The Answers that Atheists Hope No One Has? (Chapter Five)

Introduction

One of the oldest conundrums facing those that believe in a God that is both perfectly good and all powerful is the Problem of Evil. A perfect God that is good and all powerful should not even be capable of producing a world with evil and suffering, should it? And yet the world we observe around us sees us and our fellow human beings suffer under both natural and man-made disaster.

If God is not capable of ending the evil and suffering, then why call him powerful? If God is not willing to end the evil and suffering, then why call him good? For centuries this has been one of the strongest objections to the existence of any God that is meant to be both good and powerful.

It is with this problem in his sights that Mark Mittelberg, author of The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers), attempts to offer an Evangelical solution to the Problem of Evil. In previous chapters of the book he has laid the groundwork for what he believes are good reasons to believe in God. He then set his attention to Darwinism raising objections he believed called it into question. After that Mark spent two chapters addressing Biblical issues, one about the general reliability of the Bible as a historical source and the other about the divinity and Resurrection of Jesus. I have attempted, in turn, to offer my rebuttal and have reviewed each chapter from my viewpoint as an atheist and skeptic.

So without further ado let's see what Mark has to say about the Problem of Evil to get the God of the Bible off the hook. As always any excerpts used here are used for critique and criticism under Fair Use and belong to Mark Mittelberg and Tyndale House Publishers.

Rhetorical Questions

Mark starts off the chapter by outlining the different ways in which the Problem of Suffering can come up in a discussion by offering an anecdote (as per usual). He offers it only to illustrate the point that many of those who ask “why me?” when bad things happen do so rhetorically and that they don't actually want an answer but instead want empathy and support.

Mark is right, of course, when someone's house burns down and they are living in a shelter somewhere they generally don't actually want to get into some deep philosophical discussion about the nature of reality or God. What they really want is comforting words, help from their communities and reassurance that they will get through their hardships in time.

But Mark also acknowledges that there is another version of this question more potent than those who cry out rhetorically because they want our sympathies. In fact Mark even acknowledges that this problem is one of the biggest reasons why people begin to doubt or even disbelieve.

The Problem of Evil, for Atheists?

Mark goes on to lay out a pretty basic, but serviceable version of the Problem of Evil, being that all the suffering in the world around us would seem to demonstrate that a good and all powerful God simply doesn't exist. Indeed, though Mark doesn't mention this, it seems logically incoherent to say that an all loving, all good and all powerful God even COULD exist. The issue of the Problem of Evil is one of contradiction, how a perfect being that is omnibenevolent and omnipotent even COULD create a world with so much evil and suffering is a direct contradiction.

Before I read this chapter I had some basic idea of what was coming next mostly because at this point I am convinced Mark is never going to make an original argument or say anything remotely convincing or clever. Mark has repeatedly failed to provide anything that I haven't heard from dozens of other apologists throughout the years.

Apologists are beginning to remind me of bad comedians repackaging the same tired jokes so often that they've forgotten the original source it was ripped off from.

Now of course you might argue that I shouldn't paint apologists with so broad a brush. At the start of this review, way back in Chapter One, I was genuinely hopeful that Mark might make some arguments I hadn't heard before or say something clever. I was disappointed then and with each successive chapter I grow more and more disappointed that he has nothing new to say except the same old tired rhetoric, such as this little diddy I knew was coming:

Welcome to the Jungle

I say that because, as has become the standard go to tactic of Christians, Mark almost immediately brings up murderers, rapists and Nazis to claim that, because atheists don't have ABSOLUTE standards, there is no way to condemn people for their crimes. Now this is just plain stupid for so many reasons. But it makes me wonder what Mark might say to some remote tribe in the jungle that never even heard of his God.

Does he believe they have no right to conduct their own justice? To decide on their own morals? If they are isolated from our society with their own superstitions and their own morals and have never even heard of his God how can morals be absolute?

My guess is Mark would say that even those remote tribes have basic morals and that those basic morals, like don't steal or don't murder, are the sort of absolutes he's talking about. What a coincidence, the two most common sense boundaries, that nearly every culture has arrived at independently, are the “absolutes”. There are tribes that eat their own dead, tribes that allow revenge killings, there are all manner of bizarre and barbaric moral codes out there.

If you study anthropology and look into all the different beliefs and morals that have come out of human culture over thousands and thousands of years you will see that morality is man-made and that often the only morals shared in common by isolated peoples are common sense ones that Christianity has no claim on.

I don't know what Mark would say about these tribes, he doesn't mention them, but he does seem to think that things like the ten commandments are evidence that absolute morals regarding things like theft and murder exist. I wonder if he feels this way about the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy or the one that says the sins of the Father pass on to the son for seven generations. Something tells me that Mark would be happy to help Christianity take credit for “absolutes” about stealing and murder but shy away from things like stoning homosexuals and burning a Priest's daughter alive if she engages in Prostitution.

How Do Atheists Explain Good and Evil?

Now I have a whole hub about how atheists do have an answer for the Problem of Evil but I will lay it out here as quickly as I can. Basically it comes down to the difference between the way I as an atheist think about things like truth, knowledge, good and evil and the way a Christian does. For a Christian everything works from a top-down perspective, there is a man-in-charge in Christianity who dictates not only what goodness and evil are but who dictates the very reality around us. Quite literally this God is a dictator, deciding what goes with a stamp of absolute certainty.

For those of us who operate in a reality where there isn't some celestial lawgiver writing on stone tablets or deciding truth with a bang of a cosmic gavel we deal with the gray areas and nuances of the real world. In reality answers are hard to come by and certainty is in short supply. This is why, for thousands of years, morality has fluctuated, rather than been based on some absolute. The ability to change our moral systems, however, also means that we can IMPROVE those moral systems, something that Christians should not be able to boast since their morals are meant to be unchanging.

What do I mean improve? Well Mark seems to view human creations as fleeting and utterly subjective – as mere matters of empty opinion.

Moving on Up

When I say that moral systems can improve within the atheist “worldview” (I should really say humanist worldview since atheism is too limited a position to be a worldview) what I mean is in respect to the objective consequences of those systems and even the individual morals themselves. So let's say we find that a long-standing moral precept is immoral in some way, take for example the long-standing and Biblically justified institution of slavery, in a secular moral world we can realize the error of our ways and correct them. Only in a world where morals are subject to change can moral systems ever improve in any way.

Now I also mentioned the difference between what some Christians think of Good and Evil and what I think. To some Christians good and evil are forces working in the world that are set in stone - what is evil today will be evil for all time and what is good today is good for all time.

To folks like me evil is a label we use for behaviors so repulsive and harmful that we call them evil. Behaviors we find beneficial or helpful or pleasing are generally labeled good. And the thing is that in many cases harm and benefit are completely OBJECTIVE. If you stab someone in the stomach with intent to harm them and you puncture their liver I'd say it's pretty obvious that you've done something wrong/evil. I'd say it's pretty obvious that that person has now been objectively harmed, their very life maybe even threatened.

But, Mark and the apologists argue, why should we value other human lives? Or rather – why DO we value other human lives? This is where evolution comes in. We evolved to live and thrive in groups and that includes a baseline of perfectly natural instinctual EMPATHY. We also evolved to be able to reason and it is these two, reason and empathy - applied with respect to the objective consequences of actions - that form the foundation of secular morality.

Evil is Real You Guys

For Mark and many other apologists evil is some real thing out there in the world, a force, an absolute certainty. For me it is a label attached to certain behaviors and the people that engage in them. But simply because evil is a man-made construct doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Oh sure evil doesn't exist in some bizarre absolute sense as in evil with a capital E floating out there in the cosmos somewhere. But evil exists in the same way other human constructs exist.

Look at it this way, human beings invented farming and agriculture and we decide what counts as farming and agriculture. If you decide to plant a cows head in the ground and think a cow is going to grow you are, quite objectively, not doing agriculture, you are doing farming wrong – by definition. So if you decide to behead someone in the name of Allah, you are, quite objectively, doing something evil – by definition. It does not matter that there is no GOD OF FARMING to decide what absolutely counts as proper farming practices. It does not matter that we are the ones who invented good and evil as labels.

When apologists demand that atheists must have an absolute standard of morality or else things can't really be called genuinely good or genuinely evil they are blowing hot air. Their arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. And ironically there are good atheist answers for both the so-called Problem of Evil for Atheists and the Problem of Good (the CS Lewis version). Human beings are the ones who suffer when evil is done and the ones who benefit when good is accomplished, why on Earth are we not qualified to decide what counts as good and evil?

Christians ALL Judge "absolute" Morality Themselves

Solution 2 - Dark Side and Light Side

So the denial of God's existence was the first so-called solution that Mark wanted to offer a rebuttal to. As you can see above his rebuttal to it is pathetic but it took a good while to unpack all the ways in which he was wrong.

What we see in the real world and the everyday gray areas of our moral systems is that human morality emerges from the bottom up, not from a dictator in the sky. The second and third solution, which I will only briefly touch on, are those that deal with the perspectives of other believers or of those of other faiths.

The second solution is that evil is a part of the divine. This is a sort of Taoist perspective which sees yin and yang as two parts of the nature of the divine or spiritual. Mark's objection to this is literally only a few sentences where he complains about the idea of one day reaching enlightenment and becoming one with everything. Mark doesn't want to become one with the evil and the good but he never offers any reason to reject this solution. Basically his objection reads as if he might as well be saying, “Eww, evil is icky, I don't want to be friends with evil!”

Solution 3 - Our God Is a Not So Awesome God

The third solution is to diminish God's power so that God is only one of the many players struggling against evil rather than someone who could KO evil with a single punch. Needless to say Mark doesn't like this idea. He doesn't like the uncertainty about God's ultimate victory that it brings up and claims that it doesn't jive well with the Bible's depictions of God. This is all well and good but Mark would argue this very differently if he realized how utterly unconvincing his arguments for the reliability of the Bible were. But I suppose most of those arguing that God is not all powerful are probably believers of some stripe.

Solution 4 - Not So Good

Solution four is to strip God of some of his goodness but as Mark points out this raises the problem of where all the good comes from in the world:

In the context that this quote is taken from it actually makes sense. Mark is talking not about unbelievers arguing the Problem of Evil but of those who do believe but who take the goodness for granted the moment something bad crops up in their life. However the Problem of Good kind of misses the point of the general Problem of Evil which is that if a perfectly good all powerful God exists it should be logically impossible for evil and suffering of any kind to exist at all. Even the slightest suffering, even a stubbed toe, are evidence that a perfectly good God who is also all powerful doesn't exist.

The existence of good to counterbalance that evil/suffering may help those who support solutions two and three (particularly solution two) but do nothing to reestablish the likelihood that the sort of God that Mark is arguing for exists.

Living in Tension

So what is Mark's grand solution for the Problem of Evil? He has laid out some of the common ones, from the denial that such a God could exist to reducing the various attributes of God to make room for evil. But Mark's solution isn't to actually put forth a solution at all - his solution is to allow these two contradictory beliefs, that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent AND there is suffering/evil in the world, to exist simultaneously. In the book he calls this “living in tension” but what it actually is is Cognitive Dissonance, holding two beliefs that do not comport with one another as being equally true.

Often this requires an unhealthy level of compartmentalization. And so what Mark is asking those who doubt to do is essentially just live in a constant state of conflict. Why? Because there are no easy answers. Which is code language for – there are no good answers to this dilemma because it is perfectly valid.

At this point Mark may as well throw up his hands in defeat and become an atheist. Unfortunately given what he's written here something tells me he's become good at compartmentalization and believing things that make no sense for no good reason.

Another Message for Mark

Sometimes we don't have an easy answer that ties everything in a nice bow and makes everyone feel good? Then why do you think “GOD” is a satisfying answer to the origin of the entire Universe? One of the toughest scientific questions that scientists must face, the math involved in physics alone boggles the mind and yet your answer, Mark, is “in the beginning God SAID”. That is the laziest easiest answer imaginable, some being with supernatural powers spoke the world into existence. Mark, you have literally directed us to take the most intellectually lazy path imaginable throughout this entire book.

You've asked us to accept the Bible essentially on faith because impossible sounding stories can sometimes turn out to be true. You've asked us to accept that a man was divine and rose from the dead supernaturally based on an empty tomb (which is missing by the way, no one knows where it is) and the fact that the followers of his cult said they saw him and believed really hard that he had come back to life.

These are the people that followed Jesus, they are his cult members, and you've asked us to treat their writings as if they were objective news reports. Mark most people know that the news today is full of shit, they look on it with skepticism - if you really think the writings of the early Christian cult from 2000 years ago are convincing and objective evidence you are deluded. But of course that isn't your fault, as a cult member, you are just as much a victim as any of them.

You spent an entire chapter arguing that because science hadn't adequately explained the origin of the Universe and the basic building blocks of life that Evolution wasn't acceptable.

A few chapters ago you were telling us not to accept science because there were some things it hadn't explained to your satisfaction. Your arguments amounted to fallacious appeals to incredulity and ignorance. And now you have the gall to sit there and tell people there are no easy answers to the Problem of Evil? Mark, you've fed your audience NOTHING but easy answers and now you throw up your hands and basically tell them to believe irregardless because you find the other solutions too difficult to face?

What kind of argument is that?

Look I know some reading this might think I'm being too harsh again. Normally I would tone it down but I'm not going to do that here. This is absolutely outrageous to me and we still have a long way to go in this chapter.

Seven Points of Light?

Mark does give his Christian audience, who are meant to evangelize to their friends, some points to bring up in discussions. He calls these points Seven Points of Light although as we will see they are more like bad excuses that do nothing to dispel the Problem of Evil. And they are also anything but LIGHT.

Point 1 – The World is as Jesus Predicted: So Jesus predicted the world would be evil. This is supposed to count for something? This counts for nothing because as we saw in Chapter Four Mark has given us absolutely no good reason to think Jesus is divine or even to think that Jesus was a good moral teacher.

Point 2 – Evil was not created or caused by God: There are numerous ways I could argue this against what Mark is saying but basically this is his opportunity to sneak in the famed 'FREE WILL' excuse for suffering in the world by saying this:

Seven Points Continued

Of course this argument, that love requires the ability to do evil, can be turned around and applied to God. One of the problems of Christian theology is the question of whether or not God has free will, that is to say if it is God's choice to love all mankind or whether his very nature forces him to love. Is God good out of choice or does he have no choice? If God has no choice how and why can he be applauded for his goodness? Can God choose to do evil if he wishes?

And of course Mark only makes it worse for God by saying that love must be freely chosen, though perhaps this is why he says 'what it means to be human' implying that the whole Free Will thing is not a problem for God. This makes no sense of course and is just another example of exempting God from the rules of logic for no good reason.

I'd also like to point out here that the Biblical God is responsible for evil and even admits to this in Isaiah 45:7. Of course if God outright admitting to creating evil isn't enough all one need do is read the Bible and see the amount of genocide, death and suffering God creates. Everything from plagues that rot people's faces off while they are still alive to dooming parents to devour the flesh of their own children to a Lake of Fire where he plans to torture people endlessly. The Bible is chocked full of evil created by God.

Point 3 - The Cause of most suffering is humanity: I wasn't sure how this is a point of light until Mark used it to simply accuse atheists of atrocities by quoting Dinesh D'Souza talking about Mao, Stalin and Hitler. Hitler, of course, was a Catholic who later fell into some strange occult beliefs. Hitler makes it clear in his writings that he believed he was doing the will of God, but D'Souza lumps Nazis in with atheists because he is dishonest.

Two can play the Nazi game as I would love to ask D'Souza and Mittelberg what happened to the souls of those millions of Jews who died as non-Christians in Concentration camps. If the Bible is correct they are all burning in Hell or at least will be soon enough. The difference between God and Hitler is that when you go into Hitler's ovens you're probably already dead, whereas God's oven of Hell keeps you alive for eternity, screaming and suffering without end.

Nazi belt buckle that says "God is with us" but please tell us more about how the Nazis were an "atheist regime"
Nazi belt buckle that says "God is with us" but please tell us more about how the Nazis were an "atheist regime"

Seven Points Continued

What they won't tell you is that any ideology that is corrupted at it's core can be used for violence. Atheism is not an ideology, it is a disbelief in gods. The secular regimes that committed atrocities did so for other reasons central to their ideologies.

Atheism alone is too general a notion to spark any sort of cruelty, in order to do that other elements must be present. In the same way theism is too general to be a catalyst to evil, only when the specifics of an ideology, like a specific religion or holy book, are added is there enough impetus to act. We don't blame theism in general for the atrocities of Muslim terrorists neither should we blame atheism in general for the atrocities of Communist extremists.

Of course the cause of most suffering IS human cruelty or carelessness, they aren't wrong there. However this is what we would expect in a world without a God. Keep in mind that we evolved to survive in small groups, tribes, and human tribalism runs deep. Whenever we view some other group of humans as an enemy we can end up doing horrible things to them. The key is to focus on the better parts of our nature, our natural empathy, and apply it to all peoples.

The history of religion reflects the tribalism of our godless Universe, as the Old Testament shows clearly, with “God” sending out the Israelites to commit genocide demanding that even the children must be slaughtered by the sword. This tribalism and barbarism are a piece of evidence that the Bible was written by primitive ignorant human beings who didn't realize how evil their deeds truly were. But now we know better, our morality has improved, something only possible if moral systems are man-made (even if Mittelberg and other apologists try to take credit for it).

In fact Mark attempts, just before he let's D'Souza lie about atheists and Nazis, to claim credit for goodness by telling us the Ten Commandments are evidence that God warned us against genocide and evil. This, of course, is in Exodus, just after God commits genocidal evil against the first born of Egypt. This is one chapter before he tells the Israelites that they can keep slaves, pass them as property to their children, sell their own daughters into a lifetime of servitude, and beat their slaves. Mark is apparently counting on his readers to have never even read their own Bibles.

I should also mention here that tsunamis and brain tumors in children are not the fault of human beings and are not explained away by human cruelty or free will. But Mark thinks he has an answer for that.

Point Four - We live in a Fallen World

I'm really not comfortable calling these points of light anymore as they tend to deal with poor excuses about the worst parts of human nature. Here we have Mark arguing that God's perfect creation is infected with a disease called natural evil that can be passed from generation to generation. And this serves as Mark's brilliant excuse for why tsunamis can wipe out a quarter of a million people and not bring God's goodness into question.

I talk about this excuse in one of my hubs but I'll briefly go into it here. Basically this is the view that after Adam and Eve sinned their sin infected everything and made all of creation malfunction. This view is not Biblically defensible because the Bible clearly says that God cursed his creation after the Fall. God shows up and angrily declares that women will suffer pain in childbirth, that men will toil in the fields just to get enough food to eat and so on and so forth. It is generally held that from this curse all those things, like mosquitoes with malaria, cancer, AIDS, earthquakes and tsunamis, emerged as realities humanity had to deal with.

The common tactic of apologists like Mark, who is ever more selling himself as a fundamentalist rather than any kind of reasonable person, is to deny that God had anything to do with introducing these devastating elements of our world. Instead the blame is laid on the shoulders of the creation.

This is no different than the sorts of excuses an abusive parent makes when they beat their child, “you brought this on yourself by disobeying”. God, who had the power to forgive the sins of Adam and Eve and prevent the sin nature from ever spreading, chooses to curse his creation in his anger.

But Mark does say something I do agree with when talking about the Christians who blame gays and abortion for Hurricanes:

Seven Points of Darkness Continued

Fifth Point - God will ultimately judge evil

This completely misses the point of the problem of evil. The point isn't that there is tons of evil right now in the immediate present. The point is that evil and suffering exist at all.

Sixth Point - God suffers too

Mark says that Jesus gave up everything to suffer on the cross for us. Again I don't even have to say much here. This is nonsense. Jesus gave up nothing. I've talked at length in numerous hubs about how Christians misunderstand their own scriptures regarding the sacrifice of Jesus by making it out that Jesus SACRIFICED himself – as in gave up his life – for their sins. In order to sacrifice your life you can't immediately be given it back after spending a day and a half dead (Jesus died on Friday, was back by Sunday morning). Jesus was a SACRIFICE in the religious sense, as in a ritual of blood atonement, not in the sense of giving anything up.

God, if he is said to be perfect, cannot suffer any permanent loss and indeed in the story of Jesus God suffers no permanent loss. He goes from being in the body of an impoverished carpenter to sitting on a throne at the right hand of the Father ruling all of time and space for eternity. If you think that's a sacrifice in any sense other than the religious one you are wrong.

Seventh Point – God can make bad things into good things

Irrelevant to the Problem of Evil. Also fails to answer the question of why God is apparently making good things happen to the wicked and bad things happen to the righteous. But to all your Christians who pray real hard and believe real hard and still have your child die of cancer and you can't see ANY good having come from it Mark Mittelberg has some words of wisdom for you.

	So there you have it. If you can't find the silver lining in your horrendous suffering there's something fucking wrong with you not with the God who let your suffering continue when he could stop in with a single thought.
So there you have it. If you can't find the silver lining in your horrendous suffering there's something fucking wrong with you not with the God who let your suffering continue when he could stop in with a single thought.

All About that Fluff, no Substance

Once again Mark doesn't seem to offer us any compelling answers to the question. He even throws up his hands in defeat at one point confessing that the easiest way to deal with it is to just believe it even if it makes no sense. This is his second big call to cognitive dissonance for Christians, asking them to hold contradictory beliefs in “tension” because the real answers aren't “easy”.

Well Mark has shown us no real answer, just seven excuses that do nothing to explain how such horrendous evil can even logically exist when an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God exists. His best answer is to try to blame it all on humans and atheists. Praise the creator for everything good, blame the humans for everything bad, even brain tumors and tsunamis are all our fault.

And of course Mark began the whole thing with the same old tired rhetoric about atheists not being able to explain good and evil. It is true that as an atheist my conception of what is evil is different from that of Mark. Mark seems to think that evil is anything that is in conflict with the absolute standards that God has set. For me evil is anything that is objectively harmful to people and doesn't have any real benefit. My beliefs about evil are based on empathy, reason and a consideration of the objectively real consequences that human behaviors have on other humans.

Conclusion

Is my morality subjective? On some level yes, but all moral codes are. Even the Bible's morality is subjective as the Old Testament's 'eye for an eye' becomes Jesus' 'turn the other cheek'. As the Old Testament's call to stone women who commit adultery becomes Jesus' revelation that all have sinned when he says, 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'.

The very pages of the Bible reveal that human moral codes change and in fact that they IMPROVE over time not because they chase some supernatural absolute but because our knowledge and understanding of each other and the world around us changes, improves and expands. And so, to, do our communities, to the point where today we place high value on every human life and feel empathy for the suffering of people half a world away.

Morality is hard, it's tedious, it has tons of gray areas. The easy answer of “God commands it” is no longer useful and has no basis in reality as near as we can tell. All of the facts tell us that morality stems from our evolution as a social species. When Christians try to lay claim to morality and goodness they appeal only to common sense moral standards regarding things like theft, murder or general fairness, things any society could conceive of.

Believing that morals must be rooted in the supernatural is superstitious nonsense of a bygone age when we needed such beliefs to cement ourselves into larger communities. Now, with a global community and plurality of faiths and cultures, we no longer need such beliefs.

If you've made it to the end I thank you once again for reading and I hope you will join me next week when I delve into Chapter Six and get to disagree with Mark Mittelberg about abortion.

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7 comments

rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 9 months ago from Irvine

The Christian myth is one that can be disassembled rather easily in light of our modern-day understanding of science and physics; however, it would be total hubris (I'm sure you'd agree) if we assumed to know the sum of our universe.

I'm not advocating a supernatural being or his/her influence upon our world, but I do take exception with comments like "why DO we value other human lives? This is where evolution comes in. We evolved to live and thrive in groups and that includes a baseline of perfectly natural instinctual EMPATHY."

You cannot make an argument for instinctual empathy. Yes, we see examples of it here and there, but is it an inborn, natural tendency in all human beings? I think not. People, many people, will sit idly by while the worst atrocities are committed. I don't think homo sapiens are more empathetic than chimpanzees. Although I grant you that empathy exists, I don't think it is strong enough, persuasive enough upon which we can trust our total moral character.

Thus, even though the Christian myth may just be a more modern-day myth, it does provide millions of people with a sense of ethics.

It's fine to dislodge authors from their pillars of truth -- and in the quest of truth one must do so, but don't overlook the thousands of years that various people contributed to the Bible.

Yes, yes, most of it is nonsensical and symbolic, but you cannot run out the entire idea, proclaim yourself as an atheist, and be unaccountable for human-on-human treatment. The Bible may very well be a scam, but what do atheists offer as a moral code instead?

You keep pushing the idea that humans are empathetic by nature. Well, I have to disagree with you. I think most humans are beastial in nature and require some kind of guidance --age-old if it must be. Maybe some obtain guidance from their various religions. If this is true, even if they subscribe to myth, we might be better off for it.

I am not against any of the arguments you make or even the relevancy of atheism. I'm only trying to state that works like the Bible should not be disregarded in a wholesale manner because much of it it is allegorical.

A straight-out defense about the existence of God and the parables of the Bible is rather self-defeating. Such books shouldn't be slammed because -- on the surface they seem illogical. Proponents who would hold the Bible as concrete evidence certainly deserve your level of condemnation. So, I'm not judging you nor am I trying to offer a defense against atheism.

My only comment can be encapsulated into the statement: Just be considerate and do not assume that we as a species are empathetic. To do so would be assuming too much.

Books such as the Bible were written for a purpose. The purpose was to keep humankind on a higher level. You imagine that we possess greater instincts by nature than I. My sense is that we evolved to a state where moral conduct became very confused and some few people felt the need to publish a text that put everything straight -- at least for the time in which it was written.

So, go on and discredit Mark, chapter by chapter. It's something that has to be done, however tedious. But, realize this: By pushing your atheistic perspective, you are also trouncing on some sacred ground. I call it sacred ground because millions of people depend upon the efficacy of the Bible and its absurd supporters such as Mark. We have not reached the day and age where the old myths can be discarded. We have not reached the day where we can rely on our own moral instincts (sadly enough).

I understand what it means to be an atheist. That's a fairly easy position to take. It's easy to discredit God, the Bible. Okay. Even if all of this is fable, what are you doing to the moral code? If you really believe that human beings just by instinct are going to make correct decisions, you are humoring yourself because they will not, have not, and will continue to be mostly beastil if given the chance.

I'm not trying to discourage you from your path of degrading Mark's book, chapter by chapter. On the contrary, I think you are doing us all a service.

People who adhere to the Bible in a literal sense need to be knocked down. The Bible is at best an allegorical fable -- yet one filled with wisdom. It may take some time and effort, but if you try, you'll see that the Bible was not written arbitrarily. You don't have to become a "believer" to derive some pearls of wisdom from some of the most obscure text.

Atheists are an unsurprising reactionary force to religion -- particularly Christianity in this country. Guys like yourself, with a lot of fervor, are a necessary composite to offset zealotry. We all have to get "real" about scripture. It's a thankless, tedious task, so thanks for taking on the the nearly impossible job.

I would only remind you to tread carefully. You are crossing "sacred ground" and the Indians might not like it. Moreover, don't be too quick to dismiss some enlightening highlights from the Bible because they may in fact be helping us keep on track. It's not one of those thing that lends itself easily to statistics or quantification.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 9 months ago from back in the lab again Author

"You cannot make an argument for instinctual empathy."

Yes of course I can. Empathy is necessary for our survival, it is clearly a product of evolution. Those born without it are labeled psychopaths and sociopaths because they do not have that same instinct we all have.

"People, many people, will sit idly by while the worst atrocities are committed."

Perhaps I could have gone into more detail in my hub. It's not that empathy TRUMPS other instincts or other aspects of human nature, it's that empathy is part of it. It is one of the factors that helps determine human behavior but there are other factors that can block empathy. For example I touched upon tribalism later on in my hub. This is one of the limitations of human empathy. We are willing to see those in our group with empathy but have trouble the moment we apply it outside the group.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron

Part of what makes humans, and other animals, capable of empathy is Mirror Neurons, which allow us to identify with, that is put ourselves in the shoes, of those acting in a given situation. This is part of how we are able to discover what is right and what is wrong but putting ourselves in someone else's position. It's also been shown that humans and other primates recognize distress and pain in the faces of other primates and our brains respond accordingly. This is one of the reasons why humans have such a preoccupation with dolphins and certain other animals, they look like they are smiling.

"I don't think it is strong enough, persuasive enough upon which we can trust our total moral character."

I think the way forward is to use both empathy and reason, in respect to the objective harm and benefit of certain morals and actions, that must be used to navigate the moral landscape. It is sort of the best of both worlds. I look at this as a sort of "Star Trek" approach. Spock is the logic. Bones is the passion and emotion. And it is in the balance of the two that we can find a comfortable and tenable position.

Now as I said there are other aspects of human nature that allow for such things as cruelty and there are even scenarios where some people will feel morally justified to commit horrendous acts. Often this is done by convincing oneself that the other person is somehow inferior, deserves this treatment, or is too dangerous to be left alive. This is how you get things like Holocaust. There is a demonization of Jews and a fear that they are dangerous to the German people and so it builds up this US or THEM mentality.

One of the books I plan on reading next that I do a review of is by atheist philosopher Steven Pinker it's called The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In the last few centuries alone human kind has made massive leaps forward and we have done so largely by wrestling against the old guard religiously driven morality and toward a more just, equal and empathetic society.

"Maybe some obtain guidance from their various religions. If this is true, even if they subscribe to myth, we might be better off for it."

Perhaps some evil folks do feel restrained by their religion, but I feel like there are plenty of people who act and behave evilly BECAUSE of their religion rather than in spite of it. If people are going to take as moral guides books which contain the most obscene barbarity I fail to see how that is preferable to them simply setting their myths aside to join you and I in the real world. Think of the abuses of the hands of Priests as an example. Would such atrocities go unpunished in a world where these myths were called out for the bullshit that they are? For every sin that religion restrains it shields a thousand more my friend.

Altruism, selflessness, empathy, these are our evolutionary heritage, but so too are tribalism, xenophobia, and the capacity for all manner of cruelty. If you look at nature this seems to be true of all of the more intelligent species. Look at chimpanzees and dolphins, who join humans as among the only animals to commit "murder". That is to say they sometimes kill their own kind for social reasons, not for reasons of food or territory.

It would seem that one of the trade-offs of intelligence is a greater range of potential behavioral outcomes, including both great love, affection, kindness and charity AND unfortunately cruelty and indifference as well.


rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 9 months ago from Irvine

Titen: We agree on almost everything. The only point of divergence I can see is in the degree to which we regard human altruism. I'm guessing that you see the human species as basically good/kind/caring by its nature or genetic encoding. I do not. I think that without instruction, we'd be a very barbaric lot of hominids. On a tribal level, we might do okay, even if some tribes constantly fight with each other over the watering hole and find it okay to consume the flesh of their victims. At this low level, you can find a kind of innate sense of empathy for the clan and a total lack of it for anyone outside the group. Individuals within the tribe are cared for and grieved when they pass on. Members of other tribes are either delicious or not so much.

But when you start considering the actions/motivations of thousands and then millions of individuals, the tribal laws go out the window (if they had one).

This is why I say books like the Bible did not arise by accident. The book is meant to instruct human beings about behavior. And I would have to agree that written instructions of this kind can cause as much harm as good, and we've seen this play out throughout history.

Would we be better off not having these books for a reference. Perhaps. This flows into the unquantifiable aspects. Yes, people have done unspeakable acts because of their interpretation of written text. And yes, many of those who fall into being positions of religious authority can be cited for equally unspeakable crimes against our species.

But if you bag it all up, does the bad outweigh the good? Undoubtedly, you would bag up all the dogma and throw it into the nearest dumpster. You could be right.

My small point is not to be too hasty in throwing out the bad with what might also be good. If some people are afraid of doing evil because they think there may be an omniscient presence watching over them, is that a bad thing? Even if religious doctrine is false, if it causes some small percentage of the population from acting in a barbaric way, how can that (in itself) be bad?

Just look at the numbers. More people subscribe to one religion or another than those who do not. This isn't an accident. The masses seem to truly need moral instruction. We can argue about whether homo sapiens have a built-in self-regulating mechanism for the rest of our lives, but just look at the numbers. Atheists such as ourselves probably do not constitute even 1% on the total scale.

People want/need to be told how to behave -- and that is certainly dangerous (or at least discomforting) but it's a fact that we cannot ignore.

Unfortunately, books like the Bible are imperfect. Sadly, such books cannot be updated or appended. So, you have this huge outcropping of sects that stem from the core religions, allowing them to pick and choose their favorite parts of the old religion and then add in their own Christian rock stars.

The biggest sect, the evangelicals, understood the complaints of disenfranchised Catholics/Protestants and created a dome under which more people felt comfortable. The orthodox church is peeing in their pants at the numbers of their flock fleeing to these sects. But by adhering to an ancient mythology, what else might they expect?

But even with people fleeing orthodox religion, they end up becoming Born Again Christians or Seventh Day Adventists or even Mormons. They don't leave religion behind them and become atheists. No, they still want to cling to some group that believes in God and Jesus in whatever manifestation/interpretation.

This is what leads me to caution you about dumping the Bible. On a personal level, I totally understand. And I totally understand the need to provide a counterbalance to religion -- in whatever its shape or size.

Religion continues to scare the pants off me, but I'm equally afraid of what the world might look like if people believed in nothing. Believing in nothing doesn't automatically lead an individual to an atheistic viewpoint. I fear that for many, believing in nothing would lead to nihilism -- and that certainly wouldn't make our world a better place.

People actually need to be told such basics as: don't commit murder, don't bonk your brother's wife, don't commit incest, don't lie, cheat or steal, etc. It seems so rudimentary, so elementary that I can understand why you think this sort of knowledge would just be part of our natural instincts, something built into our DNA, but unfortunately, it isn't.

People need to be told that if you commit such sins you are going to burn in a fiery lake for all of eternity. Yes, you have to scare them into behaving benevolently. And I think this kind of grade-school level instruction actually works.

Not everyone uses their intellect. Not all people are equally sophisticated in their mental capacities. In fact, with no evidence to back up the claim, I'd say that most people are easily manipulable and duped.

It may be a thing of aghast, but it appears as if the masses require the basic message: do the right thing or pay an ultimate penalty with your soul.

It's truly unfortunate that the Bible and other texts of its kind were written for a fairly ancient audience. It's even more unfortunate that religious scholars try to defend the old texts, exhorting to lame arguments such as you have been illustrating very clearly. The old books that probably had high intentions, not only got fully misinterpreted and abused during periods of our history, they are slavishly buttressed by individuals who definitely have the mental capacity to understand the difference between symbolism and literalism. And for this alone I applaud you in this chapter by chapter critique of yet another religious apologist.

But again, my only caveat is to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Bible is full of shit, but we still have to handle the loaded diaper with some amount of delicacy because people still regard it as reverent. Secondly, the book does contain some pearls of wisdom. Thirdly, people seem to need it on a huge scale -- indicating to me at least that human beings require some kind of moral guidebook. For many, they would feel lost without their Bible compass.

You mentioned to me earlier that you have been posting to a book review section of Hub pages. Wise decision. If you were to post in the religious area, you might already be nailed to a cross upside down.

I support your hard work and look forward to new chapters. Just be gentle in how you handle "believers." They may be a simpler group than you or I but they aren't village idiots, and we should never try to shame anyone for believing what they believe.

I remember reading (years and years ago) an article about Harlan Ellison. When asked what he truly feared, he replied something to the effect of what he truly feared was that God actually existed.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 9 months ago from back in the lab again Author

"If some people are afraid of doing evil because they think there may be an omniscient presence watching over them, is that a bad thing?"

Given the amount of religious people who still do evil things I would say the number restraining themselves with their religious beliefs is small. I would also say that if that small number who claim to need religion gave up their religious beliefs in pursuit of reason the number of them who would suddenly become murderers, rapists and thieves would be tiny. Of course we may never get to see that, and as you say we differ in our view of human nature.

I consider myself a humanist in that regard. Although I do not deny that human beings have the capacity for great cruelty, injustice and barbarism I see the trends and changes in morality in the last few centuries as massive leaps forward. Of course that's mostly been in the so-called "West", much of the world still lags behind.

"The Bible is full of shit, but we still have to handle the loaded diaper with some amount of delicacy because people still regard it as reverent."

A very apt analogy. Personally I disagree. While I am very much of the mind that we should attack beliefs rather than attacking the people that hold them I don't see an issue mocking or condemning an idea or belief that I see as both incorrect and harmful. Let me give the example of those who satirize or mock Mohammed in cartoon form. We must not allow the fact that others see something as sacred stifle our freedom to call out bad ideas.

Now I do agree that depending on the audience we might want to throw on the kid gloves every once and a while and treat things delicately but other times it might be necessary to let the gloves come off and just let religion have it with both barrels so-to-speak.

"They may be a simpler group than you or I but they aren't village idiots, and we should never try to shame anyone for believing what they believe."

I don't think believers are stupid, I think they are deceived, either through self-deception or indoctrination or some combination of the two. In many cases the believers are the victims here and it would do my cause no good to try to argue that believers are stupid. Mark Mittelberg however is meant to be an apologist, a Christian intellectual, and is meant to be giving young Christians advice on how to go talk to their non-believer friends. He has set them up for phenomenal failure thus far and I don't feel bad calling him out on that or the bad arguments he makes.

If some other believers were to take that personally oh well. Like I said I try to go after the beliefs rather than believers as people, though in this case I'm also addressing Mark directly in places.


rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 9 months ago from Irvine

We should probably take the thin layer that separates us offline because we seem to be taking up so much space, or at least I am.

I think that we can agree that any creed has no force behind it other than for those that adhere to it. Any religion without a following is well, nothing. So yes, when I talk about a faith, I'm talking about the followers of that faith and how they go about interpreting what they regard as sacred text.

I don't see you making personal attacks on the "audience" of a religion, and this is sensible. Even disassembling Mark's excuse for a book is not a personal attack. But in a roundabout way, you are in fact attacking Christians who carry the cross on their shoulders. You may not resort to calling out names, but the effect is the same.

In your own way, you are shaming Mark (good for you) but also those who feel supportive of his concept of things divine. This is why I advise you to tread lightly because you are going over ground that many would find sacred. In putting down Mark, you are also putting down all those in his camp, and I suspect there are plenty. You don't come outright by calling believers "stupid" but the end effect bears little difference.

Your arguments usually take the course of, "Mark says 'x' in chapter 'y' and you are a lame brain if you follow his reasoning because of 'z' wherein you layer your more scientific approach to human existence.

We both know that Mark is barking up a tree. But, it's a big tree, with a lot of chimps still hanging onto it. If you want to be brazen, you might as well just go ahead by cutting the whole tree and not try to dodge the fact that by insulting Mark (unavoidable), you also (probably also unintentionally) also insult all the chimps living inside his tree.

You cannot separate the two. It doesn't matter what spice you add to this by replacing words like "stupid" for "deceived." If you are deceived or indoctrinated in a belief system that is geared for idiots, what you are saying is that "believers" are dupes, i.e., stupid people who are being led around by the nose. There's no nice way of separating a belief system and the individuals who adhere to it. Why do you think Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens were (or are) held up as blasphemers? It's because they did not even attempt to play nice and placate their opponents with anything other than their raw view on the role that religion has played in society.

You are not mocking anyone or attempting to shame anyone, but at the same time, by simply denouncing a group's system of belief, you are casting shade on those who uphold their faith as a partial reflection of themselves. This is the "unholy" aspect that any atheist with a mission must take upon himself/herself. I think you may be a little reticent in this aspect. I think you are aware of it or otherwise would not have chosen to publish your Hubs in a book review section. You do not want the onslaught of negative feedback that would naturally return if you published this material in a more open forum.

When you say that at times it may be necessary to take off the gloves and let religion have it with both barrels, you are being honest. I would just add that there is really no middle ground. Don't try to be an atheist apologist. Once you come out and declare yourself as an atheist, you're already going to be demonized, so if you are so inclined, come out with all guns blazing.

And when I say tread lightly in this domain, what I mean is that a huge majority of people are still in Mark's tree, happily nibbling on their bananas. You want to cut the whole tree down, and maybe it should be, but just keep in mind that there are a lot of stupid chimps huddling inside this tree. They depend on it for their very survival. You see it's easier to me to refer to believers as stupid chimps eating bananas then it is for you, but it shouldn't be. You seem to want to believe that these chimps are simply misguided and if you can disprove one of their followers, the chimps will all line up for new mental assignments.

You seem to possess this idea that the chimps will adopt a new, modern-day morality if dispelled from their earlier (and potentially harmful) beliefs of yesteryear. If we could PROVE today that God does not exist, what would the chimps do? Some small portion of them might become moralists like yourself. However, I suspect the majority would go ape shit. This is our bone of contention. You believe that mankind is basically moral and law abiding, while I do not. I think without God, without the old laws outlined in their sacred texts, we'd be facing a kind of "Planet of the Apes" type of scenario.

You want to give the chimps some margin by carefully hedging your wording by saying they are self-deceived or indoctrinated or some combination. This is your attempt to avoid calling them stupid chimps. Only stupid chimps can be deceived to such a great extent. Only stupid chimps can be indoctrinated to such a degree. There's no requirement to be nice about the matter -- not when your major objective is cutting down their tree of survival. You are down there with a gas-powered saw blade, cutting into the bark, and you've kind of hidden yourself from negative feedback as if it were some kind of chainmail.

When I tell you to tread lightly, I'm not exactly sure what I'm saying. I suppose it has to do with those poor chimps in the tree. They won't understand your reason for cutting down the domain in which they live and seem to thrive. If you were in a different forum, you'd be exposed to a ferocity of defensiveness that might drive you away from the entire expedition.

I realize I'm being what may seem as incongruous. On the one hand I'm telling you to be brazen and on the other I'm telling you to be cautious. I think you more or less understand the caution part of my comments; otherwise, you would have posted the Hub elsewhere and taken on hell's wrath. You also carefully sidestep the aspect of becoming merely inflammatory.

But you are walking a thin line in this seemingly infinite war between those blessed with the spirit of God and those who dare debunk him. In this regard, you have to realize what you are doing. You're intentions may be noble but you're threatening the tree upon which millions of chimps reside. Maybe a collective effort in bringing down the tree is the only way to make advancement. Yet people like living on their branch, and their weekly supply of bananas gives them a sense of contentment and continuation. So never forget about the chimps and their need for a branch and a few bananas.

I don't know how to reconcile my own advice. I encourage you to be as straight-forward as possible but I guess I want you to refrain from how I'd approach the subject, e.g., by calling people chimps. I wouldn't be able to restrain myself in this regard. I should but wouldn't, which is why I'm glad you are at the reigns on this subject. So far you are exercising a supreme balance -- much, much better than I could offer. The only point here is that you are in fact walking on "sacred" ground, and you've got to be careful. I don't know what that actually means in real terms. I suppose I'm suggesting to just stay on target (which you have). So why my words of caution? I don't know. I think the worry comes from that tiny ground between us. You believe that humankind is intrinsically good, and I think otherwise. I think it's the "otherwise" that makes me want to warn you to walk softly -- because my "belief" is that people are no damn good and will take every opportunity to get the better of you. Unfortunately, this has been my life experience.

I don't expect to alter your perception of humanity, but I have to chime in with some derogatory statements -- perhaps because I see you as being a bit too naive -- and don't take that in the wrong way. In my life I've had to pay heavy consequences for even minor indiscretions.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 9 months ago from back in the lab again Author

"You cannot separate the two. It doesn't matter what spice you add to this by replacing words like "stupid" for "deceived." If you are deceived or indoctrinated in a belief system that is geared for idiots, what you are saying is that "believers" are dupes, i.e., stupid people who are being led around by the nose."

But that's the thing, I don't think stupid and deceived are interchangeable in this case. I believe that many of them believe in spite of their intelligence, not due to a lack of it. Even the most intelligent among us are susceptible to being "dupes" as you say, especially if we are taught something in our youth that is drilled into our heads by those around us.

As a former Christian myself I see it as the least I can do to try to explain why I no longer believe and why I think others should abandon their faith, or at least lessen it into a more liberal strain, in favor of reason and evidence. Like those who escape Scientology and speak out perhaps some of those embedded in this cult will end up doubting and finding their own way out as a result of what is said here. It doesn't matter all that much if they are offended in the immediate as long as the basics of skepticism are laid out for them and hopefully sink in on some level.

"I don't expect to alter your perception of humanity, but I have to chime in with some derogatory statements -- perhaps because I see you as being a bit too naive -- and don't take that in the wrong way. In my life I've had to pay heavy consequences for even minor indiscretions."

I have seen arguments about belief and unbelief end friendships and estrange people from their parents and I know that in other parts of the world the price is much higher, it puts people's lives in danger. Like I said it isn't that human beings aren't cruel and indifferent at times, it is that there is also a baseline empathy that comes from our evolution. But of course religion is one of those tribal identities that, due to it's irrational basis, can drive people to do anything, from mass suicide to mass murder.

"If we could PROVE today that God does not exist, what would the chimps do? Some small portion of them might become moralists like yourself. However, I suspect the majority would go ape shit."

I think the Planet of the Apes scenario you describe is already here if you look at the numbers in the third world. In many countries there is all manner of barbarity and discrimination. But I do believe that those values can change, perhaps not in one or two generations but in due time that part of the world can catch up to the rest of us.

It's not an easy thing and I suspect you are right that things would plunge into chaos if God belief disappeared seemingly overnight. But that is why we attack the ideas and not the people, because if an idea loses popularity with the people, even if some of them will fight tooth and nail against us "blasphemers", then they will join us completely of their own volition. In this case perhaps we might treat religion like a drug and slowly scale down the dosage. After the dosage is exceedingly low if there are still a handful who need it to get by I suppose that would be alright since by that point we'd be looking at a far more tolerable version of religion.

I don't know that we'll ever be able to scale back religiosity or spread our Western values to other parts of the world. The world has just begun to realize how wrong it is to start invading countries to 'liberate' them at the barrel of a gun. And in large parts winning the idea war and culture war, both of which are linked, is up to the young people of those nations.

Perhaps I am naive but I have to be because I believe that religion must, at the very least, be tamed, before we can truly move forward as a tribe of one rather than as a million divided tribes.

Take up as much room as you want with your comments friend, I always enjoy them!


rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 9 months ago from Irvine

You hold your line very well. Yes, I do think you are a bit too naive by believing that humans are basically good/benevolent creatures. I see some level of altruism in our species but not enough to convince me that underneath the cloak we are all killer apes. And this is why I think that even murky moralism as illustrated in the Bible (for example) is better than having nothing for the masses to guide their feeble minds.

Yeah, if people can become Scientologists what else might we expect? People (most people) are simply fools and will buy into anything if it makes them feel one iota better than before.

You certainly see that millions of people hold onto their Bibles (and handguns) as if this ancient mythology is all they need (besides having a lot of cartridges for their handgun). They all want their pie in the sky version of reality. Do you really believe this stupid chimp mentality will float to the more stark no-God concept out of volition?

In Western Europe we almost exterminated cats during the Dark Ages because they were nocturnal creatures equipped to see things in the darkness that we couldn't. And we know now that killing cats contributed to the rise of rodents with their plague-filled fleas. The elimination of cats may have seemed practical at the time.

We'd all like to believe that we've grown out of these old superstitions, that we have evolved culturally to an extent that isn't a hairline away from being just killer apes. You place a lot more stock in the basic goodness of the human species than myself.

And because I think we are all a bunch of killer apes, I worry about removing such touchstones as the Bible and the concept of God. Unlike you, I think man desperately needs God. The concept of good vs. evil is fairly easy to understand. Most people hug their Bibles and feel blessed. It's idiocy but let them have it. If the Bible is their "comfort food," well, we can only guess what the world might resemble without Killer Apes being able to munch on something within grasp.

I'm probably your biggest supporter (or at least the most demonstrative), and I wouldn't for a minute dissuade you from your reaction to Mark's book. I think you are doing an excellent job, however laborious, and are serving a useful purpose.

If anything, I think (assume?) you are a bit gun shy. I can understand this -- and certainly understand that you have a more humanistic bent than myself. I think you've succeeded in reaching a good balance.

So, what am I complaining about? I'm not actually complaining about anything. My guess about why I keep fettering you has to do with that inch of disagreement between us -- involving our separate perspectives on our own species. It's not even a full-blown disagreement because I have nothing to offer to counter your own perspective. But just for the sake of argument (if it can be termed as such), hold all doors open. Your conclusion in all of this is that we'd be better off without religion. That may be right -- it may be dead right, but it's speculative. Since a zillion people adhere to one religion or another, I can only advise to proceed with caution. I don't even know why I am saying this because you are doing an exemplary job of staying on key.

If I sound conflicted, I must admit I am, but not in regard to the main issue. I'd prefer to see religion completely snuffed out and replaced with a global form of humanism. I just fear that by eliminating God, by eliminating the old myths, we could be in for a world of hurt. We both know that a tone-down is necessary, and it might be the most we can expect. The extraction of God-related moralism may take centuries (if we can manage to exist to that point). God is not going into the night quietly or without a lot more damage than we can imagine.

I'm less optimistic than you about our species being able to manage itself without its grade-school knowledge re. the differences between good and evil. Our slim difference hinges on our perspectives about human nature. We can agree that God should ultimately be placed in the trash can. It comes down to a matter of timing. Are we as a species sophisticated enough to be self-guiding? I don't think so. I tend to think that (sadly) people need moral instruction. Without it or disregarding morality leads to things like ISIS that hides behind the Koran but is really just a group of thugs who want to become rich. When even zealotry groups such as Al-Qaeda denounce ISIS, you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that the group has no endorsement, is fraudulent and has no higher aim than to enrich itself. Is this what you get by abandoning God? I sure hope not, and I'm not even suggesting that everything would de-evolve into an ISIS state, but I cannot rule out this Planet of the Apes kind of scenario.

You tend to think we are already playing out a Planet of the Apes scenario. I guess I'm left in the position of pointing out the obvious. Things can (and may) get a lot worse. Don't put too much stock into the innate goodness of human animals. They have done wretched things in the past, and even with the Enlightenment and renaissance, our basic nature hasn't really changed. You may think we are witnessing maybe the lowest period of our existence since Medieval times, but what if we are all just whiffing on the icing surrounding the cake? If you think things cannot get worse -- just stay tuned.

With groups like ISIS arising that have no moral base other than to flourish in wealth, we are seeing a climb in nihilism. It doesn't matter how many heads you chop off -- there is nothing to subtract from this form of ape-shit mentality. These guys try to hide behind the Koran but intelligent people can agree that they are basically a band of thugs with no higher motivation than to remove every obstacle interfering from their simple idea that richness leads to happiness.

The concept that the masses will eventually become more intellectual is indeed naive. You can starve them of their comfort food, but that's just going to make a psychopathic crowd even more angry and hungry.

Are these the best of times or the worst of times? Looking at history, I'd say we are trending upward even despite the clash between cultures and unending wars. Ultimately, the West will win in the contest re. a cultural divide. We have the tech, and the response is a few suicide bombers. In the long run, tech will win -- even if it has to suffer some insignificant number of suicide bombers. We can easily absorb the losses and continue to "infect" the other side with our ideas, our liberalism, our decadence. We can defeat everyone in the Middle-East without hardly blinking. And they can continue to assail us but it's going to get harder and harder as technology advances to a state where we can even now x-ray people boarding planes.

I don't know where you stand on the whole 9/11 catastrophe, but I find it hard to believe that some barely living entity in Afghanistan masterminded the destruction of two huge towers in New York and with an additional hit on the Pentagon. One of the few remaining artifacts from the destruction just happened to be a passport of some Middle-Eastern man that we've never proved actually existed.

In "Apocalypse Now" we hear Martin Sheen say something like "Oh man, the shit piled up so fast in Vietnam you needed wings to stay above it."

Yeah. As the shit piles up, as we become a more conscious collective and start reflecting on the weird stuff that drive us, we almost all deserve wings. Before I'm given my wings, I'm just learning how to levitate. One might say, oh, levitation is supremely evil because it allows you to float above earthly problems. You can't make everyone happy, so to the extent that's "decent," try to make yourself happy -- even if that requires the ability to levitate.

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