Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Debunking the Religious Right

Having recently reached the limit of the ignorant barrage of rational thought that the Religious Right attempts to feed people, the importance of unweaving the tapestry of garbage and irrationality that they contrive cannot be overstated. We are constantly being inundated with emotional appeals and fear into believing that the only true path (into understanding the universe and our place in it) is through the miraculous salvation of not only spirituality or religion, but through a specific belief system within those realms. Lately, an opinion by someone among the religious right has surfaced that covers many of the myths and topics that these individuals use to coerce those unsure of their place within the cosmos into the ignorant cover of their specific belief structure. The author's attempts to strike an emotional chord with the reading audience are both transparent and pathetic. I shall attempt to debunk his points paragraph by paragraph and provide a rational means for thoughtful debate and discussion. My retort to his views will be in red italics while his will be in standard type-face. Further, the USA Today article that this opinion was presented in will be shown in bold before the philosophical dissection of his ideas. Finally, a few thoughts of my own will be concluded in blue at the tail end of this essay.;_ylt=AskRKopu0v1PYhpNPo4B5Er6B2YD

Oh, for the days when one could safely stroll into a bookstore without tripping over the latest atheist title. Ironically, by writing their tracts, in the long run atheists might boost belief.

It appears that Feder here is threatened by non-religious views. Through this first paragraph it's apparent that he longs for a time when all one would see in a bookstore would be theological books without views that provided him grief. His turn of phrase stating that these books will boost religious belief does not detract from his impression that the world is better off without questioning religious dogma?

My local Barnes & Noble has the following titles on display -Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam ; The Quotable Atheist; Letter To A Christian Nation; God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist; and The God Delusion, which is a New York Times best-seller.

Of the handful of titles he does state, where is the mention of thousands of books that are religious and theological in nature? A few books with oppositional elements to his viewpoint does not result in a conspiracy to destroy his irrational belief structure. It's just a natural progression towards discourse in a topic that contains much animosity and misunderstanding.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., has become the first member of Congress to announce that he doesn't believe in God. He's probably just looking for a book deal.

Once again, the author feels a threat to his value system by just one individual. What he fails to mention is that there are 534 other members of congress that DO believe in God. Pete Stark just represents .002% of congress, while the same representative group of Americans who are not convinced of God's existence amounts to a conservative estimate of 9%. Just because there's one confirmed disbeliever against hundreds in Congress does not mean he's looking for a book deal. How cynical must one's opinion be that those parties who disagree with views do so because of superficial monetary reasons. What about all the religious ministers driving around in Top-of-the-line luxury vehicles, and wearing expensive Watches, claiming that everyone is created equal? Book deals are not exclusive to the non-believers. There are plenty of religious people who sign for book deals detailing why they have faith, and why they continue to oppose stem-cell research and abortion.

Why the sudden outpouring of atheist advocacy? Perhaps it's a way for the cultural left to assert itself in the face of the religious right. Or maybe it's meant to show that the anti-God argument can be framed more intelligently than in a Bill Maher monologue. Whatever the impetus, as a believer, I welcome the phenomenon. After all, the great enemy of belief isn't disbelief but indifference.

This paragraph I definitely agree with. There has to be debate about this subject, because otherwise, empty rhetoric like this will continue to coerce others into certain belief structures. This topic must not only be framed in context, but rigorously challenged by both sides of the argument.

Let the godless write their books and the faithful answer them. The disillusionment with religion that dominated British intellectual circles after World War I helped to shape the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. The surviving son of atheist icon Madalyn Murray O'Hair is an evangelical Christian.

Unfortunately, Feder does not differentiate between those who are confirmed atheists and those who consider themselves agnostic (who don't deny the existence of a higher power, but don't blindly believe in one either). He lumps all the opposition together in an attempt to frighten others into believing that a great scheme of destroying religious discourse exists. It's his attempts that stifle discourse and polarize groups of people.

The books referenced above assert that the debate is over and that atheism has won, but atheists have been saying that for more than 200 years. Since the French Enlightenment, the death of God has been confidently proclaimed. Religion has been made obsolete by egalitarian revolution, industrialism, or science, they insisted. Yet, early in the 21st century, faith endures.

A fallacy present here is oversimplification of facts. He summarizes nearly a half dozen books into a simple antagonistic phrase "the debate is over, atheism has won". Generally, what these books attempt to provide is a thought process based on rigorous science and subsequently a philosophical paradigm shift into understanding the universe without invoking religious dogma. Of course, it's better to read these books, because I'd be committing the same fallacy if I reduce so much literary energy into a summary of my own.

Outlasting the Soviet Union

For 70-plus years, the Soviets tried everything imaginable to kill religion: show trials, mass murder of clerics, confiscations, indoctrination and even attempts to co-opt religious symbols and ceremonies. But belief survived, while scientific socialism is now defunct.

What the Soviets did was replace Religion with a "cult of personality" in the form of "uncle Lenin" or "Papa Stalin". These figures were no different than religious iconographies. They were revered as saviors, just as some religions revere prophets. Upon decease, Lenin was preserved ON DISPLAY for everyone to see and worship.

In China, where communism's war on God continues, the home-church movement thrives. Half a world away, America has the highest weekly church attendance in the industrialized world, notwithstanding attacks on faith from Hollywood, academia and a judiciary seemingly intent on purging religious symbols from public spaces.

The Chinese did to Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung), what the Soviets did to Lenin, and what the North Koreans do to former dictator Kim Il Sung and after his death, his son currently in regime Kim Jong Il (again, "cult of personality").

In the USA - the most science-oriented society in history - Christian bookstores, radio stations and TV programming proliferate. It seems as though a hunger for the Creator is imprinted on the human heart.

Here, the author speaks in absolute terms. He claims that the US is the most science-oriented society in history. I guess this is why the US Federal Government has yet to sign the Kyoto Treaty, or support Stem-Cell Research, or programs that prove that contraceptives distributed freely work much better then abstinence prevention programs. It's ironic that the leaders of this "science-oriented society" will bend backwards to destroy the credibility of scientists who dare oppose the status quo views held by these environmentally and scientifically ignorant imbeciles.
As for the hunger for a creator, perhaps this has more to do with the brain than the heart. It is shown that there are regions in the Temporal Lobe of the brain that are devoted to feelings of faith and religious euphoria. This does not mean that it's God's will. Perhaps these structures allow for greater cohesiveness in our social system and provided early man with opportunities to tighten the social bonds which in turn resulted in an environment where our genes would flourish.

What would a world without God look like? Well, for one, morality becomes, if not impossible, exceedingly difficult. "Thou shalt not kill" loses much of its force when reduced from commandment to a suggestion. How inspiring can it be to wake in the morning, look in the mirror, and see an accident of evolutionary history - the end product of the random collision of molecules?

The Universe itself is an amazing place with or without religion. Just the fact that we exist is so highly improbably that we cannot fathom a reason for it. Those who take the easy way out either say that God created things that way (where's the imagination?), or what's the point of discerning things if there is no creator. Both views require a strategic shift in thought. Perhaps it's not about what our purpose of existence is, but where our future lies. Not individual futures, but the future of humanity in general.

A universe that isn't God-centered becomes ego-centered. People come to see choices through the prism of self: what promotes the individual's well-being and happiness. Such a worldview does not naturally lead to benevolence or self-sacrifice.

This paragraph also shows the lack of imagination on the author's part. The universe doesn't necessarily have to become ego-centered because there is something more then the self. As I stated before, there's humanity in general. Attempting to further our cultural evolution and our future as a species is not ego-centered. We now realize, through science, that the environment is highly important because this is the only place in the universe where humans exist. This little blue dot is our planet, and is shared by all of humanity, not just one individual. Self sacrifice and benevolence does not come from religion but from a social environment that's furthered through advancement in technology, thought, science, and self-awareness.

An affirmation of God can lead to the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the Declaration of Independence. In terms of morality, a denial of God leads nowhere.

It's funny how a generalized conversation on religion by those with dogmatic beliefs will always switch into a specific religious view. Here, Feder brings up the Ten Commandments and fragments of HIS religious world view. There are millions of other religions and billions of other people in the world who support views that are completely different. Yet, he claims "denial of God lead nowhere". Who's God is he talking about? Clearly it's the Judeo-Christian God, and not that of other unrelated religious beliefs. Morality is present within us, with or without religion. The ancient Romans had strong moral principles (even though when compared to today's world, they may seem barbaric -- who's to say in 1500 years if people view us as barbaric for eating meat, playing violent video games, fighting wars, supporting capital punishment?), yet they were polytheists. They believed in multiple Gods and yet, they had principles that are dictated by culture and society. We have come a long way from our cave dwelling ancestors, in terms of our moral principles, but that's not because of religion but scientific and technological progress.

There are no secularist counterparts to
Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, William Wilberforce (the evangelical responsible for abolition of the British slave trade), Martin Luther King Jr., or the Christians - from France to Poland - who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

Sure there are. What about all the scientists, engineers, inventors, and numerous others who made the world a better place to live, and expanded on our understanding of our place in the universe. Just a few of the examples (not individuals because the advancement of humanity is not based on individuals but on a collective of individuals working either in groups or from the latest advancement of their predecessors in improving our outlook) include Medicinal Advancement, Industrialization, Safety implementation, Alternative Energy, Economic Reform, and Genetic Engineering that allowed for the Green Revolution, which subsequently helped feed millions if not billions of impoverished around the world.

True, terrible things have been done in the name of religion. Terrible things have been done in the name of every noble concept, including love, charity, loyalty and kinship. Yet, the worst horrors of the modern era were perpetrated by godless political creeds. The death toll from sectarian conflict over the ages is dwarfed by ideological violence, from the Jacobinism of Revolutionary France to the charnel houses of communism and fascism.

As mentioned before, most non-religious regimes replaced religious dogma with cult of personality. What they didn't change is the wiring in the brain that allows for faith, whether in a mythical deity that lives in the heavens constantly watching over and participating in our lives, or a deceased all-powerful leader who helped usher in a new age? These deaths would not have occurred had rationalism prevailed and the understanding that all that we have and all that we are is on this little planet. We are all more similar then dissimilar. We may be insignificant to the greater universe, but not to each other or this planet.

This is not to say that atheism leads naturally to guillotines and gulags, but, just as "love your fellow man as yourself" can be corrupted, so too can liberty, equality and fraternity.

Therefore anything can be corrupted, religious or not. This point I agree with.

Signs throughout history

There is no irrefutable evidence for God's existence or non-existence. But, if you look closely, his footprints can be discerned in the sands of time.

This all depends on one's basic starting premise. If one begins a view from a singular perspective, then all the following will support their opinion. However, if one looks at issues like an astronomer observing the universe, then the bias in an opinion is minimized. For example, the Astronomer must first look, and then theorize, and then attempt to validate those theories. That's why most people believed the Earth to be the center of the universe until the Copernican revolution. They started with the premise that the Earth was the center, so anything observed had to be around the Earth, so they had to introduce greater and greater complexity into their beliefs, until the true nature of our place was discovered.

Jews introduced the world to monotheism. They also were the first people to perceive history as linear- an unfolding story moving toward a conclusion. Is it a coincidence that this tiny, originally nomadic people generated the ideas that shaped the Western world, including equality, human rights and a responsibility to our fellow man? Jews are the only people to maintain their identity during two millennia of exile, and then return to their homeland and re-establish their nation.

The world was introduced to Monotheism well before the Jews. Zoroastrians, before the bastardization of the belief structure in Achemenid Persia, was by and large a monotheistic religion. Also, Egypt had numerous monotheists cults, of which the most well known was that of Atun. The Pharaoh Akhenaton himself attempted to supplant the dominant Egyptian religion with that of Monotheism (known now as the cult of Atun-Ra). It's possible that the Jews either adopted the monotheism concepts present in Zoroastrianism, or those found in Ancient Egypt. As an Armenian, I can attest that it is possible to retain national identity without necessarily dominating monotheism. The Armenians exited a good millennia before converting to Christianity, and yet, the language and culture survived. The Jews that did return to re-establish their "nation" where not the Jews read in the bible but largely ethnically Central and Eastern European. The ethnically Semitic Jews of the bible are more closely related to today's Palestinian, and Syrian people, then the European Jews that have settled the land and called it their own, just by chance of their religion (not ethnic heritage).

Mark Twain wrote: "The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up, held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. … All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" Had Twain been a believer, he might have answered his own question.

The secret of immortality of the Jews is with the Bible and Christianity. Judaism is progressed through anyone who attempts to read the Bible, and comes away with a history lesson of the people and places of a certain region of the Middle East. My criticism does not lay solely with Jews but religion in general attempting to replace truth with dogma. Many of the stories gleamed from the Bible, in fact, are rooted in myths and legends of not just ancient Semites, but Sumerians, and Egyptians as well.

America's survival and rise to global pre-eminence are equally improbable. Challenging the greatest empire of the 18th century, America should never have won its independence or should have self-destructed during the Civil War.

Improbably doesn't necessarily translate to God's footprints. Just because something is deemed improbable doesn't mean it is impossible. Here, Feder attempts to support a doctrine similar to Manifest Destiny. The nation is what it is because of the belief in God. Well, how about those nations that believed in God, and where doomed to failure? What about those people, such as Armenians, God Fearing Christians, who were brutally massacred by Turks? Where was this God that supposedly blessed so much upon the United States? These thoughts lead to endless speculation as to how God spares some, and allows others to die. The easy answer is that God's will is not well understood, and that things happen for a reason. Well, there are no easy answers, just many questions. Things may happen for a reason, they may not, but it's unjust to assume that because some nations faltered when others succeeded, it was due to their level of generosity and belief towards God.

Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the genius of our infant republic lay not in its farms and workshops but in its churches whose "pulpits flame with righteousness."

How does this quote provide legitimacy to the religious point of view? Just because one digs enough and finds a quote to support their view by a person of fame in history does not make that quote absolute. I'm sure many quoted Hitler before his true brutal nature was realized or currently quote Machiavelli who's doctrine was to effectively and violently suppress individual liberties (this from a Christian). Further, billions thought the world was flat, but you don't hear quotes from many of the Popes and religious figures who believed the Earth was the center of the universe quoted in that context. The issue with Tocqueville is that he may have provided the infant American republic with some legitimacy but if he knew what we know today, would he have quoted the same? This was at least 200 years before the proper application of the scientific method (When it was in its infancy). Moreover, how would all of those famous dissenters against progress and supporters of religion view the world with the knowledge, education, and framework that modern science provides?

Atheists are free to disbelieve and to try to propagate their disbelief in books and other intellectual forums. But saying the debate is over doesn't make it so. A bit of humility might make their case more convincing. Then again, humility is itself a religious concept.

Again, Feder attributes human characteristics as the domain of Religion. Humility does not need a religious explanation. Humility can come from realizing one's insignificance in the vast expanse of the universe, and at the same time, elevating the significance that human beings and the planet Earth has on us as individuals. Where is the humility from the religious point of view? In Feder’s case, believing that Judeo-Christianity is the one true path, while others, although carrying positive messages, cannot compare to the splendor of his archaic dogma? Isn't this arrogance? Questioning everything and not taking anything for granted come closer to humility then an unalterable believe in a system that is not well understood. Granted, Feder may believe he hears God, sees God in everything, just as a Buddhist may feel one with the Buddha, but this does not make either's point of view any more valid.

Don Feder is a former syndicated columnist and author of Who's Afraid of the Religious Right?

Having thoroughly destroyed the weak philosophical arguments and tactics that Feder uses to establish his point of view, a new paradigm must be exapted to explain the nature of the universe without necessarily incorporating faith (especially concrete, organized faith like the one Feder attempts to defend).

In terms of probability, any number of faiths have a greater then zero probability that they have some aspect of the universe correctly interpreted. This does not mean that having a non-zero probability, which is infinitesimally small, will be the defining view. There are many mysteries to the universe to be explained, and more questions then there will ever be answers. We, through evolutionary processes, have evolved brains that act on reason, beyond just blind instinct. We are able to ask questions of our environment, create tests to validate them, and subsequently attempt to discern our place in the universe. In other words, we RATIONALIZE the world around us, and a natural byproduct of that is to explain things we don't understand as religious guise. Before we understood evolution, there had to be a reason why there were so many different species (because God wanted it that way). Before modern Cosmology, there had to be a reason why the Earth was in the center of the universe (because we're special in God's eyes -- so much for humility). As science and technology progressed, we were able to reduce the effect that religion had over our daily lives. Comets did not foretell disaster, the Earth is not the center of the universe, all creatures on Earth are linked through a common ancestor, the actual age of the planet is 4.6 billion years, and it is possible to reach the heavens. Furthermore, we now realize that diseases are not caused by evil, or other people's influence, or the devil, but by microscopic organisms, or pathological changes, or metabolic dysfunction, or any number of concepts only recently (within the last few hundred years) discovered.

One major problem with Feder's Arguments would be the complication should extra-terrestrial intelligent life every be discovered. In fact, even the discovery of microscopic non-sentient organisms would shift the paradigm to more rational thought. How would Feder's myopic and arrogant view that his faith is the truest be retained, when a civilization outside of Earth is discovered. The Bible never mentions extra-terrestrial environments. If God was truly behind the Bible, then where is the mention of the true nature of the universe? Where are the planetary surfaces, or galactic super clusters, or even just the Earth's core? There is little, if no real science in the Bible, and should there have existed a creator that would have created the universe as we know it, then he most necessarily could have found a way to explain some of it. Feder, like others, will take these examples as tests of faith. Maybe, in their thinking, God is tricking us into believing that the universe exists as it does, when in fact it's all a ruse. Well, I'm sure that's good and well for him, but it doesn't work for rational thought. Further, even with such views, he will continue to take medication provided him from the benefits of ingenuity, and science. He will continue to drive cars that could not have been made possible with just sitting around and absorbing faith. Of course, for every argument I pose, he will have a counterargument regarding God's absolute authority. He will say that God gave us brains to create such masterpieces of technology. Well, if God gave us brains for that, then we can also alter DNA sequences, and through genetic engineering, create life forms that would never have naturally existed. This, for people like Feder, would be crossing the line. Yet, where does he draw the line? Perhaps certain forms of genetic engineering will benefit mankind, perhaps cloning will? His views are not based on rational thought, and all is needed, is the exaptation of God into the argument. Well, if his understanding of the Universe was greater, perhaps his need for summoning this mythical being that exists in the heavens directing his and all our lives, would not be as forthcoming.