The story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-13) is often lauded by Christians as a story of
god's love and a foreshadowing of the upcoming crucifixion of Christ. Perhaps
in another post I will address the absurd and immoral prospect of vicarious
redemption (i.e. "scapegoating"), as a means of absolving moral
responsibility for one's actions. But for now, I wish to discuss the immorality
of a god asking someone to do something absolutely repulsive--to kill their own
In the case of Abraham and Isaac,
god is defended by apologists in that he stopped Abraham from actually
finishing the deed at the last minute. It was a test. God wanted to see if
Abraham had enough faith to follow his commands implicitly and without
question. Some Mormons will even claim that this was Abraham's purification by fire
and that we will all undergo a similar "trial of faith" in our lives,
and our eternal reward hangs on the outcome of this test.
But how can one say this was
harmless simply because god backed down? Abraham still had to go through the
inner turmoil of being ordered to kill the heir to his name (a big deal for
ancient Jews). And what about Isaac? Depending on who you ask, Isaac was either a
willing participant in this filthy blood sacrifice, and made the decision to die
simply because his father said god told him to do so; or he was unwillingly bound by his trembling father, again, because god told him to do so. How can god be the ultimate
moral authority if there is nothing he won't ask of you to prove your resolve?
In the end, physical harm was
avoided, at least for Isaac, as an angel provided a ram to be sacrificed in his
stead. And Christians call this love? How can this be a "crisis averted"
if the aversion happened only after much of the psychological distress had already
occurred? How is this a test of moral character? Obedience is not morality; it
In the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 4: 5-18) we have a similar account of god
asking someone to do something immoral. Before Lehi and his family can finally
depart for the Americas, he sends his sons back to Jerusalem to get the Brass
plates from an evil man named Laban. Nephi, Lehi's favorite and most loyal
son, finds Laban drunk in a street and the spirit of god, without any
explanation whatsoever, tells him to kill Laban (1 Nephi 4:10). Naturally,
Nephi hesitates and the spirit of god elaborates: "Behold the Lord hath
delivered him into thy hands." Again, no reason is given--just a command
to obey god.
Well, in the following verses Nephi
and the spirit of god discuss why Laban deserves to die. Allegedly, Laban had
threatened to kill Nephi and his brothers, stole their property, and (here's the
kicker) refused to obey god's commandments. Then we have one of the most
immoral statements ever made in scripture. In verse 13, the spirit of god says,
"Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.
It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle
and perish in unbelief." (As an aside, please tell me why an all powerful god had to kill someone in the first place? Why didn't he allow for Nephi to simply steal the Brass plates and escape unharmed?)
Now, I know what you are saying:
Nephi was operating under the assumption that god exists and is the ultimate
moral authority and anything he says must necessarily be for the greater good.
Here is the problem and why I say it is the most immoral thing in scripture.
This sets a precedent for people who genuinely believe that god talks to them
(i.e. any member of the Mormon Church), to do whatever god tells them, no
matter how appalling it may seem on the surface. And anyone who believes this
passage of scripture, forfeits the right to criticize those who do actually
carry out these commands. Who are you to say they are mistaken?
Take the 2004 case of Deanna Laney. Claiming that god told her to kill
two of her children, and acting on it--just like Nephi--she was sentenced to a
maximum security asylum. That's right, according to the government, claiming
that god told you do kill someone, regardless the reason, is a criminally
insane action and is punished accordingly.
Even worse is the 2001 case of Andrea
Yates, who not only claimed divine inspiration, but rationalized the
murder of her five children as compassionate and morally justified. According
to Yates, the children, still very young, were innocent in the eyes of god, and
rather than risking the possibility of them sinning and becoming damned, killed them so they wouldn't
go to hell--effectively sacrificing her own salvation for
the eternal lives of her children (take that, Jesus). Based on her worldview,
who can say this is immoral? To her this was the ultimate moral action.
These are extreme examples. But so
are the stories of Abraham and Isaac, and Nephi and Laban. Not to mention the
precedent they set for devout followers, who, to them, god is very real and
can--and apparently will--ask anything of them. And anyone who claims faith in
god, just as these women did, has no right to say they were mistaken, or that
god would never ask someone to do such a thing (this would be like a person claiming to be Napoleon and saying all other Napoleons are crazy). According to your
scriptures, it is entirely in god's nature to do so.
So, here is the question: Would you kill your own child if god asked you to?
Here is the Atheist Experience
discussing this topic:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." --Bill of Rights; Amendment I
Thomas Jefferson is one of the most cited founding fathers and is credited with writing many of our founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, and much of the language in The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. His ideas for running a government were revolutionary (literally) and have influenced subsequent constitutions in many other countries. I am no historian, so I am not sure how much of the first amendment Jefferson wrote, but his commentary on certain aspects of respecting an establishment of religion is almost as influential as the amendment itself. Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802:
"... I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
This is the first mention of separation of Church and State--ever. Believe it or not, this was a radical idea, as indicated by the fact that the intent of this letter was to set at ease certain religious minds--who wanted to more directly influence the government--by stating that this separation was to protect them from the government directly influencing their religion. And he was right. Virtually every nation in our history which has not included some kind of Church/State separation clause, has adopted a government sanctioned religion. State churches exist even in predominately secular countries like Norway, where every citizen is a member of the Church of Norway at birth, despite only 20% of Norwegians claiming to be religious (4th lowest in Europe), and only 2% attending church on a weekly basis.
The First Amendment simultaneously protects both government and religion from the each other by forcing government neutrality. The power that a government can assume under the guise of religion is alarming, to say the least. One needs only to look at the Communist regime of Stalin to see how a government can become a religion unto itself and terrorize its own people into submission--and Stalin was an admitted atheist. This is how totalitarianism is born; not to mention the Inquisition of Europe by the Catholic Church, the ancient Egyptians, any Jewish conquest in the Bible, the Spanish Inquisition, various Chinese Dynasties, the Persian Empire, the Taliban, the Ottoman Empire, the Nazis working with the Japanese Emperor during WWII, many Islamic countries today, and various puritanical settlements in early American history.
The language of the First Amendment is particularly interesting: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...." What does it mean to have respect in the context of government? Perhaps special privileges granted. Maybe elite status. Or just tax exemption. This is a tricky area and I am still undecided; but a case can certainly be made in favor of taxing churches.
When tax exemption first entered the political arena, it was presumed that churches offered services which were for the "public good." The Federal government did not have any welfare programs, schools, or hospitals yet, so churches often filled that communal need. In addition to tax exemption, confidentiality of financial statements was also granted, as well as tax exemption for clergy and property owned by a church. This was the compromise made in order to keep religion out of politics. Even to this day churches may not "attempt to influence legislation, or intervene in political campaigns." To do so would necessarily violate their tax exempt status.
Now it gets even trickier; how does the government know if a church is influencing legislation or political campaigns, for example, by donations, if they have no way of viewing their financial records? And, in a broader sense, what if a church comes along which makes absolutely no effort to work towards the "public good?" How much should an evangelist pastor of a Mega-Church be able to skim off the top without paying taxes? How much land can a church buy up at minimal cost, and how does this affect the local economy? As of right now, there are no limits to these abuses. No other non-profit organization has this much freedom. All you have to do is claim to be a Christian church and the government will turn a blind eye on much of your doings.
To be clear, I am not advocating a complete removal of tax exemption for churches. But if the government changed the tax exemption status of churches to reflect the status of 501 (c) 3 non-profit organizations (like Project Reason, The Red Cross, and even PETA), many of these problems would go away--not to mention it would lighten the tax burden on everyone else.
One of the key differences between churches and 501 (c) 3 non-profits is disclosure of finances. A few years ago PETA came under fire for several items in their financial records, such as donating to domestic terrorist organizations like the Animal Liberation Front. Imagine what this would do to the Catholic Church and all the money that Mother Teresa collected which went missing, as well as all the scandels they have been covering up lately. Imagine what it would have done in 2008 for Proposition 8 in California, with regards to the financial involvement of the Mormon Church.
The best part of this method is that churches would still be able to get tax exemption if they can provide evidence of benefiting the community through demonstrable charitable actions--just like any other 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. This would make it much easier for the government to validate qualifications. Also, without paid clergy, imagine how much more money could go to helping people in need, and how many fewer scumbags would try to rip people off.
One way in which government respects one religion over another is by regulating what constitutes a religion in the first place. Many religious groups have been turned down when applying for religious status with the government. Even the Mormon Church was turned down initially, and had to do certain things to qualify as a legitimate religion in the eyes of the state. Lumping churches together with 501 (c) 3 non-profits would eliminate this religious qualification process, as the primary requirement would be their charitable efforts. This would level the playing field for smaller, more obscured groups, and no group would be respected by the state over than another in terms of its beliefs or membership.
Few things in our Constitution are as important as the First Amendment. Separation of Church and State protects everyone and we are all spared from potential abuse of their mixing together. Tax exemption reform may be the next step in keeping the peace; or it may be a collossal failure. We won't know until it at least enters the public dialog, and possibly not until we try it. But one thing is for certain: separation of Church and State is vital for our freedoms to remain intact. In the words of Christopher Hitchens, "Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall!"
Here is an Oscar winning documentary (Marjoe, 1972) of a former child preacher exposing many of the techniques used by evangelists to scam people--tax free:
"We are the pure and chosen few;
All the rest be damned.
There is room enough in Hell for you;
We don't want Heaven crammed."
As far as I can tell, there are three main aspects of the appeal of religion: an afterlife, purpose or direction, and community.
Man is the only species on earth that we know for certain is aware of their own impending death; although, I'm sure some supporters of PETA might challenge this. Religion in all its forms has some version of an afterlife, usually to build a case for living one's life in a particular way. Most religions adopt either the idea that living a good moral life will earn you better rewards in the afterlife; or, in the form of an ultimatum, threaten some kind of punishment for disobedience. One can easily see the reassurance an afterlife might give those who are about to die. Continued life is more appealing than enternal nothingness. This is wonderfully put in "The Invention of Lying" by Ricky Gervais (The Office). Living in a world where no one but him can tell a lie, he invents the idea of an afterlife of bliss with family and friends to comfort his dying mother.
But at what point does eternity become monotony? What do you do after you have learned and done everything imaginable? Do gods ever tire of songs of praise? Consider this excerpt from Mark Twain's "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" concerning some common perceptions of eternal bliss:
"I’ll set you right on that point very quick. People take the figurative language of the Bible and the allegories for literal, and the first thing they ask for when they get here is a halo and a harp, and so on. Nothing that’s harmless and reasonable is refused a body here, if he asks it in the right spirit. So they are outfitted with these things without a word. They go and sing and play just about one day, and that’s the last you’ll ever see them in the choir. They don’t need anybody to tell them that that sort of thing wouldn’t make a heaven--at least not a heaven that a sane man could stand a week and remain sane. That cloud-bank is placed where the noise can’t disturb the old inhabitants, and so there ain’t any harm in letting everybody get up there and cure himself as soon as he comes.
"Now you just remember this--heaven is as blissful and lovely as it can be; but it’s just the busiest place you ever heard of. There ain’t any idle people here after the first day. Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it’s as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive. It would just make a heaven of warbling ignoramuses, don’t you see? Eternal Rest sounds comforting in the pulpit, too. Well, you try it once, and see how heavy time will hang on your hands. Why, Stormfield, a man like you, that had been active and stirring all his life, would go mad in six months in a heaven where he hadn’t anything to do. Heaven is the very last place to come to REST in,--and don’t you be afraid to bet on that!" (pgs 11-12)
Perhaps life only has meaning because of the finality of it. How meaningful is eternal bliss without the contrast of pain? How much more precious is an Olympian's one shot at a gold medal, than an infinity of attempts? In the movie "Troy" the character Achilles beautifully illustrates the superiority of mortality over immortality, making humans the envy of the gods.
Purpose and Direction:
Atheists are accused of taking the easy way out. They are being selfish by chosing to do what they want instead of what god wants. This sounds very hedonistic coming from a theist. "You don't believe in god, so you can sin," and so on. Apparently, according to theists with this mentality, it is easier to think for yourself, consider and weigh all options, and make an informed decision (as P-Diddy would have you vote), than it is to follow the commands of someone you trust implicitly. This is absurd.
How much thought goes into following a command? What shows more personal character and intellectual honesty and understanding? Which allows for a person to learn how to make a good decision and for the right reasons? Mimicking someone else's good actions does not demonstrate learning. I submit that it is preferable to have a population of well-informed self-thinkers who discuss things and come to a concencus (aka Democracy), than a flock of believers blindly following a shepherd--no matter how infallible.
Following orders is not morality. You determine your own morality based on what you think is good. Don't just do something because someone tells you to. That is true selfishness and laziness--a copout in my book. It robs you of character development and integrity, and you may miss the whole point of being good in the first place--empathy.
If I can borrow a religious phrase: Be the "captain of your soul." You decide what is meaningful in your life and what your purpose will be. It is infinitely more gratifying to decide for yourself how to live, what to learn and adhear to, how and why to be good without the promise of an eternal reward or threat of eternal torture. If you want to be good, as I'm sure most people do, be good the best way you know how.
Humans are social creatures. We all benefit from eachother's goods and services, as well as offering support and help. It is easy to see the evolutionary benefits of a strong social network; a species which works together will be more successful in providing food, shelter and protection. We generally prefer companionship and comradery over isolation. It is inate in us.
Religion offers a ready-made social structure, complete with a heirarchy, support groups with (untrained) counceling, and weekly social events. It is quite easy for someone to slip into this smiley-faced social package, without exerting any personal effort or even thinking much about it. We like easy and comfortable things. It is much more challengeing to create this kind of social environment on our own. Even trying to duplicate one aspect of this structure, like social events, is harder without imposed comradery and church funds. And getting someone to let go of traditions, even when they are visibly harmful, can be near impossible.
This is probably the most difficult aspect of religion to dispute, given the apparent benefits of a large social network. For me it is a matter of personal integrity. I would rather sacrifice some community and interpersonal connections for principles. Integrity is more valuable to me than conformity. Some people call themselves social Catholics or social Mormons, etc., in an effort to benefit from both worlds or avoid alienation. I even considered this for while, since my social life has greatly diminished after leaving the church, but I would prefer to not be a hypocrite.
And now, Rev. Benny Hinn let's the bodies hit the floor.
"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." --Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in Physics
Let me start by defining a phobia as an irrational or unjustified fear. Let me follow by declaring there is no such thing as Islamophobia.
In the late 80's, Sir Salman Rushdie wrote a book of fiction called "The Satanic Verses." In the Muslim faith the satanic verses refer to passages in scripture which are deemed to be incorrect. Therefore, the prophet Muhammad is presumed to have been under a misapprehension cause by Satan when writing these passages. Rushdie's book was declared blasphemous and a violation of free speech by an Ayatollah (Muslim leader) in Iran and a Fatwa (death sentence by any Muslim so inclined) was ordered. Although Rushdie never was harmed, thanks to police protection, several people associated with the book's publishing (mostly translators) were attacked and some were killed.
To illustrate the impact this Fatwa has had, consider this endorsement made by Cat Stevens (now Yusef Islam), writer of the classic rock song "Peace Train:"
In August of 2004, Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh directed a short film written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a woman raised in Islamic Somalia) about abuse of women in Islam, called "Submission." In November of 2004, Van Gogh was stabbed to death mid-day in the middle of a street in Amsterdam. Ayaan, whose life was threatened in a letter stuck with a knife on Van Gogh's body, has been in hiding ever since.
Tell me if you think this admittedly provocative exposé calls for vigilante murder?
In 2005, a Danish newspaper published a dozen cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad. This "blasphemy" was so egregious for the devout that after the initial protests and political bullying by Muslim leaders in Denmark were ignored, months of civil unrest escalated to fire-bombings at Danish embassies in various countries and hundreds of deaths.
All the while, in America--the birth place of free speech--publications showing these cartoons were pulled from the shelves of bookstores and the satirical American cartoon "South Park" had their first ever banned episode (episodes 200, 201; I am told these are available on DVD with Mohammad replaced by a teddy bear; also, the Scientology episode was reinstated after being briefly pulled for legal reasons, so it doesn't really count as "banned").
As I have shown, Muslims have done everything they can to make us fear them. In fact, I'm fairly certain a quick google search will show that many Muslim leaders have said this outright. They don't hate western culture because we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor do they hate us for supporting Israel. They hate us because they view free speech and free expression as threats to their religion and world view. It is just a matter of time until one of these hate-filled Muslim leaders succeeds in acquiring an atomic weapon, as promised.
There is nothing paranoid or irrational about fearing someone who has attacked and has promised to attack again with exponential force. "Islamophobia" is a meaningless word made-up by moderates who are too fearful to expose the real problem. Islamofascism is, however, a real word suggesting a real, demonstrable threat. Again, Christopher Hitchens puts it best:
One of my favorite physicists is Lawrence Krause. Honestly, I don't know much about his personal life (aside from him being the nerdiest cool person in any given room, which is not the same as Neil Degrasse Tyson who is the coolest nerd in any given room), but whenever he speaks about science I stand in awe. He is like a more accessible Stephen Hawking. Not to mention Krause can communicate more easily and more readily than Hawking, allowing him to make public appearances. One of the first and coolest things I have seen of him, is a lecture he gave about how a universe can spontaneously appear, which would make a god or prime mover (the deist argument) unnecessary for the Big Bang.
Another one of my favorites is a speech he gave at a protest outside of a creation museum in Kentucky, where they desecrate science with exhibits displaying humans and friendly vegetarian velociraptors and a saddle-wearing triceratops cohabiting the earth prior to the Flood. And why not after the Flood? The boat was full... duh!
I suppose my last few posts have been a bit heavy handed. So to lighten the mood a bit I introduce to you Mr. Deity: a tongue in cheek, light and fluffy satire of the traditional creation myth. I think even a devout theist can appreciate the humor in this series.
Let's start with Episode 1: Mr. Deity and the Evil:
Episode 2: Mr. Deity and the Really Big Favor:
Mr. Deity and Da Man:
Mr. Deity and the Woman:
Next, Mr. Deity and the Barbeque:
Lastly, one of my new favorites, Mr. Deity and the Latter-Days:
I am not a reader. I prefer movies, video games, music, food, and motorcycles to reading a presumably good book. In college, I barely cracked open my textbooks. I'm not proud of it, but it is true. The act of reading has almost always caused me to fall asleep. I do much better with lectures, debates and YouTube videos. With that said, about a year and a half ago I stumbled upon a YouTube play list called "Hitchslap." Provocative, intriguing, pointed and ruthless; this is a fantastic collection of interviews, speeches and debates by the late (Great) Christopher Hitchens.
Here, watch this video on heaven to see what I mean:
And this on C.S. Lewis and the teachings of Jesus:
And this on morality:
Hitchens is one of the great intellectuals of our age. As Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) says, whenever you find yourself disagreeing with Christopher Hitchens, you had better rethink your position, because you are likely wrong. Now, I don't condone putting people on a pedestal of infallibility (I will leave that to the religious), but Hitchens is very well versed, well researched, and insightful enough to demand your attention and consideration. And not just on topics of religion. He was a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine and Slate, as well as many other publications where he addressed topics like literature, sexism, the war in Iraq, Henry Kissinger, and water boarding.
On the water boarding subject, he started on one end of the argument, and, after experiencing it first hand, changed his view (this is how a rational mind works).
Going back to his religious views, after watching hours and hours of clips and debates, I finally caved in and tracked down his best selling book, "god is not Great." With the aid of a luminous ipad screen, this is the first book I have read cover to cover for fun since high school. And it felt good. Aside from the points he makes on "how religion poisons everything," one gets a look into a truly rational, highly intelligent mind with incredible articulation and vocabulary.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Six: Arguments from Design:
"There is a central paradox at the core of religion. The three great monotheisms teach people to think abjectly of themselves, as miserable and guilty sinners prostrate before an angry and jealous god who, according to discrepant accounts, fashioned them either out of dust and clay or a clot of blood. The positions for prayer are usually emulation of the supplicant serf before an ill-tempered monarch. The message is one of continual submission, gratitude, and fear. Life itself is a poor thing: an interval in which to prepare for the hereafter or the coming--or second coming--of the Messiah.
"On the other hand, and as if by way of compensation, religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited. It assures them that god cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind. This explains the supercilious expression on the faces of those who practice religion ostentatiously: pray excuse my modesty and humility but I happen to be busy on an errand for god." (pg. 27)
Needless to say, I love his style and flair. He makes me want to be a better writer. He was as close to a hero as I have had in many years and I was quite sad when his esophageal cancer got the better of him last December. Here is the last public speech he gave at the Texas Free Thought Convention just a couple months before his death:
That is all I care to say about Christopher Hitchens. To end I will link a few of my favorite debates and lectures. Also, I put a link to a Christopher Hitchens fan page on the right.
"Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?" with Stephen Fry:
A few days ago I was at a get-together at a friend's house. Naturally, the subject of "crazy Mormon quotes" came up. Before the exchange got started, the host pointed out to my new acquaintances that I "blog about atheist stuff" (implying that I would appreciate what was about to be said; and, by the way, this is what inspired me to make this blog specifically about religion and atheism). The first quote was a statement by a general authority in the Mormon church in the 60s about not liking "Negroes." A few more racist quotes by Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie were shared. Then I shared one which was a little less well known, and much more offensive...
On my mission, a talk by Alvin R. Dyer (who was a 3rd counselor in the First Presidency under David O. McKay in the late 60's--that's right, 3rd counselor) was making the rounds among the missionaries which caused quite a stir. I even spoke with my mission president about it, which didn't help much. At the get-together I explained that this talk was about how the different races came to be and were preserved through Noah's family after the Great Flood. I also stressed that Mr. Dyer gave this talk to missionaries, and told them to keep the information a secret from investigators. But I forgot the most important (offensive) part of the talk!
Mr. Dyer explains through various passages in the Book of Abraham, that in the pre-existence there were three kingdoms or divisions based on one's faithfulness to god--similar to the three degrees of glory in the afterlife. The lowest division was cast out with Satan and became Sons of Perdition. The other two divisions went to Earth to inhabit bodies and earn their place in Heaven. So far, active Mormons should be with me.
Here is where it gets interesting, as Mr. Dyer explains the primary difference between the first and second divisions on earth and I think it is best if you read the quote verbatim:
"I suppose, and you may often have heard missionaries say it, or have asked the question: "Why is a Negro a Negro?" And you have heard this answer: "They were neither hot nor cold, so the Lord made them Negroes." This of course, is not true. The reason that spirits are born into Negro bodies is that those spirits rejected the Priesthood of God in the pre-existence. This is the reason why you have Negroes upon the earth."
I don't know about you, but to me "rejecting the Priesthood of God" is much stronger than being "neither hot nor cold." They weren't just indecisive; they actively rejected God's Priesthood (which, if you think about it, is kind of absurd since they lived with God and all).
Now, this is not the church's current view, and understandably so. And I have no problem with any church changing their stance on anything. That is their prerogative. The problem I have is the way the church deals with these sorts of quotes. Rather than saying something like "the times, they are a-changing" and pointing out the progress the church has made, they bury them and pretend they didn't happen--at least, until someone corners them. This is why the church has distanced itself from the "Journal of Discourses" (where many of these crazy quotes come from) and many other early church publications, like the "Times and Seasons" newspaper.
I can only speculate as to why they take this approach, but I think it is so they can both preserve a sense of infallibility (authority), as well as protect church members, especially new converts, from tough topics which might challenge one's faith. Generally, this seems to work, or at least it worked before the Internet. But now we see many people stumbling upon these things and they either have to rationalize away the quotes, look for mediocre Mormon apologist responses, or realize the church isn't forthright about its history, causing them to ask more tough questions and possibly leave the church. Hmmm...
On second thought, the Mormon church has the right approach and shouldn't change a thing. (>.>)
And now for a great video of a Mormon Missionary preaching to an African warlord:
As I began my studies into atheism I found that many people used the phrase
"square the circle" (forcing incompatible things to fit together) to belittle those who struggle with reconciling
their religious views with science. Many people see the apparent conflicts
between science and religion as mere gaps in our understanding as to "how
it all fits together." I remember my dad saying once that, although there
appears to be a conflict, someday god will reveal the truth and we will see how
science confirms the teachings of the Mormon Church. And as a believing Mormon
teenager, that was good enough for me. I believed in the church, so reality must
fit within its teachings, even if we don't know how yet.
This was more or less the attitude I had while attending BYU. Many of my
science professors (and I had a lot) also viewed science in this way. Even on
the first day of Biology 101, the professor handed out a sheet of paper with
quotes from various church leaders saying things in favor of, and in staunch
opposition to evolution (the very basis of modern biology). I recall him saying
that one can accept or reject evolution and still be a "good Mormon"
(emphasis, of course, being placed the "good Mormon" part). He also
pointed out that the church has yet to reconcile the traditional creation story
(as taught in certain "sacred places") with aboriginals, who have
lived in Australia for over 40,000 years.
As a teenager, I believed in the traditional creation myth, as taught by my
seminary and Sunday School teachers. Then I learned more about evolution and
talked with my father (a physician) about it. He said, "We don't know
exactly how god created everything, but evolution may have been the mechanism
by which god made the animals." This sounded reasonable to me, so I
adopted the view that evolution only applied to animals, and not humans (this
was the most common view I came across at BYU).
Then, again in Biology, I heard an alternate explanation of the creation
myth which allows for human evolution. In Genesis (Gen. 2:7) it refers to the "Breath
of Life." In Hebrew, "breath" can be interpreted as
"spirit." Therefore, god could have had humans evolve like
animals and then used the "Breath of Life" (or spirit) to give them a conscience or soul,
thus making them human. This sounded the most reasonable to me and I tried
explaining it to my family. This was met with hostility and arguments, such as
"I believe in evolution for animals, but not humans" and
"prophet so-and-so said we didn't come from monkeys." Things got
emotional and dinner was needlessly uncomfortable.
Later, I realized why it was so uncomfortable. We were all using emotional
appeals, arguments from authority and unsupported scientific claims to build
our arguments. Not one of us used reason and evidence. In other words, none of us, including myself, had any validation or rational reasons for our opposing
cases, and we were simply making assertions. We were all trying desperately to reconcile our beliefs with science.
This is the essence of squaring the circle. It doesn't matter how you
rationalize your beliefs; unless you support it with reason and evidence, it is
no better than any other unsupported claim, and you have no argument. This
applies to any conflict between science and religion.
On some level, when you reconcile science with religion, either religion or
science has to give something up or concede some point. Because science is
based on evidence and reason, it is very difficult to justify conceding
anything to an assertion of beliefs. On the other hand, the more ground
religion gives, the less relevant or useful it becomes. Once I realized this
was the case (several years after that uncomfortable dinner, mind you), I came
to the conclusion that the only way to rationally square the circle of religion
and science was to throw out religion completely. And, having thrown out religion completely, I consider my circle squared.
Here is Christopher Hitchens showing how hard (and, at times, ridiculous) it
is to square the circle of human evolution with creationism:
In an effort to avoid ostracising my religious friends and family, I am going to start putting my religious/atheist posts here. Since I am not trying to attack any one's personal beliefs, this will allow those who are interested in my views on this subject to find them all together, and those who aren't interested to avoid them. First, I will add some older posts from my main blog concerning religion and my leaving the Mormon Church (with the original dates, of course). Then, who knows...
Today I’m going to address two common religious arguments
for the existence of a supernatural deity: the “God of the Gaps” argument, and
the argument of “Objective Morality.”
First, Objective Morality. The argument usually goes
something like this: In order for morals to be derived objectively, there has
to be some kind of authority stating that something is either moral or immoral.
One action cannot be more moral than another based solely on one’s opinion that
something is good or bad. Therefore, based on the subjective nature of atheistic
morality, the “Golden Rule” is no more moral than Hitler’s genocide because it
is simply a matter of opinion.
Typically, atheists feel cornered by this argument, at least
initially. They often try to argue that no one follows the command “Thou shalt
not kill”** simply because the bible says so. Or they may ask the theist if
they would start raping and killing if they found out that there was no god (some theists actually say they would). Or they might say that it is
better to do good for goodness’ sake, rather than for threats of hell. Or they
say that everyone who claims to get morals from god objectively has a different
opinion on various moral questions, thus implying that if it is an objective process,
it should, at the very least,
be consistent. Some even try to show how morals have changed over the years and
that many people find things, like, say slavery, to be abhorrent, even though
people used to be fine with it (not to mention, it is sanctioned in the bible,
as many Christians pointed out prior to the abolition of slavery). I think that,
although these arguments do a fair job of showing the subjective nature of
morality, they are not very convincing to the theist who thinks they get their
morals from god.
So, I propose a new argument. Logically, one cannot base an
objective statement on a subjective experience. Experiencing god through a
spiritual experience (i.e., a burning in the bosom, seeing a vision, or hearing
a voice) is a subjective experience. Therefore, you cannot say that the morals
you get from a god are objective without first demonstrating objectively how
you know god exists and is the source of your morality. Once you can demonstrate
the objective existance of god, then you can claim an objective source for morals, but not before. Because
of this, I find the argument for objective morality to be null.
The “God of the Gaps” argument goes like this: if science
does not have a good explanation of an event or process, then god must be
responsible for it. In other words, you can freely stick god in to any gaps in our
scientific understanding. This is very common among young earth creationists
(who actually take it one step further and deny evidence or explanations so
they can cling to their god explanations), and most level-headed people see
this as a bad argument right away. But many people, including myself a few
years ago, fall in to this line of thinking without realizing the fallacy (see
what I did there?).
The logical fallacy here is called an “argument from ignorance.” This
basically means that just because you don’t know how something works or how
something came to be, you can’t just insert a belief as an explanation (“if not
X: then Y” is not a supported argument, it is merely an assertion). Going back
to the creationists, even if we found out that evolution was completely wrong, creationists
would still need to provide support and evidence to say that creationism is
So what happens when we do find scientific reasons for things
where people have inserted god? This is the problem with the “god of the gaps”
argument. In this scenario, God is “ever receding” in to gaps of scientific
ignorance, until one day, he can’t hide any longer and must be discarded. This is
why Galileo was exiled by the catholic church for using physics to show that the earth revolves
around the sun and not the other way around (as indicated by the bible, and thus the pope's objection). If this
is your basis for belief in god, prepare for this eventuality.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that someone did show that morals
have to be objective, and that we really don’t and never will understand the
natural explanation of some scientific thing, and thus created a supposed “need”
for a god to exist. This would still not prove the existence of god anymore
than I can prove that teleportation exists because I need it for my morning
commute. Similarly, the fact that frogs need something to eat does not prove the existence of flies. Creating a hypothetical or philosophical need for something does not prove that that
**With regards to the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment (which,
by the way, is a mistranslation and should be read “Thou shalt not murder your
fellow Jews”), there is actually a rather convincing secular or evolutionary reason,
as well as a psychological reason, to not kill one another. The evolutionary
reason is pretty straightforward. Populations which are predisposed to not killing
each other, will propagate better and be more successful. The psychological
reason ties in to this predisposition. With the obvious exception of sociopaths (those who
feel no empathy towards other people), most people feel positively terrible
when they kill someone—even for legitimate reasons, like self-defense or in a
battle field (or stoning an unruly child). It is so impactful, in fact, that there are reports of physical
manifestations of these feelings of guilt, such as panic attacks, vomiting,
crying, and even PTSD (which, I suppose doesn’t really count as “physical”, but
you get the point).