The egomaniacal and rapacious drives of a molester who blots out all sense of right and wrong, brutally disregarding the pain he is causing children, have often found a parallel in churches bent on protecting themselves at the expense of thousands of victims. That disregard is a malignancy in the church . . .
If religion or any institution depends on the sexual exploitation or subordination of children or women, then it is better that such institutions should cease to exist. If it is a question of the survival of the institution of the church versus the survival and safety of children, then our allegiance clearly must be with children.
The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion. I think of it not as a movement but as the overdue examination of an idea: Does a supernatural deity exist, and should our morality and politics be shaped by the belief that it does? For various reasons—the intrusion of theo-conservatism during the presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of militant Islam, an awareness of the psychological origins of supernatural beliefs, sheer coincidence—a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.” (I would not downplay coincidence as the explanation—random stochastic processes generate clusters of events by default.) Judged by degree of belief, the “new atheism” is not only not dead but it is winning: every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world, and the drop off is particularly precipitous across the generations, as compared to just drifting with the zeitgeist or changing over the life cycle. This is reflected in laws and customs—homosexuality is being decriminalized in country after country, for example. These trends are masked in the public sphere by two forces pushing in the opposite direction: religious people have more babies, and religious communities turn out in elections and vote in lockstep for the more conservative candidate. If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was “Atheists should have more babies,” or “Atheists should form congregations and vote en masse for the same candidate,” then yes, it was an abject failure. But if it is “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.
I’ve always been skeptical about the utility of identifying as an “atheist,” because it rarely seems helpful to heap the false assumptions that surround this term upon one’s own head. For this reason, I’ve never been eager to wear the label “new atheist” either.
However, there was something genuinely new about the “new atheism.” The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience. The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery. We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.
The new atheism has not disappeared. It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values. In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.
With few exceptions, most scientists and philosophers think that morality is at bottom based on human preferences. And though we may agree on many of those preferences (e.g., we should do what maximizes “well being”), you can’t show using data that one set of preferences is objectively better than another. (You can show, though, that the empirical consequences of one set of preferences differ from those of another set.) The examples I use involve abortion and animal rights. If you’re religious and see babies as having souls, how can you convince those folks that elective abortion is better than banning abortion? Likewise, how do you weigh human well being versus animal well being? I am a consequentialist who happens to agree with the well-being criterion, but I can’t demonstrate that it’s better than other criteria, like “always prohibit abortion because babies have souls.”
Principles of right and wrong guide the lives of almost all human beings, but we often see them as external to ourselves, outside our own control. In a revolutionary approach to the problems of moral philosophy, Philip Kitcher makes a provocative proposal: Instead of conceiving ethical commands as divine revelations or as the discoveries of brilliant thinkers, we should see our ethical practices as evolving over tens of thousands of years, as members of our species have worked out how to live together and prosper. Elaborating this radical new vision, Kitcher shows how the limited altruistic tendencies of our ancestors enabled a fragile social life, how our forebears learned to regulate their interactions with one another, and how human societies eventually grew into forms of previously unimaginable complexity. The most successful of the many millennia-old experiments in how to live, he contends, survive in our values today.
Drawing on natural science, social science, and philosophy to develop an approach he calls pragmatic naturalism, Kitcher reveals the power of an evolving ethics built around a few core principlesincluding justice and cooperation but leaving room for a diversity of communities and modes of self-expression. Ethics emerges as a beautifully human phenomenon permanently unfinished, collectively refined and distorted generation by generation. Our human values, Kitcher shows, can be understood not as a final system but as a project the ethical project in which our species has engaged for most of its history, and which has been central to who we are.
Human skin color reflects an evolutionary balancing act tens of thousands of years in the making. There’s a convincing explanation for why human skin tone varies as a global gradient, with the darkest populations around the equator and the lightest ones near the poles. Put simply, dark complexion is advantageous in sunnier places, whereas fair skin fairs better in regions with less sun.
That may seem obvious, considering the suffering that ensues when pale folks visit the beach. But actually, humanity’s color gradient probably has little to do with sunburn, or even skin cancer. Instead, complexion has been shaped by conflicting demands from two essential vitamins: folate and vitamin D. Folate is destroyed by the sun’s ultraviolent (UV) radiation. Whereas the skin kickstarts production of vitamin D after being exposed to those same rays.
Hence, the balancing act: People must protect folate and produce vitamin D. So humans need a happy medium dosage of sun that satisfies both. While the intensity of UV rays is dictated by geography, the amount actually penetrating your skin depends on your degree of pigmentation, or skin color.
That’s the basic explanation, proposed in 2000 and fleshed out since by anthropologist Nina Jablonski and geographer George Chaplin.
A range of skin colors evolved at different times, in different populations, as human spread across the globe. In addition to these genetic biological changes, groups have also developed cultural adaptations to deal with variable sunlight. For instance, we can consume diets rich in folate and vitamin D. We can also build shelters, wear clothing and slather sunscreen to block UV rays.
Skin color is one of the most obvious and (literally) superficial ways humans differ. But the evolutionary story behind this variation is shared: Over the course of human evolution, complexion evolved from light to dark to a continuous gradient, mediated by geography, genes and cultural practices.
Women who are very ill around 24 weeks where the fetus is not expected to survive and delivery is needed and avoiding a c-section (see above) is preferable. It may also be when there are fetal anomalies and a vaginal delivery is not possible, or, when it is.
Let me explain.
High blood pressure in pregnancy can lead to severe maternal and fetal health issues. It can require a very premature delivery to save the life of the mother. A good example is a woman at 26 weeks who needs to be delivered for her blood pressure — that is the cure, delivery. However, because of her high-blood pressure fetal development has been affected and her fetus is estimated to weigh 300 g, which means it can not live after delivery. She will be offered an abortion if there is a skilled provider. This is safer for her and her uterus than a delivery.
A lethal birth defect at 32 weeks. The plan is to let the fetus succumb after delivery. The pregnancy has anencephaly or any one of a thousand other catastrophic chromosomal or cellular collisions that can conspire against you in pregnancy. The pregnant person thought they could make it to their due date, but they just can’t take it anymore. Or maybe their blood pressure is sneaking up and the idea of risking their life for a non viable pregnancy is not what they want or their doctors recommend. They choose an induction of labor, which in this situation is an abortion because the pregnancy is being terminated.
Triploidy or mirror syndrome or a massive cystic hygroma or any other birth defect that can affect how the fetus is positioned and how it molds and bends to deliver vaginally. If you don’t know what these terms mean, then you are not qualified to discuss abortion at or after 24 weeks, so stop. Now.
In these situations (tripoidy, mirror syndrome etc.) the fetus can be laying lengthwise (not head or buttocks down) so labor is not an option. A c-section is needed for delivery. Maybe there are also health reasons a c-section is less than ideal. Maybe the pregnant person just doesn’t want a c-section for a non-viable pregnancy. If a person who is skilled to a D & X is available, the c-section can be avoided.
There are, of course, other cases. I tweeted about the above scenarios, but realized everyone who wasn’t a well-trained OB/GYN wouldn’t understand. So, now you know why we “just can’t do a c-section” in these cases — or if we did why a c-section would STILL BE AN ABORTION.
I am a regular reader of Dr. Gunter’s insightful and, at times, wickedly humorous blog. I encourage readers to check it out. If you love science and the faithful, truthful dissemination of facts, you love and appreciate Gunter’s writing.
How many women have abortions after 24 weeks [the widely accepted age for viability]?
Only 1.3% of the 638,169 abortions that happen each year in the United States occur at or after 21 weeks — so approximately 8,000. As I am an expert I can tell you most of these procedures happen before 24 weeks. Most are for fetal anomalies (birth defects) and maternal health, but a few are maternal request.
A couple of years ago I took a deep dive into how any abortions at or after 24 weeks occur. I looked at the states that had no gestational age limit and the best estimate I have (this data is not tracked by the CDC) is there are about 1,100-1,200 abortions at 24 weeks onwards in the United States.
I am a regular reader of Dr. Gunter’s insightful and, at times, wickedly humorous blog. I encourage readers to check it out. If you love science and the faithful, truthful dissemination of facts, you love and appreciate Gunter’s writing.
When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims: religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!
But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!…. There is no God. None, not one, no God, never was.
To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that he was born in Nazareth in the northern part of what we today think of as Israel (back then, in Galilee), where he was certainly raised from the time he was a child. His parents were Jewish by birth, religion, culture. I’d assume their names were really Joseph and Mary. We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that Joseph may have been a TEKTON, which means that he worked with his hands, maybe with wood, or with stone, or with metal. Jesus also had brothers (four are named in one of our sources) and sisters, so it would have been a relatively large family and presumably living at or near the poverty line. Nazareth was an impoverished little hamlet.
Back to the sources. Our earliest accounts are in the New Testament. Two of the Gospels , Mark and John, say nothing of Jesus’ birth; the other two, Matthew and Luke are where we get most, but not all, of our traditions of Jesus’ birth from: the trip to Bethelehem, no room in the inn, the Shepherds, the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, etc. etc. These Gospels were written over fifty years after the events they narrate, and there is nothing to suggest that they had access to eyewitness reports, or to any reliable information at all. Both accounts contain several implausibilities, as we will see, and they are hopelessly at odds with one another on numerous points.
Finally, there are lots of things that we do not know about the birth of Jesus. As examples:
• We don’t know what year he was born. If he was indeed born during the reign of Herod the Great, then it would have had to be before 4 BCE, since that is when Herod died (creating, of course, the intriguing irony that Jesus was born four years Before Christ!)
• We don’t know what day he was born (it was not until the fourth century that Dec. 25 was chosen, so that Christmas could replace Saturnalia as the great holiday to be celebrated)
• We don’t know – as I will try to demonstrate in subsequent posts – anything about the virginity of his mother (how *could* we know? Anyone who thinks she was a virgin does so as an act of faith, but there’s no way to demonstrate anything like that historically; in theory, even if she told people she was a virgin, that wouldn’t prove it [of course!]; and there have been lots of people who claimed to be virgins who gave birth, either because they were self-deceived, or willing to deceive others, or unknowingly violated or … other options) or whether he was actually born in Bethlehem (I’ll argue that the answer is probably not).
There’s a story that’s been in the news about a Christian missionary named John Allen Chau who was killed by an indigenous tribe while attempting to evangelize them into Christianity. Apparently the tribe who live on the North Sentinel Island only number between 50 – 150 people and have refused contact with the outside world. Because they’ve had virtually no contact with the outside world, the Sentinelese people also haven’t been exposed to most contagious diseases. Their immune systems aren’t strong enough to handle even the common cold. Therefore it’s actually illegal to make contact with them – partly for their protection. Despite of this, John Allen Chau – an Oral Roberts University graduate – took it upon himself to go and tell them about Jesus. Apparently he had been there before, shouting “My name is John, and I love you and Jesus loves you” to the bow and arrow wielding tribesmen at which point they started shooting at him. One of their arrows even pieced his Bible, but that didn’t stop him. He went back a second time and this time he didn’t make it out alive.
My first thought is, why? Why would you do that? Why risk your life to go and tell a hostile tribe about Jesus when they clearly don’t want to hear about Jesus? The answer, of course, is arrogance. Here you have a tribe that does their own thing and doesn’t bother anybody and they just want to be left alone. They’re a small community of people; they probably eat healthy as they don’t have access to the processed stuff that we eat. Apparently, they don’t even understand what money is or how to use it. So, they don’t have all the stress that we have that goes along with having money. Maybe they’re backwards, maybe they’re savages and they shoot people with arrows, but are we really so certain that our way of life is better than theirs? Are we so certain that they are lost and in need of saving? And that’s the Christian arrogance that I’m talking about. Because then you have a guy who grew up in a Christian culture, went to a Christian university where he was given a particular worldview and he just assumes that this worldview is the correct one.
My second thought involves the sheer preposterousness (is that a word?) of it. Apparently God created this tribe of people, but then he decided that they must go to hell. But at the same time, he loves them, so he’s kind of in two minds about it. He comes up with a solution – he butchers Jesus on a cross, which is supposed to solve the problem, except it doesn’t. Unless someone goes to this island and tells them that God butchered his son on a cross and they believe it, they’re still going to hell. Perhaps the reason why the Sentinelese refused contact with the outside world is because they didn’t want to be corrupted by crazy ideas such as this.
What really got to me is that – when I read some of the comments on the articles covering this story – a lot of people said things like, “This guy is a hero… he has earned a great reward”, “He fulfilled his mandate” and “What a mighty welcome home he received from our Savior Christ the King”. And the Sentinelese people are the backwards ones? Do we still believe in a God who will reward us with stuff if we get ourselves killed against our better judgement? Christians are making out like he died for a worthy cause when the only reason he went there was so that he could feel better about himself and his own relationship with God. That probably sounds very judgmental of me, but I know this because admittedly I did similar things when I still called myself a Christian. I used to do talks at rehabs and my talks involved Bible verses. I don’t think my intention was to convert anyone to Christianity, but a part of me did do it for my own ego.
Once we break out of our [religious] restraints, we begin to discover our own capabilities. It turns out we each have our own modest little superpowers, only we’ve not had the opportunity or the freedom to exercise them. Once we acquire those, we soon come to know sides of ourselves we never knew before…and so does everybody else.
It’s not long before those things which we are truly good at—those things which become a significant part of our contribution to the world—earn us accolades and respect from people around us. Our self-image begins to improve because there are things that we’re truly good at, things we find we love to do.
That’s a good thing, right? Well, that depends on whom you ask.
The kind of Christianity I came from taught that you’re supposed to “surrender” your greatest strengths and abilities to God. What they meant by that was always a little fuzzy, but the gist of it was that the Almighty likes to get the credit for the things you can do, and he doesn’t like to share it. There was always the danger that you would be “too good” at what you do, or “too strong,” and the God of the Bible prefers weakness over strength.
The very first story in the Bible presents us with a God who didn’t want his creatures to know too much. He wanted their capabilities to remain limited so that they would remain more dependent on him, I suppose. As time goes on, we see in the text that it is the “bad guys” who made all the technological advances while those who “called upon the name of the Lord” remained comparatively primitive.
At one point in that ongoing saga, humanity built a tall building and God got really miffed about that. The Bible explicitly says that it was humanity’s growing capabilities that upset the ancient deity, and he stepped in to thwart their progress and shut that down immediately.
This theme runs like a thread through the entire biblical narrative. In one place the Bible says God reduced the size of Israel’s army from 30,000 to 300 just to ensure that no one else could get the credit for their victory. John the Baptist struck the same note when he announced the inauguration of Jesus, saying that “he must increase, but I must decrease.” And the apostle Paul perhaps more than anyone else stressed over and over again that “[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”
It’s no wonder evangelicals like me developed a complex about giving ourselves credit for anything we do. We were programmed from birth to repel compliments the way that Teflon repels grease. Thinking less of yourself is central to the Christian faith. Without that, you don’t need a savior at all, and that would cause the whole religious edifice to collapse.
Imagine if doctors fitted all children with leg braces no matter what their condition. Imagine if medical school taught them that all children have crooked backs requiring corrective restraints. That’s kind of like the Christian faith. Everybody’s born broken and, left to their own devices, they will turn out wrong. Good thing we have the church there to tell us how to think and how to live, right?
On the topic of morality, [Evangelical Frank] Turek couldn’t resist a Holocaust reference. He showed a photo of the Buchenwald concentration camp with stacks of dead bodies. He said,
If there is no god, this is just a matter of opinion.
The statement “I like chocolate” is just an opinion. By contrast, I wouldn’t call “I recommend we declare war” in a cabinet meeting just an opinion, but that’s a quibble. If Turek wants to say that both are conclusions grounded in the person making the statement and nothing else, I agree. The same is true for “the Holocaust was wrong.”
What alternative does Turek propose?
Turek imagines a morality grounded outside of humanity. He would probably agree with William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality, “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”
The other explanation for morality
But there’s no need to imagine Turek’s universal moral truth when we have a better alternate explanation: universally held moral programming. We’re all the same species, so we have similar responses to moral questions. That explains things nicely without the unsupported assumption of a supernatural being.
Turek confuses the degree of outrage (which, for the Holocaust, is quite high) with the degree of absoluteness. He seems to imagine that the more emphatically we think that the Holocaust was wrong, the more objective that moral opinion must be, but why imagine this? He provides no evidence to support universal moral truth or to reject the obvious alternative, universally held moral programming.
Let’s take a step back and consider his example. God allows 11 million innocent people to die in the Holocaust, and Turek thinks that this is an example supporting his side of the ledger?
Morality also changes with time. In the West, we’re pleased with our abolition of slavery and the civil rights we’ve established, but these aren’t universals. The modern views on these issues contradict the Old Testament’s, but none of us cling to the Old Testament view. Turek’s objective morality doesn’t allow change with time.
Morality vs. absolute morality
Turek listed things that must be true if God doesn’t exist. First, “The Nazis were not wrong.” If morality is an opinion, the Nazis had an opinion and the Allies had an opinion. We said they were wrong; they said we were wrong. Stalemate.
Nope—dude needs a dictionary. He’s confusing morality with absolute morality. I agree that the Nazis were not wrong in an absolute sense. But they were still wrong (from my standpoint) using the definition of morality in the dictionary, which makes no reference to an absolute grounding.
He continues his list with more examples of the same error: love is no better than rape, killing people is no different than feeding the poor, and so on. In an absolute sense, he’s right; he just hasn’t given any reason to imagine that morality is based in absolutes. Drop the assumption of absoluteness, and nothing is left unexplained.
Why the insistence on objective or universal or absolute morality? We don’t have any problem with shared (rather than absolute) ideas of other concepts like courage, justice, charity, hope, patience, humility, greed, or pride. Again, the dictionary agrees. None of these have an objective grounding, and the earth keeps turning just fine.