the great realm of nature, the Earth, all around us. If we believe that in order to advance spiritually we have to go against, to inhibit and control, the natural feelings and impulses of our own body, then this same kind of antagonism and control will also be projected outward, supporting the well-known Western 'conquest of nature' ideology (p. 66).

The metaphysical monist is a step ahead of the dualist in this regard. The theory of evolution has broken down the hierarchy of being, the sacred scale on which God sat enthroned and beneath which humanity stands over the animal and plant kingdom as the vicar and image of God. Humanity is part of the animal kingdom; our natures are entirely of the Earth—we are not endowed with a spirit nature that we must pursue and edify. We, metaphysical monists, have the necessary cognitive paradigm to recognize and jettison our inherited life-destroying disassociation between a non-existent supernatural and material.

Metzner, R (1996). The psychopathology of the human-nature relationship. In Roszak, T. and Gomes, M. and Kanner, A. (1996) Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sound off 02-06-09

'If you want to retain readers/commentary at your blog, you may want to disallow referring to them as “typical ignorant Christians who do not think for themselves.” You may also want to suggest that contributors refrain from using the f word and other obscenities. And you wonder why participation has dropped off and you have failed to garner an audience? When those of opposing viewpoints are not accorded respectful consideration, they will go elsewhere for online fellowship.'

Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none. They merely post their responses on their own blogs.

Seriously, I would ask everyone to accord respectful consideration to atheist opposing viewpoints, so long as they're sane and rationally justifiable. But as to the "f-word", and other obscenities...As long as I have a say, this blog will never censor other people's comments. We're all adults here.

I offer today's sound off not as a question, but as a command:

Be profane

Go nuts, people. Use this post as a depository for dirty jokes, foreign language vulgarities, slang terms for your favorite body parts, whatever your foul-mouthed little hearts desire. Get it out of your system, you'll feel good about yourself in the morning.

(C'mon, Biggums, this is your big chance to shine!)

Atheist Devotional Reflections on תּוֹרַת יְהוָה

Psalm 19:8-11

vs.

Hebrew

English (APV)

8

תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה, מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ; עֵדוּת יְהוָה נֶאֱמָנָה, מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי.

The Torah of YHWH is spotless, restoring the soul; the testimony of YHWH is established, making wise the simple.

9

פִּקּוּדֵי יְהוָה יְשָׁרִים, מְשַׂמְּחֵי-לֵב; מִצְוַת יְהוָה בָּרָה, מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם.

The precepts of HWH are straight, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of YHWH is pure, enlightening the eyes.

10

יִרְאַת יְהוָה, טְהוֹרָה--עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד: מִשְׁפְּטֵי-יְהוָה אֱמֶת; צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו.

The fear of YHWH is clean, standing to futurity; the judgments of YHWH are truthful, righteous altogether.

11

הַנֶּחֱמָדִים--מִזָּהָב, וּמִפַּז רָב; וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ, וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים.

More to be desired are they then gold, and much fine gold, and sweeter than honey, and the honey comb.

The present structure of the book of Psalms begins with a meditation in Psalm 1 on the man who meditates on the Torah (Law) of YHWH (Yahweh, Jehovah, IaHUaH, etc.). Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible and the longest Psalm waxes eloquent as an ode to the qualities of the Torah of YHWH. Psalm 19 is then another ode to the reveled Torah of YHWH. The selection of Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119 as celebratory meditations on the Torah are obviously intentional, and they reflect the post-Exilic fascination with the Mosaic Torah.

As an ongoing feature of this blog, I will offer regular posts related to the Torah of YHWH. The Torah is "the Law" in common Christian parlance. Canonically, it is the Pentateuch which consists of the "five books of Moses"--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Jewish terminology, Torah is larger than the canonical corpus or the "Written Law" as it includes the "Oral Law." My dealings with the Torah will relate to the "Written Law." I do this because I have found that the "Oral Law" though a significant source of Jewish identity and culture, is not exegetical. In other words, the "Oral Law" interpretations of the "Written Law" often burden the text with questions and/or legal issues that are not relevant to compositional contexts.

The term "Torah" though often translated as "Law" is better translated as "doctrine," "teaching," or "instruction." The term "Law" often carries negative connotations of legalism or whatnot that a Christian reader often will load it with. It may invoke images, for example, of the inferior, Jewish "old law" replaced with the "law of Christ." In fact the Christian reader might read my posts, critical as they are of Torah ethics, and find it easy to exonerate her God from the negative implications of Torah ethics. She might claim, "Jesus abolished the Law," or some other claim to distance from the "old law." If the Christian truly does believe that the Torah is inspired of God, even though she might believe that it is practically abolished for today, she is still asked to consider why her God would legislate ethically defunct precepts.

Psalm 19 makes the overarching claim that the Torah of YHWH (תּוֹרַת יְהוָה) is perfect or spotless. The term for "perfect" or "spotless" is the same used ceremonially in the Torah when a sacrificial animals is described. The animal must be spotless or without maculation. Torah in 19:8 refers to entire corpus of written Law. The passage from here breaks the Torah into additional categories. They are listed as follows with descriptors:

Testimony of YHWH (עֵדוּת יְהוָה )

established, making wise the simple

Precepts of YHWH (פִּקּוּדֵי יְהוָה )

straight, rejoicing the heart

Commandment of YHWH(מִצְוַת יְהוָה )

pure, enlightening the eyes

Judgments of YHWH (מִשְׁפְּטֵי-יְהוָה )

truthful, righteous altogether

In our examination of Pentateuchal or Torah legalities and ethics, I will subject each to the above matrix of perfection, surety (establishment), straightness, purity, and truthfulness. It might just be found that we agree with the statement of "God" in Ezekiel,

וְגַם-אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם, חֻקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים; וּמִשְׁפָּטִים--לֹא יִחְיוּ, בָּהֶם

Wherefore I gave unto them statutes [that were] not good, and judgments by which they should not live.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sound Off 02-05-09

So, speaking of rabbinical laws, please answer today's question. If you know of a serious answer to this, I'd like to hear it. If you don't, feel free to let your imagination run wild.

Why does God hate ham?

Moral Conundrum

Atheism is simply stated not believing in the existence of a God or gods. Any characterizations of atheism or of atheists that may be made beyond this point are not essential to the atheist platform. Yet, many often attribute a number of other ideologies or paradigms to atheism. For example, it is generally assumed that atheism has an inherent bias toward non-capitalistic economic systems. This is not true as demonstrated by the disagreement between Philosobot who leans more in favor of free-market capitalism and me who leans somewhat away from the same. In a similar vein Shermer (2006) defends capitalism as a healthy fitness-inducing economic system based on his application of evolutionary mechanics to economics. There are hence atheist representatives on many points of the political, economic, and moral spectrum. The issue of abortion is no different.

Though it might be immediately assumed that all atheists are in favor of pro-choice, abortion rights to women, this is not the case. As Philosobot and I are sometimes on different ends of the spectrum in our views, we disagree on the the matter of pro-choice or pro-life morality. We disagree on this issue and discuss it from time to time. Despite our polarity on this issue, we do agree that the issue is rather gray. The biblical theist might argue that our lack of a moral compass such as the Bible is the reason for the grayness that we perceive on this matter. To this I respond that the Bible is ironically quite gray on the matter of the moral or legal status of abortion.

Search from cover to cover in the Bible and there will not be found a clear and explicit imperative against abortion. Be she a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, etc. the theist today considers the abortion of a fetus to be the killing or the murder of an unborn person. However, despite the numerable case laws against specific murder situations (e.g., self protection in the dark, self protection in the light, accidental murder, deliberate murder, the finding of a slain person without an accused, the killing of a person by your ox, etc.), never is the issue of abortion addressed. For how outspoken the Christian community is against abortion, the Bible is oddly silent on this matter.

There is, however, one passage in the book of Exodus that touches on ethical priorities related to the modern moral dilemma of abortion. The passage is as follows:

And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:22-25).

The above passage is the only legal case that touches on the legal-ethical status of the unborn in the Pentateuch. Other passages touch on the ceremonial status of the new born--conferring an innately more impure status to the female infant over the male (see Leviticus 12); yet, none but this pericope contain legal-ethical material about the status of the unborn. Note, this passage is unclear. It is not clear as to whether or not the "...yet no harm follow," relates to the mother or to the infant, and a case can be made for both. In fact, the Jews, the masters of Pentateuchal jurisprudence, disagree on this matter.

The nearly uniform voice in Rabbinic interpretation of this passage asserts that the mother is the sole subject of harm. There is no consideration given for the unborn fetus--dead or alive. Philo and a number of Medieval Karaite Jewish interpreters favor the position that the injured party is the premature child. Both schools of interpretation raise significant textual arguments in favor of their positions; however, the text is markedly unclear over the identity of the injured party.

For the amount of attention and contempt that American Christians exhibit toward abortion or the pro-choice platform, it is ironic that the only passage in the Bible possibly touching on the ethical-legal status of the unborn relates to an obscure case law with conditions that frankly do not apply today. We no longer, for example, apply the Lex Talionis of "eye for eye and tooth for tooth" nor can we apply it in the context of modern punitive systems that rely less and less on corporeal punishment.

There are several significant moral issues that Christians adhere to strongly today that have mere hairs of biblical support. There is obvious biblical room for disagreement on the matter of abortion due to the silence of the Bible on the same. This again is an example of where the theist is really left "to lean on his own understanding" because the Bible is a poor and irrelevant ethical workbook. The Bible Christian theist with her Bible must use her own instinct, conditioning, and reasoning to forge her ethical conclusions on the issue of abortion. Maybe she will finally recognize how gray this issue is so that she will stop trying to use the arm of political clout to legislate black-and-white morality into the world of gray.


Review of Julian Huxley and the Idolatry of Evolution

A friend of mine recently posted a link to an online article entitled Julian Huxley and the Idolatry of Evolution by Gary Wolf. From what little I know of Wolf, I understand that he is a sci-fi author who frames his novels as criticisms of over-sized systems of multiculturalism and political correctness. In this article he attempts to characterize evolution as a religious dogma and in so doing he frequently mischaracterizes the scientific ontology of the theory of evolution itself. In this blog post I will make comments to some of Wolf’s mistaken points. Wolf’s article can be viewed here.

Wolf starts out his article stating:

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has come under increasing attack in recent decades within the scientific community, primarily as the result of a dramatic expansion of knowledge in the field of biology.

This idea that the theory of evolution is at the brink of extinction within the academic world has been made and repeated by creationists for nearly seventy years, if not longer (see Longest Running Falsehood). It is one of the longest running pseudo-claims made by “biblical biologists” or creationists of various stripes. Counter-creationists have adequately addressed the creationist claim of evolution’s imminent demise. Wolf’s use of this lie is an immediate slap to his credibility as it suggests that he is overly steeped in one side of the creation-evolution discussion.

Wolf asserts that evolution is idolatry and that the scientific theory has been transformed into a quasi-religious cult—leading to the “erosion of intellectual life in the West.” Wolf states the following:

In the thinking of many Darwinists, evolution has a quasi-mystical quality. We have all seen the evolutionary charts showing the development of creepy-crawly things into mammals; knuckle-dragging apes into modern humans. Man stands at the apex of the evolutionary pyramid.

The charts showing a knuckle-walking primate with a staged progression of intermediates that end with a modern, bipedal, white male were ideologically loaded and suggestive. Many evolutionists have jettisoned the use of such charts as they suggest that evolution is teleological (goal) oriented with humanity at the apex. It is also understood that this chart incorrectly suggests that white males are the apex of evolution vis-à-vis females and non-whites. Furthermore, evolution is not progression as daughter species are not to be seen as “more evolved” than surviving mother species. All species—from the paramecium to the pacaderm are equally evolved or have undergone an equal number of years of selective evolutionary pressures.

Yesterday Philo and I went to the Field Museum in Chicago. On the back of the Lucy display, facing toward the Neandertal and Sapiens displays, was the “knuckle-walker to modern man” icon. It had a large, red circle around it with a line slashed through the center. A comment was made next to it reiterating that the implications of this icon are amiss and the icon should be dismissed science education. I do feel that the icon is a very telling window into the cultural perspectives of its creators, and it can be studied as such; however, it is obviously an inappropriate or inadequate tool for teaching and illustration evolution. And, to the credit of evolutionists, it has been noted in mainstream science that the icon is faulty for over thirty years.

Wolf quotes from the prominent evolutionist advocate-author Lewin who is quoted in Wolf’s article as stating the following:

The Copernican and Darwinian revolutions dislodged humans from a position of centrality in the universe of things. Nevertheless, even if humans are accepted as the product of an evolutionary process in common with other species, it is still possible to view Homo sapiens as a special product of that process and indeed as its ultimate goal.[i]

Wolf highlights on the phrase “ultimate goal” and asks, “The goal of whom or what?” In doing this Wolf has crossed over into an ideological application of evolution that differs from the scientific theory. This ideological application of evolution is the idea of teleology or that evolution moves biota toward a predetermined goal. The scientific principles of evolution demonstrate that the process of evolution is dysteleological, that is, it is not goal oriented. The “end result” of selective pressure is not predetermined by the environment. There are limits to what evolutionary pressure can do, and these limits are generally set by prior adaptations and exaptations that an organism has at its disposal.

Why does Lewin make the “ultimate goal” statement? I do no have Lewin’s work available at the moment, but I am sure that Lewin was attempting to provide a scaffolding to the classical theist reader who believes that the deity has predestined with specificity. Additionally, Lewin only notes that it is possible that Homo sapiens is the end result or “special product” of evolution. Lewin is not dogmatically asserting that humanity is the apex or special product.

Science does not lead to the creation of dogma. Scientific epistemology is reality based, and its methodologies are always in pursuit of falsification. That is, scientific methodology is based on real-world, observable, empirically-obtained information. This information can either confirm or falsify an hypothesis, a postulate, or a theory. To dogmatically assert that humanity is the end, special product of evolution is to step outside of science, it is to make dogma. The dogma of humanity’s apex, or special product stature is not falsified by science, though scientific data does challenge this notion.

Wolf in proceeding in his article, makes two fundamentally false assumptions. First, he assumes that evolution is teleological with a goal in mind. Second, he assumes that humanity is one of the predetermined goals of evolution. By personifying evolution as a goal-selecting and human-oriented force or persona, Wolf is doing with evolution what scientists themselves do not do. Yet, these two personifications of evolution are the foundations of Wolf’s argument that evolution is idolatry. Wolf observes that goal selection and human orientation are attributes of a Judeo-Christian God, and depriving this God of such abilities and giving them to evolution is to make evolution into idolatry. Never mind that this argument is untenable in today’s intellectually-informed environment. I assume that this is why he reaches back to Julian Huxley.

Wolf relies heavily on Julian Huxley for his acceptance of the human-goal teleology of evolution. Though Huxley did often assert that evolution is dysteleological, Huxley often used the “language of progress” to describe evolution from “less evolved” or “primitive” to “more evolved” or “advanced.” Such language, he posted, was the merely the language of appearance, though it does appear likely that Huxley did maintain a belief in the human-centrism of evolution. Huxley’s teleological understanding of evolution was at odds with the scientific understanding of evolution in his day and in ours. Huxley’s understanding is often the way that people uninformed in the mechanics of evolution interpret evolution’s “progress.”

Evolution is a theory, not a law. The theory of evolution explains the mechanics of evolution, and it is open for ongoing discussion, postulation, and falsification. That evolution happened is beyond doubt, yet, the mechanisms are open for review. Furthermore, the mechanics are understood as dysteleological; they are not directed to a goal other than day-to-day survival and reproduction. Evolution is not idolatrous as it is not a replacement God or religion.



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sound off 02-04-09

Since I kinda touched on this in my last post, I'll open this question to the floor:

If upon death you meet God, but a different god than you believed in before you died (say, Krishna or Amaterasu), what would you say or do? (Or, if you're atheist, what would you say or do upon meeting any god?)

This question assumes that the alternate god is displeased with your allegiance to the "wrong" god.

Sound Off 02-03-09

Today's question:

How has the theory of evolution changed humanity's self concept and the understanding of our place in the cosmos? How have these changes been for the better or the worse?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Disevangelists Join the Atheist Blog Roll

Perhaps you've noticed the marquee on our sidebar... Well, we Disevangelists are now a part of it.

The Atheist Blog Roll is a community-building service provided free of charge to atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

There are currently 850 blogs on the list, and the authors of this blog subscribe to quite a few of them. Some are very well written and come from a surprisingly wide range of cultures, disciplines and viewpoints. We encourage everyone to explore.

Sound Off 02-02-09

I think this is one of Biggums' questions, should anyone doubt that she exists:

What is your happy place?

Random Thoughts on Heaven, and Admission Therein

One scene from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn always stood out for me: the part when Miss Watson tries to explain to Huck what heaven is like. She describes heaven as a place where a person sings and plays the harp all day. Huck doesn’t find this description particularly appealing. When he learns from Miss Watson that his friend Tom Sawyer would certainly never make it to heaven, that seals the deal for Huck; it’s better to go to the “bad place”.

Our imagination always seems to be somewhat lacking when we try to describe what heaven would be like. We’re probably embarrassed to say the things we’d like to see in heaven: sex, booze, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, NASCAR accidents... basically everything that would get you kicked out of heaven in the first place. Muslims are less abashed about attributing their unseemly desires to paradise; what, with their seventy-two virgins, and all (or seventy-two white raisins, depending on which translator you trust). But we are talking about the rest of eternity here, and even race car wrecks and raisins can get boring after a while.

On the other hand, we have less trouble Bosch's Hellimagining eternal damnation, I think. Try it yourself: is there anything so great that it would keep you happy and entertained for even a couple hundred years, and never get boring? Conversely, can you imagine a pain and sorrow that lasts just as long? Even the great Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch seemed to be at his best when depicting, not the rewards of heaven, but the torments of hell.

Perhaps this is just human nature: an irremediably morbid curiosity.

For instance, I’ve read that early Christian author Tertullian imagined heaven as a place where you watch, and apparently take delight in, the sufferings of those who went to hell. A sort of celestial Circus Maximus, you might say. I guess this sort of rubbernecking was popular back in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. But I wonder if Tertullian considered what it would be like if one of his loved ones didn’t make the cut. Would it still be heaven if you had to watch your own mother raked over the coals for all eternity?

I’m quite sure many, perhaps most, Christians would deny that. Their idea of heaven is nothing like Tertullian’s. Heaven’s a happy place, full of bliss. Even if we do have difficulty imagining eternal bliss. But, again, what if a loved one went to the “bad place”? Would you be aware of their absence from heaven? Wouldn’t that put a damper on things?

Wouldn’t God be contractually obligated to include your evil loved ones in on the fun, if only for your sake? “Eric,” he might say to me, “I was this close to throwing you into the lake of fire, but your mother just couldn’t stand the idea of you getting hurt... I don’t know what she sees in you. You should get on your knees and thank Me that you have such a nice woman on your side.” Or, perhaps, he could send me to hell anyway, and make a doppleganger of me to trick my mom: “Son, you don’t seem yourself today... why, you haven’t even touched your manna.”

When British philosopher (and atheist) Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say if, after he died, he actually met God, and God asked why Russell was not a believer? Russell said, “Oh God, you did not give enough evidence.” Presumably God made Russell, which implies that God also made him to be of a skeptical nature. If that’s true, who’s really at fault for Russell not believing?

I’ve been told that God doesn’t send us to hell, we send ourselves to hell. And the most important step in not sending ourselves to hell is to have faith in God. But the faith must be offered here and now; it doesn’t count if you find out for sure after you die. Why is that? Why couldn’t this loving creator of the universe simply give us a stern talking-to after we die and then let us into the pearly gates or, if not that, send us back to Earth and give us a Mulligan? Why should eternal torture be the punishment for being a skeptic?


~Philosobot