Saturday, December 30, 2006


Atheists make the best Christians

Lambert did a post on Cal Thomas, in which he responded in the following manner to Cal Thomas's claim that if there is no God, then we are free to act as we want:
Nonsense. Human capacities for good and evil both evolved in nature because they both had survival value.
I hate to defend Cal Thomas. I mean, I really hate to defend him. I have a personal experience with the man that convinces me that he is the most cynical and dishonest sort of a faker, an unctuous and unpleasant ... Wait, let me refocus a moment. Let's just say that it is self-evident that Cal Thomas is a true atheist. First, on the narrow technical point, Thomas is correct that if there is no transcendent and unalterable moral system which differentiates evil from good, then human beings have perfect freedom to act as they wish. However, if Thomas were a Christian, he would believe that human beings still have perfect freedom to act because God grants us true free will. According to St. Paul, the key differentiating feature between good and evil is that good strengthens and improves us, while evil weakens and harms us. This is consistent with the Hebrew usage. Rather, the Christian sees the consequences of good and evil and therefore chooses good. On the broad technical point, Lambert is wrong. There are plenty of species whose members do not kill one another, yet survive just fine. The case that altruism is a survival trait is weak. It is only plausible if altruistic self-sacrifice precedes reproduction. And yet both altruistic self-sacrifice and its polar opposite, senseless destruction of life through war, are pursuits of the young. By old age, we learn to be canny and self-protective. At best, the idea that good and evil have survival value and therefore exert evolutionary pressure is debatable. So, back to the central thesis of this post, that the best Christians call themselves atheists, while some of the most incandescent atheists call themselves Christians (or, not to discriminate, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians, etc). The person who believes in God believes that there are eternal, unchanging, inherent characteristics to the universe. Martin Luther King said that "The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." To give this image some substance, there is an analog in the material universe, called homochirality:
An important consequence of the unified theory of the electromagnetic and weak interaction is the existence of the weak neutral current that generates parity-violating interactions between electrons and electrons and between electrons and neutrons. Experiments involving elementary particles and atoms confirmed the theory. In enantiomeric molecules, the interaction induces a small difference between the energies of the different enantiomers. The theory was extended to calculations of the parity-violating energy difference (PVED) between the L- and D-amino acids, for example. The main impetus behind these calculations was the hope of explaining the origin of the homochirality of biomolecules, i.e., the phenomenon that living systems contain nearly completely L-amino acids and D-sugars
A tiny difference in energy creates a long arc that bends to deliver one single kind of amino acid and one single kind of sugar. And just so, God is an inherent tendency toward one end. Individuals may do good or evil in the short term, but over the long term, they abolish slavery, establish schools and universities, create medical systems that are miracles exceeding Jesus's healing (no raising people from the dead, just yet), and otherwise do what is good and constructive for both the individual and the community. True, there is no guarantee that some idiot won't start a world war that will wipe us out, or let environmental disaster reach a tipping point, but for the entire life of the species, we have stumbled toward good. If you believe that there is an arc--any arc-- in the universe, you have the seeds of belief within you. If you believe enough to suffer a bit to stay with the arc, then the seeds sprout. And if you believe the arc bends, with Love toward Justice, you are a Christian. For what is the Christ, but God's Love made manifest? And what is God, if not the fulfillment of that arc, bending toward what is just, and right, and good? Now, a professing Christian expects a reward for his belief, and so can claim no glory. He is a wage earner. But consider the professing atheist, who rejects Jesus and God, and yet still does what Jesus would do, expecting no reward. Great indeed shall be the reward of that one, and terrible the sorrow of those who claim to know God but make plain from their behavior that they are godless. Ahem. And evolution? That's God's lathe. There is no contradiction between believing in God and recognizing the sound observational basis on which the theory of evolution rests.
This is of course why people like Thomas insist on the more simplistic form of belief-as-salvation: The idea that you can be as cruel and greedy and evil as you want, but still get saved if you mutter "I BELIEVE" right before you croak.

Meanwhile, those people who say that they don't believe, but whose actions support the arc, go about their ways, and really do acquire merit precisely because they do not look for it.

Verily, both these types shall have their reward, and it won't be what either expects -- which is bad for the former and good for the latter.
PW, being quit of hypocrites and liars like Cal Thomas would be reward enough.
i was fine until you get to the part about no contradiction between "believing in God" and evolution. i guess i'd have to say that there's no "contradiction" because the two have nothing to do with each other. one is based on science, empirical methodology and hypothesis testing, a review of the evidence and the historical context of that evidence, and a general attidute that nothing is completely proven, or at the very least, all things remain subject to additional scientific review as new information is added to our understanding of things.

but "belief in God...." that's a little more complicated. which god? defined how? by whom? the belief word is also a tad useless. i believe salem hayek's skin is the yummiest brown space in the history of brown. i'm not sure how that belief can be applied, or made useful, in any scientific discovery or investigation.

i prefer questions about belief that ask why it must be inserted in the process of scientific inquiry *at all.* when you have an (sorry to be harsh) irrational faith and belief in an untestable, unseen, unreachable and unknown thing, i say that's great! it's a free county. but i also say: that is a metaphysical project, and it has no place in discussions about the specifically rational, testable, observable, phyiscal known world.

for saying things like this, i disqualify myself from every being president, senator, congresswomen, and likely dogcatcher. while cal thomas is a wealthy, 'respected' man of influence. bleh.
The irony, CD, is that Cal Thomas' actions show that he doesn't believe what he's saying. (And that you have a better shot at a comfy afterlife than he does.)

As for the spiritual and the physical, this guy from Galilee a couple of millenia ago said straight-out that those two worlds are separate for the most part, with their own separate rules. When a bunch of militants wanted to make him the figurehead "leader" of their doomed rebellion against Rome (a rebellion which would lead to the Diaspora some decades later), he declined, as his kingdom was not of this earth (which one can see as a cowardly way of abdicating responsibility, a pragmatic way of avoiding bringing down Rome's fist, or simply as how he stated it: that he just plain wasn't a temporal leader). And when a bunch of other folk wanted to trap him into either speaking treason against Rome (and earning himself a death sentence a little earlier than planned), or saying something that would kill his street cred with his people, he answered with the famous "Render unto Caesar" saying.
Chicago Dyke says, i guess i'd have to say that there's no "contradiction" because the two [religion and science] have nothing to do with each other.

Well, precisely, CD. Religion does not generate testable hypotheses, and science won't get you to heaven.

Nor even answer those pesky existential questions, like, "Why is there air?" or "Why did my child die?"

And, PW, I can tell you've been peeking at the textbook. ;-)
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