Archive for July, 2010

This Way and That Way

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on July 29, 2010 by RWZero

They tell me that we should not live according to irrational religious notions about what is morally acceptable. To suppress our biological programming is unnatural, and it is right to embrace it.

They tell me we should not follow the barbaric and outdated religious traditions that are borne out of ignorance. We must rise above our primitive animal instincts if we are to move into the future.

Either make up your mind, or acknowledge the truth: behaviour can neither be justified nor condemned on such simple premises.

James and Paul

Posted in The Narrow Path on July 25, 2010 by RWZero

The Volume of Actions

I see no need for diatribe against legalism. That has been done enough. What Christians lack, apparently, is the admonition to live as consistent human beings.

We are confused about sins of commission. So many are trapped in the vice of legalism—and yet of those who are free, so many of them take it as a license to do whatever they please, under the auspices of a forgiving and loving God. If we are going to be hypocrites, should we not at least recognize it?

Parents make rules for their children, and they eventually remove them. They do not do this so that their children, as adults, can live like children once again. They do it because of trust, and the belief that their offspring have learned to apply the principles that the rules were based on.

There is no harm in breaking certain rules that never meant anything. A curfew is not instated because going out after dark is wrong, but because it is likely to entail danger. We can go out after dark, if we can go out safely. Other rules, however, are instated because the action itself is almost always wrong.

It should dawn on the general public that some of the intense legalism practiced in evangelical circles is correlated with things that we really should avoid. Drugs, sex, alcohol and profanity are not moral wrongs per se. It just so happens that they are often found in the company of moral wrongs.

Profanity is worth spending a minute on. It is considered benign by the culture at large, and uttering a profane word, in and of itself, has no moral implication. This does not mean that one who is free from legalism ought to take up the habit of swearing. Profanity is a controlled substance among many Christians because of the effects it generally has on listeners, the speaker, and the listener’s perception of the speaker. To free oneself from the restriction of never uttering the words does not mean ignoring these considerations. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, some Christians limit profanity primarily because of the effects of not using it. And this brings us to the most important part.

We are confused about sins of omission. Despite all the time we spend railing against this selfish and consumerist culture, we still pander to it. I have heard countless people say that their philosophy of life is centred upon doing the least harm. This is selfish. Harm is bound to reflect badly upon the doer of the harm, and it inevitably causes guilt. Only a philosophy centred upon doing the most good, where good is not mandatory, contains any selflessness.

Do we really gain so much pleasure from all that is permissible that we are willing to sacrifice all that is possible?

Atheists often comment—though it is rarely the cause of their atheism—that living a Christian life is impossible. I was once told, with regards to one aspect of this Christian life, that I am “living in a fantasy world.” I am living here nonetheless. My life is not perfect, but it is real, and I have seen it realized by others who have preceded me. The Christian life is more about the things one does rather than the things one does not do, and these things are not always mutually exclusive. In my experience, there is less room for wrongs in a life full of rights, and you will not succeed in keeping out the wrongs if your life is a vacuum, begging to be filled.

If atheists are convinced that the Christian life is impossible, why be Christian unless you can prove otherwise? And yet we still look around and ask ourselves “Who does that? Who lives this impossible life? Why then should I?” which brings us to the final point.

We are confused about tolerance. People do a lot of things that we might consider morally wrong, and we feel pressure to revise our lives. These people are our friends, after all, and if we can tolerate this behaviour in others, could we not tolerate it in ourselves? But this really isn’t that hard to understand. Just because you don’t do something doesn’t mean you have to judge people for it, and just because you don’t judge them for it doesn’t mean you have to do it.

Actions cannot buy tickets to heaven, so far as I know—but they demonstrate who you are. You are responsible for the impact that you have, and fail to have, on others. As to the veracity of your beliefs, this is another matter entirely. It is not enough to believe that something is true, because the truth will continue on being the truth, with or without you.

The Insecurities of Scientism

Posted in Faith and Science on July 18, 2010 by RWZero

How to Make a Materialist Hiss

I have noticed something, and in making this observation I am not being provocative; I simply believe that it’s true. The followers of scientism (and, if I may conflate the two, the followers of materialism) are intensely insecure about something.

I will not be so inflammatory as to suggest that these people are insecure because of suppressed, unacknowledged fears that they are wrong (although that is plausible). However, somebody will eventually have to make a diagnosis, because the condition is obvious.

Whenever it becomes apparent that someone holds a viewpoint that does not conform to the criteria that scientism requires, the enforcers are quick to react. Their diatribe is overly dismissive, sweeping and defensive, as if something sacred has been tread upon. If you were to remove all the assumptions and pontification, very little persuasive content would remain. They refer to themselves as “rational” and their beliefs as those of “reason,” as if they have a patent on the concepts. They use these words so often that one must wonder. When do people feel the need to repeatedly call themselves something that they actually are? When does a person give himself his own nickname?

While the rationality and mental health of millions may be at stake, altruism is not an explanation for this behaviour. It is my personal belief that this rabid skepticism—the new atheism—has made many people feel as if they are part of something larger than themselves. I think that in many of their cases, this is a first. There is something to believe in, something to fight for, something to live for, and even a feeling of exclusivity. Membership implies intelligence. The word “science” is tossed about like the ace of trump, and it is tossed about by everyone. The adherents run little chance of being humiliated on account of their position, because incredulity is always a powerful thing in the face of spectacular claims.

Of the original founders of this attitude, I perceive slightly more complex motivation. There is some honesty reflected in this expression of their views. Of the followers, I perceive that many of them have merely found something to cling to, and, in some cases, something that will get them attention. My primary critique is not an original observation—I observe that, having said so much about what is not true, they have said very little about what is.

 

How to Make a Materialist Hiss

The Problems with Evolution

Posted in Faith and Science on July 11, 2010 by RWZero

The Problems with Creation

There are a great deal of Protestants, and particularly evangelicals, who, for religious reasons, do not believe in the theory of evolution. It may seem superfluous to note the religious motivation behind this trend, but it is not. Evolution is rejected by many nominally theistic people simply for being a ludicrous idea. It is among the more dedicated theistic people, however, that we find the strong religious objections—objections that have nothing to do with the ludicrousness of the idea. The proof is in the pudding: it is possible to have long arguments about the theory of evolution without ever mentioning a single scientific fact. The people at American Atheists know it, and the people at Focus on the Family know it. So instead of wasting time talking about science, let us talk about the real issue—religion.

Although there are many religious objections to evolution, I have distilled them to five essentials. I will neither defend nor attack these points. Rather, I will attempt to demonstrate that, for Christians, the problems with evolution are the same as the problems without it.

The Image of God

If we are descended from lower life forms, how then have we been made in God’s image? Furthermore, does this not reduce us to the same level as animals? We ask these questions as if they have definite answers; however, the answer has always been up to us. The physical differences between a human and a chimpanzee are what they are. We know exactly how different, and how similar, we are to other animals. These facts will stay exactly the same whether humans were created from the dust in a single day, or whether they share a common ancestor with chimpanzees. You have a skeleton, muscles, and a brain. You are made with all the same fundamental parts as chimpanzees, and you share 98% of your DNA with them. Are you an animal? You have a consciousness, which you may perceive to be a soul, and there is no way to know whether animals—or which among them—experience consciousness. You have a capacity for distinctly human behaviours such as language, abstraction, morality, and the belief in God. Are you made in God’s image? You will answer these questions by observing the way that things are. It doesn’t matter how they got that way.

Original Sin

If there was no Garden of Eden and a subsequent Fall, how did sin come into the world? If the world was not perfect before the Fall, how could a good God have created a world full of evil?

The following story is true, regardless of your beliefs: at first, there was nothing. At some point, everything came to be. Humans then came to be, and at a singular point in time, a human being—having acquired a sense of morality—committed an act that Christians today would call “sin.” It was the first time it had ever happened, and ever since then, there has been no stopping it.

How could God create an imperfect world from the offset? If you are Christian, you have accepted that you were born into a sinful state—that you are inevitably destined to commit moral wrongs, which you believe have the natural consequence of separation from God. You, the individual, were created in the very middle of this mess. Why do you not complain about this? Is this so far removed from the idea that God created your earliest ancestors in this condition? If God had truly intended to keep evil out of the world, do you not believe he could have done so? To ask why God created an imperfect world is the same as to ask why he created a perfect world that was destined to become imperfect. It does not hold water to deny the inevitability of this outcome, or to say that we needed to have made a free choice at some time in the past—will we have no choice in heaven? If not, why were these choices not taken away from us the first time around? One might say that it was necessary to put the human race through the experience of this imperfect world. In that case, it does not seem to matter whether or not it was once perfect, because the outcome was inevitable and inexplicable.

Overall, this is a legitimate question, and a question that has led some people to reject religion altogether. But it is a question that has always been there.

The Involvement of God

If evolution explains life, what place is there left for God?

If optics explains rainbows, what place is there left for God?

The Veracity of the Bible and the Words of the Ancients

If the creation account in Genesis is not accurate, how can we trust that anything else in the Bible is accurate? This is an important question. The assumption that leads us to ask this question, however, is that everything in the Bible is not only perfectly accurate, but literally accurate. Even 2 Timothy 3:16 does not say this, but uses the word useful (instead of “literally accurate”) and righteousness (instead of “science”). Of course, this point is not satisfying. The real question is this: if you believe in the Bible, how did you decide that it was true in the first place? You could not have used the Bible, because you did not yet trust it.

Clearly, a mix of evidence and personal experience led you to trust the Bible, and that same weighing of evidence and personal experience is what will ultimately lead you to every conclusion that you make. If the creation account is not an account of what physically took place, does this change something in the sense that we now must rely on human judgement instead of the authoritative words of the Bible? We are already relying on human judgement when we decide on the particular capacity in which the Bible is to be believed.

If Jesus and the Apostle Paul took the events in Genesis literally, then how can we believe in Jesus, and how can we trust Paul? As per the above, the Apostle Paul would not (technically) be in error either way. That he understood Genesis literally is incidental, because it is expected that he would have. As for Jesus, consider the things he says on the matter. They are few—and are they any more troubling than him calling mustard seeds the “smallest of all seeds,” when, in fact, they are not? The significance of Jesus’ words remains the same. Our understanding of his factual knowledge and condition as a human being may change, but this is a finer theological point than it is made out to be.

A great deal of religious fervor is poured into attempts to discredit the theory of evolution. I do not think this is helpful, because discrediting evolution would not solve any of the problems that are making people so upset.

Just an Update

Posted in Primary on July 6, 2010 by RWZero

I have gone on two separate vacations of sorts and started a new job, hence the occasional missed post over the past couple of months. Not that this is important to you, but it’s important to me–I really do try to be consistent (in all senses of the word).

I have notes for 12 more of these, and after I write them, this will be finished. However, there are about 12 more that I have already written that I have not edited and posted, so it will likely take me around 6 months from now to actually close this off.

At that point I will begin collecting them all off of here and revising them based on things that people have written, or ideas of mine that have changed since then. When that’s done, I will PDF it and stick it online somewhere; there is also the odd chance that I will send the compilation to a Christian publisher of cheesy evangelical books; however, it would likely be rejected.