Thursday, May 9, 2013

Belief versus Knowledge


All across the world wide web are comments from theists of every stripe denouncing modern science as an attempt by the ungodly to disprove their god or gods. In their never-quenched thirst to be seen as persecuted victims of a world-gone-wild (without taking any responsibility for it, even though they brag about the universality of their beliefs while ignoring the fact that universality undermines their claims of persecution), they try to convince the uncritical and uncertain that science is determined to prove gods do not exist. They make it sound like a holy quest, though we know only believers can enjoy those. 
Religious believers refuse to acknowledge that the best evidence against the possible existence of any particular god is the gross lack of any evidence for one. We have yet to discover any credible, physical evidence that can only be explained by the existence of a certain god and that god’s intervention in our natural world. Science isn’t trying to disprove god, science simply hasn’t found any evidence that irrefutably proves there is one or requires a god to explain natural phenomena.
Even if we could somehow learn to a 99% certainty that the universe began this way or that, that knowledge will not kill off the idea of god.
Science will never make an absolute declaration that it knows how the universe came into being. Definitive, absolute proof doesn’t exist. Science is not religion. It can only draw tentative conclusions from what evidence we can collect. Scientific conclusions are only as valid as the data. As we come across more information, science has to adjust its conclusions. Religions pretend to know absolute truths, yet they require us to accept these truths on faith. Knowledge will never be absolute, religious belief always portrays itself as such. 
If science were to state that all the evidence leads us to believe that the universe started in this or that manner, there will always be room to squeeze in religious belief. We see historically how religions adapt to current reality in an effort to stay relevant and retain their power over people. In all probability science can’t and won’t put an end to superstitious belief. With our complex brains otherwise intelligent people believe in luck and fate. Beliefs can exist beside knowledge without being eradicated by that knowledge. No matter how smart we become about reality, superstition will survive. There are many theories as to why humans develop and believe in superstitions, but history leads me to accept that every human has them. Religious belief will no doubt change subtlety, as it has before, to accommodate secular knowledge, but it will unfortunately be with us for a long time yet. It is, after all, just another superstitious belief.
Already there are Christian groups that have managed to incorporate scientific conclusions into their dogma. They accept the Big Bang as the best explanation for the beginning of the universe that can currently be drawn from available evidence and still credit their god with having set it all in motion. They give reverence to the Bible, but as an allegorical work rather than literal truth. Scientology is another example of a religion that has incorporated some science into their otherwise wildly fantastical belief system.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jesus and Paul were Commies

No doubt most of us know what communism is. In its ideal state, it's a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed.

Communism has, to the best of my knowledge, never been practiced on a national scale in its ideal form. When it has been employed it's been by men who used its structure to impose their will on citizens and persecute their enemies. 

Even on a more modest scale, like communes in the 60s, communism failed because it didn't take into account human nature, especially our penchant for selfishness and greed.

English: Christian Communist symbolYet we know that there was a time when humans lived in small tribes that practiced basic communism. Some modern tribes still do. I suspect the practice is more workable in groups where the members are related by blood or marriage, where the desire to ensure the survival of each member outweighs, for practical reasons, our inborn selfishness. 

According to the Bible, the disciples formed a group with a common cause that should have been of more importance to them than there own needs and desires. Jesus encouraged his followers to adopt an essentially communal lifestyle. As recorded in Luke 3:1`0-11 (ESV), 
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
Likewise Paul, in describing the early Christian communities, wrote in Acts 2:44-47,
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.
The early  followers of Jesus lived in communities, a word and concept that shares its origin with communes, communism and common

Quite often theists will criticize atheism by contending that historically communistic countries were anti-theistic in both law and practice, that atheism was central to that form of governing. They point to Stalin and Pol Pot as examples of atheists employing communism to further their anti-theistic agendas. 

This ignores the obvious truth that any belief about gods, that they exist or don't, can be used by the corrupt to gain power and authority over others. Hitler used his bastardized Catholic beliefs and the support of the Catholic church when it served his political purposes and he held no love for atheists. In a speech delivered in Berlin, October 24, 1933, he said: 
"We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."
He failed, just as he failed to eradicate Judaism and homosexuality, though not for lack of trying. 

Atheism is not a necessary ingredient of communism. When it is employed by megalomaniacs and corrupt leaders to subjugate and abuse their citizens it is no more akin to the basic meaning of atheism than, when employed by those same sorts of leaders to those same ends, their corrupt concept of communism resembles the essentially empathetic and compassionate nature of that practice in its ideal implementation. 

It's commendable when small groups of people ignore their instinct to hoard for themselves and instead share what they have with each other. It exposes the best of humanity when we care for those who lack among us. That's the basic motivation of charity. 

The failure of communism on the large scale lies not with its unreasonable association with a lack of belief in gods but rather for its inability to eradicate a very human urge. Human greed and selfishness cannot be eliminated by laws or persecution. Those less-than-noble aspects of our humanity can only be controlled when each person understands that we cannot survive on our own, that we all need each other. We need to accept that our own needs will be met if we ensure that everyone's needs are met. We all need to care for one another. 


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