All posts by rbrtkrt@yahoo.com

Robert Kortus is an aspiring writer, musician, social justice advocate, and recovering worldoholic. He is passionate about the life and teachings of Jesus, and does his best to live his life accordingly. Robert grew up on the west coast, near Seattle, WA, and was heavily influenced by the culture and music of the great northwest. He currently resides in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife and two children. For the last five years has has worked for an NPO that works with prison inmates. In his free time he enjoys working with rescue dogs, brewing (and consuming) beer, and shopping for guitars. Recently, Robert started an organization, The Armistice Project, that works to bring LGBTs and churches together. Having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian home, Robert has seen the dark side of religion and the church. Over the last few years he has been on a "second journey" of rediscovering God, Jesus, the Bible, faith, and what it all means. This blog is about that journey and what he's learned along the way.

Ray Comfort’s “The Atheist Delusion”: A review

 

The other night a good friend of mine (who also happens to edit this blog, thanks Paul) came over and we sat down and forced ourselves to sit through all 62 minutes of Ray Comfort’s latest film, The Atheist Delusion.  Comfort is well known in the Christian community for his books, tracts, and films on apologetics.  Previous films include Audacity, Noah & The Last Days, and Evolution vs. God.  I’ve had the displeasure of seeing some of these other films, so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into.

Paul and I started drinking right from the start, as we figured we would need the liquid courage to make it though without throwing something at the TV.  We were right.  I’m not going to go minute by minute on this one, but I am going to hit on several of the main points where Comfort fails miserably.

  • The beginning of the movie starts with Comfort interviewing college students, asking them about nature and evolution.  He hands them a book, and asks them if the book could have put itself together by chance.  That’s right, kids; it’s the watchmaker argument! Comfort has simply repackaged an all too familiar and thoroughly denounced fallacy, and claimed it as his own.  He uses a false analogy to try and claim that since a book can’t create itself, neither can anything in nature.  This is the one scientific question that Comfort claims will “destroy atheism” and sets up the premise for the whole film.
  • He then moves right into talking about DNA, claiming that like the book, some Intelligent Designer (ID) must have created it – it didn’t just come from nothing.  It’s ironic that Comfort uses DNA to try and prove his point, as DNA is unequivocal proof that evolution is true, a point that he conveniently ignores.  He uses a common metaphor that DNA is the “instruction book for life” and then goes on to claim that since the Bible talks about writing the “Book of Life”, then DNA is proof of ID.  Again, using a false analogy, he attempts to claim that “book – book designer, DNA – intelligent designer, i.e. God”.  The problem with this is that the idea of DNA “encoding” information is purely an analogy, since the DNA precedes the information rather than vice versa.
  •  Comfort asks a lady if DNA happened by accident and she rightly replies that it developed over the course of many thousands of years of evolution and development.  Not getting the answer he was hoping for, Comfort moves the goalpost and response with, “The origins don’t matter”.  Yeah, they fucking do, Ray!  Isn’t that what we’re talking about here – evolution vs ID and the origins of all living things?  Like all living matter, DNA also evolved from simpler simpler molecules.
  • Comfort asks one guy if he thinks that the eyes of mammals could have come about by chance.  Again, eyes are a clear example of evolution at work.
  • Comfort spends an inordinate amount of time asking people if “something” can come from “nothing”.  This is what’s commonly know as the Cosmological Argument, a fallacious argument that has been debunked six ways from Sunday.
  • In one of my favorite scenes from the film, Comfort uses an old riddle to try and prove ID.  It goes something like this: “What came first, the chicken or the egg? If the egg came first, what fertilized the egg?  The rooster did.  Therefore – GOD!”  Yes, that is really his argument.  Once again, Comfort’s ignorance and denial of evolution are apparent.  Neither a chicken or an egg just popped into existence, they both evolved over time. 
  • The egg riddle leads into a confusing series of questions regarding eyes, brains, lungs, the heart, blood vessels etc. Comfort falsely assumes that these things couldn’t have simply evolved (hint, hint -they did) and must have been created together just as we see them.  He then asks a strange question, “Do you know of anyone who isn’t fully evolved? Anything on earth?”  His assertion is that everything is created perfectly just the way it is.  There are two problems with this claim.  First, there is no end-point with evolution.  Second, there are species that are continuing to evolve, in fact most species do, including humans.  This has been observed in numerous species, everything from e coli bacteria to elephants.  Oh, and to Comfort’s claim that we don’t see people who have half-evolved legs or other extremities because we are “perfectly evolved”; explain this.
  • Comfort makes the very bold assertion that Richard Dawkins “isn’t really an atheist, he’s an adulterer.”  (Almost threw something at the TV at this point.  Thanks you alcohol)  His reasoning is that Dawkins (like all non-believers) has the wrong idea about God because he cherry-picks the Old Testament and therefore doesn’t understand the true nature of God.  Comfort doesn’t actually address Dawkin’s point, however, regarding God’s character.
  • “The Argument from ID isn’t to convince people of the Christian message, it’s just to just to show them the insanity of atheism”.  Bullshit.  That is exactly why Comfort spends the first half of the film trying to prove ID, so that he can spend the second half of the movie proselytizing to people.
  • Comfort claims that the Bible contains “scientific facts that weren’t discovered tell thousands of years later”.  He first mentions the Earth hangs from nothing, but then goes on to list a number of things which the the writers of the Bible absolutely did not know about, things like germs and the Earth being round.  He then says that the writers of the Bible knew that “life was in the blood”.  This is hardly rocket science.  People long before the Bible had figured out that if the blood leaves your body, you’re going to die.  No mention of all the areas of the Bible which demonstrate how scientifically illiterate its writers were.
  • Two thirds of the way into the film, Comfort changes gears and starts talking about hell.  Because no good Christian witness would be complete without threatening people that their going to burn for all eternity.  Comfort’s “proof” of Hell is that there has to be some sort of retribution for things like the Holocaust.  “When you look at Nazi Germany, instead of saying ‘If God is good, how can He create Hell?  You’ve got to come out saying, ‘If God is good, how can there not be a Hell?'”  No, Ray; I still want an answer to first question, and actual evidence that Hell is real, beyond your assertion that it is.
  • Then comes the “Are you a good person?” part of the film, where Comfort makes people admit what shitty people they really are.  It’s honestly one of the hardest parts of the film to watch because you can see people getting uncomfortable by his questions.  Comfort doesn’t care, of course, because in the Evangelical world, there’s no such things as personal boundaries.  Even to the point where if they give an answer he doesn’t like he’ll keep pushing them tell they admit what he wants them to admit.  More on this later.
  • A couple of times in the film Comfort compares humans to other animals, by wrongfully assuming that they don’t have much of the same emotions and desires that we have.  He implies that animals have no sense of morality or compassion.  This is false.  He also tells one person that they are not like an animal because he has a desire to live.  The will to survive is literally the most foundational force in nature!  Every species of live on this planet carries it.
  • Pascal’s Wager makes an appearance in the film – “The Bible says that Jesus Christa has abolished death. Now, if that isn’t true, we shouldn’t look into it.  But if there’s once chance in a million that it is…  Your good sense should just open your heart and say, ‘I’ll check it out'”.
  • The last bit of the film is Comfort trying to get people to accept his bullshit “Allow Jesus into your hearts” by telling them that they’re going to go to hell for their sins if they don’t.  He makes it very clear that Christianity is all about correct beliefs; our actions are irrelevant.

A few more thoughts about some general themes throughout the film.

Comfort spends the entire film equating evolution with atheism.  He makes the case that if evolution isn’t true, then there has to be a God, and not just any god, but his God.  Comfort is fond of using straw man arguments to make his points, saying things like, “You’re an atheist, so you believe the scientific impossibility that nothing created everything?”  First of all, atheism and evolution are two completely separate topics.  Atheism is the assertion that a God can not be demonstrated.  That’s it.  Whether or not evolution is true has nothing to do with it.  Also, even if evolution was to be proven false, that does no automatically make ID true; it’s a false dichotomy.  Nor would it prove that God exists.  You still need to provide sufficient evidence for both claims.  Comfort also ignores the fact many Christians accept evolution.  Believing in ID is not a prerequisite for believing in God.

All but two of the people Comfort interviews in this film are under-graduate college students; just random kids he’s meeting on the street.  He doesn’t interview any experts in the fields that he is discussing.  If he really wants to know about evolution, why isn’t he interviewing biologists?  If he wants to talk about DNA, why didn’t he interview Francis Collins, a fellow Christians and expert in the field?  Instead, Comfort interviews a bunch of dumb college students, and holds them up as shining examples of what all atheists believe.  This is incredibly dishonest and manipulative.  Ever heard of “bearing false witness”, Ray?  Ray doesn’t include anyone knowledgeable in his fields of inquiry because he knows they would have solid answers for his questions, wouldn’t buy his bullshit, and would make him look like a idiot.  The only expert included in the whole film is a short, edited clip of his interview with Lawrence Krauss, in which Krauss sharply refutes his arguments.  (You can see the full interview here)  Of course he doesn’t pose the “something from nothing” question to Krauss, a man who literally wrote the book on the subject.  The same can be said for atheist in general – why didn’t he interview one of the more well know atheist like Matt Dillahunty or PZ Myers, who he’s spoken with before?  There are a number of atheists and scientists who I’m certain would have been in this film if Comfort had asked them.  Instead he chooses to interview young, ignorant college kids to make his point.  Comfort also has a habit of giving ignorant, but easy answers to complex questions.  Subjects like DNA and evolutionary biology are fields which experts spend decades studying and can’t generally be summed up in a sentence or two.  Comfort chooses to remain ignorant of these topics and instead insists that “God did it!” is a suitable answer to any topic he doesn’t understand.

Or, most likely he did interview some knowledgeable atheists and scientists and simply left those interview out of the video.  As with his interview with Krauss, the entire movie is heavily edited and pieced together.  It’s hard to know for sure what kind of answers the people being interviewed were actually giving.  I’m willing to bet there were interviews which were intentionally left out because they didn’t provide the answers Comfort was looking for, i.e.; they don’t make atheists look stupid enough.

Comfort’s cheery nature and New Zealand accent aren’t enough to masquerader what a self-righteous, judgmental prick he can be.  Around the half-way mark of the film, he accuses pretty much everyone he’s been interviewing that the real reason they’re atheists is because they want to sin, they love their porn, they love their pre-marital sex, etc.  He’s fond of using that the one line that makes every atheist want to punch someone in the face, “You know deep in your heart that God exists; you’re just denying it!”  This comes up several times throughout the film with Comfort insisting people believe in things they just got done telling him that that they didn’t.  This is what’s know as gaslighting – a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity.  When talking to people, Comfort attempts to draw out all the bad things they’ve done in their lives to show them how wicked they are and how much they deserve Hell, to the point of actually calling people names.  He does all this “out of love” of course.

When it comes to apologetics, the old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun”, really strikes true.  The Atheist Delusion is nothing put a repackaging of the same tired, fallacious arguments that Christians have been using for decades in an attempt to justifies their baseless claims.  Everything from the Cosmological Argument, the Argument for Design, Pascal’s Wager, to the overall theme that since Evolution is false, then God must be true.  Not once in the 62 minutes of this film did Comfort make a solid, plausible case for either God or ID.

But that really isn’t the point, is it?  Comfort isn’t trying to convert atheist – he’s pandering to his audience of Christians who already buy into his particular brand of religion.  Comfort makes a pretty good living reinforcing stereotypes, pandering to the Evangelical world-view, and remaining willfully ignorant of reality.  It’s not like Comfort’s arguments haven’t been challenged before; he just chooses to ignore any evidence which refutes his position.  Confirmation bias at its finest.

The only redeeming quality of this film is the stock footage that is used as filler between scenes, and to emphasize some points  But it’s not worth watching the movie for, just watch Planet Earth instead.  If you really want to see what the movie is about, just watch the first half to get the gist of Comfort’s fallacious arguments, and skip the sermon at the end.

One final note.  At the end of the film, we get a message from the president of the company that produced the film, Living  Waters, directs you too the movies website, were you can get a four session video course “that will equip you to do what Ray did in the movie, and reach atheists with the love of Christ”.  If there are any Christians who have gone through this course and would like to try it out, contact me and I would be totally game, as would Paul.  I’ll even buy lunch.

If you would like to check out a more in-depth and humorous review of this film, be sure to check out The Bible Reloaded’s great commentary below.  Thanks for reading.

 

Evidence Explained (or, Why Apologetics Fail)

Webster’s defines “evidence” as – : something which shows that something else exists or is true, : a visible sign of something, : material that is presented to a court of law to help find the truth about something.  To put things in more scientific terms, evidence is that which can be demonstrated, tested, verified, and falsified.

This would seem to be a pretty straight forward idea, and to most people about most things, it is.  However, a strange thing happens when people hold to ideas which can’t be demonstrated to be true with evidence.  Suddenly the definition of what constitutes “evidence” changes or broadens to encompass any arguments or claims they can muster that seem to lend credibility to their position.  This widened criteriaa, however, is only applicable to their own strongly held belief and does not extend to beliefs that other people hold that they disagree with.  More on this later.

Apologetics is defined as – reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.  Bible.org gives the simpler definition as “the defense of the Christian faith”.

When I was a Christian, I was big into apologetics, and spent many hours reading books and watching debates from such notable personalities as Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, and others.  After becoming more familiar with the philosophy of critical thinking, logical fallacies, and the scientific method, I soon realized that there was something strangely missing from all apologetic works, both novice and professional: evidence.  Demonstrable, verifiable, empirical evidence.  Despite the common Christian claim that there is an abundance of evidence for their beliefs, I soon realized that this evidence is strangely absent from any work of apologetics I had ever come across.  What I did see over and over where justifications being substituted and passed of as “evidence”.  That’s what I want to talk about here; common apologetic tactics which are not “evidence” and should not be taken as such.

Arguments

Several years ago I served on a  jury.  Before the trial started the judge went over the rules and guidelines for how we determine a verdict.  One of the points that he made was that the opening and closing statements could not be used in out determination of a verdict.  There’s a very good reason for this – arguments (or argumentation), no mater how compelling, well thought out, or convincing, are not evidence. 

Apologists love their arguments.  The Cosmological Argument, Argument from Morality, Argument from Design, Ontological Argument, Pascals Wager, etc.  There are some problems with this however.

First, arguments can be used to show the plausibility of almost anything.  I’ve heard very convincing arguments for the existence of Bigfoot and the Yeti.  I’ve watched documentaries on how aliens are the only explanation for the how the pyramids of Egypt were built.  Many people are convinced that Hitler escaped Berlin at the end of WWII.  Does this mean that Bigfoot is real, Hitler is alive, or that aliens are responsible for one of the great wonders of the Earth?  Of course not.  Yet this same logic applies to apologetics – just because you can come up with a convincing argument for the existence of something does not mean it is “proof” of its existence.

Second, if arguments are not evidence, then fallacious arguments are even less so.  I’ve yet to encounter an apologist give an argument that wasn’t some form of a logical fallacy.   To use the example listed above, the Cosmological Argument is a classic “God of the Gaps” fallacy as is the Argument from Morality.  The Argument from Design suffers from many fallacies, most notably the Weak Analogy fallacy.   The Ontological Argument is a form of Circular Reasoning and Pascals Wager is an example of Begging the Question.  If anyone can find me a work of apologetics that doesn’t contain logical fallacies, I’ll buy you dinner.

Anecdotes/Personal Testimony

Christians love their personal testimonies.  Whether it’s at church, on social media, at music festivals, or in personal conversations, every Christian has a story about how God answered some prayer,  worked in their lives, or performed a miracle.  For many people, these personal experiences are the main reason for their belief in God.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a Christian claim,”I’ve experienced him working in my life” as their “evidence” of God’s existence…

Personal experiences and anecdotes are not evidence, no matter how real or convincing they may seem to people.  There are several reasons for this.

First, when people use anecdotes as evidence, they are usually committing a logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc (post hoc for short).  The Latin translates to “after this, therefore because of this,” and it occurs whenever an argument takes the following form:

  • X happened before Y
  • Therefore, X caused Y

The reason that post hoc arguments are invalid should be obvious: the fact that Y happened after X does not mean that X caused Y.

Anytime someone claims that God answered a prayer, they are committing a post hoc fallacy.  When someone gives an emotional testimony about how they were an addict, criminal, all around shitty person, and then God miraculously changed their lives, they make the mistake of assuming that since they got better after accepting Jesus into their lives, that it was Jesus who changed them around.

Second, if one is going to admit anecdotes as evidence, then you have to admit all personal stories as equally credible.  That means that the personal stories of Muslims is proof of Allah, anecdotes by Scientologists are proof that their religion is true, and thousands of accounts of alien encounters are proof of aliens.  It is not hard to find very convincing stories by very credible witnesses who claim to have been abducted by aliens.  These people are so convinced of this that they are able to pass polygraph tests when questioned about their encounters.  Is this hard evidence that aliens are visiting earth and kidnapping people?  Most theists would say no, yet they would like to claim that their own stories are “evidence” of God’s existence.  This double standard is known as special pleading –  applying standards, principles, and/or rules to other people or circumstances, while making oneself or certain circumstances exempt from the same critical criteria, without providing adequate justification.  You can’t attempt to argue that your experiences constitute as evidence and then try to discredit the experiences of other believers who disagree with you.

Lastly, anecdotes that affirm a position often ignore anecdotal evidence that contradicts the same position.  Theists can claim that prayer works only by ignoring all the times that it didn’t work.  You can claim that God got you out of addiction, but what about all the people who also reached out to God and are still addicts?  This is confirmation bias – the tendency to seek out information that conforms to their pre-existing view points, and subsequently ignore information that goes against them, both positive and negative.

Luciano Gonzalez over at Patheos sums it up nicely:

“Your experiences are AT BEST reasons for you to believe. They are not (or at least they shouldn’t be) compelling evidence for other people that you want to convince you are right. If you are arguing that your experiences are compelling evidence, I want to know what separates your experiences from the experiences of others that somehow their experiences are not as convincing as yours, or are somehow inferior to yours in such a way that you know your experiences are true while knowing or believing that theirs are not (in cases when you share your experiences with people who disagree with you).”

*(For a more in-depth look at why anecdotes aren’t evidence, check out this article over at The Logic of Science blog)

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The Supernatural/Miracles

In a recent debate between Matt Dillahunty and Blake Giunta on the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus, Guinta made the argument that the most plausible explanation for the testimonies found in the Bible, and other sources of people encountering Jesus after his death, was that he had miraculously risen from the dead after three days.  He claims that the actual, physical resurrection is the only plausible explanation for how so many people could have had such similar and lucid encounters.  Remember how we talked earlier about alien abductions?

Miracles, by definition, are a violation or suspension of the laws of nature, thus making them supernatural.  David Hume characterized them as “a transgression of the law of nature” and were thereforethe least likely event possible“.  Yet, miracles abound in apologetics.  In fact, much of the foundation of the Christian faith, such as the Resurrection, prayer, and the divine inspiration of scripture, depend on the supernatural being a very real and active agent in this world.  Contrary to what many apologists think, science can test supernatural claims, and since the scientific revolution four centuries ago, we have learned that there is no supernatural realm.  Natural explanations have been found for that which was previously thought to have supernatural origins in every case that it has been studied.

Occam’s Razor states that when there exist two explanations for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually better.  Another way of saying it is; the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.  When it comes to the “evidence” produced by apologists for the existence of God, a natural explanation (no matter how unlikely) is always going to be more likely than a supernatural one.  Back to the debate mentioned earlier, when it comes to an explanation for all the witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus after he arose, there are many natural explanations – mass hallucinations, shared psychotic disorder, groupthink, legendary accretion, mistaken identity, false memories, etc.  No matter how implausible some of these explanations may be, they are far more plausible than the supernatural explanation of a bodily resurrection.  You cannot claim that the most likely explanation is the least likely event possible; a miracle.

One final note, the use of the supernatural by apologetics is another good example of special pleading.  If you are going to accept that the supernatural is real then you must also accept the supernatural claims made by other religions.

Awe and Wonder

“The evidence for God is all around us.  Just go outside and look around!”  Sadly, his kind of thinking abounds within Christianity –   people believing that the natural world is somehow evidence for their particular god-claims.  The Bible claims that God reveals himself through nature (Rom 1:20) and many take that to heart.  When asked for evidence of God, some have claimed that He  is “self-evident” in nature and that is all the “proof” they need.

This is similar to what we discussed above about anecdotes.  Personal experiences, including awe and wonder, are not evidence.  They are nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain that give some of us a pleasurable sensation when enjoying nature.  I say “some” because this is not universal.  Not everyone has the same feelings or experiences when being outdoors.

Also, the thing about nature is that it is natural and we have natural explanations for why it’s there, where it came from, etc.  No supernatural explanation needed.  A neighbor said to me the other day, “How can people look up at the stars and not believe in a God?”  My answer was, “Study cosmology”.  This isn’t to say that there can’t be mystery in the universe, but you don’t get to fill in your ignorance of the natural world with “God” and then credit that as evidence.

A common logical fallacy that falls under this category is an appeal to emotions – the use emotion in place of reason in order to attempt to win the argument.  This happens when someone attempts to manipulates peoples’ emotions in order to get them to accept a claim as being true.  This one is easy to spot; anytime someone makes of “feeling God in their heart”, or knowing that “the Holy Spirit is at work”, or feeling some sort of positive emotion and correlating them to a deity.

Absence of Evidence

This one presents itself in a couple of ways.  The most obvious is the classic argument from ignorance – when a proposition is considered true from the fact that it is not known to be false.  It’s common for people to argue that since you can’t prove God doesn’t exist, then he likely exists.  This line of reasoning could be used to support almost any claim: aliens, vampires, fairies, other gods, or a teapot orbiting the sun.  Ignorance about something says nothing about its existence or non-existence.

Another common argument is that, “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”.  The basic idea being that we can’t be sure something doesn’t exist just because we haven’t seen it yet.  First of all; this isn’t entirely correct.  But more importantly, most situations which make very specific claims can test for evidence.  In these cases, a lack of evidence is evidence of absence.  Put simply – the absence of evidence, when evidence should be present, is evidence of absence.

Apologists often claim the “historical reliability of the Bible” as evidence for their God.  Yet, we’ve seen over and over that when evidence for very specific events, such as the Exodus and Israels’ forty years of wandering are investigated, no historical or archaeological can be found.  It is therefore more likely that these events never took place.  Many apologists would like to claim that just because evidence hasn’t been found, that these events could still have taken place, and we just haven’t found the evidence yet.  This is not rational thinking.  As Matt Dillahunty is fond of saying, “The time to believe in something is after evidence presents itself, not before.”  This goes for aliens, Bigfoot, conspiracy theories, and deities.  It’s completely reasonable to lack a belief in something as extraordinary as a deity if you know of no evidence to support such a claim being reflective of reality.  It is unreasonable to lack extraordinary evidence and still have an extraordinary belief.

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People will go to great lengths to justify unsubstantiated beliefs.  When these beliefs are challenged, things like “evidence” and “proof” suddenly take on a different meaning than they would in a normal, day-to-day, situation.  A good rule of thumb when debating an apologist is this – would this kind of reasoning hold up in a court of law or a science lab?  If not, then they are likely trying to substitute something else for real evidence, and have no solid case.  And as Hitchens famously said, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”  

Hope this was helpful.  Thanks for reading.

Trump and the End of Evangelicals’ Moral High Ground

With the election now thankfully behind us, we can hopefully move forward, let the dust settle, and be thankful elections only come once every four years.  We can also reflect on the lessons learned from this presidential race.  And one of the biggest lessons that we’ve all learned is where Evangelical’s, Fundamentalist’s, and really most Christian’s loyalty really lies.  As Bill Maher so eloquently put it:

“Before leaving this election behind, we must all thank Donald Trump for the one good thing he did – he exposed Evangelicals, who are big Trump supporters, as the shameless hypocrites they’re always been.” 

That’s right.  Watching Christians in America throw themselves before the alter of the most vile, immoral, and bigoted presidential candidate this country has ever seen, exposed the world to the ugly underbelly American Christianity.  Those of us who were once part of the Evangelical ranks are all too familiar with what’s behind the “Jesus is Love!” facade found in most churches, but even we were a bit surprised at just how low they stooped this time.  Making decisions based on fear, ignorance, and tribal rules has always been the Religious Rights MO, but with Trump; they’ve taken it to a whole new level.

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I kept waiting for the shoe to drop.  I kept waiting for Trump to say something or do something that was so outlandish, so immoral, that Christians would finally wake up, see that this emperor has no clothes, and withdraw their support.  But, no.  A full 81% of white Evangelicals backed Trump this election, with other Christian denominations not faring much better.  Even the infamous “pussy grabbing” tapes weren’t enough to turn most Christians.

This election will certainly go down in history for a number of reasons, but there’s one in particular I want to talk about today.  After this election, Christians in America can no longer pretend to have a monopoly on morality.  They can no longer claim to be morally superior than those outside their tribe.  They no longer get to attempt to be societies “designated adults”.  Christians have lost any perceived higher ground they once had to judge how other people live out there lives.  This election has proven, once and for all, that when it comes to morals, most Christians don’t have a fucking clue what that word really means.

“This year much of the Church has been fully complicit in elevating to the highest levels of the political process, a man completely devoid of anything remotely representing Jesus, and passed him off as sufficiently Christian. Celebrity pastors and name-brand Evangelists have sold him as “a man after God’s own heart”, or at the very least a decidedly imperfect tool of Divine retribution in the style of the Old Testament—and they’ve repeatedly bastardized the Scriptures, insulted the intelligence of the faithful, and given the middle finger to the Gospel in order to do it.

And millions of Christians have held their noses and washed their hands while still trying to make their beds and cast their lots with the most openly vile, profane, hateful Presidential nominee in history. The desperate theological gymnastics and excuse making professed Bible-believing churchgoers have engaged in to try and justify it all has been the height of tragic comedy, with all the laughs coming at the expense of the Good News.” – John Pavlovit

And spare me the excuses – I don’t want to hear them.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone trying to make excuses for Christians selling-out to Trump…

“They don’t really support Trump, they just think he’s the lesser of to evils.”  First of all, you don’t get to claim “two evils” when there where four fucking candidates on the ballet!  Secondly, I don’t care by what standard you measure “evil”; Trump wins by a landslide.  This goes especially for those who claim that they “live their lives according to Jesus”.  Can people honestly convince themselves that Trump in any way, shape, or form, is anything that even remotely resembles the life and teachings of Jesus?

Jesus healed the blind, Trump mocks the handicapped.

Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, Trump threatens to sue anyone who speaks badly of him.

Jesus loved his enemies, Trump wants to bomb their families.

Jesus taught not to look at a women with lust, Trump sexually assaults them.

Jesus taught to “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’”, Trump is a compulsive liar.

Jesus taught not to take up treasures on Earth, Trump is a greedy, corrupt billionaire.

Jesus cared for the poor and needy, Trump wants to kick them out of this country.

Jesus taught peace, Trump insights violence.

Another common excuse I hear is that people are voting for Trump because they believe he is “pro-life”.  Please.  Just because he has made baseless claims of appointing a SCOTUS judge who will overturn Roe vs Wade to pander to his gullible voting base, in no way makes him pro-life.  (Never mind the fact that it was a Republican SCOTUS that legalized abortion, and a Republican SCOTUS that upheld it in Planned Parenthood v. Casey)  “At the heart and core of what it means to be pro-life is a deep, unshakable belief, that all life has infinite worth and value,” writes Benjamin Corey, “and that this innate worth should be something we as a culture honor and value.”  Corey continues:

“Nothing about saying, “I like to just grab women by the pussy” reflects a view that all people have sacred value and that they should be honored.

Nothing about mocking people with physical disabilities says that a person holds a foundational belief that all life has worth and value.

Nothing about grabbing a woman and kissing her without consent, telling an employee that she’d “look really good down on her knees,” or saying that it’s hard for women with small breasts to be beautiful, tells us this is a man who believes that the image of God in others must be honored and protected.

Nothing about deporting the undocumented parents of U.S. born children, destroying family units and creating orphans, speaks to a foundational belief about the value of human life.

Nothing about advocating that we kill the entire families of suspected terrorists tells us that he believes that all life is sacred.

To claim that Donald Trump is pro-life is to say that one can belong to a movement without *actually* believing the foundational beliefs that a given movement is based upon.”

Christians are without excuse when it comes to their unwavering support of Donald Trump.  They can claim “lesser of two evils” and “pro-life” all they want, but the real reason Christians support Trump is pretty clear – they’re towing the party line.  The Evangelical church got into bed with the Political Right decades ago and it has been their primary source of “truth” ever since.   Having sold their souls to the Republican party, seemingly intelligent, well meaning Christians all over America voted for a man that is the polar opposite of everything they claim their religion to be about.

So, from now on, whenever a Christian chimes into a discussion regarding social and political issues and wants to claim that they have the all answer, or the “TRUTH”,  because they read the Bible, follow Jesus, go to church, whatever; you can politely remind them that if they supported Trump, they no longer get to claim they have a superior moral standing than anyone else.

Pavlovitz writes in his article 7 Things Christians Are Giving Up By Supporting Donald Trump:  Christian no longer get to talk about “family values” or the “sanctity of marriage” “after supporting a candidate currently on marriage number three, one with a documented history of infidelity. Their continued efforts to deny LGBT people a single marriage on the basis of protecting supposed God’s ordained one man-one woman standard, ring noticeably hollow as they tolerate Trump’s trinity of ever-younger spouses.”

Christians no longer get to claim to be “pro-life” after supporting a candidate who, with his open racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and his contempt for immigrants and the working poor, Donald Trump has shown contempt for a great swath of Humanity. Advocating for him to preside over all the laws of our country and all of its people, is not a gesture that honors life beyond the most narrow definition of it. It becomes more about politics and semantics than defending the living.”

No longer do they get to police people’s “sinful behavior” as societies designated adults.  One of Evangelicals favorite pastimes is evaluating the conduct of other people and measuring their moral worth accordingly. Celebrity preachers and ordinary pew-sitters like to pull-quote Jesus and demand to see “the fruit” in the lives of others as conformation that they are people of Jesus, that they have sufficiently repented, that they indeed have been born again: the proof is in the pudding. To then rationalize away the orchards of rotten fruit in Donald Trump’s personal and business history by saying ‘God looks at the heart’ and warning those who bring these things up by chastising them ‘not to judge’, puts them on really shaky ground and gives them zero credibility to ever critique anyone else again.”  

And finally, no longer do Christians get to ask atheist, agnostics, and “nones” where we get our morals from.  No longer do they get to claim, “No God, no morality!”.  We have all seen what the Evangelical standards for morality are and just how far they are willing to go to excuse one of their own’s behavior, no matter how deplorable it is.  You don’t get to question where my morals come from while supporting a man like Donald Trump.

This election is yet another reminder of why this country needs to become one based on secular principles, not religious.  Secular countries surpass the US in just about every category that matters.  The Religious Right has been the sole obstacle to social progress for far too long.  Let’s hope that this election marks the turning point, where religion starts to loose its power and influence over society and politics.  Want to “Make America Great Again”?  Start by getting religion out of politics.

Thanks for reading.

 

Critical Thinking: Even More Logical Fallacies

Over the last several months I have engaged in or witnessed a number of debates, both political and religious, in which faulty arguments were used.  I realized that some of them were fallacies I hadn’t covered in my previous Logical Fallacies posts (here and here).

Just to recap,  a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning.  This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts.  To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support.  So, here’s another installment to my Critical Thinking series.

Ad Hoc Argument

Very often, we desperately want to be right and hold on to certain beliefs, despite any evidence presented to the contrary.  As a result, we begin to make up excuses as to why our belief could still be true, and is still true, despite the fact that we have no real evidence for what we are making up.  Ad Hoc arguments, simply put, are the fallacy of “Making Shit Up”.

They occur when someone is faced with an argument that discredits their position, and they respond by making something up that serves no purpose except to patch the hole in their view.  Here is a simple way to tell if an ad hoc fallacy has been committed; ask yourself the following three questions.

  1. Did they just make something up?
  2. Is their claim based on evidence/is there a good reason to accept this claim other than that it solves the problem in their argument?
  3. Would someone who wasn’t already convinced of their view accept that claim?

When pointing out to theists the numerous studies that have been done that show the inefficacy of prayer, a common response is something along the lines of, “God can’t be tested.  The studies didn’t work because God knew it was a test.” This is clearly a made up on-the-spot response, with no evidence to back it up, and only makes sense to those who already believe in the power of prayer.

Another common ad hoc argument is the use of “sin” to explain away things that don’t make sense in a world supposedly created and run by an all-knowing, all-powerful God, such as why there is so much suffering in the world or why there are so many design flaws in human anatomy.

Any argument involving magic, miracles, or the supernatural could also be considered ad hoc arguments.  Conspiracy Theories are also a hot bed for made-up arguments devoid of evidence.

“God of the Gaps” fallacy

This is a variation on the Argument from Ignorance fallacy.  This argument generally takes the following form:

  1. Scientists don’t have an explanation for A
  2. Therefore God caused A

Creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) rely heavily on this fallacy, as does apologetics. A common example of this is what is sometimes referred to as the  Cosmological Argument.  Simply put, it looks like this:

  1. The universe began to exist at the Big Bang
  2. Something apart from the universe caused this
  3. Therefore, a creator exists

Just because something can’t currently be explained doesn’t mean that an explanation doesn’t exist, nor that you can simply assume that “God did it”. There is a long history of the “gaps” in our understanding being filled by scientific explanations and the “god gaps” thus getting smaller and smaller.

Another form of this fallacy that I see often is the Argument from Incredulity when someone decides that something did not happen because they cannot personally understand how it could happen.  This fallacy comes up often when discussing “spiritual experiences”; people have a profound experience that they cannot explain, so they automatically assign an explanation to God, the Holy Spirit, etc.

Weak Analogy

Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren’t really alike in the relevant aspects, the analogy is a weak one.  It’s most commonly referred to as an “apples and oranges” argument.

For example, William Paley’s argument from design suggests that a watch and the universe are similar (both display order and complexity), and therefore infers from the fact that watches are the product of intelligent design that the universe must be a product of intelligent design too.  The argument fails because of the many differences between a watch and anything found in nature. Watches are not caused naturally, whereas the universe could have a natural cause.

The weak analogy fallacy is often used by pro-life advocates who compare embryo’s to fully developed, adult human beings, and then argue that treatment that would violate the rights of an adult human being also violates the rights of fetuses.

Equivocation Fallacy

The fallacy of equivocation is committed when a term is used in two or more different senses within a single argument.  For an argument to work, words must have the same meaning each time they appear in its premises or conclusion.  Arguments that switch between different meanings of words equivocate, and don’t work. This is because the change in meaning introduces a change in subject. If the words in the premises and the conclusion mean different things, then the premises and the conclusion are about different things, and so the former cannot support the latter.

A good example of this is seen when Creationists claim that evolution is “just a theory”, failing to understand the difference between the common use of the word the word “theory”, and the scientific use of the word.

Another example of this can be found in the common apologetics argument for “laws of nature” that I covered in a previous post.  The author states that, “the fact that our solar system is called a system is because there is a methodology & a harmony to how our solar system works and exists.”  He fails to understand the difference between a word that is prescriptive versus one that is descriptive.  We give such titles to help us make sense of the natural world, it does not mean that there is an outside agent that assigns these titles.

Sharpshooter Fallacy

Also known as”confirmation bias“, this fallacy gets its name from an illustration that demonstrates how it works: Imagine that someone fired an arrow or bullet at the side of a barn. Then, after firing, they painted a bull’s eye around whatever spot they happened to hit and proceed to proclaim that they were a “sharpshooter.” Obviously they weren’t a sharpshooter, they simply created the illusion of accuracy by painting the target after firing the shot

In actual debates, this fallacy typically occurs as a form of cherry-picking data where you present an isolated result or relationship and proclaim that it is what would be expected if they were right, when, in fact, there are other results that discredit your position.

Theist will claim that prayer works by sighting examples of prayers being “answered”, yet fail to mention all the times that a particular prayer was not answered.  After natural disasters, people are often quick to point out the “miracles” of people surviving, yet ignore all the other lives lost.  These are examples of the Sharpshooter fallacy.

Special Pleading

Special pleading occurs when people fail to apply the same standards of critical analysis to their own views as they do to other views. This fallacious argument involves an attempt to cite something as an exception to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exception.  Special pleading is often a result of strong emotional beliefs that interfere with reason.

Special pleading  comes up often in religion.  Christians will dismiss the supernatural claims made by other religions, while believing in the claims made by their own.  They will claim that the Bible is the only true “Word of God”, while criticizing other sacred texts.  When pointing out the similarities between the story of Jesus’s Resurrection and other legends of deities rising from the dead, they will insist that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but the other stories are just myths.

Another good example comes from the previously mentioned Cosmological Argument.  Its proponents will insist that something cannot come from nothing, therefore God must have caused it.  Yet, when the question is raised, “Then who caused God?”, proponents will insist that he is the exception to the rule.


In my next post we will be talking about how these, and other types of faulty arguments are often used in apologetics in lieu of actual evidence.  If you haven’t already, please go and read my previous post on logical fallacies (here and here) and critical thinking, as it will help to understand why arguments are not evidence, especially fallacious ones.  Thanks for reading

 

Not All Opinions Are Equal

You’ve likely encountered this scenario: You’re in a debate with someone, either on-line or in person.  You are discussing a topic of which you and the other party disagree.  You’ve laid out your case, presenting sound and difficult to refute evidence, yet the other person persists that they are right and you are wrong.  The other person ends the conversation in frustration by boldly proclaiming, “I have a right to my opinion!”

Sound familiar?  Most of us have probably been in this situation and walked away shaking our heads at the seemingly ignorant responses.  Some of us have likely used that very same line as a way of dodging any further discussion.  Because that’s what remarks like “I have a right to my opinion!” are: a close-ended statement meant to shut down the conversation and get the last word in.  More on this later.  First, let’s start with some definitions.

“Opinion” is defined as, “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty; a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.”  This is a very different concept than the concept of facts, yet it’s surprising how many people consider their own opinions iron-clad.  Opinions can range from tastes or preferences, to views about  politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.  However, there is a very big difference between subjective claims, such as tastes in music, art, sports teams, etc., and objective claims; those which carry the weight of empirical evidence.

Professor of Philosophy Patrick Stokes tells his students when they enter his class: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”  He goes on to explain: “The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.”

The digital revolution has done much to connect the world, yet it has also done much to divide it as well.  No longer are Americans merely holding opinions different from one another; they’re also holding different “facts”.  For example, arguments are no longer about what we should be doing about climate change, but whether or not climate change is actually happening.  People are now fighting over competing versions of reality.  And now more then ever, it is becoming convenient for some people to live in a world built out of their own facts.  Stephen Colbert has coined this alternate reality as “truthiness” – something feeling true without any evidence suggesting it actually is.  

This “feeling” of being right has led to this ingrained idea in much of the populous that their views, beliefs, and opinions should be given equal standing in public discourse.  To be clear, no one is suggesting that people cannot hold differing opinions or even speak them publicly.  What I (and Stokes) am saying is that if “entitled to an opinion” means “entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth”, then it’s clearly false.

“We don’t respect people’s beliefs, we evaluate their reasons.” – Sam Harris

All too often, when one sees a debate, it is between only two individuals on opposite ends of the issue.  This can give the illusion that both sides of the argument carry equal weight.  This, however, is not always the case.  When it comes to many issues, including climate change, vaccines, or Evolution vs Creationism, there isn’t equal weight on both sides.  There is overwhelming consensus, and then there is the fringe science-denier who feels that the evidence conflicts with their own personal views.  This false equivalence was perfectly explained and demonstrated on an episode of Last Week Tonight dealing with the “controversy” surrounding climate change:

Best line of the video:

Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: “Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?”

People’s misconceptions about their own opinions are very often the result of what is known as the Dunning-Kruger effectthe unshakable illusion that you’re much smarter, and more skilled and/or knowledgeable, than you really are.  Far too many people labor under the illusion that their knowledge about things is at least as good as, if not better than, the actual facts. For these people, their knowledge isn’t just superior – it’s superior even to those who have an intimate and detailed knowledge of the subject at hand.  To put it simply – it’s possible to be too dumb to realize you’re dumb.

While everyone is susceptible to having an over-inflated view of their own intelligence, you can see the Dunning-Kruger effect most prevalent in conspiracy theorists, radical political groups, fundamentalist religions, and science-deniers.  Donald Trump supporters are also an excellent example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.  David Dunning himself wrote an excellent op-ed about this phenomenon in Trump supporters and even Trump himself:

“Trump has served up numerous illustrative examples of the effect as he continues his confident audition to be leader of the free world, even as he seems to lack crucial information about the job.”  

“In voters, lack of expertise would be lamentable, but perhaps not so worrisome, if people had some sense of how imperfect their civic knowledge is. If they did, they could repair it. But the Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests something different. It suggests that some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps… Again, the key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories, that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.”  

cox

So what are we do do about this.  Is it possible to have informed opinions without being an expert on the subject(s)?  Yes it is.  But it takes some careful thought, time doing research, an awareness of our own biases and limitations, and a willingness to consider we could be wrong.

Science blogger Fallacy Man came up with a good rule of thumb that is helpful to remember when discussing empirical claims, particularly those made by science – you don’t need to be an expert to accept a consensus, but you do need to be an expert to reject one. In other words, your default position should always be the one held by the majority of experts in that field, especially if it is a very large majority. To be clear, it is always possible that the consensus is wrong. I’m not advocating that you view a consensus as irrefutable proof of a position. Rather, what I am arguing is that you, as a non-expert, should be very, very cautious about claiming that the majority of experts are wrong. To put this another way, how likely do you actually think it is that you figured out something that the majority of experts missed?”  

You don’t need to be a climatologist to accept climate-change, but you do if you’re going to claim it’s a myth.  You don’t need to have a Ph.D in biology to accept evolution, but if you’re going to claim that it’s not true, you better have some serious credentials and evidence to back it up (you listening Ken Ham?).

This really shouldn’t be a difficult concept for people to grasp.  We rely on experts all the time in our day-to-day life, yet somehow there are those who think they know better than scientists and experts when it comes to topics they don’t agree with.  As Fallacy Man puts it, “If we go to several doctors with a problem and all or most of them tell us the same thing, we usually have no trouble accepting their diagnosis, because they’re experts. We defer to expert lawyers, contractors, mechanics, etc. all the time, but for some strange reason, when it comes to science, people suddenly feel empowered to reject the expert consensus and side with some internet quackery instead. This is a very dangerous thing to do. On topics like global climate change where roughly 97% of expert climatologists agree that we are causing it, it seems rather risky to side with the 3% who disagree with the consensus.”  

It never ceases to amaze me how scientifically illiterate people can honestly believe that their opinions carry more weight than that of educated, experienced, professional scientists.  Case in your point:

A few months ago I posted a link to an interview with Lawrence Krauss talking about how the universe can, in fact, come from “nothing” and that no supernatural agency was necessary.  One persons reply was, “Just another viewpoint”.  The implication being, of course, that this person doesn’t agree with Krauss’s position, and her position is equally valid.

No, it’s not.

Said person has no formal, or even informal, training or education in any scientific field.  Krauss, on the other hand, is a renowned theoretical physicist with over 300 scientific publications under his belt.  Her opinion is not equal to his on this subject; not even close.  Ironically enough, Krauss is asked about science being a matter of opinion in this interview:

Nogueira: Do you think there is a misconception that science is a matter of opinion and that we should hear all sides of the story?

Krauss: Yes. As I often like to say, a great thing about science is that one side is usually wrong. There are open questions where there is uncertainty and debate. However, the resolution of these debates is not rhetoric or volume but rather nature. So, if you have an idea that simply disagrees with observation, then you throw it out; there is no discussion. There is no need to debate the question of whether Earth is round or whether it’s flat. There are still people who claim Earth is flat, but they are just simply wrong. Similarly, there are some people who don’t think evolution happens, but they are wrong. And those people who argue against human-induced climate change are also simply wrong.

None of this is to say that you can’t be skeptical about the general consensus or empirical claims.  You should always make every effort to learn as much about a topic as you can, but after you have carefully reviewed all of the evidence, if you have reached a different conclusion than the vast majority of credentialed experts, you should be very trepid and cautious about that conclusion.

Thanks for reading.

 

Mythbusters: The Uniqueness of Jesus

In the first century CE, there was a man born in a remote part of the Roman empire, who’s life would later be described by his followers as “miraculous”.

Before he was born, his mother had a visitor from heaven tell her that her son would be no mere mortal, but in fact divine.  His birth was accompanied by unusual sign in the heavens.

As an adult he left home to begin his preaching ministry.  He went from village to town, telling all who would listen that the should not be concerned about their earthly lives and their material goods; they should live for what was spiritual and eternal.  He preached to both the common peasants and the elite.

He gathered a number of followers around him who became convinced that he was no ordinary human, but was the Son of God.  He did many miracles that confirmed their beliefs: healing the sick, casting out demons, raising people from the dead.

All was not well however, as he aroused opposition from the ruling class of Rome and was eventually put on trial.  He was accused of receiving the worship that is due only to God.  He was sentenced to death.

They may have killed his earthly body, but they could not kill his soul!  He ascended into heaven where he lives to this day.  But to prove that he lived, he appeared to one of his followers doubting followers.  This followers later wrote books about him which we can still read today.

The man’s name was Apollonius.

He was a polytheist and a renowned philosopher who came from the town of Tyana.  His followers thought that he was divine and immortal and worshiped him long after his death.  What is know about him comes from the works of his devotee Philostratus.  Philostratus’s book was written in eight volumes in the third century.  He had done considerable research for his book, and his stories were largely based on the accounts of eyewitnesses and companions of Appollonius himself.*

If this all sounds strikingly similar to the account of Jesus, there’s a very good reason for that.

Myths are stories that are based on tradition.  Some may have factual origins, while others are completely fictional.  But myths are more than mere stories and they serve a more profound purpose in ancient and modern cultures.  A myth taps into a universal cultural narrative, the collective wisdom of man.  An excellent illustration of the universality of these themes is that so many peoples who have had no contact with each other create myths that are remarkably similar.  So, for example, cultures worldwide, from the Middle East to the distant mountains of South America have myths about great floods, virgin births, creation, paradise, the underworld, the afterlife, etc.  These commonalities are known as archetypes – universally symbolic patterns.  True to their universal nature, archetypal characters and stories appear again and again in myths across many diverse cultures.

The account of Jesus as described in the Gospels is one such story.   As we’ll see , the myth of Jesus follows a very old and familiar literary pattern familiar to nearly all hero legends. “We should not think of Jesus as unique”, states New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, “if by that term we mean that he was the only one ‘like that’ – that is, a human who was far above and very different from the rest of us mere mortals, a man who was also in some sense divine.  There were numerous divine humans in antiquity.”

The similarities between Jesus and Apollonius are striking, but they are far from unique; there were many stories that followed this archetype in the ancient world.  This is because they both follow what is often referred to as the “Hero’s Journey”– the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.  Also referred to as monomyth, examples of this can be found throughout the history of literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  

A more specific version of hero’s archetypes is the Rank-Raglan mythotype which are narrative patterns that lists different cross-cultural traits often found in the accounts of heroes, including mythical heroes.  Raglan developed a 22-point myth-ritualist Hero archetype to account for common patterns across Indo-European cultures for Hero traditions.  These points are:

  1. Mother is a royal virgin
  2. Father is a king
  3. Father often a near relative to mother
  4. Unusual conception
  5. Hero reputed to be son of god
  6. Attempt to kill hero as an infant, often by father or maternal grandfather
  7. Hero spirited away as a child
  8. Reared by foster parents in a far country
  9. No details of childhood
  10. Returns or goes to future kingdom
  11. Is victor over king, giant, dragon or wild beast
  12. Marries a princess (often daughter of predecessor)
  13. Becomes king
  14. For a time he reigns uneventfully
  15. He prescribes laws
  16. Later loses favor with gods or his subjects
  17. Driven from throne and city
  18. Meets with mysterious death
  19. Often at the top of a hill
  20. His children, if any, do not succeed him
  21. His body is not buried
  22. Has one or more holy sepulchers or tombs

A Hero’s tradition is considered more mythical the more of these traits they hold.  Popular characters who make the cut include Romulus, Heracles, Dionysos, Apollo, Zeus, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Alexander the Great.  How many points does Jesus get?

One can clearly see that the story of Jesus follows the Hero’s tradition.  Is this merely a coincidence?  The number of points the Jesus story gets and the close resemblance to other deities makes it a tough point to argue.


One popular internet meme would have us believe that Christianity is superior because of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

Those who share this meme should spend a little more time studying the history of religion and ancient mythology.  Gods rising from the dead was commonplace in ancient cultures and examples are plentiful:

Attis –  born of a virgin by unusual means, gruesome death, death involved a tree, resurrected/eternal life, celebrated annually in spring season

Adonis – born of royal blood, unusual conception and birth, gruesome death, resurrected/ascended to heaven/eternal life, celebrated annually in spring season

Osiris – son of royalty, became king, taught his people a new way of living, traveled to teach others, was murdered by someone close to him, resurrected, became a god

Dionysus – born from a union between a god (Zeus) and a human (Semele), traveled to spread his message, had disciples, brought people back from the dead, gruesome death (dismemberment), brought back to life, celebrated in spring

Tammuz – parents were divine, had power over nature, foreshadowing of death, descended into the other world but was brought back to life, celebrated in the spring

All of these example proceeded the life of Jesus, some by thousands of years.  You’ll notice some other similarities that I included as well, again, examples of the hero mythology archetype.

Speaking of rising from the dead, some have tried to argue that Jesus’s resurrection is proof of his divinity.  Yet, according to the Bible people being brought back to life, while considered a miracle, was not unusual.  Elijah and Elisha both raised people from the dead.  In fact, Elisha’s powers continued after death as someone was even resurrected simply by touching his bones.  Jesus raised Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow on Nain.  Peter raised Dorcus and Eutychus was raised from the dead by Paul.  In a scene straight out of a zombie movie, we hear of whole cemeteries opening up and saints wandering the streets after the crucifixion (Matt. 27:50-53).  Are we to consider all of these people divine as well?


Interesting similarities can also be found between Jesus and Buddha, who pre-dates Jesus by 400-500 years.  Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) was:

  • Born to a royal family
  • Birth foretold in dream
  • Visited by “wise men” shortly after birth
  • Prolonged fasting before starting ministry
  • Renounced worldly riches and required his disciples to do so also
  • Taught that true riches are not material
  • Extensive traveling to spread his message
  • Had disciples who traveled with him
  • Performed miracles, such as curing blindness and walking on water
  • Dispatched disciples, shortly before his death, to spread his message

Some have claimed that what set Jesus apart were his teachings, yet while Jesus’s message was certainly counter-cultural, it was nothing original.  As with Apollonius, Buddha taught many of the same principles that we find in the Gospels.  Here are a few examples:

The Golden Rule

Buddha
Jesus
“Consider others as yourself.” (Dhammapada 10:1)
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)

Love others

Buddha
Jesus
Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world.” (Sutta Nipata 149-150)
“This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Love your enemies

Buddha
Jesus
Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth. (Dhammapada 1.5 &17.3)
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6.27-30)

Turn the other cheek

Buddha
Jesus
“If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” (Majjhima Nikaya 21:6)
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” (Luke 6:29

Help others

Buddha
Jesus
“If you do not tend to one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick.” (Vinaya, Mahavagga 8:26.3)
“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45)

Do not judge others

Buddha
Jesus
“The fault of others is easily perceived, but that of oneself is difficult to perceive; a man winnows his neighbour’s faults like chaff, but his own fault he hides.” (Dhammapada 252.)
“Judge not, that you be not judged… And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1–5)

Disdain wealth

Buddha
Jesus
“Let us live most happily, possessing nothing.” (Dhammapada 15:4)
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)

Do not kill

Buddha
Jesus
“Abandoning the taking of life, the ascetic Gautama dwells refraining from taking life, without stick or sword.” Digha Nikaya 1:1.8)
“Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Spread the word

Buddha
Jesus
“Teach the dharma which is lovely at the beginning, lovely in the middle, lovely at the end. Explain with the spirit and the letter in the fashion of Brahma. In this way you will be completely fulfilled and wholly pure.” (Vinaya Mahavagga 1:11.1)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Does mean that the writers of the Gospels simply copied the story of Buddha?  Trade routes between India and Middle East were well established at that time and goods, as well as ideas, certainly traveled back and forth between them.  While it is certainly possible that the Gospel writers knew of Buddhism, it’s doubtful they simply retold the Buddha myth to match that of Jesus.  I bring up the similarities to once again illustrate how common the Hero archetype was and how influential it was on religious mythology of the time.

While some have argued that Jesus was not an actual historical figure, the majority of scholars and historians would believe that he was.  However, while these scholars would agree that a religious leader named Jesus likely existed, the stories surrounding him are most certainly the product legend and mythology; a story retold over time to fit the hero’s narrative. 

This poses a problem for Christianity, as it depends on the mythology of Jesus.  Without the immaculate conception, miracles, death and resurrection, Jesus is just another ancient religious figure.  As Bob Seidensticker explains: “Strip away any supernatural claims from the story of Alexander the Great, and you’ve still got cities throughout Asia named Alexandria and coins with Alexander’s likeness. Strip away any supernatural claims from the Caesar Augustus story, and you’re still left with the Caesar Augustus from history (and a month in our calendar named after him). But strip away the supernatural claims from the Jesus story, and you’re left with a fairly ordinary rabbi. The Jesus story is nothing but the supernatural elements.”  This is why it is not hard to find apologist desperately attempting to explain away evidence like what I have presented and insisting the Jesus was more than just a teacher/philosopher, but in fact was God, and has to be God.

So, where does all of this leave us?  For me, understanding the true nature of the Jesus story, it’s origins, and how similar it was to other narratives, was part of what led to my de-conversion.  It is yet further evidence that Christianity is a man-made religion, following a similar pattern of mythology, allegory, and legend-making that can be found in all religions.  Christianity is not unique, it is not special, and it certainly isn’t the one true religion as most of its followers would like to believe.

I do, however, admire the central teachings of Jesus and wish more people, specifically his devotes, would actually follow them as it would make the world a much better place.  The practice of treating others as equals, helping others, being slow to anger and judgment, and avoiding materialism, are principles which everyone should embrace.  Whether these principles are coming from Jesus, Buddha, Gandi, MLK, or a host of others; they are universal in nature and lead to a more civil, progressive, and humane society.  It’s when these principles are replaced by religious dogma that we see social progress slow down or even move backwards.  It’s time that the myth of Jesus be put in it’s rightful place so that we, as a society, can move forward.

Thanks for reading.

 

*The story of Appolonius was taken from Bert Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God”

**Some apologists have argued that the claims regarding ancient figures such as Adonis and Dionysus can’t be proven to be historically accurate.  It can’t be proven that Jesus was born on Dec 25th either, yet his followers universally celebrate that date.  The same holds true for the gods the preceded Jesus – little may be known about their actual existence (if they had one), but we can make certain claims regarding what their followers believed and how they worshiped.  

 

 

 

 

 

If You Believe In Hell…

In my previous post, I gave an overview of Kersey Grave’s The Biography of Satan which discussed the origins of the myth of the Devil and Hell.  The last chapter of the book is titled, “One Hundred and Sixty-Three Questions for Believers in Post Mortem Punishment”.  The purpose of these questions, he states at the end is, “simply to present the absurdities of the doctrine of future endless punishment in its true and strongest light”.

I’m not going to list all of them here.  Some of the questions are repetitive, some are rather weak arguments, and some are just plain silly.  Graves, does however, ask some pertinent questions that I feel anyone who believes in Hell as a real place and Satan as a real entity, need to think about.  I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing and changing the language where I felt it was necessary.

So, if you believe in Hell, you must ask yourself:

  • If the Devil is able to read your thoughts, see your every move, and be everywhere and anywhere, and has power over the earth and all its inhabitants, doesn’t it then follow that he also is an omnipotent, omnipresent and Almighty Being?  
  • If God was the first Omnipresent Being and filled all space, by what process was room found for another omnipresent being?
  • How is it that there are two infinite, almighty, and omnipotent beings holding at the same time the reins of the universal government?
  • If Satan is not omnipotent, how does he manage to “decoy millions of souls to endless ruin” when “God wills that all should be saved?”
  • Why does God allow the Devil to exist if he hates evil and possesses the power to destroy him?
  • If the Devil is a “fallen angel” as the Bible teaches, who tempted him and caused him to fall as there was yet no “Wicked One” to deceive him?
  • Did God foresee that Satan would rebel?  If not, doesn’t that contradict God being All Wise and All Knowing?
  • How could this primarily perfect archangel fall in a place that is itself perfect; Heaven?
  • When was Hell first created?
  • Since we learn that God has decreed that the wicked shall be punished in Hell and the Devil is his agent in performing this work, isn’t it reasonable to assume that Satan is actually a faithful servant of the Lord, and a co-worker with Him?
  • If punishment is the Devil’s work exclusively, yet God permits him to exist and carry out this work, then is he not acting in conformity with God’s will, and hence performing his duty?
  • Does it not follow then that it is God, and not the Devil, who punishes the wicked, and the later is simply the agent?
  • If God opposes Hell, then why doesn’t He have the powers to shut it down?
  • How is it that Satan is able to win over so many more souls than God?
  • The Bible says the wicked shall be punished forever, yet Satan will be overthrown in the Last Days.  Who will be running Hell and dealing out punishment?
  • How is it possible for a soul (an immaterial substance) to be consumer by fire (a material thing)?
  • Doesn’t it make God a thousand times worse and more fiendish than the wickedest of His creatures that he would punish someone for eternity in such a terrible way?
  • Can we honestly consider God to be just and merciful for punishing his creation for all eternity?
  • Would there be any sense in punishing a being for any other purpose than to reform him, or make an example for others?  Isn’t it impossible for postmortem punishment to serve either of these ends?
  • Could a just God punish one of his creatures for acting out the impulses of that nature which He himself endowed all humans with? 
  • If an all-knowing God saw that the majority of humanity would reject Him and prove such a failure, why not simply hit the “reset” button on the whole thing and start over?  Why did He allow humanity to continue?  Isn’t it cruel to bring humanity into existence and continue to allow suffering not only in this world, but the next?
  • If a parent with a disease willingly brought children into this world knowing that most of them would die an agonizing death, wouldn’t we find him to be immoral and cruel?
  • Isn’t it strange that and almighty and omnipotent God who “wills that all men should be saved”, could not come up with a better plan for ensuring that they would be saved”
  • How can God punish any soul eternally when it says in the Bible that For no one is cast off by the Lord forever? (Lam 3:31) 
  • Can there be any real sense of justice, when all men are punished equally, considering the vast nature of crimes in this world?
  • Are we not warranted in concluding that it would be morally impossible for a God of justice to inflict infinite punishment upon a mere finite being for any crime whatsoever, as it would be impossible for eternal consequences to grow out of any finite action, either good or bad, without overthrowing the last principle of moral equity and common justice, and even common sense?
  • Doesn’t it make God egregiously inconsistent that he commands us to “love our enemies” yet he punishes his for all eternity, especially seeing as how he has “the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself”? (Phil 3:21)
  • How can Jesus really be the “Savior of all man” when the vast majority are “lost”?
  • Can a man be considered truly moral if his only motivation for doing good is fear of Hell?
  • Can a man be said to have “free will” if he is chased into Heaven as a refugee from the Devil?
  • Could we then conclude that Christianity really needs two omnipotent powers to be saved – the all-loving Father to coax his children towards him and the Devil to be in hot pursuit, nipping at their heals?
  • Has not the practice of believing in a God that damns a portion of the human race, had the evil effect of also causing men to damn each other, leading to centuries of atrocities carried out in the name of Christianity? 

Thanks for reading.

Take Aways: The Biography of Satan

Every good story requires an antagonist – a character(s) that represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend or an obstacle that the protagonist must overcome.  In the stories that make up the Judeo-Christian religions, the ultimate antagonist is Satan, also commonly known as the Devil.

I’ve talked before about the origins of the God myth and how the god(s) of the monotheistic religions came about from earlier religions and those that were active around the time of Judaism’s birth.  In Kersey Graves The  Biography of Satan, we explore the origins of Yahweh’s great antagonist, the Devil, and how he became so deep-seated in Christian dogma.  And, of course, no good story about Satan would be complete without his foreboding lair – Hell.

This book was originally published in 1865, with the 4th edition coming out in 1924.  I can only imagine the stir this book would have caused back then.  As the forward in the edition I read states, “This book goes straight to the root of the stories, Biblical and otherwise, to expose the origins of the Devil.  You may not like what you read, but after reading it it becomes difficult, in many places, to argue against Graves’ thesis.  And that thesis is that the Devil is nothing more than a fabricated ‘bad guy’ created by the early Christians priesthood to keep people in line.”

Graves starts by pointing out that it was God, not the Devil, who was originally thought to be the primary author of evil.  As he states in the beginning of chapter five, “The earliest ancestors of the Jewish race recognized God as being the author of evil by virtue of being the source of everything… God could not be the author of all things without being the author of evil.”  Examples of this can be found throughout the Old Testament:

  • In Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, that doeth all these things.”  
  • Also in Amos, “Does evil happen to a city, and Yahweh hasn’t done it?” (3:6).
  • After loosing his health, Job replies to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)
  • Proverbs (16:4) declares that, “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.”  
  • Rather than Satan being the “great deceiver” we see Jehovah being responsible for lies: “I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” (1 Kings 22:22)
  • Jeremiah accuses God of lying to him, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?”(15:18).

Graves takes note that modern concepts of Heaven and Hell were not part of early Judaism, “The doctrine of future rewards and punishments constituted no part of the ancient Jewish creed, simply because, as we would naturally infer, all human actions, both good and bad, were regarded as proceeding from their God, Jehovah, or as being ‘inspired by the great Breath’, as they express it (in the Talmud).”

Jewish beliefs about God had much to do with their views of the natural world and the changing of the seasons, as well as natural disasters – “For a long period the attention of mankind seems to have been wholly directed to the phenomena of the physical external world, and for a long time they rested in the opinion that the same being, the same God who had created, also destroyed – the same being who sent down the genial solar rays of vernal spring, also sent down the chilling, desolating blasts of winter; the same God who poured down the genial, gentle showers to revive the drooping flowers, the withered grass, and the parched up dying cereals, also darted forth the forked lightning and blasting thunderbolt.”

Throughout the book, Graves demonstrates that most of what ancient Jews and early Christians thought of the Devil/Hell was borrowed from surrounding cultures. (This is hardly surprising, as very little of the Biblical narrative is truly original; comprised almost entirely of a patchwork of common myths and traditions from the surrounding areas)  One such example is the story of the woman being pursued by the Dragon (Satan) in the Book of Revelation.  This story relates to the celestial calendar, and versions of it can be found in Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indian, and even Native American cultures.

The “lake of fire” mentioned in Revelation is also borrowed from Egyptian mythology.  This “lake” is a reference to an actual lake, Serbonis, in Egypt.  When the Nile overflowed its banks, it would reach lake Serbonis and submerge it with putrid water.  As the water receded, it left a great amounts of debris and putrefied vegetation and animals – “Upon its stagnant waters, there accumulated a scum bearing a strong analogy in taste, color and smell to that of brimstone or sulfur. […] Travelers and historians tell us that when the sun shone upon this brilliant mirror-like floating substance, it presented the appearance of being on fire, and from that circumstance was called ‘the lake of fire and brimstone,’ while the gas, steam, vapor, and miasma… formed the imaginary smoke of the imaginary place of endless torment…”  

Also in Egypt, we get the source for the “worm that dieth not” mentioned in Mark 9:44.  As Grave explains, it “started from the circumstances of a gnawing, stinging worm which infest that country, being never known to die, simply because, as later researches show, it burrows down into the soil before it dies; hence not being seen after its death, it was supposed to be immortal.”

The story of Satan being thrown out of Heaven after an epic battle with Michael and his angles (Rev 12:7-9) is certainly not original.  Graves notes that, “There is scarcely an Oriental nation whose religion [doesn’t have] the story of a celestial battle or ‘war in Heaven’ similar to that referred to in the above text.”  Examples include:

  • In Roman legend, Titan rebelling against Jupiter and being cast out of heaven and imprisoned under mountains.
  • The battle of the Titans (children of Heaven) against the gods of Olympus in the other world is found in the mythology of ancient Greece.
  • Egyptian tradition tells of Typhon (the Devil) rebelling and making war against Osyrus.
  • The Chinese relate a battle between the inhabitants of the cloud and stars, The Lamb leads the starry hosts and conquered.
  • The Persians have one of the oldest such stories and tells of a war that broke out between the Summer God and the Winter God.  The Winter God was hurled out of paradise and became a fallen angel.

Chapter 12 is devoted to showing “that the conception of the Devil and a hell long existed before the remotest idea was entertained that either had anything to do with or any connection with punishment in a future life.  Both had a fabled existence in the external world among the physical elements long before the Devil was made an agent of punishment, or Hell a place of punishment for the wicked after death in the imaginations of people.”  These ideas developed over time among early Christian leaders as a means of controlling the masses – “Mythological history is exuberant with the evidence that the traditional scheme of punishment for human beings or human souls in another world for actions committed in this world, was invented by the priesthood as one of their auxiliary means of promoting the interests of their craft.  And, according to Grecian writers, the agents of Government… joined with priests, and likewise adopted the system as a more effectual manner of controlling the populace, and keeping them in subjection to the government.  To state the thing in brief, priests and politicians ‘colleagued together’, and invented the Devil and his domicile, as scarecrows to frighten the ignorant superstitious masses into quiet, submissive allegiance to the ecclesiastical tribunals, namely the ‘powers that be’.”  This practice, unfortunately, continues to this day.

The last chapter of the book lists a series of questions that should be asked of anyone who takes the mythology of Satan/Hell as fact.  It’s an extensive list (163 questions!)and I don’t wish to list them all here.  However, I do think they make some good points and will list some of them in my next post.

It’s frustrating to me that such clear-cut fairytales, like that of Satan and Hell, are still taken as literal fact by millions of Christians.  You would have thought that these ideas would have died off after the Enlightenment, but they persist today because the Church needs them in order to survive.  Without their scary boogeyman, how are Christianity’s leaders going to keep the masses in line?  How are they going to persuade gullible “lost souls” to buy their product without threats of eternal punishment?  Who are they going to make their scapegoat whenever life doesn’t go their way?  The concept of Hell is one of the most illogical and barbaric doctrines of Christianity.  The sooner it is dismissed by believers and non-believers alike, the better off society will be.

In all fairness, I’m a little skeptical regarding Grave’s credentials. There’s little information about him and some of his other works have received criticism, even from fellow atheist.  Part of the problem is that Grave’s often omits important sources and evidence.  I’ll grant that the standards for these kinds of scholarly works was likely different in the 19th century compared to today.  Graves also tends to blend his opinion and the facts pretty fluidly, as well as stretching his conclusions beyond what the evidence shows.  This is not to say we should discredit all his work; just take it with a grain of salt.  I would like to see a contemporary scholar or historian, such as Bart Ehrman or Karen Armstrong, write a modern and more thoroughly researched book on the history of Satan.

In closing, I wanted to include a bit from the forward in which Graves explains why books like this are important, and why people like him, myself included, continue to speak out against toxic religion and the harmful myths they perpetuate:

Every step the race has taken in the direction of intellectual progress has been taken in defiance of religious authority; because the whole range of the scientific culture of our time regarding man and the universe is a challenge to, and is challenged by, the religious notions that have been handed down to us from the distant past. […] The mission of education, of modern science and historical criticism, is to win the world for enlightenment, and the goal will be reached eventually, in spite of the puerile preaching of priests and the fulminations of the Fundamentalists.

Mythbusters: Intelligently Designed Humans

One of the most common arguments for the existence of God, particularly from Creationist and Intelligent Design advocates, is the human body.  They will often cite Bible verses that claim humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and designed in God’s image.  We humans have a very long history of being full of ourselves and unfortunately religion has only reinforced this view.  Since Darwin’s breakthrough discoveries regarding human origins, science has come to understand homo sapiens real place in the natural world.  Despite geneticists proving through DNA that humans are in fact, evolved from other animal species, there are many who still want to believe that we came into existence just as we are and are the greatest of all creation.

Let’s suppose for a second that human were designed by an intelligent creator  and really are the greatest of all creation.  Shouldn’t this intelligent design be evident in our makeup and abilities?  Shouldn’t humans have a long, glorious history of being “king of the jungle”?  You would think so, but that’s not what we find at all.  Let’s look at some examples of design flaws in humans:

  • One of the things that sets apart humans from other mammals is our ability to walk upright, or be bi-pedal.  This frees up our hands to do others things like use tools.  With this advance came the increase in size of our craniums.  But with evolution, everything comes with a cost.  Our skeletons were developed over millions of years of walking on all fours and having relatively small heads.  The price paid for becoming bi-pedal and having larger craniums is having back problems, foot problems, and stiff necks.  Women paid extra.  An upright gait required narrower hips, thus constricting the birth canal.  This not only made childbirth painful, but also dangerous.  Prior to modern medicine, childbirth often lead to the death of the mother and/or child.
  • Speaking of children, human infants are some of the most helpless of the mammalian species.  Colts are able to run only hours after being born, and a kitten can forage for food on its own after only a few weeks.  Humans, on the other hand, are totally helpless and dependent for many years on their elders for sustenance, protection and education.  This poses a problem for the mothers as well, as a lone mother can hardly forage enough food for their offspring and themselves with a needy child in tow.
  • Compared to other creatures, humans are relatively weak and marginal.  Despite having large brains and inventing the use of tools, humans still spent around 2 million years somewhere in the middle of the food chain.  Our sense of smell, eye sight, and hearing are no match to other mammals.  Our overall strength, speed, reflexes, and agility is also outmatched by hundreds of other species.  Humans lived in constant fear of predators, were always in danger of exposure from the elements, and had to forage for food daily just to survive.  This did not change until the Agricultural Revolution, which brought its own set of problems.
  • Of all the things that a human can die from, diseases accounted for more deaths then any other.  Every since the Agricultural Revolution when humans were forced to live in close proximity to animals and other humans, diseases have wiped out untold amounts of the human population.  Why do humans have such weak immune systems?  A wild vulture can eat anthrax and not be affected thanks to their strong stomach acids.  Cockroaches are well known for their survivability, even able to withstand nuclear radiation.  Yet humans can be taken down by a simple cold.
  • Some species of coral and sponges can live thousands of years.  Bowhead whales can live over 200 years. A lobster can live to be over 140 years old, as can a tortoise.  There are in fact, hundred of species of animals that live well past 100.   Yet humans life expectancy is roughly 80 if you live in a developed county, thanks to modern medicine.  At the turn of the 19th century, life expectancy in the US was only 46.  During the Bronze and Iron Age it was 26.
  • One of the unique features of some lizards is their ability to grow back their tails should they lose them.  This is a good escape technique, as a lost tail will continue to wiggle, which might distract the predator and give the lizard a chance to escape.  Most lizards will have regrown their tail within nine months.  Other spices of animals also posses this neat trick, know as regeneration.   The Mexican axolotl can regenerating a missing limb; tail; and parts of their brain, heart, and lower jaw.  If they’re paralyzed in the back they can recover the functions of their legs by making all new neurons and new connections.  Starfish also have the ability to regenerate their arms and sometimes their whole bodies.  Why aren’t humans able to grow back missing limbs?  It’s clearly not outside the realm of nature, yet no amount of medical treatment or prayer has ever brought back a missing limb.

The fact is, the only things that set homo sapiens apart from other animals is our cognitive capacity and our ability to cooperate in large numbers.  

If you want to believe that humans were designed by a God, you have to then explain why he did such a shitty job of it.  I’ve demonstrated just a handful of ways in which humans fail to be the pinnacle of creation despite the prevalence in nature of better designs.  If humans are the greatest of all creation, why not incorporate some of the amazing abilities found in other animals into humans to make a species that would experience far less suffering then humans have?  If humans are designed by a God, he needs to go back to the drawing board.

However, the design flaws in humans make perfect sense when viewed through the lens of evolution.  Natural selection provides a working model to how humans evolved and why.  Evolution is a give-and-take system; if an animal increases in efficiency in one area, it will decrease in another*.  Human’s large craniums gave us a larger brain which lead to our greatest asset – our cognitive abilities.  But powering that brain takes a tremendous amount of energy, which meant compromises had to be made.

The weaknesses found in our species has led to untold numbers of deaths and immeasurable suffering.  It’s time humans accept their place in the natural world.  It’s time we stop fooling ourselves into believing that we are somehow “special” and intelligently designed.  We are simply animals, or as Robert Ardrey wrote, “We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels”.

With this knowledge we can work towards caring for and sustaining nature so that we can preserve the world for future generations.  Humanity has risen to the top of the food chain, but with that comes the responsibility of making sure we don’t screw it all up.

Thanks for reading.

 

* For example, elephants have no natural predators they need to worry about thanks to their large size.  However their large size means they can only have one offspring at a time and they have a two-year gestation period.  In humans, our large craniums meant greater cognitive abilities, but it also meant more difficulty and potentially life-threatening births.