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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Divine cruelty

While cruising the various insane rantings that pass for news, insights, or articles over at Conservapedia I happened to notice a headline that, frankly, made me roll my eyes with rather more force than normal. Specifically, this headline pertains to the recent goings-on with the mine rescue in Chile, and reveals Conservapedia's typical spin on events:

Or, in plain text:

The Power of Prayer Demonstrated!
All 33 Chilean miners trapped more than 2,000 feet below the earth's surface for 69 days have been rescued from their subterranean tomb. Ask the people that were is nothing less than God's Divine Intervention! [emphasis original]

Now, I should note that the article they link to over on Fox News does manage to capture the jubilation felt at the rescue of the trapped miners. Moreover, I am very, very glad that these men have been saved. But the first thing that I want to note- and perhaps this is my bias as an atheist coming out- is that if you actually read the Fox News article, you have to be struck by the sheer amount of effort and expense that we humans went through to rescue these men:

The miners made the smooth ascent inside the Phoenix capsule -- 13 feet tall, barely wider than their shoulders and painted in the white, blue and red of the Chilean flag. It had a door that stuck occasionally, and some wheels had to be replaced, but it worked exactly as planned.

Beginning at midnight Tuesday, and sometimes as quickly as every 25 minutes, the pod was lowered the nearly half-mile to where 700,000 tons of rock collapsed Aug. 5 and entombed the men.


The rescue was planned with extreme care. The miners were monitored by video on the way up for any sign of panic. They had oxygen masks, dark glasses to protect their eyes and sweaters for the jarring transition from subterranean swelter to chilly desert air.


Most of the men emerged clean-shaven. More than 300 people at the mine alone had worked on the rescue or to sustain them during their long wait by lowering rocket-shaped tubes dubbed "palomas," Spanish for carrier pigeons. Along with the food and medicine came razors and shaving cream.

Estimates for the rescue operation alone have soared beyond $22 million, though the government has repeatedly insisted that money was not a concern.


The entire rescue operation was meticulously choreographed. No expense was spared in bringing in topflight drillers and equipment -- and boring three separate holes into the copper and gold mine. Only one was finished -- the one through which the miners exited.


The miners' vital signs were closely monitored throughout the ride. They were given a high-calorie liquid diet donated by NASA, designed to prevent nausea from any rotation of the capsule as it traveled through curves in the 28-inch-diameter escape hole.

Engineers inserted steel piping at the top of the shaft, which was angled 11 degrees off vertical before plunging like a waterfall. Drillers had to curve the shaft to pass through "virgin" rock, narrowly avoiding collapsed areas and underground open spaces in the overexploited mine, which had operated since 1885.

President Barack Obama said the rescue had "inspired the world." The crews included many Americans, including a driller operator from Denver and a team from Center Rock Inc. of Berlin, Pa., that built and managed the piston-driven hammers that pounded the hole through rock laced with quartzite, some of the hardest and most abrasive rock.

So, basically, hundreds of people spent millions of dollars to use extremely advanced technology derived from multiple nations to drill a difficult route through rock, sustain surviving miners, and bring them back to the surface intact. If this is divine intervention, it is the sort that is fundamentally indistinguishable from us just doing the damn job ourselves without help. In short, I think the rescue is impressive as hell, but I don't think heaven had anything to do with it.

More fundamentally, however, this crowing about the power of prayer reminds me- negatively I should add- of another mine disaster: the Sago Mine Disaster. In a perhaps especially cruel twist,* in that disaster families were led to believe that twelve of the thirteen trapped miners were found alive when, in fact, twelve of the thirteen had been found dead, Doubtless the sudden surge of hope, followed by despair, was terrible to live through. And yet, during the Sago disaster there was praying. Lots of praying. Huge amounts of praying. And this prayer, apparently, was not effective. Hell, not only was it not effective, but there was even that last twist of the knife before everyone's fate was revealed. So either god loves Chileans, or he hates Americans.

But not necessarily, as my previous dialogue with my now wife reveals, whether someone survives a mine disaster or not, the result can always be interpreted as god's loving will. Sure, maybe that's true, but for someone who lost a loved one in a disaster like this one, claims that the power of prayer saved these men must seem like little more than divine cruelty. If only you had prayed harder, believed more, perhaps god would have saved your loved one too. This is little different than the justification of the faith healer whose "treatment" did not work: "if you haven't been healed, it's because you didn't believe enough, and not because I am a charlatan". It's a cruel trick but, nonetheless, sickeningly common. And frankly, I have little stomach for inflicting such cruelties on others.**

As always, though, I should not be surprised at Conservapedia's half-assed theology. After all, what should we expect from a group of people who think that pretty fall leaves are a disproof of evolution:

And yes, they do mean that:

Or, in human language:

5. evolution cannot explain artistic beauty, such as the brilliant autumn foliage and staggering array of beautiful marine fish, both of which originated before any human to view them; this lacks any plausible evolutionary explanation.

So, really, why should we expect better theology or even better mercy from a website that thinks that the fact that some fish are pretty is unassailable evidence of the divine?

* I should probably note that "especially cruel" should not, here, carry much weight since I imagine that losing one's family to a cave in deep within the earth is cruel and heartrending no matter what you're told about it afterwards.

** Perhaps that's why I'm an atheist.

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Blogger JLT said...

I don't know whether you've written about the counterexamples to an old earth, yet. They're hilarious, esp. the biological ones. This is my favorite:

# The number of natural, pure-bred bred dogs declines over time as dogs naturally crossbreed; a short period of time is suggested by the fact that there are over 100 different natural, pure breeds of dog thriving today.

Closely followed by this one:
# The intelligence of humans is rapidly declining, [...]

After reading conservapedia, and the pure bred dogs argument, I totally believe that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, JLT (above) totally made me laugh. Good call, you.

Second, re: your final thought (ala Jerry Springer), yes -- it's simply foolish to even expect any better. It's like watching Glenn Beck in this day and age and saying, "Now, what ever happened to journalistic standards?!" Indeed. It's not that we're not all depressed by the lack standards/intellect/basic common sense of the conservatives, it's just that we're fooling ourselves if we think they're ever going to catch on.

Thinking for yourself is so much more difficult than being handed easy-to-swallow malarcky from Conservapedia -- and those religious nuts are tired from all the snake handling and tongue-speaking they got into last night before Shinetoberfest kicked off.

Thursday, October 14, 2010 2:22:00 PM  

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