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Read the Instructions

Once again, listening to atheist podcasts, this time  Ardent Atheist ( http://ardentatheist.com ). Ardent Atheist is a very freewheeling podcast, the kind ITunes labels as explicit, because it is–well–explicit. And Ardent Atheist is ardent. Most of the guests are stand up comics of one level or another; as the hosts tell us, we know them from “show biz,”  except I don’t. You may well be on your way to religious skepticism of one degree or another if you aren’t offended by Ardent Atheist, or can laugh at the hosts’ and guests’ jokes without feeling guilty.

Not everyone on the podcast is atheist. They usually have one theist or believer in the supernatural on as fresh meat. Given how ardent Emery Emery and Heather Henderson (the hosts) are, they are pretty respectful of the guests as people. One gets the sense that they are all good friends who can discuss pretty much anything and come away with no hard feelings.  At least the disrespect is ritualized, or directed toward what they see as bad ideas, rather than the people who hold them.

Anyhoo… I bring them up because of something said by the believer of the week in either this or last week’s podcast. Something that could offend me, if I were easily offended. It goes like this:

Atheists can hold Christians or Muslims (the two groups he specifically mentioned) to a higher standard, because they have a rule book, the Bible or Quran. Atheists have no such book, so therefore they make up their morality on the fly, and you can’t hold them to any standard. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I’m trying to be fair.

What’s wrong with this… So much that I hardly know where to begin. But let’s start with the Bible as a rulebook. Is it up to this task? Was it even meant to be? I find this concept of scriptural authority to be most widely held by people who believe in the Bible the most, and actually read the sucker the least. I would challenge anybody to tell me just what biblical morality or ethics are. Personally, I think most of the rules in the Bible are actually subethical, primarily concerned with ritual purity and worship rather than with the issues of minimizing harm and  establishing fairness and justice that most modern people regard as ethical issues. And I’m not even bothering to drag out the passages about when it’s okay to rape a virgin, etc. So is his rulebook the “nice” Bible, or the “nasty” Bible? I don’t know! How can I trust him?

Then there is the whole concept of a rulebook. Do you really need a rulebook to process everyday–or even unusual–decisions and situations, and to do the right thing? Or to know what the right things are? Do we need a rulebook to tell us baby rape is not optimal? Even in religion soaked American society, most ethical decisions or judgments–by Christians or whomever– are indeed made on the fly, and they’re usually the right ones. Madoff is a thief with or without the ten commandments, for example. And as I stated in an earlier post, every immoral action you can conceive of can be justified by the holy book or creed of your choice.

All that being said, not all the responses of the atheists on the show were adequate. One of them brought up a statistic showing that most convicted felons were believers. Ummm…. You don’t think there might be a small socioeconomic bias there, do you? This might not be the sort of thing that makes people think atheism is strictly a white, male, university educated thing, would it?

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March 16, 2013 · 9:11 pm

A Clarification, and More About Where I Is (mentally)

A reader (perhaps my only reader at this point) suggests that my last post seems to leave open the possibility that I remain skeptical about evolution and deep time. In actuality I was trying to inhabit the mind of a creationist and succeeding perhaps too well. But it does bring to mind the way I viewed the whole thing as a believer in creationism, or at least as a believer in believing in creationism.

Even though I was not brought up in a fundamentalist, creationist milieu and a belief in science–and therefore evolution–was taken for granted, I can’t say it was ever explained very well. What I knew about it could be summed up in the popular image of a monkey becoming a chimp, becoming a primitive hominid, becoming a Neanderthal, becoming a Cro Magnon, finally reaching the pinnacle of evolution, a well groomed 30ish white man in a suit.

So when I met creationists, I wasn’t really able or inclined to defend evolution and the scientific world view, and I didn’t really have any sense of its importance. As I saw it then: Recorded history was more or less 6,000 years. Anything that might have happened before then was a guess. And anyway, the fundamentalist Christians were so nice! They were not the snake handling Bible thumpers I had been led to believe they would be, so they had as much of a chance of being right as anyone. Or so it seemed to me at the time.  I’m ashamed also to admit that the truth of a theory or idea was not as important to me as it should have been. Ironic, isn’t it, that fundamentalism presents itself as being The Truth in uppercase, but in reality depends on one’s willingness to let important matters of fact slide? Anyway the Peace That Passeth Understanding and the sense of direction I saw in fundamentalism trumped such matters for me at the time.

But although I was shamefully scientifically illiterate, I had been a history buff from my earliest years. So even as a fundamentalist, I couldn’t help noticing that many recorded historical events took place in periods that the creationists insisted were antediluvian. I filed that away. Often I would watch PBS documentaries that spoke of things known to have happened 10,000, 15,000 years ago. I noted and proceeded to ignore  the contradiction, developing my history mind or PBS mind, and using my church mind in church or among other fundamentalists. Privately, I began to doubt the 6,000 year model, but assumed still that evolution itself remained a bad guess.

To make a long story short, it was actually meeting and talking to evolutionists and reading books on evolution in an effort to cast doubt upon it that made me what I am today, a fully convinced evolutionist. That deserves more explanation in itself. Perhaps in a future post.

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March 7, 2013 · 12:07 am