Mindless God(s)

August 31, 2008

Creationism is, at it’s core, religion. Ignore whatever Kent Hovind had to say on the subject (because he’s an idiot) – it’s religion, through and through. There are a lot of different varieties of Creationism, ranging from Biblical literalism to Intelligent Design, but all of them assume the existence and actions of some sort of divine Creator. For most, this is explicitly the Judeo-Christian God.

If you think about it, though, the leap from ‘Creator’ to ‘this specific god’ is a pretty big one. There are only a handful of attributes necessary for any prospective creator, foremost the ability to kick-start the Universe; anything more than that should be carved away with Ockham’s razor; that this useful little tool is generally not applied is a clear sign that a Creationist not only believes in a Creator (sometimes on supposedly ‘scientific’ grounds), but a very particular one. I’ll go through a few of the most commonly asserted attributes to explain what I mean.

God is just like us. When people talk about ‘God’, they generally mean some sort of entity who thinks, feels and can communicate in a manner very much like humans, but with all of the dials turned up to eleven. Most gods are like this, from the Greek and Roman pantheons (whose gods were more like super-powered humans) right up to the Old Testament god of the Bible, whose various destructive hissy fits are all expressed in a very human-like way. Most modern Christians would have you believe that they worship a much more ‘rational’ supreme being, without all of the theatrics, yet still balk at the idea of a truly alien God. The justifications are many and weak, from the notion that a mindless or alien God couldn’t have created thinking humans (more on that in a bit) to bizarre assertions that an unknowable god couldn’t exist (this is one of the incredibly weak arguments used to justify Christian Creationism over, say, the Islamic variety). In the end, it all boils down to ‘I like my God a certain way’.

God thinks. A subset of the above, I’ve come across many who balk at the idea of an ‘automaton God’, or a God who simply creates a universe (or universes) and nothing else. The reason why this matters is that one of the few holes of ignorance in which God can still hide is the creation of the Universe, since we currently have no way of looking back beyond the Big Bang. If we suggest a god to explain why it happened, what attributes are necessary? Well, that it is capable of creating the Universe. Creationists will object, claiming that any entity capable of creating ‘all of this’ must also be able to think and reason, apparently forgetting how simple the primordial Universe actually was. (Hint: it sure as hell wasn’t filled with galaxies, and contained precious little majesty or wonder.) Which brings us to:

God did more than kick-start the Big Bang. We know how many of the structures in the Universe formed, and we know that these processes certainly didn’t require the involvement of any god. Even for those areas that we’re still unsure of – like how life first arose – we have a pretty good idea of how it might have happened, and there’s nothing stopping us from one day finding out for sure. Advances in science mean that we constantly learn more about how we think and why we’re so much more intelligent than any other animal on Earth, and we have great insight into the cause of many of the emotions and human attributes that were once thought to be God-given.

This doesn’t stop Creationists from claiming that God must be intelligent and rational (else how could he creat intelligent and rational beings?). The hidden presupposition here is that both of those attributes were instilled in us directly by God, rather than being a by-product of naturally evolved intelligence and cognitive abilities. Rarely if ever will you see a justification for this, but keep in mind that any ‘God can reason because we can’ carries with it a whole boatload of assumptions that should not go unchallenged.

Which brings us to…

God is good. I hate this argument. It’s one of the worst I’ve ever come across, consistently posed in such a way as to almost collapse due to how inherently insubstantial it is, yet I’ve seen respected theologians and philosophers use it with confidence. It states that, since morality exists, God himself must be moral. If you’ve digested what I said in the above two paragraphs, you’ll have spotted the flaw already; anyone who uses this line of reasoning is assuming that morality is not simply a human construct. Curiously, few Creationists address the question of where evil came from. (If anyone out there is tempted to say ‘Satan’, you may as well forget about having a discussion that even pretends to be worthwhile.) And what about greed? Or deceit? Or death? (Hey, that last one even exists independently of humans!)

What’s that? ‘The Fall’? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know we were allowing fairy tales as justification.

God is male. Do I need to say any more?

There’s only one god. This one puzzles me; how can you know that there’s only one god? Even if we assume that a god is necessary to explain the Universe’s existence, why assume a single entity? A Creationist would probably claim parsimony, but given their absolute refusal to even consider multiple gods, it probably comes back to ‘Well, that’s what the Bible says…’

If Creationists want to be taken seriously and not be laughed at when they claim to be doing science, they need to stop trying to stick their Christian god where he doesn’t belong. A theistic explanation for the beginning of the Universe should start with assuming a god with only the minimum of attributes necessary to solve one problem at a time (the Big Bang, for starters), and extra attributes should never be added to explain that which already has a perfectly satisfactory naturalistic cause. You may find that God has far fewer gaps to hide in than you thought.

Planned Parenthood and the APA

August 30, 2008

I recently signed up for the APA’s ‘ActionAlert’ e-mail thing in order to get a weekly dose of crazy delivered straight to my inbox. If you click that link you’ll notice that the website it brings you to is that of the American Family Association – so where did I get the ‘P’ in the acronym from? Well, I’ve taken to replacing the word ‘family’ in this case with ‘patriarchy’. The entire organisation makes much more sense when viewed in that light.

I initiall signed up after the APA had a hissy fit over Hallmark deciding to produce wedding cards for same-sex couples. I sent them a humerously ironic e-mail (cue gales of immature laughter), as I’m sure many people did after PZ Meyers featured the issue on his blog. I was going to leave it that, but gay marriage isn’t the only issue the APA issues reactionary, knee-jerk proclomations over, so I thought I’d sign up. And boy, am I glad I did!

The latest crime against nature they’re fighting against is this, a Planned Parenthood website that has the audacity to teach teenagers about sex while a) actually talking about sex and b) showing a bunch of people ‘doing it’ in a way that is very, very obviously fake. Seriously, there isn’t even any nudity. Here’s a brief exerpt from the e-mail:

For example, one video on this new Web site depicts what appears to be an African-American male teenager relegated to performing oral sex on a white male teenager while another white male (an adult authority figure in a suit) stands nearby giving instructions.

The interesting word here is ‘relegated’. What exactly are they trying to say? That Planned Parenthood is being racist? I thought liberals were the ones who comb the world with a beady eye, trying to hunt out anything remotely ‘offensive’, to anyone, anywhere. I’m assuming that the APA would rather sex be talked about under the following conditions:

  • Don’t mention contraception.
  • Don’t mention homosexual sex.
  • Don’t show it. Don’t even show a weak approximation of it.
  • Don’t mention STIs.
  • Just don’t talk about it at all; your first exposure to sex should be the night of your wedding, in a dark room, with the curtains closed so that nobody has to see any more than is absolutely necessary to make a baby.

I’m sure this kind of thinking will do wonders for the teenage pregnancy problem.

The APA site is rife with this kind of stuff. Anyone who even mentions homosexuality without using the words ‘sin’, ‘disgusting’ or ‘abomination’ is apparently ‘pushing it’. Push away, I say!

They’re advertising a seven DVD series called ‘Speechless: Silencing the Christians’. Given the amount of bullshit everyone else has to put up with from the more loud-mouthed members of Christianity, I’m having a tough time believing that they needed seven whole DVDs.

Their ‘Issues‘ section is, predictably, a riot. And, oh look, home schooling! I sure hate my parents for sending me a to Godless, liberal, communist-fascist-antireligious school. It even had the word ‘multidenominational’ right on the sign! I guess not getting a healthy dose of Bible every day is what turned me into the twisted, immoral atheist scumbag I am now.

The Truth Will Make You Stupid

August 29, 2008

Unfortunately, the title of this post is far more tongue in cheek than the body is going to be. I’ve been having a few discussions with Creationists, something I’ve also done in the past, and I have to ask: why does believing in Creationism make people say such stupid things? I have a theory – Creationism is so inherently ridiculous that attempting to justify it rationally results in wild mental gymnastics – but the floor is open to anyone with an alternative hypothesis.

Oh, and everyone seems to be shocked, absolutely shocked, that John McCain picked a potential VP who is, among other things, a Creationist. I sort of took it as a given that he/she would be.

Expanding the Master List – More Reasons Why Creationism Fails

August 29, 2008

This is an addition to the Master List I posted a few days ago. Thanks to cubiksrube, who suggested both of these.

6) Going in by the back door.

High school science education isn’t perfect. A lot of what you learn at that level is either simplified or has most of the nitty-gritty detail omitted for the sake of brevity, or to make it more accessible to young teenagers. However, high school textbooks and carricula should contain information that’s scientifically accurate, and much of what I studied in secondary school was pretty basic stuff; theories and experiments that have been verified hundreds of times and are unlikely to change in the near future. Needless to say, high school is not the place to teach very controversial or untested ideas.

Which is exactly what Creationists would like to do. We’ll ignore for the moment the propagandistic fluff about evolution being unsupported by evidence or about there being substantial controversy in the scientific community over its existence, since that’s all the product of Creationist’s fevered collective imaginations. Taken side by side, Creationism and evolution are completely at odds with each other when it comes to evidence, verifiability and acceptance by the mainstream scientific community.

This apparently doesn’t matter in the slightest to Creationists who, after failing utterly to gain any headway in the scientific world (in much the same way that the moon hoax people won’t be hearing an apology from NASA any time soon), have attempted to enter high schools via the back door. You’ve heard of their tactics before, I’m sure: teach both sides, teach the ‘controversy’, the infamous wedge strategy, the hilarious ‘disclaimer’ stickers attached to biology textbooks, etc. Apparently unable to sway anyone who knows what they’re talking about, Creationists have instead targetted those who don’t: high school students, their parents, and members of school education boards. If they set their sights any lower, we can expect to see ‘Creation Science’ indoctrination sessions aimed at six year olds. (Note: link is a pdf.)

7) Inflexibility

Imagine for a moment that your entire worldview relies so heavily upon evolution being fact that you cannot even begin to imagine that it isn’t. Immediately, you throw out all contrary evidence, cease the business of actual science (lest you accidentally stumble upon some ugly truths), and turn to sources of information that have nothing to do with science and are indistinguishable from Scripture. Congratulations, you’re a Creationist! One with actual physical evidence on your side, but hey, you’re halfway there.

An important thing to remember about Creationism is that it isn’t science, regardless of how desperately the Discovery Institute wants you to believe otherwise. It’s religion through and through, and religious beliefs generally don’t make themselves vulnerable to evidence or even rational thought. If the Bible says that God created the Universe in six days, then that’s that (as Ken Ham might say), and no amount of evidence, regardless of how mountainous it might be, is going to change their minds. Again, this is not how science works. An idea needs to be testable, and it needs to be able ot change to fit the evidence. If it can’t change, it must be discarded.

God Is Not the Answer

August 28, 2008

I’ve covered this topic in an earlier post, but it deserves repeating. There’s a certain false dichotomy so central to Creationism that many who argue against it don’t seem to notice it’s there. I’m talking about the idea that, if evolution/Big Bang cosmology/target du jour is wrong, Creationism – and by extension, Christianity – must be right.

Creationists consistently behave as if these are the only two options. Of course, this is not how science works, but then when have Creationists ever been interested in doing science? Even if Ben Stein topples modern science (I won’t be holding my breath), even if evolution and Big Bang cosmology were conslusively proven to be absolutely, 100% wrong, that doesn’t mean that Christianity is right. It doesn’t mean that God exists, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we should all accept religious doctrine in place of science to explain the origin of the Universe and life. If you want your…’hypothesis’ (I guess?) to be taken seriously, you need positive evidence for it. Trying and failing to sling mud at the other guy isn’t the same as advancing evidence for your own ideas.

I’d also like to point out that ‘God did it’, or more aptly, ‘The Bible’, is not a good explanation for anything. Let’s consider the question, ‘How did the Universe come to exist?’ A Creationist would say that God willed it into being. Is that a satisfactory answer? Hell no, for the following reasons:

  • It’s unverifiable. How can we tell if God created the Universe or not? What state should we expect the Universe to be in if the Christian God didn’t create it?
  • It’s unscientific. Where’s the evidence? In response to a question, you’ve answered with what is little more than a guess.
  • It opens the door to any reasonably plausible, supernatural explanation for the origins of the Universe. God you, say? I see your Yahweh and raise you my Hindu pantheon! Please, show me why one is a more plausible explanation than the other.

There is a very good reason why science demands evidence and experimentation to support a theory. Without them, we become lost in a sea of guesswork, superstition and irrational explanations that do little if any ‘explaining’ at all.

Education Through Rap

August 28, 2008

The LHC is pretty awesome; I think we can all agree on that. In case you’re confused as to what it actually does, though, this video explains it all through the time-honoured medium of rap. It’s actually surprisingly informative.

Let’s Get Dogmatic

August 27, 2008

I recently came across this post, which covers a story run by (sigh) the Discovery Institute, through their hilarious website, ‘Evolution News & Views‘. Go on over there for a quick laugh before reading the rest of this.

Back? Good. The post I linked to is about one Mr. Zivkovic, who apparently thinks it’s fine to give students slightly misleading information so long as it leads them to accepting evolution. It’s not the entire point of the post, but it does take up a fairly sizeable paragraph, as you can see by reading the original. Personally, I think this is a very troubling idea. A lot of what I was taught in secondary school was either simplified or flat-out wrong – it had to be, because covering every topic in the amount of detail it requires is simply not possible when dealing with young teenagers in that kind of setting. However, this was so that we could be introduced to this information in a way that’s accessible, rather than as a form of (and I feel the term is apt here) indoctrination. Zivkovic is essentially saying that misleading students is all right so long as they come away believing in evolution, and I must strongly disagree.

However, I can see where he’s coming from. Creationism is a real threat, and something has to be done to prevent it from poisoning the minds of any more young people. But ask yourself, what is Creationism built upon? Falsehoods and lies. Go to any Creationist website or read any Creationist book and you’ll find nothing but wall-to-wall misinformation, engineered to hook people in; and to hell with the truth. Is the best way to fight Creationism really to copy the tactics of its most dishonest proponents?