Archive for June, 2012
Here is some recommended reading from back in 1861: “A Defense of Atheism By Ernestine L. Rose: Boston, April 10, 1861.”
Thanks to The Perplexed Observer for highlighting some of the best parts of this lecture. I didn’t get past the first paragraph before finding lines that are as poignant today as they were then. In her opening, Rose had this to say about the question of the existence of a god:
IN UNDERTAKING THE INQUIRY of the existence of a God, I am fully conscious of the difficulties I have to encounter. I am well aware that the very question produces in most minds a feeling of awe, as if stepping on forbidden ground, too holy and sacred for mortals to approach. The very question strikes them with horror, and it is owing to this prejudice so deeply implanted by education, and also strengthened by public sentiment, that so few are willing to give it a fair and impartial investigation, knowing but too well that it casts a stigma and reproach upon any person bold enough to undertake the task, unless his previously known opinions are a guarantee that his conclusions would be in accordance and harmony with the popular demand. But believing as I do, that Truth only is beneficial, and Error, from whatever source, and under whatever name, is pernicious to man, I consider no place too holy, no subject too sacred, for man’s earnest investigation; for by so doing only can we arrive at Truth, learn to discriminate it from Error, and be able to accept the one and reject the other.
Stunningly, and especially here in America some 151 years after this was written, religion still enjoys a kind of immunity from critical investigation not enjoyed by any other topic of inquiry.
The new album is set to be released Sept. 11.
Because I have nothing terribly profound to say today, here we go …
@TacticalAtheist According to Christianity, as long as Jerry Sandusky asks for forgiveness, he’ll be rewarded in heaven. What a ridiculous cult. #atheism (Or Charles Manson. Take your pick. It’s all water under the bridge as long as you repent.)
This song = me.
Daniel A. Helminiak, author of “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality,” argued last month in a column for CNN that the Bible only condemns homosexuality in cases where “injustice and abuse” are involved and that
Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.
Helminiak goes on:
In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.
Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.
One of his main points comes from Genesis 19, which retells a story about two angels coming into town and rooming with Lot for the night. The men of Sodom told Lot to release the angels (obviously in the form of men) so that the men could have sex with them. As Helminiak interprets the story:
The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).
But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom.
Perhaps not explicitly, but Lot was so much against the men’s proposition that he offered his two virgin daughters instead and pleaded with the men:
I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
In any case, he goes on to the New Testament in which Helminiak interprets Paul to have thought about male to male sex as ”dishonorable” or “unseemly” but not outright immoral. Further, he said that
Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.
While he may be right about Paul’s thoughts on homosexuality — it wasn’t exactly uncommon in those times either — Helminiak is categorically wrong when he says that “nowhere does the Bible oppose homosexuality.” He even referenced one of the passages that unequivocally opposes gay sex. Leviticus 18:22 reads:
22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (KJV)
The very next verse condemns anyone who sleeps with animals, and verses all through the chapter talk about how it’s wrong to sleep with various members of one’s family.
Further, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the execution of anyone who commits homosexual acts:
13 If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
And once again, this verse is surrounded by others that command the people of Israel not to have sex with their family members, etc., as if it weren’t so obviously wrong that it had to be spelled out.
Later in the same chapter, the writer of Leviticus outlines the nasty consequences that will follow if these actions take place:
22 Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.
So, if the people commit acts such as sleeping with their relatives or with people of the same sex, the earth will regurgitate them. In what “historical contexts” are we supposed to read these passages? I can maybe grant his point about Sodom — those guys were clearly out of line wanting to have sex with the angel-men! — but his blanket statement about homosexuality in the Bible is patently false. The passages above sound like pretty firm prohibitions to me, and not just of the acts themselves, but of the ideas of homosexuality, bestiality and incest, all of which are lumped together in two separate chapters.
So, a prominent
atheist blogger Leah Libresco has turned an about-face and embraced Catholicism as her moral compass of choice rather than her own mind. Her reasons for doing so apparently had something to do with her inability to define where “moral law” comes from:
I didn’t have an analogue for how humans got bootstrap up to get even a partial understanding of objective moral law.
Of course, religion claims to have a ready answer: moral truth comes from a higher power — and presto! — that clears things up. I chafe at such mental and philosophical laziness, and as you will see from the following, Libresco is well on her way to perfecting the apologist craft of using a lot of high-sounding talk to say nothing. Witness this anecdote that recounts the decisive moment in her life:
I’ve heard some explanations that try to bake morality into the natural world by reaching for evolutionary psychology. They argue that moral dispositions are evolutionarily triumphant over selfishness, or they talk about group selection, or something else. Usually, these proposed solutions radically misunderstand a) evolution b) moral philosophy or c) both. I didn’t think the answer was there. My friend pressed me to stop beating up on other people’s explanations and offer one of my own.
“I don’t know,” I said. ”I’ve got bupkis.”
“Your best guess.”
“I haven’t got one.”
“You must have some idea.”
“I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I guess Morality just loves me or something.”
“Ok, ok, yes, I heard what I just said. Give me a second and let me decide if I believe it.”
It turns out I did.
I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.
Is she really talking about evolutionary psychology to try to explain morality? Has she never read Sam Harris or thought that maybe human beings can come close to defining a morally objective set of experiences that improve life on Earth rather than make life more miserable? Evolution by natural selection is not concerned with morality or anything else but simply that traits supporting the continuance of a species are passed on while traits that do not support the species fall out of the gene pool. If she has only gotten as far as evolution to try form some kind of moral framework, she hasn’t gotten very far at all in her thinking. Evolution, like all science, is amoral.
Of course, our species has evolved to the point that we have set up laws and frameworks that help society thrive, while judging certain actions illegal. But as I have said on this site before, it is in our best interests not to steal, kill or rape at will because of, not only the immediate negative consequences in modern societies, but because of the overarching effects such widespread behavior would have on the continuance of the species at large. This latter reason is why certain behaviors in primitive societies today (honor killing or child rape) cannot be excused and are objectively misguided. If each society in the world behaved as the select few, our species would not last long.
She also, like other believers, assumes that this “Moral Law” (her capitalization seems to signal this) must be something that is outside or above the human experience. No. By hooking someone up to an EEG machine, we can already show how certain behaviors affect brain patterns and that certain societies are thriving right now because they generally care about the well-being and the best interests of their citizens, while other nations or communities are in turmoil for the opposite reason. While we would never want to robotically dictate any actions to human beings, science may one day be able to clinically pinpoint how certain actions really are better and others really are objectively worse for the human experience.
I also find it stunning that an unbeliever would or could utter drivel such as this
“I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I guess Morality just loves me or something.”
unless she really hasn’t contemplated ethics at all. I mean, how can you call yourself an unbeliever in the first place without having some idea or without having thought about human ethics in the absence of Big Brother?
R/Atheism is really littered with way too many memes. I mean, I only have a tenuous grasp of what a meme is in modern culture, and I’m already bored.
Nonetheless, here’s one of the more intelligible “memes”: