Does Atheism Make You Stupid?

“If there is any consistent enemy of science,
it is not religion, but irrationalism.”

Stephen Jay Gould

Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, fancies himself to be “bright.” In a 2012 interview with Playboy magazine, the interviewer asked, “Is there a better word for a nonbeliever than atheist?”

“The word ‘bright’ was suggested by a California couple,” Dawkins replied. “I think it’s rather a good word, though most of my atheist friends think it suggests religious people are ‘dims.’ I say, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ [laughs]”1

(For more information on the Brights movement founded by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, see the Wikipedia entry on the Brights movement.) 

(See also Professor Dawkins’ own article on the Brights movement at Edge.org.)

Richard Dawkins, a British subject, is so pleased with himself and his self-proclaimed “brightness” that he feels emboldened to speak out on the American election, calling Mitt Romney a “massively gullible fool” whom no thinking person should vote for, based purely on the fact that Romney subscribes to the Mormon faith. Reporter Raf Sanchez of Britain’s London Telegraph explained Richard Dawkins’ views on Romney:

“No matter how much you agree with Romney’s economic policy, can you really vote for such a massively gullible fool?” asked Prof Dawkins during an outburst on Twitter that lasted several hours.

The Oxford academic focused his criticism on the Church’s belief that its founder, Joseph Smith, was visited by an angel in 1820s New York, who guided him to a set of golden plates buried in a hill.

Smith claimed to have translated runes engraved on the plates, and compiled them into the Book of Mormon. The text describes how Jesus Christ appeared in the United States after the Crucifixion and how Adam and Eve went to the site of present-day Missouri after being expelled from the Garden of Eden. . . . “Could you really vote for a man who thinks the Garden of Eden was in Missouri?” he said.2

(Read the entire report at the Telegraph website.)

Let’s consider Dawkins’ central question: “No matter how much you agree with Romney’s economic policy, can you really vote for such a massively gullible fool?”

Well, any truly informed, thoughtful, rational person would have to answer YES. We Americans have been presented with a binary choice, Obama or Romney. And voting for Barack Obama is simply not a rational option for any informed, thinking individual.

President Obama has produced a four-year record of abject failure. There were 2.7 million long-term unemployed when he took office; there are 5 million today. Middle class income has fallen almost $4,000 under Obama, from $54,962 to $51,002. Gasoline prices have more than doubled under Obama, from $1.85 a gallon to $3.86. Home values have dropped 11 percent, health insurance costs have risen 23 percent, college tuition rates have risen 25 percent, the number of Americans in poverty has risen from 39.8 million to 46.2 million, up 6.4 million. We’ve gone from 32 million to 47 million people on food stamps under Obama—up 46 percent. The consumer price index has increased 9.1 percent. The federal debt has soared from $10.6 trillion to $16 trillion, a 51 percent increase. And the United States has dropped from first to seventh place in global competitiveness. That is the most massive record of failure since the Great Depression.

There’s a reason why Barack Obama has failed so spectacularly. He believes in a superstition that is infinitely more pernicious and destructive to our society than any Mormon doctrine. Barack Obama is a Keynesian, and history has shown that Keynesianomics has never worked, not once, in the entire history of mankind. And logic tells us why it cannot work: the core idea of Keynesianomics is the economic equivalent of trying to raise the level of a swimming pool by bailing water out of one end and pouring it into the other.

Only the private sector can create wealth. Government can print money, but money isn’t wealth, and government cannot create wealth. So when the government tries to “stimulate” the economy through government spending, it is only injecting money it has already taken out of the economy through taxing and borrowing. That’s bailing water out of one end of the pool and pouring it into the other—and that’s why the massive Obama stimulus package, the biggest Keynesian stimulus experiment in the history of mankind, failed utterly. It did not increase the net amount of wealth in the economy.

(For a historical lesson in why Keynesianomics has not and cannot ever work, read “The Kennedy-Reagan Truth vs. the Obama Delusion” by this author.)

The superstitious economic fantasies of Barack Obama are destroying the American economy, harming generations of Americans, plunging the American republic into an unrecoverable tailspin of debt, and threatening the global economy with meltdown. The massively gullible fool in this race is President Obama, who clings to a false religion of redistribution and “trickle-down government.”

I’m not a Mormon and I do not believe in Mormon doctrines. But history shows that Mormon people are clearly able to engage in rational, productive, socially responsible activities.

Some of the greatest business minds of our times have been Latter-Day Saints, including former Dell CEO Kevin Rollins, plastics entrepreneur and philanthropist Jon Huntsman, Sr., hotel executives J. Willard Marriott and J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., and JetBlue founder David Neeleman. Journalist Jack Anderson and motivational writer Stephen R. Covey were Mormons. Celebrated science fiction novelist Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, as is Ken Jennings, who won a record 74 straight matches on TVs Jeopardy quiz show.

Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of television, was a devout Mormon. World-renowned cardio-thoracic surgeon Russell Marion Nelson is Mormon. Howard Tracy Hall, the inventor of synthetic diamonds, and Robert B. Ingebretsen, a pioneer developer of digital sound and robotics, were Mormons.

NASA computer scientist David Harold Bailey and NASA astronaut Don Leslie Lind are both Mormons. So was theoretical chemist Henry Eyring; he probably would have won the Nobel Prize for his transition state theory of chemical reactions if not for Dawkins-style anti-Mormon bias at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

So I ask you, Professor Dawkins, are all of these people “massively gullible fools” who ought to be disqualified simply because of their religion? Personally, I would trust a Mormon over a Keynesian any day of the week.

Professor Dawkins, there is much that I admire about your work. I have read and enjoyed your writings, especially The Selfish Gene. I even have a few nice things to say about your massively flawed screed The God Delusion. I love your invention of the concept of the meme, and I use it all the time.

But when it comes to economics and politics, I’m sorry, sir, but you are not “bright” at all. Your atheism has blinded you to facts and reason. It has made you stupid. It has even made you (to purloin a phrase) a massively gullible fool.

Notes

1. Chip Rowe, “Playboy Interview with Richard Dawkins,” Playboy, August 20, 2012, http://richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2012/8/20/playboy-interview-with-richard-dawkins#.UE-E8FGri9K.

2. Raf Sanchez, “US Election 2012: Richard Dawkins calls Mitt Romney ‘Gullible Fool’ over Mormon faith,” The Telegraph, September 9, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/us-election/9532199/US-election-2012-Richard-Dawkins-calls-Mitt-Romney-gullible-fool-over-Mormon-faith.html.

Advertisements

An Atheist’s Admiration for Jesus

I’m convinced that if everyone in the world practiced the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7), 95 percent of the world’s problems would be solved. It might surprise you to know that even atheist extraordinaire Richard Dawkins shares my admiration for the Sermon on the Mount. In The God Delusion, Dawkins writes:

“Jesus, if he existed . . . was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years.”

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 283.

_________________________

Addendum, September 30, 2012:

I recently discovered a blogpage written by Richard Dawkins entitled “Atheists for Jesus” (April 10, 2006). At the top of the page is a photo of Dawkins wearing a T-shirt that reads “Atheists for Jesus.” In the article, Dawkins explains in greater depth his admiration for Jesus as an ethical teacher, while dismissing the theistic worldview of Jesus. Here’s an excerpt:

Of course Jesus was a theist, but that is the least interesting thing about him. He was a theist because, in his time, everybody was. Atheism was not an option, even for so radical a thinker as Jesus. What was interesting and remarkable about Jesus was not the obvious fact that he believed in the God of his Jewish religion, but that he rebelled against many aspects of Yahweh’s vengeful nastiness. At least in the teachings that are attributed to him, he publicly advocated niceness and was one of the first to do so. To those steeped in the Sharia-like cruelties of Leviticus and Deuteronomy; to those brought up to fear the vindictive, Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac, a charismatic young preacher who advocated generous forgiveness must have seemed radical to the point of subversion. No wonder they nailed him.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” . . .

I am no memetic engineer, and I have very little idea how to increase the numbers of the super nice and spread their memes through the meme pool. The best I can offer is what I hope may be a catchy slogan. “Atheists for Jesus” would grace a T-shirt. There is no strong reason to choose Jesus as icon, rather than some other role model from the ranks of the super nice such as Mahatma Gandhi (not the odiously self-righteous Mother Teresa, heavens no). I think we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time. And perhaps the oxymoronic impact of “Atheists for Jesus” might be just what is needed to kick-start the meme of super niceness in a post-Christian society. If we play our cards right—could we lead society away from the nether regions of its Darwinian origins into kinder and more compassionate uplands of post-singularity enlightenment?

I think a reborn Jesus would wear the T-shirt. It has become a commonplace that, were he to return today, he would be appalled at what is being done in his name, by Christians ranging from the Catholic Church to the fundamentalist Religious Right. Less obviously but still plausibly, in the light of modern scientific knowledge I think he would see through supernaturalist obscurantism. But of course, modesty would compel him to turn his T-shirt around: Jesus for Atheists.

Dawkins is wrong, of course, when he claims that a “reborn Jesus” would not be a theist. Jesus would know all about the anthropic, fine-tuned universe—a body of evidence that Dawkins actively misleads his readers about in The God Delusion. In fact, I think it is likely that Jesus, being the absolute exemplar of intellectual honesty, would connect his ethical teachings to the evidence for a Cosmic Designer that permeates our growing understanding of cosmology and quantum mechanics.

But I do agree with Dawkins on this: Jesus might well wear a “Jesus for Atheists” T-shirt, because Jesus is for all people, weak and strong, young and old, male and female, believer and nonbeliever. The one who said “Love your enemies,” the one who forgave those who crucified him, would certainly be for atheists. He would not be for atheism, of course, because atheism doesn’t square with reality. He would want everyone to know the truth.

But Jesus welcomed the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman centurion, the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector, the rich and the poor, the drunks and prostitutes. So why wouldn’t he welcome an atheist as well?

Read Richard Dawkins’ “Atheists for Jesus” in its entirety at RichardDawkins.net.

Who Made God?

Here’s an excerpt from my book God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof, which presents the rational, scientific case for the existence of God and the human soul. This section addresses a question that is invariably posed by the New Atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer): “If God made the universe, who made God?” I think you’ll find that this is an answer you’ve never encountered before. The following excerpt from God and Soul is copyright 2012 by Jim Denney, and may not be reproduced without permission.

Excerpt:

There is a question that all of the New Atheists ask in their books, their speeches, and their public debates. It’s a question intended to stump the believers, end the debate, and expose the theistic fallacy once and for all. It’s the simple question, “If God made the universe, who made God?”

Michael Shermer, in his book The Believing Brain, frames the question this way: “Who created God? God is he who needs not be created. Why can’t the universe be ‘that which needs not be created’?”32 Daniel Dennett puts it this way in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: “If God created all these wonderful things, who created God? Supergod? And who created Supergod? Superdupergod? Or did God create himself?”33 Christopher Hitchens, in God is Not Great, wrote, “The postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator.”34 Likewise Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation: “The notion of a creator poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress. If God created the universe, what created God?”35 Finally, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins makes it unanimous:

The whole argument turns on the familiar question, “Who made God?”, which most thinking people discover for themselves. A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.36

The question “Who made God?” is actually a question many children ask. Because it’s a childlike question, we should first make sure the question does not contain an underlying fallacy, such as a category mistake. A category mistake is a semantic or logical error in which objects of one kind or category are mistakenly presented as if they belong to another kind or category. For example, the question “What does red taste like?” is a category mistake because “red” belongs to the category of colors, not tastes. Something that is red may taste like raspberries or like blood, because “red” is not a taste.

The question “Who made God?” may be a similar category mistake because God may not belong to the category of created things, but to a separate category, such as “ground of reality” or “ground of being.” The anthropic principle [or “fine-tuned universe”] strongly suggests that the Cosmic Designer, being the Architect and Originator of the Big Bang, may not belong to the category of created things. If that is true, if God is the ground of reality, then Dawkins is mistaken and God does not present us with “an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.”

The Abrahamic religions assert that God does not belong to the category of created things, and that is why most theistic writers answer the “Who made God?” question in a dogmatic way. Here’s a typical theistic answer to that question:

Who made God? No one did. He was not made. He has always existed. Only things that had a beginning — like the world — need a maker. God had no beginning, so God did not need to be made.37

Of course, this “answer” doesn’t answer anything. It’s simply a dogmatic statement that erects a mental firewall against further inquiry. If the question “Who made God?” makes our brains hurt, then let’s just say, “God had no beginning,” and stop thinking about such questions.

I prefer to keep thinking.

The question “Who made God?” is a useful and interesting way to prod further thought and discussion. Unfortunately, the New Atheists try to use this question to end the discussion.

In order to honestly grapple with the question “Who made God?,” we need to have our consciousness raised — twice. Richard Dawkins has called Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection “the ultimate scientific consciousness-raiser.” And it’s true — we do need to have our consciousness raised by the principle of natural selection. But we mustn’t stop there. We must also have our consciousness raised by the anthropic principle.

The problem with Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists is that they have only had their consciousness raised once. If they would raise their consciousness a second time by opening their minds to the anthropic principle, they might discover where the “Who made God?” question actually leads us.

If there is a Cosmic Designer who created a universe with the purpose of bringing forth intelligent life (as the anthropic evidence clearly, overwhelmingly suggests), then the Cosmic Designer would certainly welcome our intelligent inquiry. After all, we human beings are the “children” of the Cosmic Designer, and the raison d’être of the anthropic principle. The universe was called into being for the express purpose of bringing thinking beings into existence — so it seems to me that the Cosmic Designer would be pleased to know that the conscious, reasoning creatures of the universe have begun to look back and think deeply about such questions.

One place to begin thinking about the question “Who made God?” is to remember that time began at the moment of the Big Bang. I know this is an impossible concept to fully grasp, but it’s true: There was no such thing as time “prior to” the Big Bang. In fact, the phrase “before the Big Bang” is about as meaningless an expression as can be ever be put into words. Time did not exist until the instant of the Big Bang, which physicists express as “t = 0.” The first moment of time, the first micro-tick of the cosmic clock, occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago. Adolf Grünbaum (b. 1923), the founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Philosophy of Science, explained it this way (all emphasis is in the original):

[The Big Bang instant t = 0] … had no temporal predecessor. In this case, t = 0 was a singular, temporally first event of the physical space-time to which all of the world-lines of the universe converge. This means that there simply did not exist any instants of time before t = 0! But it would be (potentially) misleading to describe this state of affairs by saying that “time began” at t = 0. This description makes it sound as if time began in the same sense in which, say, a musical concert began. And that is misleading precisely because the concert was actually preceded by actual instants of time, when it had not yet begun. But, in the Big Bang model … there were no such earlier instants before t = 0 and hence no instants when the Big Bang had not yet occurred. [Astronomer Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell] … is quite unaware of these facts when he speaks mistakenly of a “metaphysical scheme before the beginning of time and space.” Similarly, there is no basis for [cosmologist Jayant Vishnu Narlikar’s] … lament that “scientists are not in the habit of discussing … the situation prior to [the Big Bang].”38

There was nothing before the Big Bang. There was no space, no time, no matter, no energy, no gravity, no “before.” At t = 0, all of the life-giving, fine-tuned laws, constants, and forces of the universe were “baked in.” If there was no space and time “before” t = 0, then what “caused” the “effect” we know as the Big Bang? Who or what designed this amazing, delicately calibrated universe that gives us life?

Answer: A Mind — a conscious, purposeful, willful Designer.

Because we live within a reality that consists of three dimensions of space and one dimension of time, we assume that the ultimate ground of reality is space-time. But space-time can’t be the ultimate ground of reality because space-time is a mere 13.7 billion years old. Space-time did not exist until the Big Bang happened.

The universe is trying to tell us something: The universe is not primarily about space, time, matter, energy, and gravity. Those things are real, but they are not the most basic feature of the universe. At its most fundamental level, the universe is all about Mind.

(When I capitalize the word “Mind,” I’m not suggesting that “Mind” means “Supernatural Deity.” I’m trying to convey the fact that Mind is an entity distinct from the space-time universe of matter. The mind of God would be Mind, but the minds of human beings and other conscious observers also partake in this collective property I call “Mind” with a capital M.)

Before you dismiss these ideas as a lot of New Age tripe, like auras and spiritual vibrations, I want to state clearly that I don’t deal in mysticism. The integral role of the conscious mind in quantum physics has been an accepted scientific concept as far back as the 1920s, when Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg were noodling around with wavefunction mathematics.

Great scientists have considered the role of Mind in the structure of the universe at least since the day of astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). When he began to understand the laws of planetary motion that bear his name, Kepler exclaimed, “O God! I think thy thoughts after Thee!”39 The universe, Kepler realized, was designed by conscious, rational, purposeful thought.

Three centuries later, Stephen Hawking made a similar statement at the end of his book A Brief History of Time. Hawking concluded that if we could discover a complete “theory of everything” and find the answer to why we and the universe exist, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.” Hawking, an agnostic, used the term “mind of God” in a metaphoric sense — but his statement may be more literally true than even he intended.

Countless physics experiments clearly show that the workings of the universe are entangled with the workings of Mind — the minds of conscious human observers at least, and perhaps the mind of God. One of the fathers of quantum theory, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), expressed this view when he wrote, “The overall number of minds is just one. I venture to call [mind] indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable, namely mind is always now.”40 In other words, Mind is an indivisible unity, it cannot be destroyed, and it is timeless. Only a mind of the kind Schrödinger describes would be capable of formulating, coordinating, and fine-tuning all of the life-giving laws, constants, and forces of the universe at the moment of t = 0.

Schrödinger goes on to speak of the conscious mind that each of us thinks of as “I” or “myself.” He writes: “We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture.”41

Here, Schrödinger describes a picture of reality that is almost religious in nature — yet this picture of reality is derived from quantum physics, not some religious text or tradition. In Schrödinger’s description, Mind interacts with the material world but is not part of the material world. Mind is outside of the material world — a “spectator.” A mind housed in a human body tends to mistake the material body for the “I” or the “self” that is the mind. But while the body belongs to the world of matter, in Schrödinger’s view, the mind is separate from the material world.

This view parallels that of Australian neurophysiologist Sir John Carew Eccles (1903-1997), who won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work on brain synapses and neurotransmitters. Eccles came to the conclusion that consciousness and thought occur when the non-material mind acts upon the quantum “microsites” within the synapses of the cerebral cortex of the brain. He suggested that the non-material mind interacts with the material brain by means of quantum mental units called “psychons.” These psychons control the quantum jumps within synapses, causing them to emit neurotransmitters which account for such brain activity as thought, decision-making, and body movement. In Eccles’ view, the brain doesn’t give rise to the mind; rather, the mind is separate from the brain, and it activates the brain in order to control the body.

Eccles authored or co-authored several books with the intent to “challenge and negate materialism and to reinstate the spiritual self as the controller of the brain.”42 In How the Self Controls Its Brain, Eccles even went so far as to say, “In some mysterious way, God is the Creator of all the living forms in the evolutionary process, and particularly in hominid evolution of human persons, each with the conscious selfhood of an immortal soul. … Biological evolution transcends itself in providing the material basis, the human brain, for self-conscious beings whose very nature is to seek for hope and to enquire for meaning in the quest for love, truth, and beauty.”43

American physicist Nick Herbert, the author of Quantum Reality, has worked as a senior physicist in industry (Memorex, Smith-Corona Marchant) and in pure research (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Xerox PARC). Herbert is a strong proponent of the view that Mind is a more pervasive aspect of reality than matter and energy. While the standard view of reality is that the universe evolved consciousness (in the form of conscious beings like us), Herbert says that consciousness comes first, and that consciousness creates reality. He writes:

The first person to suggest that quantum theory implies that reality is created by human consciousness was not some crank on the fringes of physics but the eminent mathematician John von Neumann. In his quantum bible [Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik or The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics] …, the most influential book on quantum theory ever written, von Neumann concludes that, from a strictly logical point of view, only the presence of consciousness can solve the measurement problem. As a professional mathematician, von Neumann was accustomed to boldly following a logical argument wherever it might lead. … His logic leads to a particularly unpalatable conclusion: that the world is not objectively real but depends on the mind of the observer.44

(Personal note: I lean toward a view which holds that the world is objectively real, but that Mind interacts with and shapes objective reality in more powerful ways than we normally suppose.)

Nick Herbert goes on to compare von Neumann’s view, rooted in mathematics and experimental physics, to the intuitive insights of George Berkeley (1685-1753), Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland. Describing Berkeley’s views, Herbert wrote:

Berkeley argued that mind is not a form of matter but quite the opposite: matter does not even exist except as the perception of some mind. Absolute existence belongs to minds alone — the mind of God, the minds of humans and other spiritual beings. All other forms of being, including matter, light, the Earth, and stars, exist only by virtue of some mind’s being aware of them. … Esse est percipi (To be is to be perceived) was the Irish bishop’s motto concerning matter: “All those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have no subsistence without a mind.”45

So let’s bring this discussion back to the original question: “Who made God?” At this point, you may see where I’m heading. Nick Herbert’s suggestion (derived from von Neumann) that “reality is created by human consciousness” is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t account for all the facts. The universe has existed for 13.7 billion years. Conscious human beings (in the form of genus Homo) have existed for the tiniest fraction of that span of time, roughly 2.4 million years. Our own species, Homo sapiens, has existed for less than 200,000 years — a mere twinkle in the eye of the cosmos.

For the better part of 13.7 billion years, there were no conscious human minds in existence to observe reality and make reality real — but does that mean there was no conscious Mind at all in the universe? No. Mind was immanent throughout the universe from the instant of t = 0. As physicist Freeman J. Dyson has said, “God is what Mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.”46

So what sort of conscious Mind existed during all those billions of years before human beings evolved? What sort of Mind directed the life-giving purpose of the universe at the moment the Big Bang? What sort of Mind selected, balanced, and fine-tuned the laws, constants, and forces of the universe at the instant of t = 0?

Everything that exists within the space-time universe is subject to the principle of causality. A cause always precedes its effect, and causes and effects always take place within the framework of space and time. But if Mind exists outside of the space-time universe, Mind is not subject to the principle of causality. If Mind is not an effect produced by some other cause, then Mind itself is the cause — and the universe is the effect.

If Mind is the ground of existence, and therefore not subject to the law of cause and effect, then the question “Who created God?” (in effect, “Who created Mind?”) can be seen as a nonsense question. It’s like asking “How big is blue?” or “What does seven taste like?”

To say that Mind is the ground of reality is not to say that space and time, matter and energy, are not real. They are definitely real. But it is Mind — the mind of the Cosmic Designer, the mind of conscious beings like ourselves — that makes reality real. To quote Freeman Dyson once more, “I do not claim that the architecture of the universe proves the existence of God. I claim only that the architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning.”47

As the English mathematician-astronomer Sir James Jeans (1877-1946) concluded, “The universe appears less and less like a great machine and more and more like a great thought.”

End of excerpt.

For more information on the anthropic (fine-tuned universe) evidence for God (the Cosmic Designer), see my previous blog post, “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?”

Darwin’s Holocaust? (Part 3 of 3)

Go to Part 1.

Continued from Part 2.

Christopher Hitchens wrote a book called God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. As the title suggests, Hitchens blamed much of the evil in the world on religion. (For more insight into Hitchens’ views and where his thinking went wrong, see Lament for an Atheist—Part I and Lament for an Atheist—Part II. See also the video at Christopher Hitchens Makes a Startling Admission.)

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins makes a similar case in The God Delusion. And it’s true that many atrocities, savageries, and cruelties have been committed in the name of religion: The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, the execution of Giordano Bruno, the Albigensian Crusade, Martin Luther’s rabidly anti-Semitic treatise On the Jews and Their Lies, the Salem Witch Trials, the 1066 Granada Massacre and other pogroms, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Lebanese Civil War, the Israel-Palestinian problem, Jonestown, India versus Pakistan, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jihad, 9/11, and on and on.

But does religion really poison everything? Well, it depends on how you define “religion.”

If, by “religions,” we mean the tribalistic societies that organize themselves around certain beliefs, rules, rituals, and traditions, and that often defend their beliefs through figurative or literal “holy wars,” then yes, I agree, that sort of religion has a distinctly poisonous history. (And by tribalism, I mean any social structure — including a religion or denomination — that prizes cultural conformity within the group and practices hostility toward those outside the group.)

But if, by “religion,” we mean a commitment to live according to the teachings of, say, the Sermon on the Mount — teachings that cut across the grain of our tribal instincts by commanding us to love our enemies, forgive those who sin against us, and pray for those who persecute us — then Christopher Hitchens was simply wrong. That kind of rational, selfless religion has never poisoned anything. In fact, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes: “Jesus, if he existed … was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years.”24

The Sermon on the Mount is the sort of religion that even Richard Dawkins can endorse. The compassionate, forgiving, anti-tribalist Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount really does exist, and is often found right alongside the corrupt, institutional religiosity that Jesus of Nazareth confronted and condemned throughout the gospel accounts.

Jesus seemed to know in advance that some of his so-called “followers” would corrupt and betray his message. He predicted that a day would come when many supposed “Christians” would say to him, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” And he said his reply to them would be blunt: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”25

Hypatia, a woman  of Alexandria in Roman Egypt, was one of the leading scholars of the classical age. She was famed as a mathematician, astronomer, and public speaker, and she taught at the Great Library of Alexandria. Unfortunately for Hypatia, she also threatened the political power of Cyril, the corrupt Christian archbishop of Alexandria. In AD 415, Cyril sent his aide, known as Peter the Reader, to recruit a mob of monks to assassinate Hypatia. The monks ambushed her in her chariot, stripped her naked, dragged her through the streets to the Caesareum church, where they killed her, defiling their own house of worship with her murder. They tore her to pieces, then burned the body parts outside of the city. The stated rationale for Hypatia’s grisly murder was that “she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles” — but the true motive was Cyril’s lust for power.26 No doubt, Jesus would say to Cyril, Peter the Reader, and the murderous monks, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

The Crusaders swept through Europe and into the Holy Land, slaughtered Jews and Muslims, pillaged and burned entire villages, raped women and put infants to the sword. They exhibited the heads of their slain enemies on stakes. Wild tales of miracles circulated among the Crusaders, bolstering their morale as they committed horrific atrocities under the banner of the cross. It’s no wonder that radical Muslims to this day identify all Christians as “Crusaders.”

Tomás de Torquemada was the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century. Known as “the hammer of heretics,” Torquemada “enthusiastically supported the use of torture during interrogations,”27 and reportedly sent at least 2,000 supposed “heretics” to be burned at the stake. Yet if you compare Torquemada’s “enthusiastic” actions with the teachings of Jesus, you have to wonder: Who is the true heretic — Torquemada’s victims, or Torquemada himself?

Corrupt, tribalist, institutional religion is rife with human evil. To all those who torture, kill, rape, molest, seduce, and steal under the cloak of religion, the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount undoubtedly says, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

But the religion of the Sermon on the Mount, the religion endorsed by Richard Dawkins, is another thing altogether. That religion has produced some of the finest achievements of our civilization.

Take, for example, our healthcare system. Compassionate religion has blessed the world with the creation of hospitals. In the Middle Ages, religious orders of monks and nuns ran the first hospitals in Europe. In medieval France, a hospital was called a hôtel-Dieu, a hotel of God.

Or, consider how religion has promoted education. Priests and monks preserved civilization and learning through the Dark Ages. The church also invented institutions of higher learning. In medieval times, writes historian Lowrie J. Daly, “there were no great state-supported educational systems, nor even solitary schools. Practically speaking, the Church was the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge.”28

The first university in the world was at Bologna, Italy, founded around AD 1088 or earlier; next was Oxford, founded around 1096; the University of Salamanca, Spain, founded circa 1130; the University of Paris, circa 1150; and Cambridge, circa 1209. We don’t know the exact date any of these great universities were founded because they all had modest, unheralded beginnings as cathedral schools, taught by clerics.

Religion practically invented science as we know it. Medieval church clerics studied empirical phenomena and catalogued their findings. The study of science came naturally to the religious mind, because the early clerics believed that a rational God had created a orderly world that could be comprehended by human reason. Here are a few of those early clergy-scientists:

• Thierry of Chartres (died c. 1150) wrote and taught at a cathedral school at Chartes, France. In his Hexaemeron, he proposed a cosmology with similarities to the Big Bang and features of cosmic evolution.

• Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175-1253) was the Bishop of Lincoln and an Oxford scholar credited as the first mathematician and physicist of the Medieval era. Science historian Alistair Crombie called him “the real founder of the tradition of scientific thought in medieval Oxford.”29

• Albertus Magnus (c. 1200-1280) was a German Dominican friar who advocated the teaching of reason and science in the church. He catalogued thousands of insights and observations in logic, medicine, chemistry, and astronomy.

• Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294) was a Franciscan friar known as Doctor Mirabilis (“wonderful teacher”) because he advocated the study of nature through the empirical method.

• Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) advocated “natural theology” and “natural law,” rooted in reason as well as biblical revelation.

• French priest Jean Buridan (c. 1300-c. 1358) was one of the world’s earliest true physicists, recording observations that led to a modern understanding of inertia and momentum. In De Caelo et Mundo, he proposed an early version of the Copernican model of the cosmos — 200 years before Copernicus.

As the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, great scientific minds continued to seek out the laws by which a rational God had designed an orderly universe. Johannes Kepler envisioned God as the Great Mathematician, and he went on to systematize the laws of planetary motion that bear his name. Michael Faraday saw God as the Great Physicist, who laid down laws for Faraday to discover in the fields of electricity and electromagnetism. Isaac Newton saw God as the Cosmic Engineer, and his faith in a rational God drove him to discover the laws of gravitation, motion, and mechanics.

As Paul Davies observes, “The very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way.”30 Faith in a rational God and a well-ordered creation brought modern science into existence.

And then there’s the field of social justice — and particularly the abolition of slavery. While it’s true that many slaveholders rationalized their cruel trade from the Bible, it’s also true that religion founded on the Sermon on the Mount helped bring slavery to an end. The slave trade in England was abolished largely due to the efforts of a prominent evangelical, William Wilberforce. The American abolition movement was led by the Quakers and such evangelicals as Charles Finney.

So Hitchens’ blanket statement that “religion poisons everything” couldn’t be more wrong. The Crusades and the Inquisition and the pogroms weren’t caused by the Sermon on the Mount or anything else said by Jesus of Nazareth — just as Charles Darwin was not the instigator of the Holocaust or the Holodomor.

Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson explains the seeming paradox that, down through the centuries, religion has inspired human beings to commit acts of both incredible evil and amazing good. He writes:

We have seen terrible wars and terrible persecutions conducted in the name of religion. We have also seen large numbers of people inspired by religion to lives of heroic virtue, bringing education and medical care to the poor, helping to abolish slavery and spread peace among nations. Religion amplifies the good and evil tendencies of individual souls.31

When evil people want to do evil things — when they want to commit acts of murder, genocide, sadism, oppression, theft, or terror — they will grab any rationale to make their evil seem “good.” If it weren’t some twisted pretense of religion or a pseudo-scientific rationale, it would have been some other excuse. But the evil would have happened in any case.

There is no evil in the words of Jesus. There is no evil in the theory of evolution. The evil is in people — in human nature itself.

That’s what poisons everything.

Notes:

This is an excerpt from God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof by Jim Denney, copyright 2012, available as an ebook at Amazon.com. For permission to quote from this excerpt, contact the author in care of this blogsite.

24. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 283.

25. Matthew 7:22-23, Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

26. Sandy Donovan, Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher (Minneapolis: Compass Point, 2008), 75.

27. Michael C. Thomsett, The Inquisition: A History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 158.

28. Lowrie John Daly, The Medieval University, 1200-1400 (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), 4.

29. Alistair Cameron Crombie, The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1995), 27.

30. Paul Davies, “Taking Science on Faith,” New York Times, November 24, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24davies.html?_r=3.

31. Frankenberry, 379.

The Puzzle of Existence and a Puddle of Doubt

A very smart man once wrote a very stupid thing in a book.

The smart man’s name was Douglas Adams, and the book was his posthumously published The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (New York: Ballantine, 2002; pages 131-132). Adams died of a heart attack in Santa Barbara in May 2001; he was only 49. I’m a longtime fan of Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. But in this instance, Adams’ analogy—known as The Puddle Analogy—is far less profound than he supposed.

Adams’ Puddle Analogy has been cited many times by various writers as a satirical demonstration of the “fallacy” of the “fine-tuned universe” argument. The Wikipedia article “Fine-Tuned Universe” quotes the Puddle Analogy and notes that the fine-tuned universe argument has been called “puddle thinking” by some critics. And Richard Dawkins quotes The Puddle Analogy in A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (page 169), adding that he had heard the Adams analogy numerous times and “thought it was more brilliant every time.”

Here is the stupid thing Douglas Adams wrote:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

Here’s why The Puddle Analogy is stupid:

Adams begins: “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking…” He doesn’t seem to realize that, in order for a puddle to wake up and think its first thought, a vast number of interconnected and incredibly unlikely coincidences have to occur.

The Big Bang had to happen, and the Big Bang had to explode with just the right amount of force to allow matter to disperse evenly and smoothly and allow galaxies to form. Had the Big Bang not been precisely fine-tuned, our universe might consist of nothing but tenuous hydrogen gas—or a single supermassive black hole. The laws of nature had to be laid down at the instant of the Big Bang, and had to be fine-tuned to an accuracy of one part in the trillions before the universe itself could exist, much less a contemplative puddle.

The electromagnetic force, the gravitational force, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force all had to be perfectly balanced in order for stars to form and begin cooking up the elements needed to make planets—silicon, nickel, iron, oxygen, magnesium, and so forth. Adams’ pensive puddle could not find itself sitting in “an interesting hole” unless the hole was situated on a planet orbiting a star that was part of a galaxy that was created by the incredibly fine-tuned forces and conditions of the Big Bang.

And in order for that puddle to wake up one morning and think at all, it would need to be a lot more complex than a mere puddle of water. A thinking puddle would be a very complex puddle. Even if that puddle were comprised of exotic alien nerve cells suspended in a matrix of liquid ammonia, it would certainly need something like lipid molecules and protein structures and nucleic acids in order to become sufficiently evolved as to wake up and contemplate its own existence.

Such components require the existence of carbon. And if you know anything about where carbon comes from, you know that carbon doesn’t grow on trees. It is formed in an amazingly fine-tuned process involving the precise placement of a nuclear resonance level in a beryllium atom. Any enlightened plashet would have to conclude that a superintellect had monkeyed with physics, chemistry, and the biological composition of pools and puddles.

The rest of Douglas Adams’ scenario, in which “the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and … the puddle gets smaller and smaller” is meaningless in view of the fact that dozens and dozens of events, forces, and conditions have to interact in a fine-tuned way in order for the sun to exist, the air to exist, the sky to exist, and the hole in the ground to exist, so that a puddle can wake up one morning and wonder about its place in the cosmic order.

No analogy is perfect, of course, but The Puddle Analogy is downright misleading. It misrepresents the essence of the fine-tuning argument. An analogy should simplify, but not over-simplify.

And that’s why The Puddle Analogy that Richard Dawkins thinks is so brilliant is actually kinda dumb.

Lament for an Atheist (Part I)

In June 2010, I heard that Christopher Hitchens was scheduled to do a talk and book signing at a Borders bookstore in San Francisco. I considered going and having him sign a copy of his book Hitch-22, then hand him a copy of my 2001 book Answers to Satisfy the Soul. But just days before he was to appear, he canceled his book tour without explanation.

A couple of weeks later, I was saddened to hear that Hitchens had been diagnosed with cancer. He died two months ago, on December 15, 2011. His death was due to pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer.

I have admired Christopher Hitchens for years. It took great moral courage for him to shelter novelist Salman Rushdie in his home in 1993 after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. And it took great physical courage for Hitchens to voluntarily undergo waterboarding so that he could write about the experience in Vanity Fair. Unfortunately, Hitchens got it wrong about God and the soul.

After the publication of his book God Is Not Great, I frequently found myself in the odd position of defending the razor-tongued atheist from some of my devoutly religious friends who were exasperated with his views. I’d ask them, “How can you be angry with Hitchens for believing what he feels compelled to believe, based on the evidence he’s seen?”

And then my friends were exasperated with me!

Hitchens formulated his views on God in much the same way he arrived at his political views. He observed, read, and debated great minds. He’d follow logic and evidence wherever it led. Whenever I watched Hitchens debate, I came away convinced he was daring his opponents: “Prove me wrong.”

But as near as I can tell from his writings and speeches, Hitchens was completely unaware of the evidence I present in my book God and Soul. Though I didn’t agree with him on the question of God and soul, I genuinely liked him. I enjoyed reading his work and hearing him speak. I wanted him to live, and I’m very sad that he’s gone.

In God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens blamed much of the evil in the world on religion. And it’s true that many atrocities, savageries, and cruelties have been committed in the name of religion: The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, the execution of Giordano Bruno, the Albigensian Crusade, Martin Luther’s rabidly anti-Semitic treatise On the Jews and Their Lies, the Salem Witch Trials, the 1066 Granada Massacre and other pogroms, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Lebanese Civil War, the Israel-Palestinian problem, Jonestown, India versus Pakistan, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jihad, 9/11, and on and on—all of these evils were rationalized on religious grounds. But does religion really poison everything? It depends on how you define “religion.”

If, by “religion,” we mean a tribalistic social unit organized around certain beliefs, rites, rituals, and traditions, defended by figurative or literal “holy wars,” then yes, that sort of religion has a distinctly poisonous history. (And by tribalism, I mean any social structure that demands philosophical conformity within the group and that practices hostility toward those outside the group.)

But if, by “religion,” we mean a commitment to live according to the teachings of, say, the Sermon on the Mount—teachings that cut across the grain of our tribal instincts by commanding us to love our enemies, forgive those who sin against us, and pray for those who persecute us—then Christopher Hitchens was simply wrong. That kind of rational, selfless religion has never poisoned anything.

In fact, another prominent atheist, Richard Dawkins, writes in The God Delusion, “Jesus, if he existed . . . was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years.” In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is the sort of religion that even an atheist can endorse.

So Hitchens’ blanket statement that “religion poisons everything” couldn’t be more wrong. The Crusades and the Inquisition and the pogroms weren’t caused by the Sermon on the Mount or anything else said by Jesus of Nazareth. As physicist Freeman Dyson explains, “We have seen terrible wars and terrible persecutions conducted in the name of religion. We have also seen large numbers of people inspired by religion to lives of heroic virtue, bringing education and medical care to the poor, helping to abolish slavery and spread peace among nations. Religion amplifies the good and evil tendencies of individual souls.”

When evil people want to do evil things—when they want to commit acts of murder, genocide, oppression, or terror—they will grab any rationale to make their evil seem “good.” If it weren’t some twisted pretense of religion, it would have been some other excuse. But the evil would have happened in any case.

There is no evil in the Sermon on the Mount. The evil is in people—in human nature itself. That’s what poisons everything.

Next, in Part 2: How Hitchens Got It Wrong About God.