*

Friday, June 25, 2021

Selling God short

Attacks on evolution, often very complex arguments rooted in religion, leave me shaking my head and thinking, "Here we go again. Dancing on the head of a pin." One of the more popular dance numbers is Young Earth Creationism. This Christian fundamentalist argument against evolution sells God short. It diminishes God.

I like to think God's approach to creating our world was done in the spirit of the following aphorism: give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

The evangelicals claim their God is all powerful, all knowing, all wise, yah-da-yah-da-yah-da. Then these religious folk toss out evolution and all the evidence surrounding it. Anything is possible for their Lord, it seems, except for evolution. 

A favourite argument against evolution involves the eye. They claim the eye is proof evolution is a fraud. Something as complex as an eye just didn't happen; it didn't evolve. Impossible. These fundamentalist are certain that something as complex as an eye must be created at once, complete, fully functional.

Balderdash! That's the thinking of a human. That is hardly the thinking one expects from an all wise, all knowing God. That's the limited thinking of a child. These are people whose God was made in the image of man.

I prefer believing that God created our universe with potential, great potential but unrealized potential. Evolution is but one way this potential is realized. Study the eye and and the more you learn about it, the more its evolution seems reasonable. (Read: Evolution of crystallins for a role in the evolution of the vertebrate eye lens.)

I had the lens in my right eye surgically replaced with a plastic, man-made lens. That plastic lens did not evolve. It took a lot of human effort to make that little plastic disk: chemical factories, sophisticated manufacturing facilities, imaginative surgical procedures and, in the end, it is not as good as the amino acid one it replaces. For instance, the plastic lens suffers from flare when viewing a strong light. Before the cataract damaged my sight, the unusual amino acid compositions of the natural lens worked exceedingly well. No flare.

God didn't have to create a fully developed eye, God took a more complex, more Godlike approach, and created a universe where eyes could develop or evolve. Only about 22 amino acids are needed to make all the proteins found in the human body and that includes the lens in the eye. Creationists diminish God. And who knows, maybe God is not above putting a thumb on the evolutionary scale.

Creation Science is Not Science

As I mentioned in my last post, a close relative has tumbled down the Extreme Religion Rabbit Hole. This person told me that even as a child they were wise enough to recognize the false nature of the theory of evolution. They had no interest in Charles Darwin and his theories. There is no way, in their estimation, that humans and monkeys shared a common ancestor.

I'm an ex-Sunday school teacher but I quickly discovered I am not up to the task of defending science from the likes of my relative. Admitting that, I found the following essay by Michael Ruse, a philosophy professor with a background in the Quaker religion:

Christianity and Darwinism: The Journey Is More Important Than the Destination

 If you don't have time to read the entire essay at this time, please study the following:

The essential characteristics of science are:

  • It is guided by natural law.
  • It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law.
  • It is testable against the empirical world.
  • Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word.
  • It is falsifiable (Ruse and other science witnesses).

Creation Science … fails to meet these essential characteristics. Whatever Creationism is it is not science and should not and cannot be taught in science class.

The mad belief in Young Earth Creationism

A close relative has tumbled down the Extreme Religion Rabbit Hole and entered a veritable Alice in Wonderland world. One of the strangest beliefs she now espouses is the belief in young earth creationism. According to YEC, the earth is no more than 10,000 years old. 

My relative can mount quite the defence of what many would immediately label indefensible. It is not. If a an argument is posed outside the normal restraints of logic, it can be damn near impossible for someone just encountering this madness to argue successfully against it. The totally illogical can be an amazing solid position for a believer once all reason has been sacrificed on the alter of Christian evangelical fundamentalism.

And so, admitting that I am not to the task, I am posting this link: 

Revisiting the Scopes Trial: Young-Earth Creationism, Creation Science, and the Evangelical Denial of Climate Change

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The socialism bogeyman frightens a lot of people

What exactly is socialism and why should we fear it? First, it is democratic socialism that most of the West's left-wing politicians embrace. According to the World Population Review, a democratic socialist believes that the government should provide a range of essential services to the public for free or at a significant discount, such as health care and education. 

Unlike socialists, democratic socialists do not believe the government should control everything. Government should only provide support for basic needs and help all of its citizens have an equal chance of success. Democratic socialists are committed to democracy and so are guided by an adherence to democratic principles.

Doesn't sound so bad, does it? So, why are so many folk so frightened by the term? Right-wing lies. It is that simple. Think of the term cancel culture. The Republicans in the States have managed to brand the Democrats with the term. Yet, it was the Republicans who tried to upend the 2020 presidential election, toss out millions of legitimate votes, and shove their candidate back into power in a very undemocratic power play. Now, that is cancel culture.

What countries have democratic socialist parties and, in some cases, democratic socialist governments? The following are but a few.

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France 
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Italy 
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Northern Ireland
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom 

The following is from World Population Review

Scandinavian countries are often touted as democratic socialist paradises. Sweden is a great example. It has a free-market economy, meaning that the government interferes very little in business. There are very few business regulations, particularly regarding workers; in fact, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries do not have minimum wages for their workers.

In Sweden the government offers school vouchers to all children. The government will pay for school wherever the parents decide to send the children. The children can go to schools run by religious institutions or those run by the government. If parents add some extra money to the pot, they can send their children to more expensive private schools, as well.

Swedish workers do pay more in taxes than workers in non-socialist countries, like the United States. The reason they do so is so that the government has money for generous social services, including maternity and paternity leave for new parents and the school voucher system. There is also more income equality in Scandinavian countries than in the United States.

However, Sweden is not a “pure” socialist country. It has a free-market economy with very few government regulations, something that is a capitalist’s dream. Perhaps the lesson from Sweden is that both socialism and capitalism can co-exist. Now, does that sound so bad?

Then there is Finland. The land of compassionate capitalism. Finland has a free-market economy with minimal government regulation and interference. The government supplies free schooling, including college, for all students and generous maternity and paternity leave for new parents. Healthcare will not bankrupt someone living in Finland.

The last democratic socialist country we will look at is Denmark. Denmark is probably more capitalist than the United States. Its government encourages businesses to run solely on market principles rather than government policies. Additionally, it has better rates of healthcare, education, and social security than many other capitalist countries because the high tax rates create a redistribution of wealth in the form of social programs. 

One caveat: There are concerns that Denmark’s social programs are unsustainable. In the coming decades, substantial changes may be necessary and the social programs may suffer. Time will tell.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Don't blame Jesus. Blame Southern Baptists!

The United States is a democracy. Donald Trump gained power because enough wrong-thinking individuals voted for the man. What has troubled me right from the beginning of his march to the White House was the support Trump received from Christians, especially from the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist group in the U.S.

Donald Trump terrifies me. He also terrifies my wife. Years before Trump's fascism was evident to all, my wife saw through him. For her it was easy, but then she didn't have Jesus blocking her view. Quoting scripture many Southern Baptists saw Trump as the right man for the time. Without the support of the SBC, Trump would never have been elected.

Their mistake, one among many, is seeing the Bible as the instruction manual for life. Got a problem? Turn to God. How? Read the Bible. What a huge, unfair burden to heap on the Good Book. There's a pastor of a London-area church who refuses to follow covid-19 restrictions. He likes to do the-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin as he defends his position. When it comes to stuff like this, my dance card is full. I'd tell him to get on board, make his God proud and do the right thing: wear a mask, practise social distancing and wash your hands.

But taking a wrong-headed message from the Good Book is not new. I encountered this more than sixty years ago when some Bible-thumping, God-fearing folk tried to frighten me into joining their Christian movement with talk of the end-times and the rapture. These were two ideas that even a ten-year-old could see through. The emperor had no cloths, as they say. For a deeper discussion of these two crazy ideas, still sadly making the rounds, read my essay: The Rapture Is Back. Did It Ever Leave?

More and more, people are comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. I think these people are missing the true comparison to be made: Trump's followers compared to Hitler's. Without followers, these two would just be two lonely lunatics. Mean, nasty lunatics. Two hate-filled crazies. One has to add followers to the mix and then, and only then, does all hell break out.

All I the preceding is but a lead up to the following link, a link to a post written by Rebecca Hamilton, a well known pro-life supporter: People Who Stubbornly Follow the Gospels are the Faithful Remnant in the Time of Trump. (I try to check my links. The linked story is a bit strong in language but overall it expresses my fears rather well. But the Patheos site that is hosting Hamilton's post is not to be trusted without careful checking of claims. Be warned.)

I'm going to end this with a short quote from Hamilton's post.

Trump has exposed a lot of things we never wanted to see, and many of us didn’t think were true. 

He has shown us the sheer stupidity of a lot of people. The easy way he has duped people that we’ve known and loved all our lives into believing, supporting and echoing his blatant lies, misogyny and racism has been, to say the least, demoralizing for the rest of us. 

People we love, people we’ve looked up to and trusted, have demonstrated that they are at best easily deluded fools, and at worst, hypocritical phonies. They either don’t believe a lot of the things they have said they believe, or their discernment and judgement are seriously flawed. 

At the same time, our religious leaders, whose discernment and judgement we have been taught to trust without questioning, have demonstrated a callous disregard for the plain teachings of the Scriptures that they claim they represent. This disregard of the Gospels is such an absolute display of faithlessness that it is both breathtaking in its arrogance and faith-challenging for those of us who trusted these men and their leadership.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Trump kicked the stuffing out of my world and I'm mad.

 Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Creative Commons Image)

My wife wisely recognizes a fascist when she sees one. She always took the Trump threat seriously. While everyone from opinion piece writers to pollsters were assuring us that the American public would never elect Donald Trump, a second-rate reality show entertainer, my wife was telling me to be worried. Very worried. He might win; He might be President, she told me.

All that is now history. Four years of a Donald Trump presidency has changed me. Trump, and the world's reaction to him, has left me shocked, appalled, sadden, frightened . . . You get the idea. If not, the following tale should put all into perspective.

 

The other night I caught the end of The Bourne Ultimatum on television. On-the-run CIA agent Jason Bourne is giving CIA Deputy Director Pam Landy incriminating evidence that discloses the depth of perversity infecting the CIA. The disease had a name: Treadstone.

Landy is able to fax the top secret Treadstone files to someone outside the agency and the whole sordid mess becomes a public embarrassment for the U.S. At the end of the movie Landy is testifying before the Senate. Today we know how that might go, and it is not good.

The men behind Treadstone believed in what they were doing, as wrong and evil as it was. Many of the senators, Landy discovers, are more in tune with the goals of Treadstone than with Landy. The senators critically question Landy, a huge television network attacks Landy with numerous, blatant lies. The network with the support of a network of extreme Christians successfully cast doubt on her motives . 

In the end, Landy must go into hiding to evade a trial for treason. After all, she did disclose highly sensitive Top Secret information and she never claimed otherwise. Influenced by lie-peddling radio and television talk show hosts, half the American public wants to see Landy executed and the President has threatened to do just that if she is ever found.

 

I see the world differently today. And I feel foolish. Naive. I was born just two years after the end of the Second World War. I was raised with the memory of a very real Hitler lurking in the shadows. Many of my friends only lived in Canada because their families were seeking a new life in a new country after their lives had been shattered by the war.

Trump rose to power partially by promising that he was the "law and order" candidate. Hitler's platform contained the "law and order" plank.

Which brings me to one of my biggest fears: religious folk. (I must note that religious folk did NOT play a big role in the ascension of Hitler.) Religious folk have always scared me a little. My Roman Catholic friends worried they would miss me after they died. They were going to heaven. The best I could achieve was limbo, or so I was told. My mom assured me that there was no limbo and I was destined for heaven, and for good measure, she said my friends were going to go there as well.

Then there were the fire and brimstone preachers. My earliest memories of of this approach to finding Christ was a chap shouting from my bedside radio with me under the covers fighting a fever-fueled, delusional bout of the measles. I had to follow the teachings of the Bible or face eternal damnation. I had a Bible and I had tried to read it. I knew I was doomed.

And lastly there were the End-Times and the Rapture-Is-Coming contingent of Christians. After attending a rally where these two subjects were the theme, I sought counseling from my Anglican minister. Forget it, he told me. It just isn't going to happen and, as we all know, he was right. (Well, not all. There are still those running around Chicken Little style warning that the end is nigh.)

Now, at the ripe, old age of 73, I've encountered the most fearful group of Christians ever: right-wing Baptists. And, I have a relative who posts stuff from these misguided believers. He assures me that he doesn't follow these deviants from the Christian faith but then why post stuff connected them? Why muddy your own Christian message?

Donald Trump is evil. This is axiomatic. My mom warned me: "Even Satan can quote scripture." When Pastor Josh Buice posts a piece headlined "Confessions of a #NeverTrump Christian Pastor and Why I Will Be Voting for Donald Trump," I cringe in fear.

Why does the pastor now support Trump? In his words, it is to fight "cancerous ideas" that are growing in America. Can one really imagine Christ fighting cancerous ideas by throwing his support behind a man filled to overflowing with cancerous ideas. 

Christ never hit me as a "Let's Make a Deal" kinda Guy. "You give me this and I'll let you get away with that," should not be at the core of one's Christian beliefs. I hate to tell you Pastor Buice but Satan has conned you. If there really is a heaven, we'll miss you.

If the pastor were alone in promoting this corruption of the Christian faith, it would be disconcerting but that's about all. But no, million of Christians are spouting the messages preached by the pastor. Elmer Gantry may need a rewrite. A new, bleaker ending, more in keeping with today, may be demanded.