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Mike of Cape Town  @psychohistorian.org

Mike of Cape Town

posted: 3522 days ago, on Thursday, 2009 Mar 26 at 19:35
tags: atheism, atheism media.

12 questions

For the past two weekends, I didn't have the chance to read By, the weekly mini-newspaper published with Die Burger. For those not in the know, By is essential reading. Very well written articles, topical food for thought, and a chance to experience Afrikaans without having to wade through Literature.

The weekend of 2007 April 21 a letter from "Mike of Cape Town" was published: "Please supply some answers to a few questions about faith," he wrote (my translation):

  1. What's the real difference between blind faith and superstition?
  2. Why, when we pray that God's will must be done, doesn't it always happen, our prayers notwithstanding, given that he is omnipotent?
  3. What is the underlying metaphysical mechanism applicable when we are told that Christ died for our sins? On the face of it, it seems to imply that a vengeful God, after taking stock of sins, became embodied in Christ, was subsequently tortured and crucified, to wipe out our sins if we can believe this. Why not just forgive sins?
  4. When should the Bible be read literally? Who chooses what is metaphor and symbolism? It appears to be arbitrary, depending on what argument one wishes to make.
  5. God, especially as he is presented in the Old Testament, is definitely not a good role model for parents judged by today's standards; is often vengeful; incites mass murder; is jealous and needs (for some or other obscure reason) sacrifices. This God is an embarrassment for believers and necessitates all sorts of rationalizations and excuses.
  6. Why am I repeatedly warned by believers that I think too much and should rather just believe, in spite of me having a logical and rational (God-given?) ability that serves me in other spheres of life? Become mindless, emotional and naive?
  7. Why do prophets and holy men belong to the time of the Biblical past? If a contemporary "prophet" should claim direct communication with God, he would immediately be sent for observation and probably be classified as a paranoid schizophrenic.
  8. Is faith (read 'superstition') based on fear for the Hell-fire and banishment, or on a conviction of universal love of humankind? If the latter, aren't the advantages sufficiently obvious that religion as a basis for it can be ignored?
  9. Current and historical reasons for wars are based on religious affiliation in- and out-groups, us-and-them. Wrongs are done daily in the name of God. How does religion benefit humanity if it constantly gives expression to this territorial imperative of our animalistic heritage, something we need to transcend urgently?
  10. How do believers reconcile science with religion? They are all too willing to employ science when it suits them, but condemn it should it prove the contrary. Another example of arbitrary flim-flam and a lack of intellectual integrity.
  11. I still have to get to grips with the paradox of religious "niceness" and the contrary denouncement of unbelievers (or heretics). What kind of brotherly love is this?
  12. Unless some or other universal religion comes about, I would still find it difficult to accept an exclusive dogma. It makes no sense, and never will.

Mike has raised a great set of questions, to which various reader's responses were published.

One D C Coetsee of Stompneusbaai wrote in to suggest that Mike needs to read his Bible better, and should supplement that with the writings of Josh McDowell (!!) and Adrio Konig. Inexplicably, Coetsee then goes on to say that this ain't gonna help much, cos "it is human nature to not want to believe correctly." Sorry, Mike. Oh, and since "faith is a gift from God", it seems as if Mike is doubly-fucked. Sorry, bro.

Coetsee, presumably, has answers to Mike's questions but naughtily doesn't want to share them, for he ends his letter with: "Those that have experienced it [faith], have received the answers to questions like Mike's". Well please, D C, do share these answers! What did God reveal to you about how humanity should interpret the Bible? And what did God have to say about his Old Testament bad-boy image, and the make-over He received in the New? I now wonder, when contemplating say 2 Kings 2:23-24, what would DC do?

Wim Heese of the Strand doesn't answer any of Mike's questions, but instead poses one of his own. Well, Wim, I would think you should show the courtesy of answering at least a few of the questions, before expecting your question to be answered. Buh-bye.

One Abraham Kriel suggests a tactical approach: Mike's questions should be used by the Church to formulate their attack plan on the post-modern man and woman's hearts and minds. Interesting. I would love to see them try.

But the Genuis-of-the-Week award goes to Henk Grobler of Cape Town. Henk suggests, au contraire, that Christianity is indeed grounded in definitive, understandable terms. "It is not", he says, "swamped with esoteric vague symbolism and you don't have to corrupt your reason in order to believe." Show me a man who has come to God by reason, and I will show you a liar. Henk offers eight "grounds for belief in God and in the Christian faith." Gather around, everyone. Henk writes:

  1. "The vast majority of the world's peoples, in the present and past, believe in one or another God, and have a need to worship".
  2. "The perfect creation and harmony in nature points to an intentional creation. In contrast the effects of humankind and its technological progress (science?) is chaotic."
  3. "The overwhelming textual evidence for the legitimacy of the Bible. In the world's collected ancient manuscripts there is no other book that has such overwhelming textual evidence."
  4. "Archaeological evidence overwhelmingly confirms the historical facts in the Bible."
  5. "Fulfilled prophecies in the Old and New Testament."
  6. "Jesus is regarded by non-Christians as a great moral teacher. However, he refers to Himself as the son of God, and prophesises that He will rise from the dead. Where He to lie, it would not jibe with his moral character and we would have to regard him as rather the biggest liar of all times."
  7. "Belief in the resurrection is based on, amongst others, eye witness testimony (more than 500 saw Him after his crucifixion) and the behavioural changes in the disciples after his resurrection (11 were martyred for this 'lie')."
  8. "The testimony of the experience of salvation, freedom, reconciliation, and forgiveness, of inner peace and joy when people come to faith in Jesus. If He did in fact rise from the dead, He is available to us today and changes lives."

Here are my off-the-cuff reactions:

(I originally wrote this next paragraph, then deleted it, but Ctrl-Z'd it back into existence. Henk starts off rather oddly. He begins with superstition, and says that "Millions kneel before 'gods' and 'goddesses', some of horrible appearance. Some worship celestial bodies..." S'truth, I can't figure out what he's trying to say about how horrible some of the gods look (Afrikaans: "sommige met die grusaamste voorkoms"). WTF?! If your God is pretty, then he's The Real McCoy? Not the best way to make me think that the rest of the argument is going to be any better. But let's soldier on.)

1. "The vast majority of the world's peoples, in the present and past, believe in one or another God, and have a need to worship".

Well, Henk, let's count the ways in which you're missing the point. I have never had the urge to worship, nor have I ever believed in gods. In fact, doesn't the existence of a single bone fide atheist prove that God does not exist? Further, the God or Gods that the world's peoples believed in, were usually mutually exclusive: all the other Gods were false, devils, or what-not. They can't all be correct. To quote E O Wilson, "Every major religion today is a winner in the Darwinian struggle waged among cultures, and none ever flourished by tolerating its rivals."

Of course, the fact that most people have a need to worship merely suggests that they are people, and does not validate the existence of Gods. I enjoy watching Star Trek movies and discussing warp drives and teleporters, but this shouldn't suggest that Spock really exists. Fundamental human motives are few in number, but are expressed in a multitude of ways.

2. "The perfect creation and harmony in nature points to an intentional creation. In contrast the effects of humankind and its technological progress (science?) is chaotic."

I don't quite understand Henk's point, but as for creation being perfect and in harmony, let's not forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I may choose this, that and the other observable fact about nature and conjure up a just-so story about how perfect things are. Or I may not.

Nature is certainly awesome, but it is also red in tooth and claw. Living things are certainly highly complex, but 'perfect'? The human body, for example, is certainly a wonderful machine, but to suggest it is perfect is to wax poetic. That our bodies are quite obviously not cleverly designed, but rather haphazardly cobbled together from earlier bits, is rather obvious. The eye, an oft-cited perfect organ, is clearly not. And as for the male nipple...

Put another way, the human brain is by necessity a pattern-recognition machine, evolved to tease out regularities in the environment in order to predict and survive. One should be careful in reading in too much, lest one finds oneself in bed with Intelligunt Duhsigners.

3. "The overwhelming textual evidence for the legitimacy of the Bible. In the world's collected ancient manuscripts there is no other book that has such overwhelming textual evidence."

Yes, well, I don't know, but I suppose some or other literary work has to be the oldest and/or most well-documented. All this means, Henk, is that the work is old. That it has survival value shows us a great deal about human nature and cultural plasticity.

4. "Archaeological evidence overwhelmingly confirms the historical facts in the Bible."

Again, I don't know about this. Suppose it were so. Shrug. It's an old book, written long ago, so it doesn't surprise me. Of course, the archaeological evidence for a global flood is, ahem, scarce. And the evidence for the years spent wandering the desert in Exodus is, well, zero.

5. "Fulfilled prophecies in the Old and New Testament."

Oh good grief. All this suggests to me is that the blokes who wrote the various manuscripts that were eventually included in the Bible were good editors.

6. "Jesus is regarded by non-Christians as a great moral teacher. However, he refers to Himself as the son of God, and prophesises that He will rise from the dead. Where He to lie, it would not jibe with his moral character and we would have to regard him as rather the biggest liar of all times."

Yes, Henk, I have no problem with thinking that Jesus could have been the world's greatest fibber. But I have a problem with your silly argument. Indeed, non-Christians say he was a great moral teacher. But being a great moral teacher does not also mean that you therefore cannot be insane, have a personality disorder, be deluded, or mis-quoted. I can quite readily spend my life telling people all sorts of moral tales, and also believe rubbish at the same time. In fact, this rather reminds me of my favourite crazyman, Martin Luther, the deranged father of the Protestants.

7. "Belief in the resurrection is based on, amongst others, eye witness testimony (more than 500 saw Him after his crucifixion) and the behavioural changes in the disciples after his resurrection (11 were martyred for this 'lie')."

Eye witness testimony, I assume, that is recorded in the Four Gospels. Written by whom? Henk, since you put so much stock in eye witness accounts (more about that, if you want), maybe I can suggest you see for yourself if you can construct a vaguely credible account of what happened in the day leading up to, until the day after, Jesus' alleged resurrection. There are four main witnesses, Your Honour, each giving their account of events. In point form, your brief is to write a single version of what happened, taking into account the statements given in the Gospels. Keep in mind that you are allowed reasonable leeway in constructing the composite statement witnesses are, after all, known to be less than totally reliable, and are likely to make some contradictory statements. So don't worry too much, just try and construct a reasonable account. Something that might stand up in court, nothing fancy. What do you have to loose? It's just a bit of Bible study, after all.

8. "The testimony of the experience of salvation, freedom, reconciliation, and forgiveness, of inner peace and joy when people come to faith in Jesus. If He did in fact rise from the dead, He is available to us today and changes lives."

Henk seems unaware that the experiences he describes above, are common in all religions. Such profound personal change is not even confined to religion in the traditional sense. And of course, that humans have certain experiences gives insight into their human nature, and not to some putative supernatural being.

In summary, Henk has made a most convincing argument for atheism, by showing that God is redundant. He does this by pointing out that human nature, emotions and experiences, lie at the root of faith. And what remains, is sophistry.

Or, as Sam Harris recently put it: "The rest is self-deception, set to music."

via: Die Burger, Bylae, 2007 April 28, p5.

nothing more to see. please move along.


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