Monday, March 31, 2014

The Six Blank Pages Of Doug B

Years ago I paid a quarter for a used paperback copy of Leslie Weatherhead's The Christian Agnostic. I read it and have reread it over the years with great satisfaction.
Weatherhead titled chapter four God And Our Guess and related how "ludicrous" he felt sitting at his desk and writing God at the top of his paper. How little, he felt, man could actually know of that subject. He then wrote: "I feel that the most appropriate thing to do would be to leave a half dozen blank sheets of paper!"
That stuck with me, and I think of it often when I try to put down any of my thoughts about God.
Most people for better or worse have some concept of God that is meaningful at least to them. If we would stop being so insistent that we have cornered the market on God-thought religion might not receive such a bad rap.
Forrest Church, the late pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church of New York City, gave a good definition of God that is more than sufficient to describe my own way thinking about it:
God is our name for a power that is greater than all and yet present in each: the life force; the Holy Being itself.
There is the real starting point, I believe, for anyone who takes seriously the God-hypothesis. I could write page after page about the many coincidences in my life that seem upon deeper reflection too coincidental to be mere coincidence. That would be convince no other than myself that there is something deeper and more meaningful back of the big picture. But others who feel the same way would have their own personal verification from their own lives.
To think of God as the power that pulls everything forward and teases order out of disorder is surely not an outrageous idea. And if not, surely it wouldn't be outrageous for us to attempt to tap into that power.  
A thousand questions could be asked. Blank lines would serve as better responses than pat answers based on a caricature of God that has been passed down through popular traditions.

I am also an atheist about the God most atheists seem to object to. However, the power of the concept of a Master Mind at work in this thing called life can't cease fueling my own speculations. But let me be quick to label them that.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Theocratic Threat?

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has - unwisely, in my opinion - referenced a Bible verse on his official Twitter and Facebook accounts. The verse is Phillippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation was quick to send the governor a cease and desist - actually delete - letter over the signatures of Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. 
Reasonable enough.
But check out this ridiculous paragraph:
On March 16, 2014, you posted on your official Twitter and Facebook accounts the words "Phillippians 4:13", a verse which reads, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me." (See attached screen shots) This braggadocio verse coming from a public official is rather disturbing. To say "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me," seems more like a threat, or the utterance of a theocratic dictator, than of a duly elected civil servant.  
Yes, how threatening! Why, the next thing you know our presidents will be taking their oath of office with a hand on the Bible or other holy book, like theocratic dictators! (And yes, I could do without that bit of pomp and circumstance, too; however, I don't feel threatened by it, nor when I see it do I feel I am staring a theocrat in the face.)
Yes, I would like to see our government neutral in matters of religion, protecting both the freedom of religion as well as protecting those who might feel disenfranchised for a lack of religious faith. 
But what I'm not liking is this constant battle between those who are overly zealous religiously and irreligiously.
I have no desire to live in a theocracy, but neither would I desire an American version of the Cult of Reason. Humans should not be persecuted for following their conscience and reason to what they feel is a natural conclusion.

At present I don't feel our country is in danger of falling into either extreme. Nevertheless, the constant saber rattling of both extremes is troublesome. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I Never Shut That Door Completely

It was always left a bit ajar, even in my darkest, most cynical moments. God had disappointed me - or rather, I should say, my indoctrinated ideas about God had rung untrue for me in so many ways. However, the door I could never completely close was the door which leads to a deeper meaning and a spiritual outlook on life.
Something inside me, something I fought for years to turn off, continued to gnaw at me. The more I fought the more I felt I was being dishonest with myself, that I was denying something that just seemed so obviously true to me.
William Newton Clarke, a liberal theologian from a few generations back, put into words something that more than anything forms the basis for my thinking:

We men are not the only thinkers in existence: there is a vaster mind. Science is our witness that the universe has been embraced in a single thought. It is one, and not a mass of fragments. It has been thought through, and the relation of each part of it to the other parts has been thought of. And so we live amidst rational operation, and there is something with which to compare our mental processes. We can judge of the validity of our reasoning. Our minds and their processes are supported by the universal mind. We are rational in a rational universe, seeking truth in an honest world, children thinking out the thoughts of the vast mind to which all things owe their intelligibility. The world is honest, and life is not a delusion.
(The emphasis there via underlining is mine.)
The idea of a Universal Mind forms the basis of my spiritual worldview. I have no need for the imagined authority of the various "holy books" that at best, it seems to me, contain only efforts by the ancients to make sense of the Universal Mind.
I limit my own search to what I find within myself and without, as I contemplate the cosmos. And I find myself free to explore without a need to impose my ideas on others.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Case For Hope

Recently I saved the following quote from Pope Francis:
Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, His response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.
Upfront I will state that Pope Francis does not echo my overall thoughts about religion. But here, on the matter of God and religious faith in general, he says something that rings true to me.
It comforts me to imagine that life isn't a haphazard crazy quilt. Perhaps it is more like a giant jigsaw puzzle that only comes together gradually and that, with faith, we can hope in the end will present a coherent, recognizable picture.
Faith doesn't enable me to believe what I know ain't so, as one of Mark Twain''s characters expressed it. It does allow me to hope that my inner voice isn't wrong about life not being accidental and undesigned.

This hope has be lampooned and mocked. There are those who have dismissed it with logic and philosophical scientism. Though it all the hope of faith has not been extinguished. I suspect it never will be.

Monday, March 17, 2014

God As Psychotic

This past weekend Bill "Religulous" Maher let loose with a rant aimed at the upcoming Noah movie starring Russell Crowe:
It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed, that he sent the flood to kill everyone, everyone – men, women, children, babies. What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean, besides Chris Christie.
After beginning by lamenting that this a "stupid country" because 60 percent of American think of Noah's Ark as "literally true," he goes on to treat the story as if indeed it were history. (And along the way he takes a few liberties with the way the Bible describes it.)
I think the problem is not so much stupidity as it is a slavish devotion to the Bible as God's literal Word to humankind, coupled with an appallingly weak grasp of science.
Of course there are some real logical problems in trying to take Noah's story literally. Those who think of the Bible as God's inerrant revelation to man will ignore these away by alluding to God's "miraculous" power.
The rest of us will continue to think it illogical as history but perhaps meaningful as myth.
Still, for those of us who don't the view the Bible as the fundamentalist or evangelical Christian does, the way the Old Testament often includes innocent creatures (babies and animals) in the total destruction of sinful nations and their property does not float well into our Western ears and way of thinking about individual rights.
It should not.
We can only read the Bible with its historical setting in mind. As with other matters such as slavery and treating women as chattel, we know these things are wrong now and always were wrong.
Enlightened minds read these things with shame. We look back on the Old Testament animal sacrificial system, realizing it is only a step above human sacrifice to appease an offended deity, and feel shame that so many of our ancestors stumbled so badly along the road to enlightenment.
Yet it is only fair to acknowledge that women as a whole have only been allowed to vote in our country for less than a century.  Black citizens were enslaved a century and a half ago and still disenfranchised and only slowly being allowed into the full rights of U.S. citizenship in my lifetime.
Moreover, sadly, war is still waged by nations - including ours - claiming to be in the will of God - just as bloody, cruel, and violent, as it was in ancient times. 

The God I'm coming to believe in is not psychotic. But we humans are still stumbling and often still making God in our image as we do. Not at all a compliment to the concept of God. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Mind In Chains

Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview - nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty - Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) paleontologist, biologist, and science essayist 
A favorite theme of freethinkers is that the human mind is often bound by the chains of orthodoxy and religious superstition (which thought, by the way, I agree).
A thought not often given its due is that the so-called freethinker can also become bound in mind by slavish devotion to certain concepts.
There was a time, quite long ago, when religion and science weren't bitter enemies. I hate that today we are increasingly being goaded into a choice of accepting either one or the other.
The modern resurgence of atheism - the popular New Atheism (frankly, I found the "old" atheism more challenging) - is probably a reaction to theocratic-leaning religious fundamentalism, efforts to find a way to smuggle God into the public school's science classes and mandatory prayer back into the public classroom, jihadism, erosion of the separation of church and state, etc.
I suppose those things were reactions to modernism, the shrinking of our world and recognition of the vastness of cultural diversity, and what follows then, the rise of secularism. 
Yet through it all modernism has found ways to embrace both faith and reason. And from ancient times even as now reason has been able to stand on its own.
Science has marched steadily forward giving humanity deeper insights into the cosmos, and spirituality has been available to temper the starkness of those findings. 

It seems to me that true mental freedom cannot be dogmatic.

(Image credit:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Creation Of Adam

That is the title of an editorial cartoon by the Clay Bennett, staff cartoonist for a local newspaper, The Chattanooga Times Free Press. It is a simple parody of Michelangelo's famous Sistine Chapel fresco The Creation of Adam. (Michelangelo's painting is featured above, Bennett's cartoon can be view by clicking this link.)
What Bennett's very simple cartoon does (for those of you who just don't like to click links) is feature the hand of "Adam" (in this case a very simian looking hand) almost touching the fingertip of a very anthropomorphic God (just as in the original).
One certainly has to admire Mr. Bennett for poking a wasp's nest here in the Bible Belt, a land awash in fundamentalist and fundamentalist-leaning conservative Christianity. As you can imagine it did create a "buzz," with over five hundred comments so far. A very high rate compared to his other efforts, even though it was only published on March 4.
Of course it brought to fore the bad aspects of religion, the hate and intolerance that the small-minded have so much trouble shaking.
For example, one Christian commented:

oh, I get it, this is autobiographical! He's promoting his alternative lifestyle, bestiality.

And another:

Did Bennett use his hand as a reference, the one on the left, I mean.

There can be no excuse for that type of attitude. I objected in my last post to nonbelievers portraying religious believers as stupid. I can only find equally repulsive those (all to many!) who provide them with fodder. There is nothing - absolutely nothing - "spiritual" about behaving in that way, or in misusing one's "God-given" intellect in such a manner.

Perhaps the comment I enjoyed most was the one which observed:

The behavior of people supports the theory of evolution

How true, whether as illustrated by my last post or this one.

Obviously our evolution is far from complete.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The "Humbleness" Of Atheism

Andrew Wagener has an interesting piece explaining atheism that I found interesting enough to post a few of my thoughts. He seems intent on showing how much more humility there is in atheism than religion.
Now frankly, many of us religious folks could take that claim more seriously if atheists didn't go out of their way to question our intelligence from the get-go.

Even Wagener suggests religion "thrives on ignorance," as if there are few scholars or serious thinkers among the religious.

That's just not the case.
How humble is it for atheists to suggest that most of their fellow humans - past and present - are their intellectual inferiors?
Anyway, Wagener writes:
The religious contend that they are the humblest of people because they are as nothing before their god. But if they believe that the allmighty creator of the universe has a relationship with them as individuals, its not very humble,  is it? The atheist on the other hand sees himself as a higher order primate and a total insignificant speck in the context of the cosmos and geological time. That's humility.
But suppose a Divine Intelligence purposed to create intelligent creatures who could respond to and interact with Him/Her/It  and provided an environment for them (something like the poet Keats' "vale of soul-making") that would serve that end - would it not then be the proper thing (and not unhumble at all) to respond to and interact with this Intelligence?
And if (and I do emphasize the if) that were the case, the atheist's claim to be "a total insignificant speck" would then not be humility so much as copping out? 
Wagener goes on in this same vein when he writes:
The good deeds that religions do are to be applauded though. Every soup kitchen and every jersey knitted for a child is wonderful, but the motive is immoral if the idea is to buy timeshare in heaven or gain more converts.  These people will never know the intense satisfaction derived from doing a good deed out of an innate sense of morality and not because it is dictated from outside by some god.
That is an oversimplification atheists seem prone to make - even those who were once religious believers and should know better.  
Religious believers think of that "innate sense of morality" as coming from the moral law written by God on the human heart. Again, responding to that innate sense of morality is right and proper thing to do, 
What God adds to the picture is this: now doing good deeds becomes a matter of duty, rather than something one may choose to do in order to obtain that "intense satisfaction."

I'm not arguing here that the religious worldview is the correct one, just suggesting that in explaining atheism Mr. Wagener has misrepresented religious believers.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mr. Dake And I

We had a troubled "relationship."

By the time I was in my late teens my Christian faith was a bit in disarray. I was having questions about my childhood faith. Perhaps, I thought, I did not understand things deeply enough. It was along about this time that I stumbled upon the writings of fundamentalist Pentecostal Bible scholar (for awhile he was actually affiliated with the Christian denomination ( The Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee)  to which my family belonged.

I'm speaking of the Reverend Finis Jennings Dake (1902-1987).

First I obtained a copy of his massive Bible study course God's Plan For Man. I found it deep (or looking back, maybe dense would be more accurate) and I devoured it hungrily. In short order I got his commentary on the Book of Revelation and finally hinted around enough that I was given a copy of his crowning achievement, The Dake's Annotated Study Bible, as a Christmas present.

I wanted answers and Dake's copiously annotated study Bible certainly provided them. In good fundamentalist fashion Dake's stated rule of biblical interpretation, as expressed in the introduction was:

Take the Bible literally wherein it is at all possible; if symbolic, figurative or typical language is used, then look for the literal truth it intends to convey.

All I can say is that it seemed a good idea at the time, but now, many years later, I see the foolishness of such a course. I will go further: I think my study of Dake - especially concerning God - actually laid the intellectual groundwork for my later falling away from religious Theism, or at least my intellectual difficulty with the concept.

Rev. Dake's rabid literalism led me away from Classical Theism teaching about God to a rather shallow, crude anthropomorphic understanding of the God concept that is fantastical and - I must add - the understanding of God most atheists want to employ to de-intelectualize theism and ridicule believers.
It is one thing to use anthropomorphic language to give a bit form to the God concept and make it more easily digestible; it is quite another to rigidly press that anthropomorphism into actual truth claims.

For example, Dake taught that God is not only personal but God is a person with "a personal spirit body, a personal soul, and a personal spirit, like that of angels and like that of man except His body is of spirit substance instead of flesh and bones"  (emphasis mine).

Dake pressed hard, as in another note in his Bible, that "God's body is like that of a man, for man was created in His likeness and His image bodily." Perhaps more shockingly, he suggests God is "described as being like a man from His loins downward" (referencing a vision of the Prophet Ezekiel's, Ezekiel 1:26,27). 
Moreover, when the Bible speaks of God having parts, such as "back parts," as when that was shown to Moses, or a heart, hands and fingers, mouth, lips and a tongue, feet, eyes, ears and so forth, according to Dake, that isn't anthropomorphic language used to relate God to man in way that is easily understood, it is instead a literal description.

Therefore, it isn't surprising that in a note in his annotated Bible Dake states "heaven is a real and a material planet like the earth - not an invisible, intangible place or some spiritual state into which men go."
Another example of how Dake's excessive literalism is troubling is when it is applied to God's emotions. In another of his Bible's notes he states: "God is capable of all feelings, emotions, and right desires as we are."
Not that this matter is trouble-free for Classical Theism and its idea of God as a being that is the absolute metaphysical ultimate, but Dake's hyper-literalism lead me down what I believe was a false path.

You see, I found that the more anthropomorphically I thought about God, the more difficult it became for me to make sense of it. Was God just an alpha male, a glorified man with magical powers?

That does conveniently lead to the thinking that if man is so awesome a creature that a divine creator was necessary in order to explain him then it is just as logical to ask "who made God."

A Classical Theist would see that as meaningless, wrong-headed question.
The problem of evil very early became a problem for my faith (and I think every religious believer has to seriously grapple with it soon or later), and my adoption of much of Dake's thinking about God only exacerbated that: how to relate God's capability of having all our "feelings, emotions and right desires" to an Alpha Male in the sky who, as Camus famously put it, "sits in silence"?

I will stop here. I wrote this post as part of my continuing spiritual journey narrative. Fair enough, I believe, to express how my slide began. How I am even still trying to work my through that comprise a large part of my current writing.

One last note is in order. The above shouldn't be viewed as an attack on Finis Jennings Dake. His writings greatly stimulated my thought processes. If I can say he eventually led me down a false path, I can also state he brought me face-to-face with so many issues that I needed to investigate in order to mature spiritually.

Dake is not the originator of Theistic Personalism, but certainly his writings give about as thorough an exposition of it as one could desire. His interpretations, I think, represents the logical outcome of the fundamentalist apologetic consistently applied.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Do Atheists Desire State-Sponsored Atheism?

Sure, it does seem to be that case that almost all the time there is a legislature somewhere in this country trying "smuggle creationism" into the science curricula of our taxpayer-funded schools. I don't agree with that. But here's something that caught my attention yesterday.

Jerry Coyne has a popular science blog called Why Evolution Is True. Mr. Coyne is a biologist and a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. And if you click this link it will take you to an item on his blog where he comments on a BBC story about a "Jewish girls school in Hackney [that] has been redacting questions on evolution on science exam papers because they do not fit with their beliefs."

In Coyne's commentary he writes:

It’s time for Britain to get rid of its state-supported faith schools. Given that parents can (unfortunately) legally proselytize their children at home, there is no justification for publicly supporting religious education outside the home. Really, my British readers, why do you tolerate this? After all, you’re supposed to be more enlightened, and less marinated in faith, than us Americans. Yes, I know you have no First Amendment, but you didn’t have to pass laws allowing such schools!

Am I reading Coyne wrong or is he actually suggesting that parents shouldn't have a legal right to teach their children their religious faith? It seems to me he is clearly indicating it is unfortunate that parents can do this legally.

This calls to my mind comments another well-known biologist made last year. I'm speaking of Richard Dawkins, who said:

There is a value in teaching children about religion. You cannot really appreciate a lot of literature without knowing about religion. But we must not indoctrinate our children.

Dawkins even went so far as to say:

What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That's child abuse.

It's fair to ask where that attitude might lead. Our government will and should keep God out of the science classes in our schools. But will the day come when it will be used to root God out of our homes? That would seem to be reasonable and desirable if teaching religion to children really is child abuse.

Will freedom loving atheists speak out against their brothers and sisters who seem to be moving in that direction? 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ideas, Not Dogmata

Especially over this past year I have been reconnecting with inner religious impulse. I was wondering in spiritual limbo for a long, long time, and the way back has been anything but smooth. My blog traffic is down (although part of that might be do to my less frequent posts) Perhaps my "dribblings" about my journey back and attempt to understand just where I do stand has run off some of my readers (I am aware of at least one case of that), and perhaps it has been a bit off-putting for my readers who aren't religious.  
Reconnecting doesn't mean - for me at least - going back to where I started. Religious fundamentalism, a mindless dive into the realms of "revealed" religion holds no attraction for me whatsoever. In fact, that, I feel, is one of the main sources of religious misuse and abuse. The other source is when political leaders and leaders of nation attempt to use religion as a source of control of the people they represent.
While sorting everything out I my head, upon reflection, it seemed to me that I had slowly lapsed from mere questions and doubts about whether the God hypothesis is true or makes sense into an unfair ridiculing of those who do take stock in it.
The downside of that is it blinded to me to concerns about things that really matter to me.
Let me be clear about where I do stand lest anyone misunderstand and credit me with the baggage that religious fundamentalists must claim.
First, I'm not big on proofs of God's existence. For me it is more of an instinctive matter, suggested to my mind by the orderliness of the Cosmos. Second, I believe the human religious impulse is universal and that from the beginning of recorded time has been well documented. Third, I believe that there does exist something like an inner moral law that all healthy minds recognize. In other words, I might suggest that the so-called Golden Rule wasn't created so much as discovered inside the conscience of every normal human psyche.  
All that doesn't take a great deal of faith. At least I don't feel it does. I don't insist I'm right and those who strictly hold to the scientific worldview are wrong. I do confess to having more than a bit of trouble imagining how science - which is limited to what is within the system - can pronounce on things - if anything there is - outside the system.
Lastly, I believe the religious impulse gives a firm foundation for transforming the Golden Rule from a useful suggestion into a moral "ought." If (and note I do say if ) indeed the source of the religious impulse lies outside the system science cannot provide us with a true moral compass.

Let me emphasize that the above is a statement of ideas I embrace, not dogmata I seek to impose on others. I think it proper to provide such a statement in order to provide a clear context for other things I would like to post about, including my personal spiritual journey. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Read Your Civic Biology

My last post referenced the Scopes-Trial-inspired movie, Inherit The Wind, from 1960. As I pointed out, many liberties were taken with the facts of the case. One item that was inspired by actual events was a sign Darrow (Drummond in the movie) felt was very prejudicial which implored people to read their Bible. Drummond suggested he might have one put that implored people to read their Darwin. In real life Darrow suggested he should place a sign which invited people to "read your evolution" or "read your Civic Biology."
A Civic Biology by George William Hunter was the textbook from which teacher John Scopes was charged with using to teach human evolution. Is there a reason the movie changed "read your Civic Biology" to "read your Darwin?" I think perhaps there is.
William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady in the movie) comes off in Wind as mentally unstable, highly illogical, and morally lacking as well. This all is far from the truth. Bryan was a sincere Christian (hardly the crude Bible-thumper portrayed in the movie) who was indeed against human evolution; but it appears that he feared that science at this point was attacking the dignity of man as a special creation of God.
His objections to (then) current scientific thinking were based on the damage he felt was being done to the dignity of humankind. He had prepared a closing statement that was never delivered because Darrow decided to halt proceedings by asking the jury to find his client guilty. In that speech, which was later released to the public, Bryan stated:
Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane—the earth's surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future.
Nearly a hundred years later his words seem prophetic. Remember: two decades later science had developed and man put into use the awesome power of nuclear weaponry.
With special attention to Bryan's observation about science's lack of moral restraint, there are elements of Hunter's biology text that are quite telling. One shocking quote from this text stated:
When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.
Elaborating further Hunter adds:

The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.

Again looking back we now know how Hitler's Germany put the science of eugenics to work and what the heartrending results were.

Hunter's science textbook also promoted racism:

The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.

Here I have to agree with Bryan: "Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals." It is for that reason that I feel the scientific worldview alone is not sufficient. At the same time I don't feel the religious worldview alone will cut it, either.

The truth is: either science or religion can be abused and used to inflict harm. I'm not impressed with those on either side who would downplay the importance of the other. I don't see why we can't embrace both.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Darwin Was Wrong

Darwin was wrong. Man's still an ape. His creed's still a totem pole. When he first achieved the upright position, he took a look at the stars - thought they were something to eat. When he couldn't reach them, he decided they were groceries belonging to a bigger creature; that's how Jehovah was born.
Those provocative words are from the 1960 movie Inherit The Wind, inspired by the famous Scopes "Money Trial," and were uttered by the character E.K Hornbeck (based on journalist H.L. Mencken) to character Henry Drummond (based on defense attorney Clarence Darrow). Mencken was the one who dubbed it The Monkey Trial.
Neither Mencken nor Darrow were friends of religion, although I think Drummond comes across as more sympathetic than Darrow actually was. However, it is a pity that Inherit The Wind gives most folks their basic knowledge of the famous Scopes Trial. It would hardly qualify as a docudrama in that it was based on the play by the same title and both took great liberties with the actual trial and events surrounding it.  
The acrid Mencken was - not inaccurately, I believe - described by the late atheist popularizer Christopher Hitchens as "an antihumanist as much as an atheist, a man prone to the hyperbole and sensationalism he distrusted in others...."

While the Hornbeck quote is not an actual Mencken quote, it does seem to capture the flavor of the man. Unfortunately it also underscores a popular theme among many modern atheists, that is, that the God hypotheses was born of human ignorance rather than the quite reasonable idea that something coming from nothing and then operating in an orderly manner would seem fantastical.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Faith Is Not Stupidity

Stupidity is not faith. Superstition is not religion. Asserting that we believe what we have never taken the trouble to inquire whether we believe or no, is not piety, but cant. Persuading ourselves we believe what we dare not investigate, for fear of discovering that we disbelieve, is not orthodoxy, but hypocrisy. Professing that we believe what we see to be contrary to reason, and therefore essentially unbelievable, proves not our regard for religion, but only our indifference to truth.  - Alfred Williams Momerie (1848-1900), Congregational minister, professor of logic, metaphysician.  
I had questions about my faith and plenty of them. Some things just "didn't add up," at least in my thinking. Things I had been taught to believe did not seem to match the reality surrounding me.
For a long I searched for answers. Indeed I found possible solutions to many of my intellectual difficulties. Others I placed on a shelf in the back of my mind and determined to keep an open mind.
However, it was the emotional aspects of my disappointment with my religious faith that finally turned me. Oh, not at once. But that back shelf of unresolved problems now had the added weight of my disappointment and I soon bowed out of religious faith altogether. 
That isn't to say I didn't feel the occasional pull of God from time to time. But once I had committed myself to a godless outlook, it wasn't long before I equated religious faith with stupidity. With that it wasn't long before I was looking down my nose at simple believers, including close friends and family members. My own inner turmoil was spilling out.
For nearly thirty years now I have earned my living by supervising workers. Living as I do in America's Bible Belt, the majority of these folks have been people of faith (even various faiths) - of varying degrees, to be sure. Of course I've also encountered unbelievers and those some place in-between. 
From experience I can say that it really does seem to matter what worldview a person embraces. Also along the way I learned to listen a little better. My emotional reasons for leaving my faith were countered by the emotional reasons for others hanging on to theirs.  
There remained the intellectual problem for me to grapple with. And grapple I have over the years. I admired my faithless friends, so unemotional in their thinking - until it came to attacking those who questioned their lack of belief. Then I saw plenty of emotion! 
I was fortunate to have an atheist coworker and friend who took a lot of time to help me understand basic science better. That had always been one my weaknesses in school. Why not - I was taught it was very often in conflict with my religion?
But as I continued to study the matter over the years I became impressed with the role that the human religious impulse played in both science and philosophy throughout history. I came to appreciate how all of it revolves around the basic fact that existence seems to be reasonable and understandable - intelligent, in a word.

It now occurs to me that one can have a reasonable faith. That back shelf of my unresolved intellectual difficulties is now bigger than ever, but that's okay. I only wish more believers would enlarge theirs - it would help things along considerably. Religious extremism remains a big problem. It is a perversion of faith.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

So Offensive To God The Angels Speak It Not

This week a letter-to-the editor appeared in a local newspaper that weighed in with a Christian response to homosexuality. Here in the US Bible Belt that topic gets lots and lots of attention. As you can guess, the more conservative forms of Christianity holds a big sway over minds here.

Anyway, this 81-year-old letter writer turned a phrase that automatically caught my attention for both its emotional stimulus and poetic flair. Describing homosexuality he suggested:

It is so offensive to God that even the angels speak it not.

(How he arrived at that conclusion he doesn't say, but his entire letter can be read by clicking this link and scrolling down to The Consequences of Homosexuality.)

Now if that writer has a right to exercise his imagination on this topic, surely I do as well. I read the above letter and sat back in my chair with closed eyes trying to imagine a God who - in this world filled with human foibles and then outright inhumanity towards one another - is so offended by two of his creatures of the same sex sharing carnal pleasure, why, that the mere discussion of it with him by his angels is off limits.

I presume angels discuss unmitigated human greed. They probably couldn't help but notice our penchant for killing one another. How could they possibly miss our deep-seated habit of deceitfulness? But if humans find erotic pleasure with one of the same sex, why, God supposedly goes all fire and brimstone.

No, I just can't take the bait that angels can't discuss homosexuality with God for fear of offending Him. On the other hand, I can see some religious folks getting all obsessed about their prejudices and confusing them with divine ordinances. When that happens the imagination can surely run wild.