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Thursday, March 27th, 2008
1:05a - I can't help it, I always get pulled in :)
This is a response to

http://richardperkins.blogsome.com/2008/02/23/what-would-god-say-to-richard-dawkins/

which will probably get deleted from that site in the screening process. So I'm posting it here as well, to give it a home.



"I don’t speak for God. I’m not His prophet. I don’t want to put words in God’s mouth. But ..."

But... the whole rest of this entry. I don't understand... If this does, as you further clarify, only amount to a mental and imaginative exercise, then what is the point of it? Assuming Dawkins lives in the same world you do, isn't God speaking directly to Dawkins already?

Also, I'd like to comment about your four major points:

A.

You say that Dawkins posits evolution as the de-facto explanation for the ORIGINS of human life. But he doesn't. The origins of life are still inadequately explained by science, as he describes pretty thoroughly in the closing sections of "River out of Eden." No one quite knows how the first cell came together, for example. Though interesting theories abound. (And Dawkins outlines a few in that book.)

Evolution, by contrast, is not concerned with origins, only with, in a word, evolution. (And speciation is not the same thing as the origin of life.) I agree that Darwin and God do not necessarily conflict, according to the most modern enlightened interpretations - but then again, what if you consider the story of the "great flood"? Modern geology, and within it, the fossil record, show no evidence that there was, or could have ever been, a worldwide flood - and plenty of evidence that there hasn't been. Either all that evidence is wrong, or the "great flood" story is just a story, for moral instruction.

This is an example that is part of a pattern that I'm sure you or I could easily expand upon. Darwin and God may not necessarily contradict ... but Darwin and the Bible do. Other branches of scientific inquiry have come down on the side of Darwin as well (cellular and molecular biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, et cetera.)

I'm not saying this to try to belittle modern Christianity, that would be silly. I'm saying this to point out that the obvious way, the only way, to deal with the Bible is through interpretation. And if we are meant to derive our morality by interpreting the Bible as God's word, then the Bible is not, can not be, a basis for absolute morality at all. An interpreted, and therefore changing, "slowly revealed" morality, is not, by definition, absolute. From this standpoint, neither atheists NOR the religious can claim a moral high ground (at least, any religious person who makes any claim to the sanctity of a particular work, be it the Koran, the Torah, et cetera.) We all know that when the Bible says to pelt your children with rocks until they fall down dead, just for being belligerent, it's not literal instruction. We all safely ignore that part, and we're all better for it.

Why?

Food for thought. But here I'm deliberately conflating God with the Bible. And to get back to the point, you have conflated the origins of life with evolution. Richard Dawkins never has. So, to state that, "In his view evolutionary process leaves no conceptual place for God", is incorrect. His beef with God (more specifically, people who believe they are agents of God) is more subtle than that.

B.

Yes; I can see his point, too. However you've distorted the wording a bit. Science does not make assertions based on truth, science makes assertions based on EVIDENCE. The difference may seem subtle, but it's crucial. Truth is not a word for science. (Well, with the exception of computer programming, maybe.)

C.

Yes, he puts it harshly, but growing up as I have in the secular region of America, I can't help but say I agree with him. The books I have read that have been truly enlightening - that have really explained why things are, what they're for, and empowered me to make good decisions - have all been based, in some part, on scientific inquiry.

For example, when I was sixteen, I got ahold of a college-level textbook on nutrition at the local library. It was in the discard stack, so I took it home. It was a huge hardback volume, easily ten pounds. At first I just leafed through it, and then I read whole sections at a time. It went into great detail about how our bodies digest food, what happens when we exercise, why we need exposure to sunlight, how our immune system works... That knowledge caused me to alter the way I ate, the things I bought... It helped me understand and avoid disease, unhealthy habits, fraudulent new-age medicines... In retrospect, I realized that that book contained real power.

Drop a book like that into libraries two thousand years ago, and it would have changed a billion lives for the better. (That is, IF anyone was prepared to believe that, for example, most diseases are caused by bacteria and not just God's will, and that merely boiling your water could save your life a dozen times over.)

As a secular humanist, I am free, gloriously free, to accept the world on the basis of evidence. And free to change my opinions as the evidence refines. (Scientific evidence, unlike mere opinion, actually does refine.) I am also free (and able) to describe morality without the interference of a middleman, and to employ scientific tools that justify that description in the context of all the evidence around me. In fact, the basis for my morality is quite simple, and can be expressed in two points:

1. Humans are the primary agents of morality.
2. Therefore, morals are measured by how well they RESPECT humans AS MORAL AGENTS.

From these two points you can derive the golden rule, free speech laws, the equal rights movement, anti-slavery laws, the campaign for universal human rights... You justify environmental responsibility, countless peace and relief movements, non-violent demonstrations... You can derive objections to murder, lying, terrorism, racism...

From every person who has tried to argue to me that religion is the source of morality, or even the cornerstone to it, I have heard their arguments circle back to the same religion derived assertion: That humans are basically evil, and that religion convinces them to be otherwise. I've even read arguments - including yours, in your "letters" - that claim that atheism is flawed because it doesn't accept that humans are basically evil. An unfounded assertion on top of an unfounded assertion. Again and again I've made the same simple point back: You don't need "evil" to explain morality; you don't even need "evil" to justify morality. Morality itself, the very CONCEPT OF IT, exists because WE ARE ITS AGENTS, AND WE THOUGHT IT UP.

And given that that simple point can actually be used to justify all that modern society has determined to be positive, in two simple steps, why complicate the issue? Yes, you really can derive something as clear cut as "thou shalt not kill" from the basic premise that humans are the primary agents of morality. You don't need the Ten Commandments to assert it by proxy.

Having a solid origin myth may make people feel good; that's fine by me. They may receive excellent moral guidance from religious and religion-inspired works. That's also fine by me. But at the end of the day, when someone makes a claim about how the world should BE RUN, about how a law should BE WRITTEN that will affect thousands of lives, I expect, I insist, on serious evidence. I insist that my capacity as a moral agent be respected, and that you convince me. It's going to take more than the popular interpretation of a book to do that.

D.

No argument here.

(2 comments |comment on this)

8:41p - More Oblivion tomfoolery
The game tracks the concept of stealing. Items that belong to someone else are marked with a red cursor when you try to pick them up, so you can avoid breaking the law. The game is also clever enough to know when no one is looking, and if no one sees you take a red-marked item, no one calls for the guards.

The good news is, walking on things is never a crime. And when you walk over small things, you occasionally kick them or shove them aside. So where does this naturally lead?

Table dancing!

If you're in the local pub and feeling snotty, just leap onto a table and start wiggling. The patrons seated around you will not even bat an eyelash as you send their cups, bread, mutton, placemats, beer, and candlesticks bouncing all over the floor. If you find the house wine to be particularly offensive, feel free to draw your broadsword and chop the bottle right off the bar. Kick the statues down off the mantlepiece. Go on, get jiggy. Just don't pick any of it up! They hate that!

In general, townsfolk are pretty oblivious. Lately I've taken to summoning Daedroth - a six-foot-tall, asthmatic man-lizard who looks completely ridiculous when he runs but can apparently scrape so hard with his claws that he can hit creatures that are technically non-corporeal, like ghosts. I've kept up with the summoning practice, so now I summon Daedroth in odd places. Just a while ago I summoned him in a small room I was preparing to burglarize, and he appeared on the bed, on top of a sleeping shopkeeper. Daedroth stood there wheezing away, and the shopkeeper didn't wake up. Even when I shoved him out of the way so I could pilfer the bedside table and he stomped all over the guy's head. Setting aside the fact that Daedroth probably weighs eight hundred pounds, and setting aside that cacophonous wheezing, don't you think the smell of a man-lizard would be enough to wake you up?

I love these arbitrary edges between realism and programming. They just beg for some kind of humorous explanation - or at least, exploitation. Heh heh heh.

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