Sunday, August 5, 2007

An Open Letter to Phil (if he exists)


You posted a comment to What would it take for me to stop being an atheist?. The full text of your comment:

Proof of God is anything that can withstand indefinite scientific scrutiny for all of time.


Read more here:

Here is a fixed hyperlink to your Letter to God (if he exists) for the one-click convenience of my readers.

Putting aside idle speculation that English may not be your first language, what does your sentence mean? Proof of God is anything that can withstand indefinite scientific scrutiny for all of time.

In your mind there seems to be a strong association of God with proof. Equally important to you is science and scientific scrutiny. From the juxtaposition of God and science in your sentence, I can only infer either that you subscribe to a crude materialism: God is a physical entity subject to scientific scrutiny. Or, scientists will one day somehow in the future realize that there is a gap in their equations and knowledge and this gap can only filled by God.

The latter is a variation of the way of thinking that lets religion teach values based on the spiritual world and lets science study the physical world. This coexistence has broken down. The creationists and their Conservative Christian Brethren in this country are no doubt in denial that their failed incursions into public schools and public life have provoked a backlash from a rather vocal and articulate minority.

For all the hullabaloo about values and nihilistic atheists, the fact remains, and it is a fact, that science does not need religion. Creationists for all their pitiable caricatures of science admit that science is the real authority. If their doctrines can't be twisted and contorted to conform to consistency with scientific explanations, then those doctrines must be false(!). Admittedly, I'm using the word "consistency" in a rather loose & unscientific sense. If you take a step back, so-called creationist science is in large measure an attempt to provide an explanation of how the mainstream sciences of geology, biology, physics, etc., "got it all wrong." In the most generous interpretation of creationist science that I can imagine: creationist science is to mainstream science as a Einstein's theory of relativity is to Newtonian physics. In short, creationists want some of the luster of the authority that mainstream science enjoys to rub off on them.

For all their hatred of modern science, Creationists implicitly acknowledge Modern Science as their standard by which to understand and interpret their Holy Scriptures. If Modern Science cannot be brought into harmony with their Scriptures, then their Scriptures would have to be wrong. For creationists, religion and science speak the same kind of Truth. And we know which has a proven track record in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and even bringing back the dead to a limited extent.

Unfortunately for fundamentalists and the rest of us, as well, fundamentalists are by and large unproductive, even parasitic. They are too fearful and hate-filled towards everything that is outside their purview. If fundamentalists cannot shoe-horn a cultural artifact, scientific doctrine, fact of nature, or social phenomenon into their Holy Scriptures, then that thing must be destroyed, either by them "acting on God's orders," or by God Himself on Judgment Day.

* * *

I digress. I've been meaning to write something about Creationists needing Modern Science for some time. I read your Letter to God. I do not have kind words for it. Especially since there is a link on the page to the Desiring God 2007 National Conference.

There's a part of me that finds the shenanigans of Christians and other believers funny. So much excitement, anxiety, dread, pathos, and bathos over nothing. It reminds me of nothing so much as my 3 year old trying to explain why she's afraid to watch Underdog. She's afraid of feeling afraid and of the phantasms of her imagination. It's really not so dissimilar to the agonies religious people put themselves through.

Just to be 100% clear: religion is most definitely not one of the greater accomplishments of humankind. Fundamentally, religion represents one possible survival strategy: we do what we are told. If a set of beliefs and practices, no matter how foolish and absurd, has allowed a tribe to persist in their existence, the fact of their continued existence is an argument for following those beliefs and practices, no matter how irrational, absurd, and anti-empirical they might appear to a disinterested observer.

Religion as a survival strategy: my 3-year old imitates her 5-year old sister in all kinds of ways. Considered in terms of evolution, since the older sibling has survived successfully for so long then she must be doing something right, therefore imitation of the older sibling's behaviors will likely result in the continued survival of the younger sibling.

To sum up: religion is institutionalized stupidity. But, it should to be acknowledged in the next breath that more often than most of us would like to admit, stupidity is oftentimes successful as a survival strategy. This is why religion hasn't died out, as was promised in the Enlightenment.

* * *

Sorry. Another digression. In the end, Phil, God is no longer believable. What's He good for? What gap does He fill in human knowledge? The most generous and sarcastic answer is that "God" means "I don't know." Then why not just say, "I don't know" and be done with it?

Or is it that you like the big words of Humanity, Right, Morality, and The Meaning of Life, The Universe, and Everything? The denial of morality, God, and The Meaning of Life, The Universe, and Everything means that you would be left to tend your own miserable, pathetic existence with no claim to monkey with the lives of other people.

Take note: I've never seen a definition of humanity that didn't imply that at least some specimens of homo sapiens did not partake of that humanity. In other words, "humanity" however defined always excludes somebody with a name, a biography, and a beating heart.


PS. One of the things that creationists and religious types get wrong inevitably is that there really are events and consequences of human actions that are belief-independent. I drop a rock on my foot. It hurts. Or, even more significant: the recurring phenomenon of being wrong: the recurring experience of unexpectedness. Unexpected events set a limit on what may be safely attributed to "faith" and "the power of conviction." There is an escape from the seemingly unlimited subjectivity of modern religion and postmodernism.

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