God, Yahweh, Science, Religion, Atheism: my thoughts!

God, Yahweh, Science, Religion, Atheism: my thoughts!

Part One

 

By Tim Campbell

“I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this, but have expressed it clearly.  I do not believe in immortality of the individual and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”

Albert Einstein, 1954

            For the record, I do not believe in tribal gods or as Einstein put it, personal gods either.  This includes Yahweh and Jesus, as well as Zeus, Mithra, Odin, and the Sock Fairy.  I do not know what if anything lies beyond the boundaries of our known Universe.  If there are entities, beings, or intelligences that do exist beyond our Universe, I am not aware of them, they have not made themselves known to me, and if they do exist, I do not believe that they have any relationship with any of the aforementioned tribal deities.  I am not denying the possible existence of beings beyond our known Universe; I am just saying that they are unlikely to be named Yahweh or Jesus or Allah.

            I am not writing these essays in order to convert believers to unbelievers. If I can persuade you to think clearly and critically about your own beliefs, that is enough. Perhaps you will do more research and read more (I’ve included a list of books for further reading at the end of this Part One) and learn more about your beliefs, their history, and their very human origins.  Perhaps not.  There are many who would not even attempt to see anything that might contradict their religious beliefs.  They are not open-minded.

That is their problem.  I say “their” because I doubt that any of the “true believers” will bother to read this. 

For those of you who do take the time to read these essays, welcome!  The hope for a just authority that makes everything right in the long run is a universal hope.  I do not wish to denigrate that hope, but hope does not make reality.  Wishing for a god does not make that god an actuality.  Believing in a god does not make that god real. 

Unfortunately, religion and faith have no form of bullshit detector.  The claimant claims and the believers believe because the claimant has claimed and most likely because the believers WANT to believe.

            I am a human being. Nothing more, nothing less.  I have no more credibility that Saint Paul, who is credited as being the founder of one of this planet’s major religions: Christianity.  But like Saint Paul, I have never physically seen or met the Christ on which he based his religion.  Unlike Saint Paul, I do not claim to have met this Christ in visions or dreams.   Unlike John, the writer of the Book of Revelations, I do not claim to hear Jesus talking to me from a hole in the roof of my cave, or for that matter from my toaster or television, or bedside lamp.

            I have read the Bible.  I have seen nothing in that amazing collection of ancient Bronze Age stories, poems, and parables to convince me that any of the writers of those works had any actual contact with any actual gods either! 

            If this offends you, then turn away.  Read something else and have a good life! Go in peace!  If, however, you wish to know why one man claims to be an atheist, then please read on.  I welcome your comments and reactions, unless your only rebuttal is to send me to the eternal fires of hell for daring to disbelieve the veracity of your religion’s claims.  In that case, I wish you poxes and disease and demonic sores!

            Enjoy!

These three Irishmen were sitting around in the pub late one night and the discussion turned to the subject of great inventions.

 

Tommy stated that the greatest invention of all time had to be the telephone because then he could call home anytime to make sure his dear ma was feeling good.

 

Mickey said no, the greatest invention had to be the automobile because then he could drive to church on Sundays.

 

But Paddy said no, the greatest invention was the thermos.

 

The thermos? the other two said in unison as folks tend to do in these jokes! 

 

Why the thermos, they asked?

 

Simple says Paddy.  It keeps the hot things hot and the cold things cold.  How does it know?

No doubt that the thermos represents a wondrous advance in human technology, but if I were sitting with Tommy, Mickey, and Paddy, my vote would have been for the invention of glass!

Glass, you see, is THE amazing invention.  Man discovered centuries ago that glass has the ability to be heated and molded into almost any shape, with the result being a TRANSPARENT solid!

I might also add that the properties that make glass glass would stand as one of God’s best jokes on His Earthly rivals, the tribal gods!  For if God exists, then God gave glass (or more accurately silica) its wonderful properties.

You see, this transparent moldable solid is the underlying basis for the invention of the microscope and the telescope, not to mention eyeglasses, windows, and protective windshields, and even walls and floors!  But it is the microscope and the telescope that have opened up the Universe for us little humans.  This has been a stupendous development for humanity as it has shown us more clearly our place in the Universe, but it has meant the inevitable death sentence for the tribal gods.

By tribal gods, I mean specifically, Yahweh, Allah, and Jesus.  There are of course hundreds of other tribal gods out there, but most of them (Zeus, Mithra, Issus, Odin, etc.) have already been whacked by these three tribal gods.  In some parts of the world, Shiva, Papa Legba, and the Great Spirit are still thought of fondly by a few folks, but not with the enthusiasm and horrible consequences that come along with the Big Three. 

Did you know that at one time the earth, our little planet, was thought to be the center of the universe, a huge slightly curved plot of land surrounded above and below by vast reservoirs of water and around which a much smaller ball (the sun) revolved?  That this plot of land was made in a single day in a fit of creational genius some 6000 years ago by a tribal god named Yahweh, who subsequently created all living things also in a single day?  That the stars were just little points of light, also created by this god in a single day and set into fixed locations around the earth.  This was written down sometime between 1500BCE and 1000BCE in a collection of stories that became known as the book of Genesis and became the opening book of the Hebrew histories that Christians call the Old Testament.

More, at one time, people believed that illnesses were caused by demons, or by Sin. In fact, pretty much everything bad—storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, acne, was caused either by Man’s Sin or by God or gods angry at Man’s sins.

Silly, I know.  But while the only people who believe these things today are Fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the rest of us would still believe in them if it was not for what we have seen through the lenses of microscopes and telescopes!

Today, we know that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, rotates on an axis every 24 hours and revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit that takes about 365 of those 24 hour periods.  The Sun is a star itself that is part of the Milky Way Galaxy which contains about 200 billion other stars.  The Milky Way Galaxy is just one galaxy in a Universe of galaxies that is approximately 13.75 billion years old and expanding at an accelerating pace!  This knowledge is due to the invention of the telescope

We also know that every living thing on earth that we are aware of shares a common ancestor that lived some 3.5 billion years ago.  We know now that germs, bacteria, viruses, and genetic errors cause illnesses and disorders, not Sin or demons.  And we know this because we have seen the actual culprits through the lenses of our microscopes.

We (humanity) have used this real knowledge to cure or prevent many of these illnesses and to do things like putting humans onto our Moon and developing cell phones, GPS devices, MRI machines, and a host of other such things!

These facts make the tribal gods and their tribal myths so small as to be insignificant when looking for the reality of the Universe.  And more importantly, they hint that the tribal gods are just that: deities made up by and for specific ancient tribes who really had no idea what was the real nature of their world.

But those so-called facts are just theories, the tribal god believers will say.  Just theories.  And nobody was actually there, so you really can’t know what happened 6000 years ago.  And all of the physical laws of the Universe COULD have been different back then. You don’t know!

Well ok.  I wasn’t there.  Scientists weren’t there.  But the animals were there and they left behind their fossils for us to study today.  And the stars were there and their light is just reaching us—reaching our telescopes!  And the rocks were there, and thanks to our microscopes we can see the tiny tiny animals that lived and died then and became fossilized or preserved in those rocks. 

There is also the predictiveness of those theories that have been confirmed by the evidence of consistent results.  Cell phones, GPS, MRI, vaccines, spacecraft, atomic and hydrogen bombs, nuclear fueled ships, all are the result of predictions based on those scientific theories that proved to be true.  We might not be happy that nuclear weapons were developed, but the fact is that they were developed from predictions based on the same theories that lead us to accurately determine things like the age of the Earth and the Sun and the Universe.  Polio and smallpox and measles are no longer the killers today that they were just a couple of generations ago, not because of prayer and devotion to tribal gods, but because we discovered the true nature of these illnesses and developed preventions and cures.  And we made those discoveries through the use of microscopes!

So the ancient universe is a fact, the ancient earth is a fact, and the evolution of the living organisms on this planet is a fact as well.  Not “just” theories.  And that makes Yahweh, his alleged son Jesus, and his Muslim counterpart Allah small fictitious tribal gods.

How so?  Could not Yahweh or Allah be the Creator, the Cause of this Universe and the life that exists within it?

Sure.  If you accept some absurdities in the face of some basic facts.

Let’s start with the Universe.

I imagine that most of you are familiar with the new LCD and plasma Hi-Definition flat panel televisions?  These amazing technologies are based on an array of cells(technically called pixels)  in each TV screen.  Essentially, each of these cells produces a small portion of the whole picture, like a giant jigsaw puzzle with extremely tiny pieces!  You have heard the buzzword “1080p”.  This buzzword simply means that the array of cells or pixels in a 1080p television consist of 1,080 rows by 1,920 columns.  In other words, your 1080p HD TV screen consists of 2,073,600 individual pixels!  For the sake of this analogy, let’s round that off to a straight 2 million pixels in one television screen.

Let’s take just one of those pixels: that one in the bottom right corner.  One pixel.  Let’s call that the Sun.  Our sun, our STAR!  The star around which our planet Earth revolves (once every 365 days or so!).  That star, btw, is approximately 93 million miles from us.  It’s pretty big:  8.6 million miles in diameter and about 109 times bigger than our planet Earth!

But for now, let’s say that the Sun is represented by just one pixel in a single 1080p HD TV.  A single pixel being about the size of this letter “o”.

Now, let’s take that little pixel and look at our homne galaxy, the collection of stars that we call the Milky Way.  It is estimated that there are some 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, besides our own Sun.   So, if we represent our sun as just one pixel in a 1080p TV and we assign one pixel for each of the other stars in our galaxy, then we will need 100,000 1080p televisions to represent all of the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy!

That’s a lot of televisions, but now let’s take the Milky Way Galaxy and represent THAT as single pixel in our 1080p screen.  Now, based on our best estimates, the KNOWN Universe consists of more than 100 billion galaxies, with an average of better than 100 billion stars each.

So, with each pixel representing a galaxy, we now need more than 50,000 televisions to represent the galaxies in the entire known Universe!  For those of you with a mathematical bent, that means there are more than 10 trillion trillion stars, or 10 followed by 21 zeroes in the known universe!

And just so we don’t imagine that these are all just points of light, they are all stars like our sun. Many of them are the same size, many smaller, and many much much bigger.  And in our own neighborhood of stars, we have discovered more than 400 planets circling them!  So we are looking at potentially 10 trillion trillion solar systems.             

Ok, enough with the big numbers.  My point here is that when you read the First book in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Genesis, the “creation” story features a human-like definitively masculine deity who makes the earth BEFORE he makes the sun or stars (generally he PLACES the stars into the sky after he has made the sky and the earth) and He implies that the Earth and its inhabitants are the center and most important of His creations.

This deity then physically appears on the earth and physically makes animals, plants, and humans, often from a combination of earthly dirt and the deity’s own bodily fluids.  And then this deity makes one tribe or one person its special friend/messenger.

Later, after wiping out most of his first effort at creating humans amenable to his wishes, He appears only to this tribe and even then only to this tribe’s special people. He gives them specific commands on diet, dress, agriculture, and sexual mores.  And He even helps them out when they go into battle against other tribes.  He will even stop Time for them(actually he stops the sun from continuing its circuit around the earth, apparently not remembering that He made the earth rotate, and did not make the Sun revolve around the Earth!) so that His “special tribe” has more daylight available to kill more of their enemies.  This was so that they would not have to interrupt their slaughter in order to honor the Sabbath, His special Day!   

All of this is not according to the histories passed down by rival tribes; these stories are all according to those writing or passing down the Hebrew myths. 

Now, seriously, does this sound like a deity that would be responsible for the numbers that I showed in the paragraphs above this?  Or does this sound like a small deity invented by a small tribe for their own purposes?

Is there a God?   

More accurately, is there a Yahweh, or a Jesus, or an Allah, or a Zeus, or a Mithra, or a Baal?

No.  Not a chance.  Too obviously created by the human tribes that worshipped them.

 If you want to believe that these beings (or any one of them) actually exists or existed, then go ahead.  If you can read these essays and STILL believe in these small tribal gods, then that is your right.  For the record, I believe that if you believe that the world is only 6000 years old and that the Book of Genesis is an accurate history of the world, then you are unaware of what we as humans have discovered in the past 500 years.  Or you are delusional, so caught up in a religious fervor that reality no longer has any hold on you. That may sound cruel, but I see no other alternative for people holding to these anachronistic and tribe-centric beliefs.

Of course, if you believe in these stories, it is because of your “faith”.  You believe that you have been granted an amazing ability to believe in the Great Unseen!

 Ok, if you have it; I don’t.  And quite frankly, I don’t want that kind of faith, that believes blindly without evidence, that accepts as fact tribal stories made up thousands of years ago by a brutal tribe of Middle Eastern nomads! We’ll talk more about that in Part Two!

The End of Part One

FOR FURTHER READING:

I do not expect you to read everything that I recommend.  I have read these books and many more. I strongly recommend that you do read at least some of these.  You can get them cheaply at Amazon.com or borrow them for free from your local library!

THE ANCESTOR’S TALE

Richard Dawkins

WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE

Jerry A. Coyne

EVOLUTION: WHAT THE FOSSILS SAY AND WHY IT MATTERS

Donald Prothero

JOHN ADAMS

David McCullough

CONSTANTINE’S SWORD—THE CHURCH AND THE JEWS

James Carroll

DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT MYTHOLOGY

Kenneth C. Davis

FEAR OF PHYSICS

Lawrence M. Krauss

ATOM

Lawrence M. Krauss

UNSCIENTIFIC AMERICA

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum

GODLESS

Dan Barker

JESUS INTERRUPTED

Bart Ehrman

DEAD POOL

James Lawrence Powell

ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES

Charles Darwin

HOLY BIBLE

(SPECIFICALLY, GENESIS, LEVITICUS, JUDGES, MATTHEW, MARK, JOHN, REVELATIONS)

Various

END OF FAITH

Sam Harris

GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

Richard Dawkins

INTELLIGENT DESIGN CREATIONISM AND ITS CRITICS

Robert T. Pennock

TOWER OF BABEL: THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THE NEW CREATIONISM

Robert T. Pennock

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Absolute or Universal Morality?

Dan Wilson sent this comment on my “Absolute Morality” essay/blog. I just wanted to respond in some detail as his ideas have a good deal of merit! His thoughts are in italics. I agree with you in principle, but I think that there are several sticky wickets which keep this from being practical as a universal moral code: 1) With regard to both clauses, what is the definition of “harm”? For example (and please, everyone, this is just an example, not an attempt to start a different debate): does denying homosexuals the right to marry cause them harm? I’d say yes, but many people would say no. Unless you can define “harm”, your code degrades into relativism. True, but then defining terms is always going to be the subject of debate and discussion. I think that the dictionary definition of “harm” can be accepted without any problem. It is when we delve into situational ethics that we are open to debate. Your example of homosexuality begs the point. You stated that some people would say that denying homosexuals the right to marry does not cause them harm, while some would say that it does cause them harm. I would argue that actually, everyone would agree that denying homosexuals the right to marry would be harmful to homosexuals—at least emotionally if not physically—but some simply don’t care. Granted, those who don’t care about the harm to homosexuals may be thinking about the overall effect that they believe gay marriage would have on society in general, but now we have gone into situational ethics. And gay marriage—or any sort of marriage for that matter is essentially a cultural imperative. On the other hand, killing homosexuals, beating them, harassing them, etc would be obvious violations of my proposed universal moral imperative: to do no harm to other humans. 2) With regard to the second clause, what if, by causing harm to another person, we can prevent a greater harm from befalling them? For example, is it moral to deprive a mentally ill person of their liberty in order to prevent them from harming themselves? Where is the line drawn? Is it never appropriate to cause harm while preventing harm? If it is sometimes appropriate, how much difference in level of harm must there be to make it appropriate? Who is the judge? Again, situational ethics. We have evolved and prospered as humans because of our tribal instincts and with those instincts has come a “greater good” philosophy and a need for intra-tribal order. Today, we have laws and we imprison, fine, or even kill people who are convicted of disobeying those laws. Obviously, we are causing harm to those who disobey our laws and hardship to their families. What I, and others such as Sam Harris, are proposing is not anarchy. A universal morality is nothing more than a starting point. And notice that I use the term “universal” rather than “absolute”. An absolute morality would necessarily stem from an authority. Whether this authority is an imaginary divine being or an earthly dictator, the effect is the same. There is no room for debate or discussion or compromise or situational ethics. The Roman Catholic Church takes the stand, for example, that abortion is ALWAYS wrong and forbidden. Their doctrine is a position from authority. Circumstances are mostly meaningless. Most faith-based imperatives are arguments from authority. Doesn’t matter that it is always a human being acting as a conduit from God to Man, this is still an absolute morality based on an absolute authority. We are arguing that such a morality is not only not desirable, but not necessary either, except to those who desire power over others. Remember that actions can be moral, immoral, or neutral. Within that range, there will often be gray areas in which determining the greater good may play an important part in determining how to act. 3) Also with regard to the second clause, what if by harming one person, I can prevent harm from befalling others? The old “Would it be moral to kill Hitler in order to prevent the Holocaust?” dilemma. Situational. Under an absolute morality, a commandment such as “Thou shalt not kill” would make killing Hitler an immoral act. Under a universal morality, this might still be considered an immoral act, but one that might be necessary in order to prevent millions of deaths. Quite frankly, I do not think that humans are even capable of agreeing on any morality that is not based on authority. That is pessimistic I know, but given our history of inter-tribal and intra-tribal rivalries and the intrinsic nature of humans (a vast range from good and kind to ambitious and ruthless), we are probably 20,000 years past the time when we could have generated a logical universal morality. We may need to do what we can to try now, but I’m not sure that it is possible. With one exception (mentioned below), I think all moral codes suffer from these sorts of problems, even something as simple as “Murder is wrong” (clearly it is not wrong in all circumstances, unless we resort to “well, in that case it’s not murder”). Matt Dillahunty (of “The Atheist Experience” fame) came up with the only moral statute that I’ve ever heard that holds in all circumstances: “It is never moral to own another human being as property.” Beyond that, things get complicated. This may be a good idea, but it is still a situational ethic that would necessarily fall into a sub-zone of any universal morality. Not owning you doesn’t help me in dealing with you on any practical level. I could hire you, work for you, work with you, help you do things, or of course, harm you, steal from you, etc etc, without owning you. In conclusion, cultural relativity will always stand in the way of a true universal morality, and there are many people who would happily install an absolute morality, as long as it was their absolute morality! There will always be good people who want the best for others as well as for themselves, but there will also always be those who would deny others the pleasures and privileges that they themselves wish to enjoy. Tim Campbell

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Absolute Morality Part 2

In the first part of this two-part essay, I tried to define morality as being a code of behavior.  I also tried to limit that code to behavior toward ourselves and toward other humans.  This necessarily takes animals and gods out of the equation.  Some might disagree, but my search is for an absolute morality, or at least a universal morality for humans that is not derived from any divine commandments.  Since behavior toward animals and gods is highly subjective and relative to our environments and culture as well as our attitude toward such creatures, I do not think that we could ever all agree upon a code of behavior that included those creatures.

            Certainly, a segment of humanity believes that animals have, or should have, rights, possibly even the same rights that civilized nations accord their human citizens.  While I do not advocate cruelty to animals and have owned and loved animals as pets, I still eat animal flesh and have no plans to discontinue this practice, so if you wish to include animals in your own personal morality, I am fine with that, for you!

            I have to also exclude gods and other supernatural creatures from being beneficiaries of any sort of absolute (i.e. universal) morality.  This of course presumes that a deity does not make His or Her existence and wishes known to modern humans in a very direct and indisputable manner.  Personally, I do not believe that such an event is likely, and is most likely impossible.  Claims of past appearances lack a certain amount of credibility.  OK, I think that most all claimants were human and were either insane or working a con game.  Could be wrong, but I need evidence before I would be willing to believe in such beings, let alone accept their other-worldly directives.  And without belief, I cannot consider as candidates for a universal morality any actions or inactions that involve supernatural beings. 

            Worshipping a specific god, taking the name of a god in vain, maintaining a specific day as that god’s holy day, all of these are moral to specific religions and are meaningless to all who do not share a belief in that deity.

            So I came to the conclusion in Part 1 that the best candidate for an absolute or universal morality would be to “do no harm to other humans.”

            Fairly innocuous, I think, and a concept that I think most everyone should be able to agree with.  But does that idea go far enough?  Should there be something more, something of a more active moral imperative?  After all, simply standing still and doing nothing does no harm.  However, inaction could certainly result in harm.  What about a moral imperative to prevent harm?  Perhaps even a command to promote life or liberty or happiness?

            Unfortunately, while these may be good ideas, they begin to enter the realm of relative actions.

            Suppose, for example, that we have a healthy adult man driving home from work, and he passes a house that is on fire.  Stopping, he does what most of us in today’s modern technological society would do: he calls 911 on his cell phone and reports the fire to the proper authorities.  In most modern cities, he can now be reasonably confident that the fire department, with trained and well-equipped personnel, will arrive soon and deal with the fire.

            But while he is sitting in his car waiting for the fire department to arrive and watching the fire, he hears the screams of children trapped inside the burning house.

            Now, he is faced with serious choices.  If he does nothing, perhaps the fire department will arrive in time to get inside and rescue the children, but perhaps they will not arrive in time and the children will die. 

            On the other hand, he is one man, he is not trained for this; nor is he equipped with any sort of breathing apparatus or protective gear.  If he goes in, he faces the possibility that he will fail and not only will the children die, but so might he.

            We all arguably hope that if we were faced with such a situation that we would have the courage to attempt to rescue the children.   Certainly in such a case we would be acting in a positive manner to “prevent harm to other humans”.  A good candidate for an absolute morality?

            Maybe, maybe not.  The children are not his. The house is not his. He does not know the children or their parents or even one of their relatives or friends. They are complete strangers.  On the other hand, our Samaritan is married, he has children of his own, and they depend upon the presence of their father for their sustenance and support.  By entering the house and dying, the man causes great future harm to his own family.   

            Perhaps he succeeds in rescuing the children in the burning house, but suffers crippling injuries in doing so.  Now, he deprives his own family of a productive father and husband, and he adds to their burden by being alive, but hurt and requiring constant care perhaps for many years.

            So altruism and courage come with a price, and the “goodness” of certain actions may outweigh, or be outweighed by the potential consequences.

            Of course, if faced with such a situation and having only seconds to react, we will most likely react according to our own individual instincts.  Some of us will head for the front door of the house and make every human effort possible to rescue the children; others will freeze and be unable to act; others will weight the consequences and opt to wait for the fire department; sadly, some will turn their cell phone into a camera and simply take pictures to put on Facebook or YouTube later. 

            Regardless, I am not sure that we can condemn or praise our subject no matter what he does or does not do.  Perhaps, one might want to know just how far along the fire is before making a decision here.  Is the house even accessible or has the fire made entry for even the equipped and trained virtually impossible?

            No matter how you look at this situation, it becomes a matter of relative morality, not absolute.

            So maybe we modify the moral imperative and say that one should “prevent harm to other humans WHENEVER POSSIBLE”.  Or perhaps to take a note from the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (and other programs based on the Steps), we can add “EXCEPT WHEN TO DO SO WOULD INJURE THEM OR OTHERS”.

            This, to me, does become somewhat unwieldy, but I think that if we are to consider adding to our initial moral imperative, then we are automatically adding complexity.  Complexity means modification.  It also means that we need to consider this more of a universal morality than an absolute morality.  After all, if the morality is absolute, then we should not need to add modifiers or qualifications.

            So here would be my suggestions for a secular humanist universal morality—a code of behavior toward self and other humans:

1)                  Do no harm to other humans

2)                  Prevent harm from coming to other humans except when doing so would hurt or injure them or other humans.

Now, as for this suggested morality being based in science, I would say that of course it is.  In terms of humanity’s evolutionary development, we survived and thrived because teamwork and unity overcame the physical disadvantages of being a creature without large fangs, powerful limbs, claws, or great speed.  The intelligence and cleverness for making weapons and tools are meaningless without a group dynamic for taking advantage of these assets. We see this in other primates, especially chimps and bonobos, our closest cousins!

Fair enough?  Do we need to go even farther, or have we gone too far?  Is a secular humanist morality detailed enough or too detailed? Can we have such a thing without resorting to supernatural directives? 

      I think we can, and we should! 

5/16/2010

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Morality. Is it possible without God?

Recently, author Sam Harris has proposed that not only is morality possible without the need for God—or any deity, but that science can be used to provide the basis of such a secular morality.  

While I agree with his contention, I feel that I should offer my own take on this subject. 

First, let’s define morality and then establish some categories and some differences.  And a few other things!

I am going to define morality as simply a code of behavior.  The behavior that would encompass a code of any sort can of course take different forms. There is behavior toward oneself, there is behavior toward other humans, and there is behavior toward non-humans.  The category of non-humans would necessarily include non-human inhabitants of this universe as well as the non-human inhabitants of any other universe (i.e. Heaven?).  For the sake of argument, and to see if we can come to a consensus as to what would constitute an absolute morality, I will lump “self” and “other humans” into one general category, and place “all non-humans” into a single separate category.  True, some might be offended by seeing their god or gods sharing a category with cattle, apes, lions,  spiders, and golden carp, but if you’re patient you will see where I’m going with this.

Absolute versus relative.  I am going to say that any code of behavior that is aimed at non-humans is a relative code of behavior, a relative morality.  Why?  Well, because by definition non-humans are not human and OUR morality is necessarily by, about, and for humans!  Since there are millions of species of non-human creatures on this planet, many of which many of us also enjoy eating, I cannot consider any concept of intuitive  morality that would govern our behavior toward non-humanity here!  Certainly, humanity COULD agree that eating other living creatures is wrong and should be abolished, but that agreement would be part of a deterministic process and since many animals are digestible by humans, the decision to stop eating them would not be intuitive or based on tenets of science; it would be an arbitrary decision!  If a code of behavior is not intuitively good or based in science, then it ought not be a candidate for our absolute morality.

God or gods.  Now, I understand that every one of you who is a practicing and believing member of a religion would be ecstatic to have your own god be the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong. 

Among yourselves, this belief may have spawned an absolute morality FOR YOU and for the other members of YOUR religion, but while the rest of us are grateful for your volunteering your god, we must respectfully decline.  You see, there is nothing intuitive or universal or even scientific about dietary restrictions (without medical motivation), sexual restrictions, keeping certain days “holy”, or bending to one’s knees to worship specific deities.  Even if any of these “laws” have been handed to a human or human group by an actual deity, they are entirely relative to that deity.  They are not intuitive (or based on any scientific principles) and they may not even be commandments given by actual gods.

No matter how you cut it, all religions are based on revelation.  A person or persons CLAIMS that a being from another dimension has appeared to them (and usually to ONLY them) and has given them a set of instructions to relay to the rest of us.  This requires two major leaps of incredulity.  First, the rest of us must accept that the human claimants are not conning, lying, or simply insane.  Then we must accept that the being or beings with which they have communicated are also not conning, lying, or simply insane.  And we must accept these assumptions without a shred of physical evidence.

This is not to say that some or all of these alleged instructions from the deity are bad instructions.  Most of us would certainly agree that lying, stealing, and murdering, are USUALLY bad things.  But other instructions are meant specifically as instructions for the worship of the deity.  Neither intuitive nor valid for those who do not believe in that particular deity.  Let’s keep in mind that there are many deities that have been introduced to humanity, many of whom are still around in one form or another.  Without any good evidence, why should any one deity have precedence over another?

What would be the intuitive good or the scientific basis for circumcision, eating only fish on Fridays, not eating pork, forbidding homosexuality, wearing only certain colors, or wearing clothes made only from certain materials, or not working on a specific day?  Everything that I have just mentioned is either a non-issue or a critical issue to somebody and by extension, to somebody’s god. 

So, for the sake of this discussion, I will limit the candidates for an absolute morality to those that affect the category of “oneself and other humans” only.  

As far as I can see, there is one basic commandment that qualifies for consideration:  “do no harm to other humans”.

This idea has been utilized to one degree or another by early humans as well as by our cousins the apes.  Naturally, apes have narrowed the field down to “do no harm to other members of your tribe”. And most of our early ancestors did the same, maintaining a very narrow definition of “fellow tribesman”!   Since tribalism predates civilization—ok, helped lead to civilization–and since primates have been gathering into tribes for protection for millions of years, we are simply adding more folks to the tribe!  This then is an evolutionary concept, one that has come down to us with modification from our distant ancestors!

“Do no harm to other humans” is intuitive.  There is no overall benefit to the tribe for members of that tribe to cause harm to other members.  Therefore there is no inherent benefit for humans to harm other humans.  There can in fact be adverse effects to the member doing the harm as those to whom he or she has done harm will be more reluctant to offer assistance should the first member find himself or herself in trouble.  Nothing like the appearance of a hungry leopard or a rival tribe to bring everyone together!

“Do no harm to other humans” is scientific.  Cooperation and altruistic behavior is one of the primary reasons that humans as a species have survived without the natural means of defense (sharp teeth, powerful limbs, claws, speed).  Our capability to make tools or weapons is meaningless without the numbers that a tribe offers.  One man with a stone club or spear can bring down small game thus providing for himself, but a group with weapons can bring down animals large enough to provide sustenance for an entire village of people—nourishment for women and the young.  Therefore, “do no harm to other humans” is, I think, an excellent start for a secular human-based morality.

In 1776, our Founding Fathers signed a Declaration of Independence from England.  One of the primary tenets of this declaration was that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,[71] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”   Yes, I understand that the Founders added the words “their Creator”.  And yes, many of them were referring to the Abrahamic God.  But if we look at this Declaration objectively, “creator” can be whatever force made the universe.  Does not have to be a supernatural being.  The creator can be natural physical laws; it can be the force of Natural Selection, both of which can easily be seen as  the origin of man’s inalienable rights!

In actuality, regardless of where these rights came from, they had to be won, by combat and with blood.  And yet, there is an excellent intuitiveness to these rights, and even more important, an excellent symmetry to their order.  If we look at “life”, “liberty”, and the “pursuit of happiness”, we can see not only three basic rights, but also an order of priority.  After all, when we are dealing with large numbers of humans, there will necessarily be conflicts and disputes.  By establishing this order of priorities, we can then say that under the general absolute: “do not harm to other humans”, we can establish three sub-headings: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and then further say that one’s life is a higher priority than another’s liberty, and one’s liberty is a higher priority than another’s pursuit of happiness.  Now, we have a good start at a guideline for the inevitable dispute resolution that will come up between people and even between nations.  In other words, we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so long as we do not infringe on the rights of others.

I cannot deprive you of your life or liberty in order to achieve my own happiness, and of course you cannot deprive me of my life in order to achieve your liberty. 

Naturally, these ideas can be debated and should be, but even without the ideas contained within the Declaration of Independence, we have a good start at a secular, human-based morality, and we have done so without requiring a divine being to command us!

Tim Campbell

May 11,2010

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Response to “Pastor Dan”

 

From a letter to the editor that I am preparing for the PD:
 
An interesting article appeared in last Saturday’s Plain Dealer Religion section.  Normally this space is given to tolerant religious views, with the likes of Terry Pluto (a sports writer) and various local clergy, giving watered-down theology for the masses.  However, last Saturday the space was given to “Pastor Dan Bradford” a local evangelical preacher.  He of course held true to form and expressed the view that the ONLY path to salvation or Heaven or any sort of happy life after death lay in the BELIEF in Jesus Christ, and repentance for sins.  He quoted from the two primary fundamentalist books: the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelations.
 
I expected some response from the moderate religious community, from the non-loon segment of Christianity.  I was very much disappointed to see only one response, and that was from a Jewish rabbi!
 
I guess that the moderate religious lack the courage to face up to the views of the fundaloon (Fundamentalist lunatic).  Too bad. I’m an unbeliever, but I’ll point out the obscenity and contradiction of Pastor Dan.
 
First,  the Gospel of John was the fourth of the four gospels and was written at least 50 to 70 years after the Time of Jesus.  It was written during a time in which the early Christian Church was attempting to make a definitive divergence from its Jewish roots.  Growth depended upon bringing in non-Jews, and that meant getting away from Jewish dietary laws and the real bugaboo: adult male circumcision!   Simply put, healthy pagan males had an aversion to hacking up their own penises, even if that act helped to open the Gates of Heaven for them! 
 
If you read the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, you find a viewpoint in which works–following the Mosaic Law–were as important as believing in the message of Jesus, but suddenly in John, we find the opposite view: that works are meaningless and belief in Jesus is the only component of salvation.  Political expediency?  Fudging the doctrines to make Christianity palatable for non-Jews?  Or just outright fabrication? 
 
As for Revelations, this book was written sometime around 80 AD by an exiled Greek monk who claimed to hear Jesus talking to him from a hole in the roof of his cave.  Revelation or schizophrenia?  Personally, I go with schizophrenia.  I would not be impressed by a deity who could only communicate from a hole in my roof, or from my toaster, or from my unplugged television set!   Maybe Pastor Dan and his followers can believe in these “Revelations”, but then I think of the intolerance and hatred and exclusionary arrogance that has come from these two books, and from these so-called True Christians (their own term)!
 
But then, Pastor Dan and his followers believe that the world is only 6000 years old, there was a giant flood just 4000 years ago that wiped out 99% of all land animals, who then replenished the entire planet in just a few short centuries after this impossible flood, and that EVERY one of us who does not attend their little church or believe EXACTLY as they do is condemned to the eternal fires of an other-dimensional Hell.
 
Pastor Dan has the right to his beliefs, but we should all be aware of the ignorance, intolerance, and obvious biblical cherry-picking that fosters those beliefs.  He claims to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, but then ignores those books or passages that openly contradict those he has selected for his article.
 
And by the way, to the religious moderates in this community, way to go!  Glad to see you all stepping up to condemn this intolerant theology!
 
Tim Campbell

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Ok!  This whole blogging thing could be very interesting.  My plan here is to write essays on topics that interest me.  Some will be controversial; others will not be! 

About me: I’m 61, I have two great sons, a great girlfriend, and lots of good friends.  I am into astronomy–member of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Society– play tennis (USTA 3.5 rating), and love movies and books and travelling!

Am also a big St. Ignatius football fan, as those of you who know me well are fully aware!

I also am an atheist, secular humanist, and evolutionist.  I believe in the ability of science to give us the best answers–not always the right ones, but the methodology is the best for weeding out the wrong ones!  I do not believe in the existence of tribal gods.  I believe that those beings were invented by their followers and that includes Zeus, Mardok, Baal, and Yahweh/Allah.  I don’t believe that the man known as Jesus was in fact God come to Earth, and I don’t believe that Muhammad rode to Heaven on a white horse. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

Basic facts:  the Universe is appr 13.75 billion years old and contains appr 100 billion galaxies and more than a trillion trillion stars, many very much like our own star, which we call the Sun.  Earth is appr. 4.5 billion years old, and we humans share a lineage with every other living creature on this planet going back appr 4 billion years.  Those are facts, not speculative guesses.  The mechanics and many other details may be up for research and debate, but these are basic certain facts, at least as certain as we can ascertain. 

I don’t believe in magic!

Now that we’ve established who I am, I hope that you enjoy my musings, and come back for more.  Comments and questinos are welcome, but if you are going to tell me I’m going to hell for my disbeliefs, then I will respond in kind. If you are polite, I will be too!

Tim Campbell

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Depressing!

 

Just depressing.  Is Reason truly doomed to lose against the ignorance of these people?  Of course, EVERYONE is an unbeliever to SOMEONE, and every religion is wrong to every other religion.  It’s the Twenty-First Century the jackasses continue to bray.  National Prayer Day, creationism, carving up children’s genitals, belief in impossible floods and ludicrous stories from the Early Iron Age, gay anti-gay Xtians proclaiming the words of Jeeeezuz to their naked buff hairless rent-a-boys, semi-senile popes covering up for their child-molesting priests, and ALL of the moronic obscene muslims who think that an illiterate Sixth Century pedophile nomad is THE prophet of the actual creator of the universe.  
And they deny secular science as if being secular was actually a bad thing.  I am starting to understand why Satan rebelled against God.  He realized that God was a rabid moron!
 

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Just testing the waters

OK, so now I’m officially in the Blog World.  If any of you read this, please let me know that it is coming through.

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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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