Saturday, January 16, 2010

If There's A God In Heaven...

The Television news is all about the devastating earthquake in Haiti currently. Of course, not in the news are the millions of people in other parts of the world dying due to war, starvation, economic manipulation, anarchy and dwindling resources. Haiti has the media eye right now. In a week, it will be old news.

My wife was telling me that back in 1958 her school was gathering used shoes to send to the poor people of Haiti. That’s 52 years ago – things haven’t improved all that much.

What I find most disturbing in the Media coverage is all the references to miracles, praying and God – deeply disturbing.

What is the “miracle” exactly? That thousands of people died; some quickly, some agonizingly slowly, but a handful were saved from the rubble? When will the miracle happen for the man whose arm is crushed and is waiting for medical personnel to amputate it while it festers with maggots?

How are the Prayers working, at the moment? Many believe God has some “plan”, apparently to have children starve or die of disease. Are people praying to ask God to change his Plan for their sake?

Many are giving Thanks – thanks that the other person died instead of them or THEIR loved one. What are the victims themselves thanking God for?

Of course, there are learned men and women who go to university and have academia bestow upon them titles like Doctor of Theology. These people have the incredible luck of being able to intellectualize God and produce incredible volumes of justification “trash” in the form of books and papers, explaining to us how intricate God’s plan really is.

The interesting thing is, if you completely take God out of the equation, things pretty much progress as one would expect them to. Natural disasters happen with predictable regularity. Some people recover from dreaded diseases, some people win the lottery or are hit by lightening within statistically predictable expectation.

As a friend pointed out to me, if there is a one-in-a-million chance of something happening, with Six billion people on the planet, that event can happen 6,000 times every day.

Some people are surprised that a few of us mere mortals may even have the ability to thwart the power of and omnipotent God; for example, by wearing seat belts or having regular medical check-ups.

When I was little I thought my Teddy Bear would protect me from monsters at night. I later learned that Teddy was merely an assembly of cloth, cotton and thread. But I wasn’t frightened at that discovery because I also learned that there were no monsters.

I know that many find a belief in God very comforting… well that is precisely what it is for. But for me, I would rather know an uncomfortable truth than believe a comforting lie. The truth is that God does not exist outside our imagination.

Lyrics to an Elton John song that never made the charts (for obvious reasons):

If there's a God in heaven, What's he waiting for
If He can't hear the children, Then he must see the war
But it seems to me, That he leads his lambs
To the slaughter house, And not the promised land.


Charlie said...

I couldn't agree more with you, Robert, even if I tried.

justification “trash”--I believe that, in the God business, your term is referred to as "apologetics." An apt name.

It appears the media has gone waaaay right with Sarah and the rest of the whacked-out "born agains." A scary, scary trend.

james said...

As a regular reader I am disappointed that you feel equipped to sit in judgment of Christianity. Many of the most brilliant minds in history have professed a belief in the Christian God. Yet you stand above such men and women and the folly of their imaginations.

Many Christians take a very considered, informed, evidence-based position on the existence of God. Your view seems based on the hysterical American media and vocal, unrepresentative American Christians.

Perhaps you could plead ignorance next time, rather than condemn a whole faith and its many diversified, intelligent adherents (which incidentally includes many of your own past Presidents).

Robert the Skeptic said...

Charlie: Indeed, but "Born Again's" are not the only wacko-s... some adherents of other religions are sufficiently motivated by the promise of an afterlife they will fly airplanes into buildings.

James: Thanks for your comments and for following the blog. I actually have done some study on the "brilliant" minds who are believers. (Physicists more so then Geologists, interestingly) If you dig deeper they reveal that they use their brilliance to attempt to justify a belief that essentially gives them comfort... which is the purpose of God and religion. Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. John Polkinghorne are among such "hopeful" brilliant minds of which you speak.

But let's agree to discount the wack-o for a moment and look at mainstream belief. Just where is this "evidence" of which you speak? The Bible.. a book copied, mis-copied, intentionally revised thousands of times over history... and the "evidence" confirms were clearly written by men?

And drawing proof from statements that past presidents are believers is called "citing from authority" -- That men professed a belief knowing they would never be elected if they didn't, does not prove that God exists. An Atheist can barely get elected to City Council; give me a break.

George Bush stated routinely talked to God; but if he had said he talked to God through his toaster he would have been hauled away.

But you don't owe me an explanation, James. Why don't you go to Haiti or all the other places in the world where God seems to be absent and explain to them about God's Plan.

I will soon have a post about Mont Smith... a religious writer and missionary who became an Atheist before he died. Stay tuned.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Non-believers giving aid:

james said...

That's great news. Richard Dawkins is a generous man.

If you are interested there are many resources online that give a good account of the evidence for Christianity. The evidence has been repeatedly proven as sufficient to stand up in a court of law.

Of course there are many truly awful sites on the topic that don't address the genuinely reasonable evidence.

You can't possibly believe that over half the world's population, who believe in a monotheistic God, are all less intelligent than you on the topic, or that they all believe in God because it gives them comfort. Tell that to Muslims!

Actually the intelligent Christian does not believe that the sole or main purpose of belief is comfort - that view is not biblical. I don't think I've even heard that expressed before, except on this blog, or by American Christians who don't represent a mainstream theological view. For those who believe in biblical theology it is simply untrue. You've set up a straw man argument.

By the way, many very intelligent atheists have converted to Christianity. There are 2 sides to that story.

I'm bowing out of the debate at this point. I'll leave it to you to have the final word.

Robert the Skeptic said...

James: Thank you again for having the courage to speak your mind, I do respect that. However obviously I disagree.

There is no concrete evidence, nor can there be, which would be admissible in a “court of law” to prove the existence of God. A judge would quickly rule it as “hearsay” and inadmissible.

Lies can be admitted in a court of law as evidence, but it is not proof. Courts have a different standard because they have a completely different goal. Courts have concluded, for example, that silicone breast implants caused assorted diseases in women; but the science clearly demonstrates they do not. Poorly handled evidence has resulted in innocent men being convicted and guilty ones going free.

Is your evidence the Bible? It is completely hearsay. The testimony there are people saying they saw something… actually even worse; people saying that someone else told them they saw something. It’s garbage.

Is your evidence miracles people claim today, like cures from diseases? They prayed and prayed after they got home from the doctor and took their prescription? The world is still waiting for just ONE amputated limb to regenerate… hell, we would settle for one pinky finger. Never happened… ever!

Likewise, testimony is completely inadmissible in science. At some points courts can rely on subjectivity to come to a conclusion. But science can not; the information must be objectively considered, measurable and repeatable by independent sources.

I don’t understand the “straw man” reference but I see that tossed out a lot by Believers.

I am not scholarly enough to debate this issue that far more learned men have over the centuries. But some things are generally true: religious belief declines as education levels rise. That some atheists have chosen to become believers does not prove God or even move the argument forward. Exceptions do not make a rule. I know far higher numbers have gone from being Believers to Atheists.

That belief in God is more popular than not, is not a proof of God. We don’t get to vote in science. It is or it isn’t. At one time most people believed the world was flat, that daemons caused disease, and that the earth was the center of the universe. Popular yes; true, no.

It is very clear to me that the world seems to be operating quite as expected were there no God. It has taken me a lifetime to reach this point and it didn’t come easily. I don’t find the need for a God to comfort me – actually I find the concept kind of creepy.

But again, thank you for contributing and following the blog. I agree that this blog is inadequate to continue to parlay this at length.

kara said...

regardless of the existence of any sort of god, no one can deny that speeches like this by people with far reaching media 'power' are both dangerous and wrong...and don't succeed in helping the situation at hand:

Pat Robertson on the earthquake in Haiti

Mary Witzl said...

I'll have to come back to this when my computer has decıded to produce Englısh ınstead of Turkısh... Lots of food for thought here.

As for past presidents beıng Chrıstian though, I myself am VERY skeptıcal. Pragmatıc they definıtely are. Christian I am not so sure of.

Rachel Noy said...

I was brought up in an atheist family, and England isn't exactly the most religious country, so I have no knowledge of God. Part of me would like to have something like that to comfort me when thinking about the moment of death, but I see no evidence to.

The people I admire are the ones that grew up in a religious/atheist family and have their own strength of mind to become atheist/religious, and the people that follow good morals whatever their religion or how easy it would be to take the easy routes. I don't know if intelligence comes into it, there are a lot of dumb and dangerous preachers, and a lot of dumb and dangerous denouncers.

Really interesting post, would love to read more. =)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kara: I don't understand why Mainstream Christians haven't hounded that moron Robertson off the airwaves. It says something about so-called Mainstream Christians.

Mary: I believe Bush was a real "Believer" in that he likely did not put any deep thought into his beliefs. The other presidents.. who knows, but if they don't give some lip service to God, their chances of achieving any office is nil.

Rachel: I probably got off on the wrong track with my comments about intelligence. My point was that intelligent people can believe silly things too. That universities can give degrees in Theology to me is as absurd as giving degrees in Fairy Studies.

I personally know scientists who set aside their critical thinking to embrace religion and belief. VERY clearly they do because it gives them comfort. To me it is no different then if they decided to find comfort in a Teddy Bear. Hence the reference.

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

Mary Witzl said...

I think there are a lot of people who believe in God because they want to. But there are also people who believe in God despite themselves, and I am one of them. I know it isn't rational, but there it is, like a default option I can't get rid of. I don't know if I would describe my belief as comforting, but it is constant.

I grew up around a lot of people who were religious, but in an aggressive, controlling sort of way. The people I admire are those who are kind and thoughtful, whatever their spiritual beliefs.

Rachel Noy said...

Oops! In that case I completely agree!

And no problem, I love your posts.