Sunday, August 22, 2010

You Don't Have to Think, Either

My mother thought it would be a good idea to forward on a rather vacuous little article from someone writing on her church's website. The article, I Don't Have to Prove It, is a celebration by UCC minister Lillian Daniel of that oft-quoted passage from the Bible:
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

That's from Hebrews 11:1-3. Never you mind that the book then goes on to explain how the ancients of Judaism performed great acts of faith after receiving direct proof of the existence of God, either through visions or by hearing God's voice; no - it's much better to ignore all that and just interpret the passage to mean "faith is the ability to believe without evidence."

To quote the article:

I can't prove to you that Jesus lived, died and was resurrected, nor that he healed people on the sabbath or that he forgave his tormentors. I can't prove to you that one God can also be three in one, and that together that force has parted the waters, burned bushes and fed thousands on short rations. None of this can I prove. But I can tell you that I have faith in it.
Well, that's fantastic. But it's utterly meaningless to me that you have faith in it. It gives me no reason at all to consider your position. This is the kind of thing that a believer will e-mail around to other believers so that they can reassure each other that they're fine believing whatever they want, regardless of evidence for or against it. It's certainly not the sort of thing you send to your atheist son, expecting it to convince him that faith is really a good thing after all.

I can hope and believe in what is not before my eyes. I don't have to be logical, and most of all, I don't have to prove it. Not to you, not to anyone.
Not to yourself, either, as you go on to demonstrate. And I get a kick out of people who say they don't have to be logical. Aren't they just admitting that their position is illogical, and that they don't care?

In our culture, it seems like people of faith are always on the witness stand being asked to prove things, and we Christians tend to cooperate. We come up with the search for the historical Jesus and scholars who vote on whether Jesus said this or that. Or archaeological studies that will finally prove whether or not Jesus was resurrected. Documentaries on/* the history channel draw us in, as if finally, we might look reasonable to the viewing public, as though finally we will get our proof.

I'm tired of playing by that dull and pedestrian set of rules, which has everything to do with a litigious, factoid-hungry culture and nothing to do with following Jesus.
Dull and pedestrian? You're talking about people who actually care about whether or not their beliefs are true, and calling their attempts and desire to verify their beliefs dull and pedestrian. What patronizing, silly nonsense. Where's all the Christian humility we're always hearing about? What I see is a smug, self-satisfied, pompous pseudo-intellectual.

Here's the clincher:
I don't come to church for evidence or for a closing argument. I come to experience the presence of God, to sense the mystery of things eternal and to learn a way of life that makes no sense to those stuck sniffing around for proof.

And this is where Daniel reveals just how completely wrongheaded her approach is: Not only does she believe in the absence of evidence (which is perfectly common among people of faith), but she sees evidence as wholly unnecessary and shows contempt for the idea that she should care whether or not reality bears out her dogmas. She turns up her nose at those of us who would first require the merest bit of proof, declaring not just with contentment but with abject pride that she's far above the need for "dull and pedestrian" things like facts. Were it the case that every single thing she believes were absolutely, demonstrably false, still she would hold fast to her belief, sneering at the people who proved her wrong for how they just don't understand how strong her faith is or how great is "the mystery of things eternal." (Remind me to blog later on how stupid it is that people idolize mystery for mystery's sake.)

Needless to say, the strength of a person's faith has no bearing on reality. People can believe nearly anything at all with all of their being. But when evidence shows them to be wrong and they persist in their beliefs, this is no longer mere ignorance but in fact a form of insanity. It is no more rational (or admirable) than believing very strongly that gravity does not affect you and pooh-poohing people who warn you about stepping into elevator shafts because you draw strength and comfort from the idea that, if you decided to do so, you would float about unharmed in midair.

Such seems to be the case with Daniel. She doesn't care to investigate her beliefs. Moreover, she doesn't even seem to want to hear anything from people who have done the investigations she's far too clever to need to do. She decries logic, reason, and evidence, the only tools that we know actually work for making change in the world or for learning about how reality works. I can almost imagine that, were someone to try to teach her the things she doesn't want to know about, she would stick her fingers in her ears and sing loudly to mask out their voice.

So you don't think you need evidence for your beliefs. Bully for you. But you don't even want to have to consider whether or not they're true; you don't even think it's a worthwhile question. And that's pathetic. This is a person who revels in her ignorance and holds a smarmy, self-important sense of superiority over those of us who want to know what is and isn't actually true. And I can't help but scratch my head at the fact that my mother thought I would be interested in reading this...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My last days as a believer

I've managed to dig up an almost four-year-old discussion on a web forum where I argued (with cringeworthy levels of smarm and fake logic) for the existence of God (of the generic Deistic variety) against a few atheists.

Worthy of note is the fact that I was a college senior and most of the people I was talking to were high school students or younger college students, and yet they tend to come off sounding more rational than I do.

Here are some choice quotes of myself from that thread:
Quite simply put, all physical events have a cause. The Big Bang was a physical event. Now, as to its cause, we have two primary competing theories:

1. It is either a) impossible to know the cause, since observation of anything within the singularity is by definition impossible, or b) it was caused something that defies every rule of physics and mathematics that we have, and
2. It was caused by a supernatural being, force, or event.

I prefer to follow option 2. Regardless of the fact that it's a cop-out explanation, at least it's an explanation.

So I was happy to stick with a cop-out, just because I could pretend it was an explanation.
I mentioned the cosmological constants before. I'm not going to be a proponent for intelligent design, but I think that the fact that the constants came out to be exactly the values that would support life is pretty good evidence that SOMETHING made them that way intentionally. If any of the constants had been slightly different - somewhere on the order of 1*10^-60 - life of any form would be a physical impossibility. In fact, the universe as we know it might not exist. It could be a sparse cloud of free-floating hydrogen atoms, or an unstable, dense, decaying nuclear universe devoid of anything much lighter than solid matter.
Ahh, the good old 'fine tuning' argument, complete with numbers pulled out of thin air! Always a classic.
The very definition of 'supernatural' is 'something outside of natural existence.' The laws of physics just don't apply to it. It could be a physically-detached intelligence, some underlying force within the fabric of spacetime, I don't know. Supernatural entities are not necessarily bound by physical constraints. Their existence is something nearly inconceivable to a natural entity.
No evidence? No problem! Define your concept as unexplorable, then assert, assert, assert!
Personally, I think a life devoid of faith in a higher being would be a life I wouldn't want to experience. I can't see why you would continue to live if your future consists of being forgotten in the passage of time and eventual cataclysmic destruction of the universe that will erase all traces of human existence from... well, existence. I mean... how can you derive any meaningful purpose from life if your life is, in the long run, utterly without meaning or merit?...
My point was that since the universe will eventually be destroyed, there is no reason for life to be here in the first place. The entire concept of life is meaningless, and intelligent life is just a cruel joke fate plays on us. Unless, of course, there's something out there greater than life itself.

In other words, "I don't like the idea that the universe has no ultimate purpose, therefore I will simply believe that it doesn't, even though I really don't have any good reason to do so."
I believe in evolution, too. I'm not blindly ignorant of scientific fact :) I just don't think it's plausible to say that the universe is set up the way it is by random chance.

Besides... how does something create itself?

Nothing can create itself. It's a logical impossibility caused by the fact that every physical event has a cause other than itself -_-
I said, with precisely zero sense of irony.
God doesn't hate anyone. He hates things. Like war. And killing.
Says the guy who hadn't yet read the Bible all the way.
You really think God ought to micromanage the weather?
In response to "Would God allow something like the Hurricane Katrina to happen if he existed?" Yes, I really was that trite and thoughtless about it.
... why does God have to prove Himself to you the way you want Him to? I'd say that the fact that humans exist at all is pretty good evidence of the existence of divinity.

... who would be a better person to judge what's right and wrong than the one who INVENTED "right?" You?

I'm not saying that the Bible tells you what is right, but there's certainly nobody with a higher level of cognitive function than the being who created cognitive function -_-
Seriously, I was a moron.

There's more gold in the rest of the thread. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

An atheist godfather?

My cousin is an Episcopalian, which he describes as "the American version of Anglicanism, which is the British version of Catholicism." He has a beautiful new baby son, who will be baptized in just over a month. And he's asked me to be my new cousin's godfather.

Being raised a protestant, I really had no idea what this meant. The whole godfather/godmother thing was totally foreign to me. So I decided I'd ask around at work. I'm surrounded by Catholics here in New York, something else that was foreign while I was growing up in the Midwest.

Apparently, to be a godfather means several things:
  1. That you're expected to give the biggest gifts at birthday parties, graduation, etc.,

  2. That you'll take responsibility for being a parent for the child if anything happens to his real parents, and

  3. That you'll help with the spiritual upbringing of the child.

Oh, dear.

You see, my cousin asked me over the phone, and I pretty much said yes right away without bothering to find out what it meant. And the vast majority of my family - namely, anyone who isn't my parents or doesn't look too closely at my Facebook profile - doesn't know I'm an atheist.

So… what do I do now? How do I let my cousin down easy? I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable helping to raise his son as an Episcopalian, but still - the fact that he'd consider me for such a job tells me that there's something about me that he respects, and I want to show him that I'm grateful that he'd consider me for such a role. Not to mention that telling him I'm an atheist would likely mean that I'd be outed to that entire half of my family… which is something I'm probably due for at this point.

Part of being named as a godfather also means that I'd have to attend the kid's baptism, which is (in my mind) inextricably tied with the beginning of an indoctrination into Christian dogma… sigh.