Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Good Rebuttal


Learning, expanding our consciousness, singly and universally.

As far as I can see, the three main intolerant religions in the world aren't helping in that mission.

Adam doesn't name the three religions he has in mind. If he had actually said Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I would have had a lot to say about this statement, but since he is obscure and I do not want to risk putting words in his mouth, I will only assume that one of the three is Christianity (which I am certain is the case, given Adam's intellectual roots). First, what makes him think that this mission of learning and expanding consciousness is good? He has just affirmed that a man is nothing more than a flimsy bag of biochemistry, an accidental byproduct of the interaction of solar radiation with the various chemicals on the surface of a random planet, at best possessing for a brain a biological computer that evolved to make him more successful at evading predators and impregnating females, where any potential for abstract reasoning or joy is just happenstance and is irrelevant to the underlying processes. Given this, how can you possibly argue that (1) expanded consciousness has any value, (2) life itself has any value (3) random social processes (such as religions) can be judged as less or more "good"? Adam started out to answer questions along these lines, and at the end, he just assumes the truth of his thesis.

For all their talk of charity and knowledge, that they close their eyes to so much—to science, to birth control education, to abuses of power by some of their leaders, to evolution as provable and therefore factual (the list is staggering)—illustrates a wide scope of bigotry.

Ah. I'm a bigot. Well, we've rather quickly descended from fatherly, well-meant condescension to name-calling, haven't we? Notice that I am the bigot even though it is Adam who just assumes that I don't have any reasons for my position other than that I "close my eyes". Has he ever bothered to actually try to find out why intelligent Christians believe what they do? I am reasonably certain that I, as a man of intellectual tendencies, having grown up in a society where my teachers and professors, my news media, my favorite SciFi authors, the writers of the majority of my science, mathematics, and philosophy books, and the majority of my most highly-educated friends all think I have a silly and archaic faith, that I with that background have done considerably more introspection and thinking on these matters than most of the too-smart-to-be-religious people have. When one of these people, many of whom have never met a serious intellectual challenge to their own beliefs tells me that I "close my eyes", I take exception.

As to the "abuses of power by some of their leaders", I have no idea what Adam means by this. Christian leaders outside of the Catholic church have little power and the only arguable "abuse of power" I can think of involving the Catholic church is the cover ups when homosexual priests seduced teenage boys (and once Catholics found out about that one they certainly did not ignore it), but I should not have to defend Christians against vague accusations like this. I could just as easily make vague accusations against atheists by veiled references to the excesses of Communist mass murders, terrorism, suppression of science and other things. Adam is not offering an argument here, he is bonding with his fellow too-smart-to-be-religious-ers. They will all bring to mind their own pet peeves and all nod sagely as if they were thinking of the same offenses.

Now, just to be clear. If you want to believe, or find solace in believing, that someone or something set these particular dominoes in motion—a cosmic finger tipping the balance and then leaving everything else to chance—I can't say anything to that. I don't know.

And yet he does say something to that, almost as if he thinks he does know...

Though a primary mover is the most complex and thus (given Occam's razor) the least likely of all possible solutions to the particular problem of how we got here, I can't prove it true or false, and there's nothing to really discuss about it.

The primary mover is also the only solution that is actually a solution. Every naturalist solution ever offered, when you press it far enough, eventually comes down to, "that's just what happens". This is not a solution in the normal meaning of the word.

If Daniel Dennett is right— that there's a human genetic need for religion— then I'd like to imagine that my atheism is proof of evolutionary biology in action.

This is a common conceit of the too-smart-for-relgions people, but it doesn't make much sense. Evolution is random mutation with selection by survival and reproduction. If atheism is a "proof of evolutionary biology in action" then it is a proof that atheism is not a survival trait because it is not a growing characteristic of the population. In fact it seems to have be declining. But even if it were a survival trait, that would not make it true.

At the end of The Eagle's Gift, Don Juan reveals to his student that there's no point to existence. That we're given our brief 70-100 years of consciousness by something the mystics call "The Eagle," named for it's cold, killer demeanor. And when we die, the eagle gobbles our consciousness right back up again.

He explains that the mystics, to give thanks to the eagle for the brief bout of consciousness they're granted, attempt to widen their consciousness as much as possible. This provides a particularly delicious meal for the eagle when it gobbles one up at the end of one's life.

And that, to me, is a fine mission.

Adam fantasizes that we are created by some cold, killer supernatural being and raised like poultry to sate its malignant appetites. Adam is happy to cooperate and make himself a nice tidbit for this creature and to have no other purpose in life. This hideous specter is the best that Adam Savage can come up with as a reason to live. His religious instinct is at war with his beliefs. He yearns for a greater meaning, for a purpose validated by a greatness that is beyond himself, and so he sees beauty in the ghastly nightmare of being consumed by a malicious god. Being consumed, contributing to the cycle of life --that is a noble end for an animal, but not for a man. A man is too great a thing --in potential-- to be simply a bit of spiritual protein in some grand cosmic ecosystem. God created us to know this instinctively, but when we reject the possibility that there could be a Creator who cares personally about us as individuals, then we are reduced to such pathetic fantasies as this --to end up a tidbit in the maw of some uncaring, unloving, alien thing, with no greater goal to our brief existence than to provide a really satisfying cosmic belch after the final repast. How evil. How banal.

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