Total Drek

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

"I may be a colossally ignorant jackass, but..."

During one of my recent wanderings on the old interwebs I came across an article/editorial/bewildering rant over on the illustrious Townhall.com. The rant in question, titled "Atheism- A Godless Delusion," is authored by one Phil Harris, a man whose lone qualification as a pundit appears to be his total lack of expertise in anything. No, seriously, that's how Townhall explains it in his biography:

There is a tendency for people to seek out experts on various subjects as they hope to develop informed opinions about current events in society and government, war and peace, or any number of subjects. Often times, expert opinions are as varied as the flakes in a snowstorm. In the end, sometimes, ya just gotta know what Phil thinks.


So, basically, Phil Harris appears to be qualified as a pundit in much the same sense as Joe the Plumber is qualified to be a war correspondent. He essentially belongs to the "Aw, shucks" school of journalism that I have learned to detest* because it substitutes knee-jerk reactionism for compassion, reason and intelligent debate. In any case, Phil's piece is essentially a rant against atheism. Moreover, it is so indescribably bad that it is effectively its own counter-argument. Given that I sometimes enjoy shooting fish in a barrel strapped to the end of my shotgun with duct tape, I have decided to reproduce his "essay" here for your enjoyment with occasional added commentary.

Let's begin:

Throughout the ages, a single question hangs on the face of mankind like a hairy wart on the end of the nose. Each of us will live our lives, raise our children, and then lay down to die with this question asked, but never answered.

Who am I, and why am I here?


Amusingly, if you believe the bible, quite a few people got a pretty direct answer to this question back in the day. I'm just sayin. More pertinent, however, Phil looks to be setting up the old false dichotomy between the atheist "I don't know why we're here" answer and the theist "We're here because [insert book] says that [insert god] wants us to [insert random commandment]." The problem, of course, is that the meaning of life really can't be revealed by completing a mad lib. And even if it could, there is no evidence that any particular set of entires is correct. A choice between an admission of ignorance and an answer produced by fiat is no choice at all.

It is a question that Richard Dawkins and other rejectionists can never answer through the scientific method; although, they claim all mysteries of the Universe would surely be unraveled given enough time and study. In a rather perverse twist, it is those who believe that life continues that are assured to know all there is to know, while those who reject life beyond death will simply evaporate, along with the composite chemicals that give the illusion of self, knowledge, and consciousness.


Okay, first, "rejectionists"? Seriously? Is that a dig? Because we don't "reject" a god or gods, we just don't believe they exist. Hell, everyone is a rejectionist from the perspective of someone of a different faith. You're an Allah rejectionist and a Vishnu rejectionist to name a few. Stop being juvenile.** Second, Dawkins doesn't claim all mysteries will be unravelled through science, but he does argue that a lot can be. Third, belief that life continues beyond death does not, in fact, guarantee that it does anymore than believing in bigfoot guarantees that there's an enormous primate roaming around the Pacific northwest. As it happens, if I'm right, then we will all cease to exist at death and, thus, those who know the most will be those who learn it while alive, not those who expect to cheat off the big kid's test after death. Lastly: dude! Did you just refer to god's divine plan as "perverse"? Wicked burn!

Am I simply a clump of molecules, arranged in a complex fashion after billions of years of trial, error, and happenstance? This raises more questions for me than I had before, such as these:


I don't know about the clump of molecules thing but I'm absolutely convinced that you are a shitacular writer. That said, your strawman argument displeases the Dauphin of All Socio-Blogging. Given a certain set of physical laws, the formation of particular structures (e.g. planets) is inevitable and therefore entirely unsurprising. And while evolution would not always produce humans even given the same starting conditions, it is far from a random process deserving the label "happenstance."

Given that some concoction of chemicals accidently, and astoundingly became arranged in such a fashion that the spark of life came into existence, then…


Accidentally? Hardly- look to those physical laws again. And "spark of life"? You do realize that I'm an atheist, not a vitalist, right? There is no spark of life.

…what additionally came into existence (chemically), to cause these innate compounds to seek their own survival, diversification, self improvement via evolutionary processes, self-discovery, and an insatiable awareness and curiosity about the environment and Universe?


So... you want me to specify a chemical compound that gave other chemical compounds will and the ability to plan? You do realize that evolutionary theory does not, in any way whatsoever, imply that chemicals have will, right? No, of course you don't, because your familiarity with modern science could be charitably described as "laughable." Evolution does not work because organisms are actively trying to evolve, it works because they are trying to survive- knowingly or not- and some of them are better at it than others.

It is amazing to realize that such an incredible chemical accident occurred on a planet that hangs in an orbit so precisely tuned distance-wise to the Sun. How fortunate that this same planet includes physical systems of weather and climate that insure fresh water cycles in such a way to support life of all types.


This is obviously intended to be a reference to the rare Earth hypothesis yet, amusingly, you're doing an incredibly shitty job of summing it up. You do realize that if conditions weren't correct for us to exist on Earth, we wouldn't be here to take note of that fact, right? So, really, within the context of evolution it's unsurprising that we're adapted for the world we evolved on. Yet, at the same time, note that we're not perfectly adapted to this planet. If it was really tailor-made for us, why the hell isn't it just perfect? Yes, yes, I know: original sin. You seriously find that a compelling answer? Really?

How incredible to note, that distinct clumps of "living" molecules have somehow colluded to assign life-sustaining roles to each other, such as the idea that plant life should process carbon-dioxide into oxygen, which is necessary for animal life, which in turn exhales carbon-dioxide. That animal life should consume plant life, and then excrete the digested plant life, which in turn would provide nutrients for new plant life.


Good lord. So you think that at some point in the past plants and animals got together and assigned roles?! So, you're imagining something like this:

Cow: "Okay, cereals, we can absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide but you have to absorb that CO2 and then produce O2. Can you do that?"

Wheat: "It'll take some convincing- corn wants us to absorb CO2 and produce sulfuric acid- but barley and oats are onboard with O2. Thing is, if you fuckers are going to eat us, we need something in return!"

Cow: "How about we produce natural fertilizer from your masticated corpses that will nourish your offspring?"

Wheat: "Fine. Done!"

Cow: "Great! Let's make an ecosystem!"

Based on this logic, isn't it amazing that smallpox and humans got together and decided who would infect whom? How about that amazing collaboration between garbagemen and homeless people? Seriously, Phil, I can point out your stupid all day.

The ridiculous caricatures of "God" that Dawkins and devout atheists stand up for the purpose of knocking them down have no chance when compared to these ingenious chemical compounds.


He said... "ridiculous caricature." Irony meter... overloading! Emergency! Emergency!

I may not hold the educational credentials of the likes of Dawkins, but I am intelligent, open minded, scientifically curious, and mindful of how little is truly known about the Universe we live in, despite the considerable knowledge that has been accumulated.


"I may not hold them fancy learnin' degrees or know nothin about science, but I know science is bunk because some unknown guys thousands of years ago wrote a book about stuff." Riiiiight. I would be more swayed by his rhetoric here if his preceding arguments didn't make it clear that he knows absolutely nothing about modern science. Phil makes Ken Ham look like a fucking Nobel laureate.

I can understand how one might look at all that is wrong in the world, and wonder how there could be a God looking on, seemingly uncaring and unwilling to stop the suffering. It is also easy to look at the behavior of mankind in the name of religion, or with religion as the excuse for unspeakable deeds and wonder how there is any goodness to be worshiped. Of course, this gives mankind a pass and places the blame for atrocious behavior at the foot of God instead.


Excellent. The thorny theological and philosophical problem of evil solved by victim-blaming. Out of curiosity: how do you deal with suffering in the animal kingdom? When a lion kills and eats a gazelle, is that our fault?

The fallacy of such thinking lies in the assumption that God is misbehaving according to some Book of Proper God Behavior that I or anyone else is privy to. Must we believe that if God is real, that God is manipulating life on Earth, as if playing some kind of video game?


Seriously? Are you suggesting that torture is okay for god because god is... you know... god? The problem isn't that god can't do whatever he wants, the problem is that we're supposed to believe he's all powerful, omniscient, infinitely good, and yet that suffering exists in abundance. That seems a little weird to just about all of us. Secondly, of course your god doesn't have to be actively manipulating the world- you could be a deist- but that doesn't explain why he chose to permit bad things to exist in the first place.

This clump of self-aware chemical compounds will continue to believe that there is more to the story of life and the Universe, than an unbridled, unstoppable run of chemical reactions. In fact, until Richard Dawkins can demonstrate the acquired ability to mix up a batch of molecules and produce a single blade of grass that is eager to join the evolutionary process, then I will take by faith that God does exist.


"Until a known person can demonstrate the ability to do a very difficult thing, I will assume that something with no evidence whatsoever is true." Fine: until such time as Phil Harris can build a space elevator using nothing but a socket wrench and a hammer, I will take it on faith that he's secretly homosexual.***

I will also take great interest in scientific discovery about the world and Universe I live in. One can appreciate both the scientific method and have a faith based view at the same time. Academics that have devoted themselves to eradicate religious views and those who hold them have absolutely no scientific basis on which to stand. Indeed, their willingness to claim otherwise should provide good reason for caution when considering any work they produce.


Actually, I agree that one can have religious faith and be a scientist at the same time, though I confess I don't know precisely what is meant by "faith-based view." I also agree that science cannot disprove god but, really, how the hell can anything disprove god? Finally: I think you meant, "eradicating."

My mother and my daughter no longer inhabit this world, and I have no reason to believe that the persons they were, simply vanished due to the dissolution of their chemical processes. There is a spark beyond chemistry that is life and person, and whatever it is will exist despite the protestations and ridicule from Richard Dawkins and those who find comfort in utter nothingness.


I'm sorry for your loss but your arguments are so absurd as to verge on insulting. Hell, come to think of it, there wasn't a single developed argument anywhere in that. There wasn't even a thesis statement, although I'm pretty sure you intended it to be some variant of "Atheists are teh stoopid."

If believing in god means I have to be like Phil, I'm pretty happy to be an atheist.


* I think Ian Spiegelman puts it best: "I'd rather a thousand science books a year come out than to see one more of these 'I'm a just a blue collar guy but I know what's up' books come out. They are a fucking cancer. The writer who says he's just blue collar and doesn't know much but he knows *this much* is a wicked little coward who should be ridiculed until he needs a hospital."

** It is rarely, if ever, a good sign when I tell someone to stop being juvenile. It's like Hitler telling you that you're too evil for his taste.

*** As a side note: this is not a dig at homosexuals, I just wanted something equally impossible to disprove but that wasn't metaphysical. I frankly think I set the bar lower for Harris because we know that homosexuals exist. God, we ain't so sure about.

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