Archive for March, 2006

Evidence For God

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

This is one of those posts which has nothing original in it. Rather, it is fulfilling the original purpose of this blog, which was to be a theological sketchpad- a place to jot down things I have come across that might be useful in the future. Zoomtard Hero #5, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol”. This amazingly profound sentence might need unpacking (and if so, comment man, comment!) but it is my standard response to friends who tell me:

There is no evidence for God. How can we be expected to believe when it is so irrational!

In the spirit of the last post here is an attempt to show in a different way, how the question is a kind of category mistake. Let me rip off a book I am reading at the moment by Zoomtard Hero #4, Tom Wright, called Simply Christian. Imagine being in an isolated house out in the countryside. You are on your own. Don’t worry about why your here and don’t worry about whether this plot set up will lead to some horror movie starring Famke Janssen or worse, an erotic thriller starring Sharon Stone. Trust your narrator. You are better off trusting him anyway because you, as the character are at his will. In many ways he is like God. Therefore, God exists. Q.E.D.

Wait, I haven’t remembered that properly. I got lost somewhere in my reasoning. Go back to the start. You are alone in an isolated cottage in the countryside. Late one evening, just as you are about to curl up with a book, the power goes off leaving everything in darkness. You know there is a box of matches on the mantlepiece so you grope in the darkness across your living room until you find them. You use the matches to guide you to the utility room where you know there are some candles. With the candles you are able to root around until you find a flashlight in amongst some junk in a spare room. You can now breathe a sigh of relief. You have successfully managed to discover devices that illuminate the world around you. You curl up with your book and eventually fall asleep.

But when you wake up the morning has come. It would be ridiculous to draw on the tools that were so helpful in your previous quest to discover if the sun had risen. You cannot hope to reach up to the source of all light with man-made tools for illuminating darkness. It is because of the sun, the source of all light, that we recognise the darkness. And it is by the sun that we have the tools to vanquish darkness. At the risk of crushing the point of the story under my explanations, asking for evidence of God, whereby you mean empirical, scientific evidence, is foolishness. God, if he exists, is not an entity in our world. He is not subject to the same study as architecture or maths and we cannot use the same techniques on him that we use for process and products of the world.

Your Correspondent, Even his kids will end up as skeletons.

Alvinizing and planting on the issue of rationality

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

In first year in college I came across the maths of Bertrand Russell. Then I came across his book “Why I Am Not A Christian” in the philosophy shelves of the library. I probably didn’t spend enough time in the library and what time I squandered there was in Philosophy and Theology and Literature instead of Programming, Maths and the Studying Things That Lead To CAREERS. Russell’s position can be summed up as evidential. When asked what he would say if confronted by God upon his death he responded with, “I’d say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”

This is one of the most common objections that people hold against faith in Christianity. Many feel that without due evidence faith is irrational or unreasonable. Skeptics of this sort will nod approvingly as I quote John Locke when he says a mark of a rational person is “the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proof it is built upon will warrant”. Interestingly, this objection is often phrased in terms of an intellectual duty. Christians whose belief in Jesus is apparently unfounded are somehow failing themselves and also in a more general sense humanity, with their soft-headedness.

The evidentialist tends to look at the Christian as suffering from some critical fault in their critical faculties that has left them susceptible to these false ideas about reality. This is most explicitly the case with Richard Dawkins who dismisses religious faith as a byproduct of memes, which problematically have to be accepted on faith. But Freud was another one of these guys who thought that Christians were suffering a kind of brain sickness. He famously described religous beliefs as, “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most insistent wishes of mankind”. Marx is another one of these lads and as anyone who has ever participated in a debate on a university campus knows, he called religion the opium of the people. The cause of this insidious effect on people, for Marx, was an insidious world. A perverted social order has produced a perverted perspective. Marx thinks the Christian believes as he does only because of the power of this unreal perspective, this perverted neurotic condition. His intellect isn’t functioning as it ought to. It isn’t facing up to the cold hard reality that we are on our own and that there is no loving Father taking care over us.

For most people reading this site, the view of evidentialist viewpoint will be something they are familiar with. Only a few will realise that a mirror of this argument is held by Christianity. John Calvin probably wouldn’t have been too impressed with you if you told him his brain was broken and if he didn’t throw Marx or Freud in prison, he might have taken the time to explain to them that they were not only broken, but infected too. See for Calvin, all people are born with an inherent knowledge of God. The Bible also supports this view. The Christian counter-point to the evidentialist is that their disbelief is an illusion that is part of a large tapestry of distraction and distortion woven by the deceiver to supress the truth in unrighteousness. Christians got in there first with this “You’re not just wrong, you are stupid. You are not just stupid, you are sick” argument. For Calvin, “a sense of deity is inscribed in the hearts of all”. This nisus, this tendency, is warped and then concealed by the reverberating effects of sin and so he would view Marx and Freud, Dawkins and Hume as the soft-headed ones. Without sin, Calvin feels we would trust in the existence of God in the same way we trust in the existence of our girlfriend or boyfriend, in gravity or in yesterday. Put another way, Calvin thinks that Marx is as crazy in denying the existence of God as someone who denies the existence of their spouse.

So who is right? Is Calvin hallucinating? Or is Freud infected? Alvin Plantinga is a philosopher of religion who thinks both arguments can be summed up in the same way. They both say to the other, “Your brain is not working properly”. And this is where I think the theist has the upper hand. This idea of proper functioning is troublesome. What does it mean for my intellect to be working properly? What does it mean for an organism to function properly? When is a dog broken? A cow is functioning properly when she gives milk (presuming of course she is part of a dairy herd). My garden will be functioning properly when my oak saplings start to thrive. Our definition of “working properly” is based on our aims and intentions for the thing being discussed. To quote Plantinga, “So far as nature herself goes, isn’t a fish decomposing in a hill of corn functioning just as properly, just as excellently, as one happily swimming about chasing minnows?”

So what does it mean for my intellect to be working properly? It seems pretty clear that “working properly” is a grid we create and apply to things depending on what we want to get out of them. For the Christian, this problem folds out simply and elegantly. As we can assess the proper functioning of my mp3 player based on its intended purpose, we can assess the intellect based on its intended purpose. For the Christian, the mind is working properly when it is working as it was intended by God. Here, the argument from the atheist evidentialist begins to flounder. If my mind is flawed in its faith assertions, then how is that measured? How can you claim that a mind is not working as it should if the mind is a byproduct of blind forces with no specific purpose at all?

When the common claim is made that faith is irrational, the claimant must explain on what basis do they claim their rationale to be rational. Without a means of assessment, no one can claim that a mind has gone astray, or is flawed, or is irrational. Without a Creator, the claimant flounders to find solid ground on which to discern what is rational and what is not. Freud would say I was suffering from an illusion with my Christianity. But as an atheist, he must hold that his mind and all its thoughts are off-shoots of directionless forces. Where then does rationality arise from? There is much more evidence for the Christian faith than is commonly thought. But for many, the work involved in reading the theology and the archeology and the historical context is too much. For those people we can bypass specifics and get right down to the roots of the problem where we see that the irrational thing is the claim that true rationality could be discoverd in a Godless world.

Your Correspondent, Has a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right

Just Throwing It Out There…

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

If we don’t believe in a good God because of the suffering in the world, we would have to ask where the concept of good comes from. If objective good doesn’t exist, then what is wrong with a “good” God who from his point of view is good, tsunamis and genocide or not? If we reject this good God because the suffering he allows undermines an objective good we claim exists, then we have to ask who is the source of the objective good.

Your Correspondent, Remembering his calling as an ontological terrorist.

This Is The Baywatch One

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

Tomorrow we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Today we celebrate crazies. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, is being sued by the authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail. This you all know because it has been on the news fairly regularly these past few days. Also if you have ever attended a lecture by Zoomtard on this he would have told you it was going to happen a long time ago.

There is a great irony in Baigent, Leigh and the other authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail unveiling the shocking hidden truth behind Christianity in their 1982 bestseller and then suing Dan Brown when he popularises their alleged historical discoveries to a phenomenonally unforseen audience. Let us leave aside the preposterous nature of the claims both books make. What matters is that Holy Blood Holy Grail explictly claims to be a historical work. The Da Vinci Code is less explicit but it does claim to represent “fact” in everything that takes place inside the fictional plot of the novel. Whether or not “HBHG” is the startling hidden truth behind Christianity, it must legally be considered fact because of how it’s content is presented. For the purposes of copyright, claims to historical truth can’t be owned.

It would be stupid (although amusing) if Stigmund published a book claiming that St. Patrick invented chicken fillets. If OG then wrote a novel about St. Patrick’s cleavage, Stigmund couldn’t sue her for plagiarism. True ideas can’t be owned. Truth is in the public domain. That is after all, the end purpose historians have in mind when they seek to uncover the shocking hidden nature of the past. The veracity of Stigmund’s claims wouldn’t matter if he made them in the key of fact.

Jesus certainly wasn’t married. Whether he was the Messiah is a question open to discussion. Whether he was a bachelor is not. Interestingly though, if he did have kids, then I am his descendant. So are you. Check it out. The numbers add up.

I am printing this Onion.com front-page article out and sticking it above my desk. It is biting satire at its very best. I fear sometimes that I am prone to having the parasite of evangelical Christian sub-culture grab a hold and start sucking the relevance from my soul without me noticing. This kind of sharp point should serve as a vaccination against that susceptability.

Your Correspondent, Lives a life of indiscreet discretion

Get Me Past This Day. It Has Been Defeated.

Monday, March 13th, 2006

Well now it has come to this. I have an A4 piece of paper beside me covered in bullet points and all but 3 are crossed out. Some of the more satisfying ones are scribbled out of existence, xified if you will. The remaining 3 consist of 2 ongoing projects and one simple task that involves nothing more than walking upstairs to my office. Today has worked well. My automobile should be back from the Car Hospital later on and then I will be ready to roll into the future with “HOPE” written across my forehead. They know what is wrong with the car, (who is called Aiya, for those of you who care to know) but that doesn’t mean I know. I think it has something to do with a leak that let all the bolts fall out or maybe it was sand on the tyres. Who knows? The car doctors. Who cares? Not you.

In the course of my feverish work today I found many shiny nuggest of web brilliance that I feel an urge to share with you before I go upstairs to get those papers I need. One of the many things I love to read about and think about and talk at people about (because who needs their involvement when you have all the answers?) is the relationship between Christianity and culture at large. This is a great article about that from Christianity Today. You know when you read an article about something that you feel strongly about but that you have never felt like you have expressed yourself well and the article puts words on the things you had hoped to say? Of course you do because you come here after all. But that feeling is good. Experience the feeling. Click the link.

Although a friend of mine who teaches at the best rated girls’ secondary school in England claims that hoverboards (like the ones from Back to the Future II) are a theoretical possibility, I still can’t bring myself to hope to own one anytime soon. But for €30 it seems you can make a pretty nifty lightsaber for yourself, thus completeing half of our childhood wishlist.

I loved the Narnia movie that was released before Christmas but I was pretty distressed when I found out that Disney were offering prizes to pastors who would link the movie from their sermons. I was even more distressed when I found out my pastor didn’t win even though he had three great Narnia reflections! Seriously though, after the Passion, that cartoon with Tom Hanks and Narnia, movie companies seem to think that marketing their film to the culture hungry (see above) Christian communities will make them a tidy bundle. There must be a line drawn about where the benefit of discussion started by watching good movies ends and the cost of associating ourselves with big business becomes burdensome. That line won’t be drawn by corporate entities. Christians have to have their wits about them when they engage in these kinds of sometimes-symbiotic tie-ins. All this serves as an introduction to a short movie called McPassion that parodies the willingness of brands to appropriate Jesus for the sake of profit.

Malcolm Gladwell is the New Yorker feature writer who wrote Tipping Point, the most commonly read book of 2005 amongst Zoomtard’s friends and family that he himself has not yet read. His website is a delight. But one of the best articles is about Rick Warren’s 25000 strong Saddleback Community Chruch and how it has managed to grow so strongly.

This is a really good piece of journalism and I heartily recommend it. It reports on a phenomenon that was unpredictable, seemingly sustainable and potentially transformative- that is a church that is doing the right kind of thing. And it reports it without an unreasonable bias (positive or negative) coming through, which seems to be a very difficult thing to do. Warren seems like an interesting guy, unlike his famous book, which annoys the hell out of me. Mostly for being boring.

Purpose Driven Life

My dream t-shirt is a photoshopped version of that book cover with a syringe in place of the tree and the title “Heroin Driven Life”. If I ever get asked to speak at New Horizon or some other big deal Christian love-in, I will have to get it done.

Continuing the theme of engaging with culture, the Centre For Contemporary Christianity in Ireland have a website of lenten reflections. Consider them well, if that is your bag. I’m off to hang out with Nietszche’s rabid thoughts though….

Your Correspondent, Tongue tied

Things Kindergarten Cop Taught Me

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

Remember the classic Schwarzenegger comedy from 1990? And that shcoking scene that had primary schoolyards ablaze with new found info from the scene where the kid Joseph stands up and apropos of nothing at all declares:

Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina!

I have carried that data close to my heart all these long years and this Wednesday, when no one cares to celebrate World Women’s Day even though the UN go to the trouble of throwing the party, I will be pretty sure how to distinguish the genders from anatomy. I was brought up in a house where the equality of the genders is just taken as a given. All my siblings are very smart, but the DNA mix was especially good for the eldest, my sister, who is the cleverest of our hexagonal clan. My mom raised 6 kids and worked full time as a teacher. My dad did housework and cooking. My dad ran a business and my mom took care of accounts. My dad fixed things around my house but my mom helped solve the problems. They were a team. Without them having to use any words, they preached the good news of gender equality to me.

So when I came face to face with this Jesus fellow when I had all but grown up, one of the things I was attuned to was how he reacted to women. I was thrilled to find out that Jesus was the first feminist. Seriously. Jesus was a radical believer in the equality of the genders. That means a lot considering he invented them and all. Maybe this issue doesn’t get your blood pumping quite like mine. In that case, turn off your computer, walk outside and keep walking until you reach Senseland. It is somewhere in Scandinavia.

Luke tells a seemingly trivial little story about Jesus visiting friends. I am sure that those of us familiar with it see it as a lesson about hard work and taking rests. That is not why Luke included it in one of the official biographies. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were siblings who seemed to be very good friends with Jesus. Bethany was a lovely little town a little outside of Jerusalem that features quite a lot in the Gospels. But the story is usually understood as a simple moral tale about the life of devotion on one hand and the life of active service on the other.

If you don’t care to click on the link and don’t know the story, the plot gets going when Martha complains to Jesus about Mary not helping out with the washing up. That is usually where our understanding of the story ends but the problem of the day wasn’t that Mary was so enthralled with Jesus’ teaching that she forgot to empty the dishwasher. The problem was that she was in the room with Jesus at all. Who was this woman who felt she could ignore all the social teaching of Judaism by sitting in the room with the men as the Rabbi taught. That she is sitting is even shocking. You sit when you are ready to listen to and accept teaching. Who is this harlot who thinks she can receive teaching. Doesn’t she know she is a woman! Men and women belong in different parts of the building. She has broken that rule and now she assumes the position of disciple in front of the great teacher.

So when Martha complains that Mary isn’t sweeping the floor, she is really just politely asking Jesus to deal with the shameful transgressions of her sister. She isn’t being a busybody so much as trying to sensitively and subtley remove her sister from a situation she’ll live to regret. We often read her as being rude to Mary but really, the one she is being rude to is Jesus. She would have held him responsible for overturning their social world. Mary, after all, is just a woman. Maybe she doesn’t know any better. They take notions, you know? So Martha is reproaching Jesus and trying to save Mary.

Jesus is quite plain in his response, as usual. Mary has chosen the better route, he says. With that he explodes a major social taboo and quietly and calmly leaves his hearers open mouthed with shocked amazement. He has dismantled a stronghold of misogyny. He has undermined centuries of accepted wisdom. He has claimed once again that he has the right to turn the world upside down. But most importantly, he has said that women can sit in classrooms with men, that women do not always need to have their home at home, that women and men must be equal. And Jesus says that will not be taken away.

Your Correspondent, Wonders has sex ever moved us to another place?

An Open Letter To My Christian Friends

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

Friends,

Some of you come to Zoomtard to get some wisdom/interesting ideas he has robbed from someone else. He robbed this from Keller, who robbed it from Spurgeon:

There was a gardener who grew the biggest carrot he had ever grown. And he loved his King so he brought it to him and said, “Sire, this is the greatest and biggest carrot I have ever grown or ever will grow and I want you to have it as a token of my esteem and gratitude.” The King was touched that this simple gardener would do this so as the gardener bowed and got ready to leave the King said, “Wait! I happen to own a plot of land next to your land. You are obviously a good man who will make good use of that. I would like to give that to you!” And the gardener went home rejoicing.

There was a nobleman near by and he had overheard this. He thought to himself, “If you get an acre for a carrot…!” So the next day he brought an incredibly beautiful horse into the presence of the King. And he said, “My Lord, I raise horses. This here is the finest horse I have ever raised and ever will raise. And I want to give it to you as a token of my esteem and gratitude.”

But the King discerned the nobleman’s heart and so he took the horse and simply said, “Thank you very much” and began to walk away. The nobleman stood there with his jaw dropped until the King turned around and said, “Let me explain: that gardener was giving me the carrot but you were giving yourself the horse. ”

Keller says that Spurgeon finished this story by saying: Without the Gospel, you are not clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick. You are clothing yourself. You are feeding yourself. You are caring for yourself. All of your good deeds are all for you. Unless the Gospel has utterly changed your life it is RELIGION! You are not doing anything for God. You are not seeking God. You are seeking things. You are doing it for yourself. You are doing it to get something from God. These two entirely different motivations make the world of difference.

When we became Christians we saw clearly that the Gospel stands utterly oppossed to both religion and irreligion. But sometimes, even when intellectually acknowledging justification by faith, we slip into justification by sanctification. I think it helpful to be reminded again and again that we obey because we have been accepted, we don’t need to obey to be accepted.

Your Correspondent, You can save face but you will never save your soul.

Drawn to the emotionalism of the line-out

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

It is with real shame that I face you, my solitary readership. I have neglected you. Distracted by work and sickness and real life, I have gone a good few long weeks without updating and although I could fit all of you in a small room with enough space for three elephants in the corner (my speech improvement, my rapidly greying hair and the t-shirt I would be wearing bearing a photo of Stigmund), I do feel a little obligation to drop in and share my unrequested opinions with you. So in that slightly rude fasion, let us continue apace!

End The Ovoidocracy of Gheyball
I read a report a few years ago that said that basketball was Ireland’s third most popular sport, after GAA (for the purposes of this report, Gaelic football, hurling, handball and mural painting were considered one game) and soccer. If that is the case, how come rugby takes up so much space in the national discourse? How come Brian O’Driscoll’s team of hair stylists are better known than all of the Neptune squad put together? If rugby was such a big deal in this country, how come on the weekend people weren’t dancing on the street with glee as our boys kicked the ball out of play better than the Welsh boys and therefore won a victory. The reason of course that basketball is televised live only twice a year and gheyball is on constantly is that rich people like gheyball and ordinary bus drivers and primary school teachers and nurses play basketball. We get to enjoy grown men in shorts ruck each other around on the tv because corporations selling useless things like banking and energy drinks will buy advertising so that they can reach their target audience of a man in his late 20s with a double-barrelled name, a nifty 3 series BMW and a desire for both/or penis enlargement and hair implants. Even having some men describe other men in shorts rucking each other over the radio will bring out the PTSBs and the AIBs and the Powerades of this world. Who sponsors basketball? The ESB. Electricity doesn’t really offer much space for profit-reaping niche marketing.

I have a friend, a certain best friend, who I have known since before either of us could read. During school and on into college, this certain friend couldn’t have identified a Gheyball league game from gheyball union. All of a sudden though, he has realised that watching gheyball means meeting business associates and fellow tycoonic offspring and he has developed a passionate interest in the game. He has decided, strangely, to cast his legitimate new-found glory as an alternative to soccer. Whether it is a deliberate effort to rile me up in anticipation of the greatest sporting event of all time this summer or just as an expression of his blue-blooded fear of the common man, Ann-dee has begun referring to soccer as “Prole-ball”. I am sure there is a doctorate thesis for some sufficiently cheeky working class type on the latent homoeroticism in rugby, which is well known for fostering a homophobic atmosphere surrounding its crudely unreconstructed idea of macho masculinity. Let’s all us normal types bring that day a little closer by adopting a new name for rugby. Let the word go forth to the worker and the healer! There is an ovoidocracy at work in Irish sporting life. End the egg-shaped tyranny. Overthrow the elliptical-ball fat cats! Let us begin by calling a spade a spade (something only us workers could really know) and referring to their game by its true name: GHEYBALL. Power to the sphereball. Down with gheyball

Our Cousins Across The Radioactive Pond
I work for a charity. I tell that to chicks regularly enough that I could have it as a headstone, that is if I ever die. My little charity is part of a worldwide movement that actually has mobilised people in every country where being a Christian isn’t illegal and in many where it is. While I am confident that my daily work will actually make the world a better place, our sister movement in Britain has definitely done that. Seriously like, if you read any of the history books about Christianity in the last 100 years, the British version of me and my co-workers is featured. Just at a random dip, try this book. They’re in it.

Anyway, we do a lot of things with our friends in Britain because they are very good at everything they do. They are smart, motivated and very capable. But they are also so flipping boring that all but one of my colleagues finds it to varying levels of pain, a great hassle to spend large periods of time with them. Let me restate that we acknowledge their sincerity, their integrity and their deep wisdom. We all yearn to pass on a heritage to our successors like they have forged over generations. But there are only so many breakfast time conversations about Calvin’s Institutes of Religion that a guy can handle in a week. When we take coffee breaks at conferences, they should be breaks and not opportunities to discuss how Berkhof works out the systemic expressions of the hypo-static union.

There was a year when I had to spend 3 seperate weeks with my sometimes stifling British Bible-bearing buddies but there was one of them who totally rocked. Now she has a blog. And all this rambling serves as a way to introduce you to her. Amongst many other things she is a fellow adult convert, just as adroit in Bible handling as the rest of her colleauges and she can fix musical instruments. She should also be very amusing and worthy of your momentary attention. So zoomtarders, go visit Under A Bushell.

Redeeming Christianity?
I am a man of easy crushes. I have an internet crush on this girl. I have a movie star crush on this woman. I have a theology crush on the Bishop of Durham. Ever since my mentor* gave me a CD of mp3 sermons by Tim Keller, I have a church leader crush on him. So when the New York Times did an article on him this week I was fascinated. (Use bugmenot to log in) I am the most blessed young Christian in Ireland because of the people I have to guide me along my journey. There are three ministers connected to the church I am a member of. One is a female South African, the other is the most accomplished preacher I have ever heard (he’d even give Dr. Keller a run for his money) and the third who I spend most of the time with is a visionary with astonishing gifts. All of these guys make me deeply appreciative of the lottery that had me born when and where I was born. But even with them I have become addicted to Keller’s sermons. He is an amazing preacher who will draw on a Leonard Cohen song followed by a chapter from Sartre to illuminate a difficult passage in the Gospels. I listen and try to figure out how he captures your attention and I am left with the realisation that he has a gift. Sure, he has obviously honed it but I fear I will never be able to communicate God’s love for people on the scale he does**. Still though, don’t you just love that he refuses the title “evangelical” and prefers to just be known as an orthodox Christian? Simple profundity. Keep coming back to Zoomtard for more, folks!

* Those of you who can read will be awe-struck that I have someone in my life who has been given the title “mentor”. My boss values things like marriage and health and satisfaction in his staff. Not in the “health” for work, “marriage” for stability for work and “satisfaction” for staying working with us way. He actually really cares that all of us take time off when we should and spend time with our spouses and other loved ones. And one of the things he initiated on my first day on the job was a mentoring system. A guy in his late 30s who is from a different country and used to work with a very large corporation but now has a radically different lifestyle gets together with me once or twice a month to hang out, drink coffee, talk about football and the Christian sub-culture. He then asks me a couple of probing questions and goes off and prays for me. Weird, eh?

** I know I will get emails and worried comments along the lines of “God will give you the gifts you need to fulfill the jobs he has in mind” yadda yadda yadda. I understand that correct theology of it but can’t you just leave a guy to wallow in egotistical dreamland for a while? Sheesh. You’d think I was in training to be a Jedi knight…

Evil-utionists
Eagle eyed readers of Zoomtard will know that this little full-time Christian believes that the account of Creation in Genesis 1-3 does not bear much on the modern theory of evolution which has come along way since a 7 year old Charles Darwin (who may or may not have been an AGENT OF SATAN!!!1!!!11**!) first drew a picture of his grandfather Erasmus that looked like a monkey. Today there is evidence more substantial than pink sunsets sometimes appearing near pink flamingos. This evidence is far too complex to go into right now but take it as read that Zoomtard believes that evolution is an increasingly accurate and scientifically legitimate explanation of the origin and development of species.

Lots of that evidence has arisen from the relatively new field of neuro-science. As we discover more and more things about the brain and its working, some very high profile scientists have advanced an explanation for all religious belief that argues that faith lends a kind of evolutionary fitness function to the believer. Daniel Dennett is one of the most famous philosophers who appropriate neuro-science for this purpose. This is the kind of atheism I can do business with folks. Forget the crude, shambolic blustering of Dawkins, or the morally outraged blindsightedness of Sam Harris (here is an article where Dennett is compared with Harris).

This critique of faith has been advanced by convinced but fair minded atheists who are genuinely wrestling with the problem of 90% of Earthlings believing in some supreme power without, as they see it, any reason. They are not evangelistic atheists (not that there is anything principally wrong with atheists proselytising) who preach a message of light coming into the dark, naive, crutch holding world of the “believers”. They tend to just really want to find the truth and have managed to maintain a position of humble self-doubt even when their pursuit has led them to actual positions.

The best example of this is an article that appeared a few months ago in the Atlantic Monthly by Paul Bloom called “Is God An Accident?” This is a fascinating article that really had me stumped over Christmas. In it, Bloom lays out the case for understanding faith as a side effect of the evolution of our brains (epigenetic-adaptation argument). Studies show babies are born inclined to believe in supernatural intervention and that even amongst children there is a duality to the self where soul and body are distinguished as seperate, but interlocked entities. Bloom’s article is great but sadly, you need to be an Atlantic subscriber to read it in full.

I was a little bit besotted by this elegant explanation until this month’s Atlantic which features a letter from the scientist in Queens University Belfast whose research was the foundation for much of the article. Forgive me for quoting the letter at such length but there is no way that I could hope to put the proper answer to the growing voice that argues faith is an evolutionary by-product or relatedly, that Christianity is a “meme“. Justin Barrett of Queens wrote:

…But the provocative title and a number of remarks in the essay might lead readers to believe that scientific accounts of religious beliefs, such as the sort he and I both embrace, undermine the truth of religious belief. I would hate for readers to misunderstand the relationship between the science of belief and belief itself. To use science to attack religion in this way is misguided and ultimately undermines our confidence in science even more than our confidence in religion. If religious belief is only a byproduct of our naturally selected minds having produced no direct fitness benefits in our evolutionary past, so too are a host of scientific beliefs, including the belief in natural selection itself. This observation leads to an uncomfortable problem for the anti-theist. If our brains (and the thoughts they generate) have arisen only because of their ability to produce survival-related behaviors and not Truth, how can we trust them to tell us the truth about such matters as, say, natural selection? The anti-theist must construct an argument to justify trusting his or her own mind, which could be in the midst of producing “accidental” thoughts and beliefs while constructing the argument! Such an argument, too, must consider the huge psychological literature detailing how human minds systematically get things wrong—from visual perception to higher-order reasoning—apparently to assist in our survival.

Even embracing an evolutionary account of religion, the theist may skate through this epistemological train wreck by insisting that a deity has orchestrated evolution to produce minds that can be trusted to produce true beliefs (at least under certain conditions). Perhaps the deity fine-tuned the nature of the universe from its origin so that our minds—capable of truly knowing the deity—would be inevitable. Or perhaps the deity directed just the right “random” mutations that natural selection then chose, which eventually produced our minds so that they could know Truth.

The point is that the theist may choose to believe in a deity and evolutionary or cognitive scientific accounts of religion without a conflict. The anti-theist’s determination to undercut religious belief via evolution may force abandonment of science itself. If, as Bloom suggests, religion and science will always clash, the blame lies not on the theist but on the anti-theist.

Other letters go on to make very pertinent points about the parallels between the faith as evolutionary side effect argument and intelligent design- both are elegant hypothetical solutions that draw on tangentially relevant empirical data but have no actual research to back up their assertions.

It is a superbly written rebuttal and so simply sensible that I am really thankful that Dr. Barrett took the time to write it. Without it I would still be sitting here twiddling a problem that amounts to a whole lot of nothing in my fingers. Much better to arrogantly declare that I still know everything there is to be known.

Religion Class, the Anti-Christ and Lent
Anti-theists often argue that Christianity has been “rammed down their throats” because of church involvement in primary and secondary education in Ireland. I was talking to YellowSnow about religion class today. In her secondary school in deepest, darkest, Protestant Ulster, they had informed and respectful ethical debates about the matters of the day moderated by a caring and thoughtful teacher. We had a recent graduate who didn’t quite know how to fill the three 40 minute segments she had with us every week and so instead we watched a steady stream of the Simpsons and the videos she thought were really cool in college. While it is great that a bunch of 16 year olds were exposed to Jean de Florette, I would have preferred some half baked ideas about Buddhism from the spotty girl with the Richard Gere crush across from me.

But one of the things that we did have in school, unless I am imagining it, was Ash Wednesday. We also had lent in the form of Trocaire boxes. Now that I have gone all left-footed and black-hearted and joined the Presbyterian church I don’t tend to have much time for Ash Wednesday (although I appreciate how beneficial it is for some). I would have the Trocaire box if I wasn’t already in a monogomous development-charity relationship with Tearfund. When I say I don’t have time for it, I mean it literally. I would consider doing it if I had the time. I am not averse to the idea of a public badge that forces me to consider the period coming before Easter. Lent meant nothing in my Irish secondary school either, even though we had lots of opportunity to have it relevantly explained to us. It was a chance to give up sweets to lose a few pounds. Everyone gave something up but no one ever took anything up.

Well this Lent I am seeking to take something up in preperation for the major event of the Christian year. I am reading Nietzsche. Seeing as I read Miroslav Volf’s amazing Lenten book at Christmas (who also had a high profile article in the Times (of London) this week), I had to find something else to read. That is right, the philosopher who declared that God is dead and that identified himself with Anti-Christ. I am taking something I heard Stephen Williams say in a lecture about Nietzsche as a debating and devotional partner seriously and I am going to seek my to reflect on the father of post-modernism as a way to understand the death and resurrection of the Son. So expect a lot of out-of-my-depth waffle over the next 6 weeks. Anyone who doesn’t understand what I write will never be an Uberman. Never! Never I tell you!!!

Your Correspondent, He writes such pretty words