In early March of 2003, a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq, relatives sent me the tape recording of a then recent sermon by the Rev. Dr. Charles Stanley entitled “A Nation at War”. Rev. Stanley is not some minister on the religious fringe: his credentials are very mainstream. As senior pastor of the 16,000 member First Baptist Church in Atlanta, his “In Touch” TV broadcast is heard on more than 200 TV stations, 7 satellite networks, and 450 radio stations. It reaches over a million viewers a week. A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Stanley has written 45 plus books of which more than 3,500,000 copies have been sold.
The focus of Stanley’s sermon was two-fold: God loves war, and it was wrong for protesters to oppose the Bush administration’s forthcoming invasion of Iraq. Since I was both atheist and protester, the tape was undoubtedly sent my way in an effort to change my outlook on each count.
Instead, I responded with a long emailed reply, which follows: Continue reading
Theists like to argue that design—especially the complex design we see in organisms—is proof there must be a Designer. And theists denigrate evolution precisely because it provides an alternate explanation for design. If evolution suffices, then not only does there exist a viable competitor to God, but it is a competitor without the contradictions and supernaturalism of theism.
It follows that the debate between atheism and theism is to a significant extent a debate about which viewpoint—God or evolution—provides a better explanation for the design we see around us.
One prominent observation about organisms is that they often come in sexes. Pretty much all complex animals have male and female sexual organs and engage in a variety of sexual behaviors. I will now proceed to look at which explanation—God or evolution—better addresses this aspect of animal design. Continue reading
The existence of evil is difficult to understand if we assume the universe is the product of a perfect God. However, embrace the scientific/evolutionary viewpoint and evil becomes understandable. After all, what is supremely “good” for the ebola virus is extremely “evil” for the primate infected by ebola.
Natural selection provides a framework which enables us to understand why species are so often in conflict with each other. If each species has its own morality or “rightness”, it follows that the result of the evolutionary process is a world of competing moralities.
Evil exists, from the evolutionary perspective, simply because other species exist with their own conflicting needs and rights. Why conflicting? Because there is a limit to resources—so much sunlight, so much oxygen, nutrients, energy resources, and no more. Sometimes, it’s true, one species will develop a symbiotic relationship with another species in situations where the two use resources in a mutually beneficial way. But far more common is conflict.
The simple truth is that species often feed on each other. The delicious meal which is profoundly good and necessary for the wolf is profoundly evil from the lamb’s perspective. This is understandable within the context of natural selection, but not easily explained if there is a perfect God.
Why would a perfect God create a world of such limited resources and resulting competing moralities?* Or, to turn this question around into an even more devastating form for theism: why would the existence of a world of limited resources and competing moralities, be best explained by postulating a perfect God? Continue reading
People don’t like to be told that their feelings are wrong.
Which is understandable. Feeling are, after all, not thoughts. They can’t be proved—or disproved. They just are.
Which is why religion animates us, and philosophy does not. Religion is built of feelings, not thoughts. That’s why we refer to a religious outlook as a “faith”, and insist one must “have faith”. Religion is a matter of feelings.
And feelings are never wrong.
Nor right. Continue reading
In her New Yorker article, Outsourcing Torture, Jane Mayer has thrown a window open to ‘the secret history of American’s “extraordinary rendition” program’ in which the United States Government has become a collaborator in an international torture ring.
“Extraordinary rendition” Bob Herbert writes bluntly in the New York Times “is one of the great euphemisms of our time.”
“Extraordinary rendition is the name that’s been given to the policy of seizing individuals without even the semblance of due process and sending them off to be interrogated by regimes known to practice torture. In terms of bad behavior, it stands side by side with contract killings.
Our henchmen in places like Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Jordan are torturing terror suspects at the behest of a nation – the United States – that just went through a national election in which the issue of moral values was supposed to have been decisive. How in the world did we become a country in which gays’ getting married is considered an abomination, but torture is O.K.?” —from “Torture, American Style” by Bob Herbert, N.Y. Times Op-Ed, Feb 11, 2005
The answer, Mr. Herbert, is called Christinsanity. Continue reading