Friday, June 21, 2013


For my thousand and first (1001) post, I'm going off tangent.  Religion and politics.

Had an epiphany.  Want to share it, but really not sure I want to draw this much fire.  Background: I don’t get religion.  I see it all around me, I’ve read and studied, but on a deep level, I don’t get the ‘why.’ Whatever need drives people to believe that there is a plan is just absent in my psyche.  Whether I imagine a world with or without gods, neither feels different to me.
I have a couple of friends who can be described as born-again atheists.  They are just as fundamentalist, loud and angry as the most vitriolic born-again Christian or Muslim convert.  I have several friends who self-describe as secular humanists.  Most are areligious, a few antireligious.
The epiphany. Listening in on the debate over GMO labeling, it occurred to me that this was a religion demanding that their food be labeled “Not Halal” or “Not Kosher.”  It wasn’t a scientific or health concern. There hasn’t been an unmodified food crop since we figured out cross-pollination and selective breeding; and there is no such thing as an inorganic cucumber.  And to actually revert to pre-industrial farming practices and plants as they occur in the wild would mean mass starvation, which isn’t healthy. The labels are merely the stamp of approval of a large, powerful, growing and evangelical religion.
So I started looking a little closer.  Is there a doctrine that flies in the face of science? Sure.  Lots.  Some that flies in the face of simple observation.  The horrible book I just read goes out of the way to praise the egalitarian and peaceful natures of simple foraging peoples. But in the case studies he mentions, if you look at the numbers their murder rate is astronomical.  Only two murders in a population seems small.  But in a population of 2000?  That’s twenty times the murder rate in the US.  One of the ‘peaceful’ groups had more executions per capita than Texas could dream… not counting the babies left to freeze to death, especially girls.
Egalitarian? When a population has almost no material possession, it’s kind of disingenuous to marvel about equality of those possessions.  And when there are only two jobs (hunting and gathering) and which one you will get is decided entirely by gender with no exceptions… but, hey.  You can pretend to call it equality.  I believe apartheid, separate but equal, is the modern term.
But the doctrine requires you to portray these societies as having the values that the doctrine espouses—egalitarianism, peacefulness, sexual freedom (even if the writer notes that cheating wives are sometimes murdered he marvels at the sexual freedom) and living at one with nature (author states that survival is easy even in the harshest conditions if one has the skills, then says that being cast out of the tribe is a death sentence due to starvation). 

There are even prophets of the apocalypse. The world will end if we don’t follow the dogma.
The world will end.  From Rachelle Carson’s “Silent Spring” to global warming, how many apocalypses (what is the plural of apocalypse?) do you remember?
We laugh at the Mayan calendar and the 5/5/2005 prophecies.  Nuts sitting in bunkers.  But how many times has the end of the world been declared by the secular? Hmmmm. Just the ones that I remember:
·      Ice age in the ‘70’s
·      Hole in the ozone layer (remember that all animals are supposed to be blind by now)
·      Acid rain
·      No possibility that any oil would be left by 2020 at the latest
·      Mass starvation unless ZPG was achieved world-wide by 1990 at the latest
·      Nuclear holocaust statistically unavoidable
·      Y2K computer bug
·      SARS, avian flu and nile virus
·      And, of course, the killer bees

Note-- I'm not debating what's real and what isn't.  I'm marveling that so many  people who reject the idea of a vengeful god seem to have a need to create one.  But they call it nature and insist the dogma is science.  Like some cults we could mention.  What fascinates me is that the pattern echoes even in the details.
The interesting thing about this, is that the prophets preach that the solution is in the doctrine.  Case in point is that what we needed to do in the seventies to stave off the ice age (quit driving cars so much, quit putting hydrocarbons in the atmosphere) is the exact same thing the current prophets say we need to do to prevent global warming.
And there is even an inquisition for those who commit heresy. A news commentator had to recant for saying that there was doubt about global warming.  The word ‘recant’ was actually used. The Oregon State Meteorologist (who appeared to be of the opinion that the temperature was rising but the cause was probably complex) feared for his job.
Here’s the deal.  In science there is always doubt.  If doubt is not allowed, it’s not science.  It’s effectively religion.
Which leads to my born-again atheist friends.  They demand proof of the existence of god before they will believe.  Two problems with that.  The first is that ‘proof’ outside of syllogism (a system of logic) and mathematics does not exist.  The scientific method, by its very nature, is incapable of proof, but damned efficient at disproving.  They are demanding something that, if they were rational, they must know can’t exist and they do not demand for any of their other beliefs.  The second is that god is a 'non-disprovable hypothesis.'  If you imagine a creature that can change the universe, including time, perception, cognition, physics and even the law of causality… there’s no way you can test for (disprove, remember) a thing that can change your test, your results or your interpretation.  Science doesn’t attempt to disprove the undisprovable. Waste of time and irrational.
This new religion even has the concept of original sin.  That is why the primitive people must be presented as having the virtues of this religion—because they aren’t tainted with original sin.
What is the original sin? A sense of guilt over things you have never done.  I’ve heard it called ‘liberal guilt’ and even heard it defended as a moral compass and incentive.  Hmmm. Just like Christianity’s original sin.  The idea that we should feel bad to be born into this place and time, enjoying the world that our ancestors created when others with different ancestors in different places have different things.  Again, this is chance, outside of any possible control.  The rational attitude would to be decide what to do with these resources, not rail against them.  Certainly not complain, whine and protest from a life of privilege and comfort.
In the book read recently, by someone I would classify as a preacher of this new religion, he describes a woman in a forager society having sex with a man she has refused several times-- for food.  He characterizes this as peaceful problem-solving, though it is something he would immediately recognize as forced prostitution of the weak in his own (original sin) culture.
Second, he describes how more girl babies than boy babies are left out to die, as well as the sick and the old but “…not out of cruelty…”
It’s that peaceful, egalitarian, natural, pre-original sin kind of murder.


Wayne said...

Interesting reading. I know I can be guilty of what you speak of times, getting caught up in my dogma of beliefs and hopefully catching myself and realizing what is going on.

My worries about science is how it is being caught up in government policies. Which is tough to do when the government is handing out money and when they control the purse strings they can control the direction of "research".

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Good post, sums a lot of things I think and see around, people not accepts thing that they are knocking one dogma with another.

Unknown said...

It's very complex issue and people are quick to gt defensive when it comes to discussion religion. With some people it is a joy to discuss religion because they do so with curiosity and it becomes a mutual search for answers. With others, they try to indoctrinate you to their viewpoint and if you don't agree then there is something wrong with you. There have been religious leaders that have had great interactions with scientists and they find a lot of common ground. Then there are people like Richard Dawkins who write books and pretend their bigotry is science.

Charles James said...

Sleeping with out dreams is the first step toward death and the after. When the time arives we fade to black.

The tunnel of light is the tunneling of vision as we fade to black.

No hereafter, no God other than what we choose to believe for comfort against the inevitability of death, and no re-birth.

We live now for the sake of living and then we fade to black - that's it, done, finished and what you achieve in life is the only legacy worth anything.

Belief is strong and yet we can mold that belief as we see fit if we are aware.

Nice post Rory, thanks.

Charles James said...

Interesting, a few moments after reading your entry and adding my comment I pick up a book and the first read was this quote:

"At birth our death is sealed, and our end is consequent upon our beginning." - Marcus Manilus, Astronomics

Nick G said...

A few stand-alone thoughts:

Religion in general: humans seem fantastically uncomfortable with unanswered/unanswerable questions and are willing to interpolate (also known as "making shit up") with remarkable degrees of specificity.

Original sin can be really useful: self-worship for the potential of the species (establishes/reinforces its superiority and "right" to keep doing "bad" things at other species' expense), and getting off the hook for failing to live up to it--if you're already doomed to failure because someone else irrevocably screwed it up, you don't have to bother even trying. It also allows people to cast themselves as victims, and that role has great and unfortunate power if you're willing to wallow in it.

From a logical perspective, atheism is every bit a statement of absolute, un-provable faith as saying that the bible is the literal word of [a] god. i.e. "In science there is always doubt. If doubt is not allowed, it’s not science."

Gödel's incompleteness theorem, like any other tool, can be abused.

James L said...

You can't equate genetic engineering with selective breeding. They are completely different processes with completely different risks. GMOs are unproven technology. There are lots of technologies that have taken a long time to be shown to be harmful. I personally don't want to take the risk. This is all perfectly rational and consistent with scientific understanding.

If I could I would avoid GMO food out of purely political reasons. I don't want my money going to organisations that I don't trust. Religion has nothing to do with it.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Selective breeding and Genetic manipulation may not be something you can equate directly, however they are part of the same process, as was said the moment people started cross breeding plants and animals, it was going to happen, and is the same concept. People want to control things, if they can't do it directly, cross breeding Genetic engineering, then they will do it by praying and casting spells.
Unproven technology it may be, but then again so were most "advances" the species have made. How much medicine and science which is common place now, was frowned upon or persecuted by the Religion or establishment of the day because it was unproven and might have unforeseen consequences, like provoking the wrath of god.... or nature!
Now am I keen on GMO, no, do I trust them, No. But like it not it will happen. Though I will do my little part and not buy in to it if I can help it. But I don't view it as wrong either, but rather something that can go wrong and could be a cluster feck if it does. However where would the species be if we had decided to not do things when they were the possible consequences?

briandonnelly said...

Hmm. I think the GMO issue is more than just an issue with collective breeding. It's engineering food for use with other certain chemicals and processes provided by a single company. Making a product like "RoundUp" and then making genetically modified seed corn that will only grow with that product, and then using the power of law and money to enforce it's blanket use across the agricultural spectrum contains so many issues across a range of subjects that far transcends the more gentle and human process of selective breeding of plants and animals. So on the first point I think you're soft-brushing the anti-GMO argument as something merely as a hippie like simplistic misunderstanding of the process. It's a serious issue both in regards to the use of power in the market place, and also limiting the diversity of our agriculture to a very real short term horizon reliance on a few sources.

That said, I see your arger point.

Religion as a social tool is just part of the human condition. Like music, language, tool making - it's just a part of the general run of the human condition. I think it can be be practical or it can be dogmatic, freeing or limiting.

On one level, it can be very useful if it is a religion with lots of proscriptions for living for a band of humans in a dangerous and threatening environment. A "divine" law about not doing certain things is like a the giant lettering on an oxygen container saying "DON'T PUT NEAR HEAT OR FIRE". Ascribing such things to a god or otherworldy source of authority can help keep people/societies alive, because sometimes humans can be really stupid, and we need big capital letters to remind us of what not to do.

On the other hand, religion has also served a powerful role in questioning authority. Sometimes religions, especially those of middle east are great at both being authoritarian and revolutionary elements.

Although I am most certainly an agnostic leaning athiest (hey, maybe there's god(s), maybe there's not, maybe you enjoy worshipping one, maybe you don't...*shrugs*) my roots are certainly in Catholicism. And the whole "I am bringing a sword" Jesus quote bothered me for the longest time, until I finally grokked that he himself wasn't bringing a sword or advocating violence, but that if you decided to follow him, well, you'd probably be a pretty unpopular and dangerous figure to the status quo, and mostly likely invite a violent response from the powers that be because you weren't going along with the program.

Advocating for the poor and downtrodden in a society that values wealth for status and hierarchy will definitely get you on a list somewhere, one that probably involves swords pointed at you metaphorically or in reality.

And that understanding of that came directly form an insight I had while reading your work, Rory. (while simultaneaously reading "Payback" from Margaret Atwood.

Matt said...

Many of the atheists I know (I'm one myself) seem to have got a bit hung up on the science angle. But, as others here have said, the existence of God is not a scientific question.

That said, I don't think atheism is (or has to be) simply a matter of faith either. It's a belief (or set of beliefs) that can be evaluated based on one's understanding of the world, and which you can find more or less satisfying (you pays your money...).

I think I have pretty sound reasons for not believing in the gods that the religious people I encounter believe in, but I try to avoid having pointless arguments about it.

Adventure Nickel Farm said...

Congratulations on 1001 posts. Thank you for sharing some really good stuff with us. Nice work.

Anonymous said...

Head popped over the top of the trench my friend. Well as a confirmed atheist I agree with your sentiments. Political correctness is in itself a new religion and is a very dangerous block to free speech. Comment on Pakistani grooming gangs and you are racist is one example currently live in the UK. However, as you point out, many so called dogmas or belief systems have within then profound discriminatory practices and beliefs that, because they are given to that group, are unseen. That is worrying.

Tiff said...

Amen? :)

Anonymous said...

Really, ramming foreign genetic material into a living cell to produce a new organism is no different than gathering the pollen from one sub-species of corn and introducing it to another sub-species of corn? I am succumbing to a new religious dogma because I know the difference between genetic DNA recombination and recombinant DNA technology? Because I understand the dangers inherent in the genetic alteration of living organisms I am guilty of wishing to condemn untold numbers of my fellow human beings to mass starvation?

I suggest it is you who is allowing blind faith to overwhelm cognitive ability.

Josh Kruschke said...

I'm not here. You don't see me. I'm just a ghost in the machine....

This only tangentially has any thing to do with this post.

I read a book that might be of interest to you & K.

"Secret Garden of Survival" by Rick Austin.


Jay Gischer said...

I really quite agree with your larger point. The behavior of certain atheists has a religious character.

And yes, vaccination refusal is a big problem. I endangers not only the people doing it, but also everyone who might get a disease from them. Opposition to GMOs a somewhat smaller one, but I see the point.

I wish, though, that your list of other "myths" had left a few things off. In particular acid rain, the ozone layer, and the Y2K bug.

All of these were quite real. All of these are not now a problem, because people did something about them.

Acid rain had all the fish in many lakes in the NE and NCentral US dying, because the pH level in those lakes was too high. This was the result of sulphur dioxide emissions. A cap-and-trade system was implemented, and the coal-burning industry cleaned that up.

There were specific measurements of the ozone layer and the hole that developed over Antarctica. But we implemented a worldwide ban on chloro-flouro-carbons (CFC's), and it's no longer a big problem.

Finally, I personally know people who worked on the Y2K bug. Since it could be anticipated before the fact, many, many companies spent money, and many, many people worked to fix all the problems. These are people I know, since I work in the computer industry. It was not a myth, it was something that we fixed, and it's rather insulting to hear it called a myth.

Rory said...

Jay- which is why I didn't call them myths and specifically said I wasn't debating which were right. Should have made that clearer, probably.

God's Bastard said...

"He who proselytizes in the cause of unbelief is basically a man in need of belief." I love me some Hoffer.