My Brethren without Christ, I have to let you know you're all a bunch of Darwinian primates. (Just hit the link below to get the joke.) I just got back from the September 28, 2010, Dinesh D'Souza/Michael Shermer debate at USF in Tampa. They took questions at the end of the session and I got a chance to ask the following question in front of around a thousand attendees.

The opening comments by Dinesh were very similar to the debate a couple of years ago. At first, I was going to ask him about the old Dostoyevsky conjecture he mentions in his opening remarks: there's no morality without God. To an atheist this conviction is an insult and I knew he probably answered it many times, so on the queue I thought of a better question. I knew he couldn't possibly answer without time-lines and equations and a blackboard to write on.

In his opening remarks, Dinesh stated that he “accepts” the theory of evolution as valid, and that there's no conflict with Biblical thought. So I switched my question to, ”Since you accept evolution, could you explain why it took over four billion years for intelligence to arrive on the planet?”

Actually, dinosaurs and early mammals evolved some intelligence in the Cretaceous Period, but I knew he would take a anthropocentric view—being a Christian. For a few seconds he seemed to take the question in stride, as Shermer sat complacently smiling like the Mona Lisa. Dinesh gave it some thought, then squirmed in his armchair and proceeded to get into a circumlocutory rant. I wish the response were recorded because Hamlet somehow got in there (no bull), and I think it all came down to the old catchall “God works in mysterious ways.”

This is a complex technical question. The most conspicuous answer, to me, is the eons it took to progress from prokaryotes (bacteria with the genetic material dispersed throughout the cell) 3.6 billion years ago, to early eukayotes, (bacteria and algae with a distinct nuclear membrane that houses and protects the genetic material) 2.5 billion years ago. That's over 1.1 billion years where our beautiful planet was the habitat for nothing more than germs. The protective nucleus was the springboard to the Cambrian Explosion around 540 million years go. That's another two billion years before complex microorganisms (plants and animals) came on the scene. This is why Carl Sagan in his Cosmos TV serious states that space probes like the Explorer were likely find life in the universe, but only at the microbial level.

I think this is an important question and would bet it shows up again in future debates. This consideration destroys Pope John Paul II's explanation in 1996 that “God infused a soul” as in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendition of God and Adam touching index fingers. If humans were the centerpiece of God's plan, why did heck did it take so long? It's pretty evident that evolution moves at it's own speed and the human genome is a digital book that wrote itself. With all the junk in there—around 30%—the human genome manifestly contradicts “intelligent design.”

As always I welcome any comments on this blog. The link is the debate with Shermer from two years ago. It's pretty much what I heard Tuesday night, so I guess these guys have been playing this road show for quite a while. It gives A/N members a chance to discuss and analyze what Christians are trying to put forth as reasons to believe. .

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Comment by Frankie Dapper on October 8, 2010 at 12:01pm
You have a drummer. I have a string quartet. Being an atheist is not beneficial where the fairer sex is concerned. Once the A word is used they see you as an agent of satan.
Spartans were spartan. Christians on the other hand want you to multiply even when there is no way to take care of you. They insure an endless cycle of poverty, ignorance, starvation and food for flies. Dinesh was correct about Spartans. But it is a red herring argument. Fucking preposterous to assert that Christians originated compassion.
Comment by Rich Goss on October 8, 2010 at 11:13am
I've marched to the beat of a different drummer my whole life. I'd say it comes with being an atheist. We just don't fit into the mold.

You have no idea how many chicks I lost because of my disbelief. Once I found out a lady goes to church, that's it, I moved onto the next one. Even if she were action which would take a long time, the conditioning would turn her off. The idea that she's doing something sinful. The church instills guilt into the minds of the flock.

Funny thought: can you picture Spartan warriors having an Ouzo party like a bunch of gays? Actually they were. They called themselves the Homoioi, the Equals. Dinesh is right on this one: compassion wasn't their strongest personal quality.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on October 8, 2010 at 1:31am
Richard, It is funny because I once had an assignment in college to defend or attack religion in a debate. Guess which side I took? I was not polite, tactful or political. By chance Miss New Hampshire was in the class. Her jaw was agape for at least five minutes. I was not anonymous after that. Any chance for a date went from minimal to nonexistent. Shermer has the wrong approach.
You mention Thoreau. I was on cross country team at Concord High School. One day got separated from the team and was lost for two hours at Walden Pond. The wierd thing is that I had recently read Thorea in his little essay on walking which I believe he wrote when he was at Walden Pond.
Comment by Rich Goss on October 7, 2010 at 4:35pm
Glen, Hey what about the ancient Spartans that leave a baby out on the icy mountain top a few nights, and then when they return and find the baby dead, they throw a little Ouzo party. Definitely not a sign of compassion.

Man, I miss the intellectualism of New England—Emerson, Thoreau and Sagan. At the debate in Tampa with this asshole, I'd say the majority of students sided with Dinesh. His arguments were so weak, yet Shermer stayed polite, tactful and political. I felt like screaming my head off.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on October 7, 2010 at 11:46am
Thanks for your reply. I did not see a part 2. I heard a segment about how compassion is unique to christianity. Straw dogs were poofed including spartans with their babies and failure of Aristotle to include it as a virtue. (The church adopted some Aristotle opinions.)
I wanted to jump through the screen and tell the guy that compassion exists as a result of evolution. It is a naturally occuring emotion. There is a recent archeological excavation of Neanderthal suggesting compassion. There are endless examples in the animal kingdom. Human acts of compassion for the most part occur inspite of religion not because of it. Compare american atheists to theists. . .
There is a ton of worthy criticism of Jesus and christianity indicating it is not the least bit worthy in its espoused ethics. More importantly we all judge by actions not words. Compassion can be thrown back at him bitingly endlessly.
I do not think I want to see the rest-no good for blood pressure. It will undoubtedly make me more certain that an encylopedia of the history of religion including modern times and including analysis is needed.
Comment by Rich Goss on October 7, 2010 at 9:56am
Glen, Shermer didn't come on militant enough. At USF, the first thing he said was religion is good and bad. There are many positives contributions from religion. I myself wouldn't give religion any favorable considerations any more than a debilitating disease.

The debate is in eight parts (or so). Did you click on the Part 2?
Comment by Frankie Dapper on October 7, 2010 at 1:07am
My video stopped after D'Souza. His pitch was incredibly weak. His stance was ultra vulnerable. I hope the other guy destroyed him.
Comment by Jo Jerome on October 3, 2010 at 1:06pm
--- Diana poetically states --- I really think it is okay for atheists to concentrate on the bad aspects of religion and for us to say: "Religion is a fucking cancer."

In one of my first and favorite such books, The Dark Side of Christian History by Helen Ellerbe, I love that she starts right off the bat with that qualifier. Saying in effect that there are plenty of positives associated with Christianity and this book is not meant to take those away, but simply to examine the other side of the coin. That there are plenty of books out there that are wildly slanted towards the good while conspicuously ignoring the bad. If those books are allowed to exist with little criticism, then so should a book focusing exclusively on the bad vs. the good.

I give that sentiment a standing ovation. We've had the better part of 2,000 years of mostly "Yay for our good and godly religion." If we have a solid 2,000 years of "Your religion is a fucking cancer," it will just about balance out.

I agree that it should come with that qualifier, "Yes, this book is focused/slanted in a particular direction. If you want to read books slanted in the other direction, knock yourself out." But with that acknowledgment, I have little problem with it.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on October 3, 2010 at 12:49pm
I'll give Barbara an A. Excellent essay. She is welcome to handle one of the categories in the encyclopedia. Or two categories-war and politics. If it was ever done I think even those of us who are comparitively knowledgeable would learn a great deal and increase our enmity.
Comment by Rich Goss on October 3, 2010 at 10:57am
Here's a little essay Barbara Walker just sent me. Deals with some of the issues we're addressing here about religion and war.

From a personal note, the draft busted my balls for eight years. I had to try my damnest to avoid it. Finally got deferred 2A occupational deferment. Today's kids volunteer knowing they might get killed. How do you figure that one?

by Barbara G. Walker
(author of Man Made God, et al.)

A nation that harbors a huge, expensive war machine must employ the machine by creating wars, and must maintain a relatively unthinking public willing to support the military behemoth when fed buzzwords like "God and Country." Hate-the-enemy propaganda is combined with promises of some kind of apotheosis -- medals, adulation of heroes, elaborate honors for the dead, assurances of paradise, or sexy houris (in the Muslim view) -- to make the young willing, or even eager, to throw away their lives for somebody else's economic benefit. It is essential that the young be trained as killing-robots, expendable and replaceable parts of the machine.

The ultimate goal of any war is not World Peace, Freedom, Democracy, Fatherland, or any other energizing buzzword. It is always economic aggrandizement: plain and simple greed. Wars are undertaken because the leaders want to seize an economic advantage from somebody else, and the somebody else doesn't want to give it up.

"Powers that be" are perfectly content to let their constituents become intellectually lazy, naive, ignorant and superstitious. It is not to any government's advantage to have a savvy, thoughtful, rational public. Governments want technological expertise, sure, but they don't want critical thinking to go along with it.

Fundamentalist and anti-intellectual trends in society are regarded with favor by warmakers, since war machines have no place for eggheads. The young and stupid are their fodder: the younger and more stupid, the better. We despise Muslims for putting guns into the hands of thirteen-year-olds and teaching them to kill; but we seem to think it's all right for those who are just five years older. We know any teenager is likely to be thrilled by being able to claim an adult-sized destructive power, and unlikely to be able to form any clear perception of his own physical vulnerability. Do not most of us, before we actually come of age, somehow believe that we can survive even the riskiest of situations?

Religion serves the military establishment in a number of important ways. Religious authorities firmly support their country's wars even if they call their deity "Prince of Peace." (After all, Jesus did say that he brought "not peace, but a sword" [Matthew 10:34] and history has proved it so.) Religion encourages childlike obedience and dependency on the father-figures represented by the chain of command, culminating in generals, national leaders, and ultimately God. Religion evokes the Big Daddy's rage against those who don't worship him correctly, and gives permission to kill them. Religion preaches unquestioning faith in the establishment, in doing what one is told without hesitation, and in the rightness of punishment for going against orders. Religion also encourages belief in an after-life to allay the natural fear of death that makes all other creatures flee from danger. Inexplicably, for many people even the fear of hell is preferable to their fear of permanent nonexistence.

Militaristic societies like the expression "There are no atheists in foxholes," though it is not a statement of fact, but an earnest wish on the part of the leaders. Atheists are not wanted in foxholes. Without Big Daddy's orders to keep them in place, they might even prefer being a live coward to being a dead hero. By all means let the troops pray while the bombs are bursting around them: if they survive, they can thank God, and if they don't, then their families can be comforted by the assurance (sadly) that it was God's will. Too bad. Nobody notices that it was the will of the government more than that of God. Nor do we notice that God professes to find human life so precious as to forbid the destruction even of an unwanted fetus, since that decision would be made by a woman and not by a government. Religion thus condones even the most obvious hypocrisy.

So the dumbing down of America is by no means deplored by all of America's leaders, religious or otherwise. Dumb means malleable. Those who don't think too much are more easily brainwashed, and perhaps more in need of an imaginary parental authority to tell them what is right (our way) and what is wrong (the other way), because it's too much trouble to figure it out for themselves. As long as there are religious differences of opinion, there will be wars; and as long as there are wars, religions will conspire to keep the populace suitably naive, ignorant and superstitious.
What gullible, malleable puppets we all are, when it comes to propaganda! In what many claim is a "Christian" country, most people grow up learning "Thou shalt not kill;" learning empathy, being trained not to injure others -- on pain of risking hell, or at least the displeasure of God. We are taught good manners, thoughtfulness, tolerance. Then along comes a war, and it's all abruptly reversed. God suddenly says thou shalt kill. Those who dare to threaten our economic comfort are all subhumans and deserve killing. What, all of them? The women and children, the innocent ones too? Yes. All of them. And the nation, mindlessly obedient, "supports the troops" that make it so.

It has been asked, what if they gave a war and no one came? But we have a vast propaganda machine standing ready to insure attendance at whatever killing spree our government fancies. We are given a plethora of reasons to reverse all the care-for-other-humans training. God may still insist on the survival of every fetus, but he has no problem with the deliberate destruction of thousands, even millions of fully developed lives. God is ever and always the compliant tool of politicians; it's no wonder that they are usually at pains to claim belief in him.

As a precept, "Thou shalt not kill" didn't even last two chapters' worth in the Bible. The biblical God orders his chosen people to kill huge numbers of their fellow humans: ten thousand here, twenty thousand there, whole cities wiped out, every infant and suckling and animal destroyed, collectively adding up to a matter of millions. If there is any historical truth at all behind Bible mythology, it is this: the God our politicians claim to believe in is a bloodthirsty monster who not only condones war but actually commands it as the primary means of increasing temporal power. Even Hitler said that God was on his side, and so did every other war leader in the long and bloody history of Western civilization.

Apparently we cannot imagine an end to warfare until we can, as John Lennon suggested, "Imagine no religion."



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