The Many Problems with Intellegent Design

ID is one of those Christian apologetics that gets me a bit riled up. It is not just that it is wrong or bad. They are all wrong and all bad. It is that the ID argument is dishonest. It is creationism 2.0 dressed up in different garb. Here’s the big difference. Creationism was overtly religious. That platform wore its religion on its sleeve. That kept it from being taken seriously in scientific debate. ID pretends to be purely scientific with no religious roots. But secretly, it has the same religious underpinnings as its predecessor. ID is simply hiding, or outright lying about its religious motives to sneak into scientific discussion.

Besides being dishonest about the motives, ID is no more scientific than was creationism before it. ID is philosophy and theology pretending to be science. Worse still, it is bad philosophy and theology. It simply does not hold together as a theory. It only looks promising if one does not look too closely at it, or take it to its logical conclusion. In this piece, I will do both:

Identifying Design

Take a cup of paint and throw it against a wall. Next, hire a professional artist to paint another wall so that it looks exactly like the wall with the splattered paint. Now tell me, which was random and which was intelligently designed? Here’s the thing: You can’t. No one can. There is nothing about the splashed wall that says, chaos. And there is nothing about the carefully painted wall that says, design.

The fact of the matter is, everything we are capable of detecting looks designed. The fact that we can see it all means that it is adhering to some sort of mathematically describable pattern. We wouldn’t recognize true chaos because we couldn’t detect it. What the proponents of ID will not do is name something they do not think is intelligently designed. For them, everything is intelligently designed because everything looks like design. Design, by its very nature, implies an intelligent agency.

From a scientific perspective, their claim is unfalsifiable, as nothing could disprove design as they define it. But that blade cuts both ways. It could also be said that everything appears to be a result of unintelligent, naturalistic processes without any design whatsoever. This includes computers, works of Shakespeare, and tacos. Here’s how that counterargument goes:

Process Without Design

Nothing is designed because everything is a part of an evolutionary process. No, unless it is a cheap Windows PC, your computer is not a random assemblage of parts. But the intelligently designed computer is not the beginning, but the end of a process no one could have predicted at the beginning. It is a stage in the evolutionary process.

Of course there is intelligence behind it. But where did the intelligence come from? Human intelligence, itself, is a part of an evolutionary process. The universe did not design intelligence anymore than it designed a computer.

This is not the Shakespeare written by infinite monkeys argument. It is more along the lines of Shakespeare being produced by a lengthy succession of monkeys, which is more or less what actually happened. The universe did not set out to intelligently create the works of Shakespeare. But over the course of billions of years of unguided process, the works of Shakespeare have come into existence.

Whether or not tacos were the ultimate design goal of the universe, I will leave it to the reader to decide. I am reminded of the old joke, if you want to bake a cake from scratch, first, make a universe. It is an acknowledgment that everything evolves from something. The only real question to ask is, what was the first thing that was not evolved from anything. And make no mistake about it: That is the only real question ID is getting at.

First Mover Redux

Oh, well… Here we go again. Surprise, surprise! When it all comes down to it, ID is just another first mover argument. As I have stated many times before in a variety of ways, creating a first mover does not solve the problem. It just advances the problem another level.

As we have seen in this universe, human intelligence is a natural, evolutionary process. Therefore, why should we suspect it would be different in any other universe, or with any other life-form? If we can see how human intelligence evolved, why is it unfair to ask how the ultimate intelligence evolved?

Then, there is the question of where god obtained the material to create the universe in which we live. It can’t be a preexisting part of himself. If that is the case, then all of god’s interactions with the universe is no more interesting than a human picking at a scab. To have any meaning, this universe has to be something wholly other from god, something he made, not something he is.

But to make a cake, or a universe, you have to have ingredients. Did god create from nothing, ex nihilo? Then you admit the possibility that matter and energy can come from nothing. If you say we are from god, and god has always been there, then you permit that matter and energy could have always been there. In neither case is a god necessary.

Conclusion: Goodbye Science, Hello, Fiction

Do yourself a favor: Skip the ID debate altogether. If you grant everything the proponents of ID are pushing, you still don’t get anywhere near a being recognizable as the god of the bible: the only designer candidate they actually care about.

Even they will admit that the only thing they are trying to prove is that someone with intelligence designed the universe. Beyond that point, they stop pretending that science has anything to do with their program. They support the principle of inference to the best explanation. They do not claim proof of design. They only claim that it is be best explanation inferred by the evidence. Beyond that point, it is all theology.

It is like an episode of Star Trek. A transporter is loosely based on some undefined scientific principles. But to actually get to a transporter, they have to abandon science, and fully embrace fiction to move the story along. If they didn’t, they would have never gotten the crew to a planet’s surface without landing the shuttle every week. From a production standpoint, that was very expensive. Transporters were cheap.

For the proponents of ID to get to where they actually want to go: the god of the bible, they have to abandon science and enter fiction. Next time I revisit the subject, I will examine some of the plot holes they end up creating in order to tell their story.

David Johnson

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A difference of opinion

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Some have taken to styling the difference between the religious and non-religious worldview as a mere, difference of opinion. It is as if we believe it is on the order of rooting for Alabama (roll tide) or Auburn (War Eagle). To avoid the debate altogether, we engage in the conversational cowardice  of agreeing to disagree. But I contend that it is so much more than that. We are not talking about a matter of opinion or angle of perspective. We are talking about the basis of law, social mores, and human rights. It is not just a difference of opinion, but a fundamental understanding of how the universe works. And that is worth risking a few verbal bruises in the arena of meaningful debate.

Equal footing

To say that a faith-based worldview versus a science-based worldview is merely a difference of opinion, is to place them both at the same level. It pretends that both world views are on equal footing with one another. They are both mere matters of opinion. The suggestion is that it is wrong to assign one opinion more weight than the other. After all, it is only an opinion, and everybody has one. Yours is no better than mine. At least, that is how the reasoning goes.

This strategy only favors the one with the weaker argument. It allows them to lose the battle, but win the ceasefire. Religion can lose every argument. But if the battle ends with the other side treating religion as an equal, that is a major victory for religion. Such a ceasefire should never be allowed. Faith is not equal to physics. Religion and spirituality are not just other ways of reaching the same, universal truths.

Substance and evidence

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. He. 11:1

The bible attempts to place faith on equal footing with science by referring to faith as substance and evidence. This is an attempt to enlist the words of science to bolster the claims of faith. In the above passage, hope is placed on a level playing field with substance, and unseen things are elevated to evidence.

Reality, however, makes quick work of this juvenile sophistry. Fill one hand with the hope of a million dollars, and the other with a dollar, and it becomes readily apparent which handful buys you a cup of coffee. In court, defend yourself with unseen things while the prosecution convicts you with evidence. How many phone calls will you be allowed to make after the trial is over? Exactly!

Something you believe vs. something you know

To further make this obvious point, let’s do a thought experiment. Think about the closest house to yours that you have never been inside. Now, let’s place a bet on how many bedrooms you think it has, $1 being the smallest bet, $100 being the largest. Once done, think about the number of bedrooms in your own house. Place a bet on that number. Did you make the same sized bet on both propositions? Of course not. Where you were unsure, you place a small bet. Where you were certain, you bet everything.

Even if you looked at the construction, compared it to houses with which you were familiar, and was fairly convinced there were two bedrooms, you couldn’t be sure. In your own house, there was no room for doubt. It was not a mere difference of opinion. One was what you believed; the other was what you knew. There is no equality between what you believe and what you know.

Removing the labels to reveal the truth

Labeling is one of the most effective tools of debate. An the US, the debate over abortion does not come down to science or morality. It comes down to reductionist labeling. Pro-life is defeated by pro-choice. For Americans, life is good, but choice is better. Reduce your argument to a winning label, and more often than not, you win. The reverse is also true. Reduce the other side to a losing label, and they lose. Ronald Reagan did not lead the battle against another nation with different ideas about governance. He fought a holy war against the evil empire.

To be honest, non-believers like myself use the word, “religion” as a pejorative. In all fairness, religious people use “atheist”, and even “science” in the same way. A religious person might say, “Your science leaves you cold and without answers in matters of the spirit.” A non-believer might say, “If we used religion to launch rockets, we would have never left the atmosphere.”

But what happens if we remove the labels? If we are forced to talk about science without using the word, we would be left with other words like observation, measurement, experimentation, repetition, and falsification. Take away religion as a word, and what we have left are other words like faith, hope, believe, wish, invisible, spirit, and miracle. One ounce of repeatedly observed measurements outweighs a ton of invisible spirit miracles. Not the same!

Conclusion

Declaring a thing a difference of opinion assumes that neither side has the facts. Arguing over the number of bedrooms in my neighbor’s house is a difference of opinion because neither of us knows for sure. My opinion is probably better than yours because, at least, I’ve seen the outside of his house. You, most likely, have not. However, disagreeing over the number of bedrooms in my own house is not a difference of opinion. It is your opinion against my fact. It is your magic mind weapon vs. my nuclear bomb. You can try to say that it is just a difference in weaponry. But once both are deployed, you probably wouldn’t finish the sentence.

Agreeing to disagree is weak sause. Unprovable opinion is never equal to repeatedly observed fact. Religion and science are not on an equal playing field. Religious education is oxymoronic: a subject I will write about at another time. I will not sit idly by and have my laws, social mores, and human rights be determined by people who believe that the bible is on a par with Isaac Newton’s Principia. Nor should you!

David Johnson

Another Bad Week for Prayer

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Two things happened this week that gave prayer yet another black eye. One of them is personal, but of little consequence. The other, though not personal, is far more impactful. I had eye surgery last week which seems to have gone well enough, all but the seeing part. It has been nine days as of the time of this writing. There should have been immediate results. Unfortunately, my vision is blurry and distorted. Those are two words that would not have been used to describe my vision before the surgery. I include it in this piece, only because the surgery was thoroughly covered by prayer from some of the most devout and concerned people in my life. The other event involved the death of an infant.

After some consideration, I decided not to link to the story because it is such a common tale of woe, it can hardly be considered news. It is the story of another child dying an unnecessary death thanks to the religious choice of Christian parents to provide prayer as medical care instead of medical care. Making this ever worse is the fact that this is the second child in this family lost to prayer.

After the first death, the parents were placed on a ten-year probation by the judge. Taking the approach that they ought to obey god rather than men, they returned, not that they ever left, to their prayer-as-treatment ways. The story and outcome are the predictable, and logical conclusion of what happens when faith and science are conflated, or otherwise, confused. Bad things happen, and people die, usually, the innocent ones.

I know that the initial reactions from the mainstream, Christian community will condemn the actions of the parents, or lack thereof. They would say that, of course, the parents should have provided medical care for their children. They might say things like, “God invented medicine”, or, “God is the one who led us to advanced, medical discoveries.” But this random fit of pragmatism from the Christian community rings a hollow note of dissonance in the symphony of faith teachings. In fact, on the basis of biblical and traditional teaching on the matter, in a contest of groups that most closely in-flesh the doctrine which they profess to believe, I would have to side with the parents.

The pragmatic arguments proffered by mainstream christendom do not stand up to close scrutiny. God invented medicine? Really? If so, his invention has been sorely lacking throughout most of human history. If we were still working with what God gave us, people would still consider thirty a ripe, old age. Adults would still be dying in the millions, from diseases that are now, easily inoculated against in childhood.

God’s invention of medicine did not account for leprosy, the plethora of cancers, nor AIDS. Were it not for mankind’s contribution to medicine, humanity would very likely be extinct. But, of course, the argument retreats to safer ground when the believer reveals that God invented medicine through a process that is indistinguishable from the efforts of humans. In other words, he directed us to the relevant discoveries. Unfortunately for the believer, that argument also does not survive logical examination.

If God is the one controlling the pace of medical discovery, then he has a lot of history for which to answer. There is no guarantee that, even now, we have reached our observational potential. God may be hindering the pace of our discovery efforts in the same way he has hindered previous generations. What else explains why it took so long for us to discover germs? Why would god, even for a moment, allow us to ascribe to evil spirits, what was nothing more than a chemical imbalance? If our medical knowledge comes from God, why is it so inexact, and why did it not come much sooner?

As an aside, If God is the one directing our scientific discoveries, why has the church, historically, been so in opposition to every major, scientific discovery? Does God just dabble in medicine, or is he also the one behind all that evidence for evolution? The church wasn’t so keen on God’s helping hand in the discovery that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. The church was not so eager to embrace the discovery that the earth and universe were billions of years in the making, rather than days. If God is guiding our discovery of medicine, and doctors are his prophets in that arena of endeavor, then why do we not consider physicists his prophets in the field of scientific inquiry?

God has never had much use for physicians or pharmaceuticals. When a person in the community was sick, they either died, or were miraculously healed. There is no mandate for the man of God calling for the doctor during a time of medical distress. If a person died from their injuries, it was God’s will for them to die. Though Paul implored his friend to take a little wine for his stomach, James directly commanded the faithful to call on the elders of the church for an anointing ritual as a substitute for medical care, and led them to believe that such ministrations would be efficacious. Prayer, not penicillin, has always been the bible-endorsed prescription for physical ailments.

That is why I am confused by the reactions of mainstream Christians. When a man of faith obeys the literal and direct command of God to call the church elders instead of a doctor, why is he pilloried rather than praised? Had his victims… err… children taken a turn for the better instead of the worse, he would be hailed as a paragon of faith, and an example to be followed. At the very least, no one would be calling for his other children to be placed in protective custody, and for him and his wife to be thrown in jail. But why? Why does the outcome change the nature of the behavior?

Why is nut-job religion tolerated up to the point that someone dies? Indeed, this wasn’t even the first of his children that died because of this lunacy. Yet the courts allowed him and his wife to continue raising children. I believe they had seven in all. Anyone who is known to substitute prayer for medical treatment should have the kids taken away, and they should be tried for neglect. He and his wife have been doing this the whole time. Their other children lived. God only chose to take two of them. Our policies allow crazy people to do crazy things until someone dies. Only then, do we step in to save the remaining children, and not always, even then.

We are all culpable for the death of these children. We knew these churches were teaching this poison in the name of all things holy. We can read the sermons online, that instruct parishioners to seek treatments based on faith, not science. We know where they are. We know what they’re saying. We know the outcome of the teaching. If we had so much information about a mosque where the believers were plainly directed to, and instructed in the ways of assassinating the president, that place would be shut down with extreme prejudice. Make the victims innocent children instead of world leaders, and we call it freedom of religion. Damn them! And Damn the moral cowardice of America that allows us to watch, doe-eyed, while it goes on under our apathetic gaze. God-damned us all!

David Johnson

Prayer and Physics

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They say that oil and water don’t mix. But having made a few batches of peanut-butter cookies, I can assure you that they do, and quite deliciously. But some things really don’t mix. Prayer and physics are not only mutually exclusive, but are diametrically opposed. It is not like black and white coming together to form grey. It is more like dark and light. One cancels the other out. If one exists, the other cannot.

The conflict should be obvious. Physics is the set of absolute rules that order the universe. Prayer represents the rejection of absolute rules of order, in favor of a more transactional mechanic that works on demand in our favor. Any ad hoc dismissal of absolute rules negates the existence of absolute rules. Physics cannot be capricious and still be physics.

When I speak of prayer, I am including miracles, in general. The reason I do not just come right out and say it (I guess I kind of am) is that while many believers claim that the age of miracles has ceased, almost all believe in prayer. The disconnect, for them, is that they do not see prayer as a miracle. What they fail to account for is the fact that for prayer to be more than a way of talking to one’s self, at least five distinct miracles have to take place. Only cognitive dissonance allows one to separate prayer from other miracles. If a person expects his prayers to be answered, he should also have no problem expecting the lame to rise up from their wheelchairs. One miracle is not greater than the other. Prayer is the outward expression of one’s belief in miracles, and one’s rejection of the natural order.

I intend to put an end to the notion that prayer can, in any way, be complementary to physics. It isn’t! This would be clear even if we were only talking about one person praying, and only occasionally, interrupting the natural order. But we’re not. We are talking about billions of people praying at any given time. More to the point, we are talking about god answering those prayers.

It gets worse. We are talking about a god who is constantly active in the world, even without the prodding of prayer. This is a god who is constantly acting behind the scenes, to make all things work together for the good of those who love him, and presumably, not quite as good for those who don’t. In other words, god does not just interrupt the natural order on occasion, but creates his own order completely apart from what we think of as nature.

Superstition and Physics

Superstition is the belief in effects from unnatural, or unrelated causes. The effect is my run of bad luck. The unnatural or unrelated cause is that a black cat crossed my path. The effect is that I contracted leprosy. The cause is my secret sin for which I am being punished. The effect is a bank error in my favor, and I collected two-hundred dollars. The cause is that I gave a quarter to a beggar, and my generosity was multiplied. The effect is that I did not get demon-possessed today. The cause is that I crossed myself before leaving the house.

This dark-ages mentality still exists well into the current age of enlightenment. We call it superstition, but it really is ignorance of the laws of nature. It is what happens when people without science try to make sense of the universe. Once convinced that they have made sense of the universe, they can reject new knowledge that comes from scientific discovery. Those who do not wish to be considered fools will pretend to incorporate the new knowledge into their science-free worldview. Such pretense only serves to mask the raving superstition that pervades their reality.

This combination of superstition and physics allows one to pray for a magical cure that is uncoupled from the natural order, while going to a doctor for scientific remedies. It allows us to keep our options open, without fully declaring allegiance to either. If we truly believed in prayer, then there would be no reason to consult the sciences. If we believed in science, we would not devote any of our time and energy seeking magical cures. By hanging on to both, we are not showing our openness to both, but our rejection of both.

As you have already guessed, I am lumping prayer with superstition. After all, an answered prayer is the ultimate effect of an unnatural cause. My cancer went away, not because of treatment, or the bodies natural abilities, but because god suspended the course of nature to remove it from my system. Ah, but I can already hear the believer’s objection. Prayer is not superstition because it is proven, at least sometimes, to work. The cancer went away after prayer was offered on your behalf. Such coincidence, however, does not equal answered prayer. No doubt, countless grandmas have suffered broken backs after a careless grandchild stepped on a crack in the sidewalk. Even more have experienced bad luck after breaking a mirror into seven pieces. Who can say how many have died after being hexed by a practitioner of the dark arts.

Correlation does not equal cause, and does not distance prayer from superstition. If one can pray a blessing upon you, they can also pray a curse that is equally efficacious. If, through prayer, one can extend your life, they can also shorten it. Furthermore, if there are dark forces in the world able to contend with the angels of light, then those forces can also be marshaled in the service of your enemies. If your universe is ordered by powers and principalities and rulers of the air, then, for you, physics is totally obsolete. It does not matter what the laws of nature require for any given moment. If you can change the course of even one, sub-atomic particle, even for a fraction of a moment by the power of prayer, then you are living in a very different universe than the one I inhabit. For you, superstition trumps physics every time.

Creating Reality

What happens next? No, really, what is the very next thing to happen that will have some direct effect on you? Don’t know? Do you find that lack of control disturbing, frustrating, intolerable? Then you have options. Why wait for reality to happen to you when you can actively create your own? That is, effectively, what prayer is designed to do.

Will you have a safe commute to work? Who knows? Maybe you will; maybe you won’t. Getting in your car is a bit of a gamble. Prayer is a way of bending the odds in your favor. If the universe is ordered in such a way as to cause your grizzly death on the 405, then you need something that can counteract the natural order. No one is a fan of the natural order when it works against them. By praying, you can create a whole new reality for yourself where the eighteen-wheeler does not jackknife directly in your path, whisking you off into the next realm. Instead, you thwart the indifferent provision of quantum mechanics by praying, and creating a reality where you arrive safely to work after an uneventful commute.

At the end of the day, that is what the prayer of supplication is all about. We ask for things in prayer that we are not confident nature will provide. Otherwise, we wouldn’t ask for them. We ask for a safe trip because we are powerless to guarantee our own safety, and the safety of those we love. We ask for a cure because we are convinced that one is not forthcoming through natural means. Even asking that the hands of the doctor receive some sort of celestial guidance is an appeal for aid that contravenes the natural order.

That last one requires a special kind of schizophrenia. We satisfy science by submitting to a doctor’s care. But we are throwing a Hail-Mary in the direction of superstition and magic by requesting supernatural intervention. Even while deceiving ourselves into believing that we care about physics, we are actively engaged in the attempt to create our own reality that renders moot, the laws of nature.

Conclusion: Rooting for Magic

Prayer is a sham! Most people who do it really don’t believe in it. At best, they are using it to hedge their bets. That is why they move heaven and earth to try and raise the hundred-thousand dollars for the heart surgery, rather than rely, solely on prayer. That is why skydivers so painstakingly pack their parachutes. This is why deep sea divers meticulously check their hoses and oxygen levels. This is why priests wear seat-belts, and why they say a prayer before boarding a plain, and why they get a stiff drink shortly after they board. We trust physics only as far as we can control it. But we root for magic to take us the rest of the way.

We are forced to rely on physics to build the plain, but root for magic to control the currents. We rely on physics because we have no choice. All the prayer and magic in the universe cannot fly you from one place to another. Physics allows us to predict many things, but that is a far cry from guaranteeing a positive outcome. We don’t want to predict our deaths based on the progress of the disease. We want to postpone death based on whatever magic we can get our hands on. Even if we don’t believe in the magic, we still root for it in the unlikely event that it works.

Do I believe that such people are insane? Let me ask you this: If someone told you that they would rub every lamp they encountered until a genie popped out and granted them three wishes, one of which, they would use to help you in your hour of need, would you say they were insane? At the very least, you would see them as child-like, and hopelessly superstitious. So what am I to make of the person who announces that they will talk to a being from outside the universe on my behalf, and get him to suspend the laws of nature so that my physical infirmities go away?

Should I be grateful? I suppose I am, in the same way I am grateful to the homeless lunatic who tries to bless me with his magic pizza box. But really, I would rather see the lunatic on his meds, and the prayer warrior grow up, and live a life of emotional maturity. Truthfully, they both need to be on their meds. Insane may be too harsh. I believe that the one who prays is either a desperate cynic who is hedging her bets, or, at the very least, slightly bent. I do not desire the intercession of prayer from the believer anymore than I desire a Mormon to be baptized on my behalf.

If you are reading this, and inclined to pray for me, please don’t. Even if it was effective, I would not want aid from that quarter. I do not wish to live in a universe that is ordered by your whim. Do not aim that prayer gun at me for the good or ill. If I honestly thought you wielded such power, I would be afraid of you. I wouldn’t want anything to do with you. So it is a great relief to me that your prayers continue to go unanswered. I can deal with a believer with delusions of power. If any person actually wielded such power, the Einsteinian universe in which we live would suddenly, and irrevocably cease to exist. If I am to pray for anything, it will be for that to never happen.

David Johnson

A More Perfect Human

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called Mission Log. It explores every episode of Star Trek, one show at a time. The hosts take a deep dive into the meaning, morals, and messages of each episode, as well as provide some great trivia. If you are a Treker, stop reading this and subscribe to the podcast. I’ll wait.

I have been considering a theme that I have wanted to explore for a while, but this weeks podcast really put it over the top for me. The hosts were discussing Dagger of the Mind, with a lot of references to What are Little Girls Made of. Both of these episodes addressed the issue of using different means to create a more perfect human. One has a well-intended, but misguided scientist creating android bodies into which a human’s personality can be stored. With this invention, the scientist hopes to eliminate sickness and death, as well as war. In the other episode, a great scientist runs a prison colony where, through the aid of his mind-wiping machine, he can remove negative impulses from a person’s psyche. In both cases, the scientist are endeavoring to create a more perfect human.

It strikes me that we do not have to explore science fiction, or even fiction, to discover other efforts to create a more perfect human. Criminal rehabilitation is one such effort. One could argue that formal education is another. The church is primarily engaged in trying to fashion a better being, though not completely human. The church eschews humanity in favor of the benevolent, spirit being that inhabits our bodies. Politicians are also about the business of crafting a more perfect human. They believe that through laws, they can redirect our behavior to overcome our worst impulses. Though politics is set up to form a more perfect society, society is made up of individual people who need to be perfected.

With so much energy being poured into perfecting humanity, it seems prudent to ask the question, does humanity really need to be perfected. I’m leaning toward, no. All of the efforts I have mentioned, both real and fictional, start with the premise that humanity is deeply flawed, and in need of fixing. Surely, that must be true. After all, we lie, cheat, steal, and take advantage of people weaker than ourselves. We are full of greed, lust, and petty hatred. Certainly, those are problems that need fixing, right?

I think not.

Before exploring that any further, I want to mention what does bear improving. Earlier, I mentioned that the government, through politics, is there to form a more perfect society. I definitely believe that society could use some work. Whenever two or more people live together and share resources, there have to be rules to regulate the interactions between them. The more people who share the resources, the more stringent the rules have to be for maintaining order. This is further complicated when we ad cultural diversity into the mix. To create a better society, we do not need better people; we need better social contracts. A law is essentially a social contract. It does not address right and wrong, but right and wrong for the best  operation of society for this particular place and time. We can definitely do better than what we are, in my opinion.

While society could use a little work, people are just fine the way they are. To claim that humanity is imperfect is as myopic as complaining that a baby is imperfect. When a mother is presented with her child for the first time, she often proclaims how perfect the newborn is. How can that be. The newborn is messy with afterbirth, drool, noise, and most likely, a mixture of unpleasant odors. What could be less perfect than that. Additionally, the child is infinitely self absorbed. She will do anything within her power to get her way. This trait lasts for quite a long period of time. Some people never outgrow it. Yet, as the child gets older, the trait becomes less perfect.

The reason the child is considered perfect is that the child is exactly the way she is supposed to be at the time. She has more development to do, but anticipation of future development does not make her any less perfect. So it is with humanity. Like the newborn babe, we are already perfect.

There is an even bigger issue when discussing the perfection of humanity. It is the presumption that there is a state of perfection available for us to reach in the first place. To be sure, there is maturation and evolutionary development, but that is a far cry from some ideal state of wholeness. Perfection is not the attainment of an ideal state of wholeness; it is the state of being exactly what one should be at a particular time and place. The newborn is perfect, not because she has a broad vocabulary and an enhanced social consciousness, but because she is exactly what she should be at the time. We count her fingers and toes, not her ability to fend for herself and contribute to society.

I feel like the standard of perfection many want for humanity is equally unrealistic. Religion is the worst offender of unrealistic expectations. The bible has The Lord saying, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Falling short of that perfection is the definition of sin that deserves no less than an eternity in the fires of hell. Religion’s standard of perfection is the suppression of most of what makes us human. In mainstream Christianity, humanity is irredeemable. It is our souls, not our humanity that must ultimately be saved.

I contend that we as humans need a certain amount of greed, lust, envy, bigotry, hatred, conflict, and depression in order to be fully human. There is no such thing as a person who is completely selfless and cares only for the needs of others. Who determined that to be the most important attribute? Why is it better that I help you become successful rather than helping myself? The universe does not know the difference between you and me. If only one of us can live, I choose me. Is that wrong? I don’t know or care. I do know that it is human.

I am just as perfected in my humanity when selfish ambition drives me to write the next, great opera, as when I donate a kidney to a stranger. Neither act or motivation makes me more or less perfect as a human being. While it would be nice if we could put an end to sickness and death, I don’t think I want to see us put an end to lust and greed. In fact, sickness and death also serve a purpose. I definitely do not want to see everyone who is currently alive, live forever. I reserve eternity only for me and a few of my closest friends.

The only reason one would meter the, so called, negative attributes is to form a society more conducive to general advancement. Unfortunately, there is still an open question about what constitutes general advancement. What is the endgame of a perfect society peopled with perfect humans? Is it the elimination of hunger, sickness, death, greed, envy, lust, and hatred? If we eliminated these things, what exactly would be left? Compassion? How does one even show compassion to a person who has no needs? Forgiveness would also be eliminated with the absence of anything to forgive. Ambition is meaningless with no more goals for which to strive. Hope is unnecessary when all is fulfilled. Where would procreation be without lust for motivation, and death, pushing us to pass on our genetic material to the next generation? Without the attributes considered by some to be negative, we would no longer be human.

That said, I’m sure evolution is not quite done with us. The human of a hundred years from now will be different from the human of today. Just consider how different humans and our societies are from those of a hundred thousand years ago. Those humans and their societies were no less perfect than our own. As we are no less perfect than humans in our distant future. We are exactly where we should be in our current stage of development. There are always a few outliers who straggle behind the herd, as well as the ones who are several strides ahead of the pack. Outliers notwithstanding, the pack is definitely progressing apace.

I find it fascinating that many an enlightened soul can look upon nature with a sense of awe and declare it good, but look at humanity and conclude that it needs improvement. This self-critical tendency ignores the fact that we are a part of the very natural world we extol as perfect. We are as perfect as a sunrise. As something of a futurist, I like to speculate on the path human evolution will take. What wonders will we behold, and accomplishments achieve? Whatever the future holds, it will not be a more perfect human. I am fine with the state of humanity as it is. I mostly look to the future to provide me with more interesting toys.

David Johnson

Beyond Religious Prejudice: Part Two

For this post, let us build three tabernacles.  Or, if you prefer, let us construct three, imaginary, agrarian-based religions.  The first is an ultra-conservative group that believes their crops will not grow unless they sacrifice a newborn baby to the nearest volcano once a year.  These Volcanists have a low tolerance for any other group because the faithful practice of their religion is a matter of life and death.

Next, we have the Behaviorists who believe that crops do not need human sacrifice, as such.  What is required is for people to behave in a certain way.  Only then, will the god of corn and beans be appeased.  This is a much more mainline group.  They have little tolerance for the Volcanists, but even less for the third group.

That third group would be the naturalists.  They study agriculture from a more scientific basis, and have decided that the growth of crops requires neither the sacrifice of babies, nor the practice of good behavior.  They have observed that the ultra-conservative Volcanists still have poor growing seasons: about the same as everyone else.  They have also observed that in the Behaviorist group, crops grow just as well for people with notably bad behavior.  Instead, they believe that certain laws of nature have been set into motion, and it is up to us to figure out the best ways to apply them for producing good crops.  Naturally, these are the liberals of the bunch.

Each group has a strong prejudice against the other, even though, living in close proximity, they have to be cordial to one another.  They are all driven by fear, and thus, can never experience true fellowship with one another.  The conservatives scapegoat the other two groups because those groups are selfishly abstaining from the necessary infant sacrifice that is required for everyone to eat.  The liberals are deathly afraid of the conservatives because they believe that at any moment, the conservatives will come and steal the liberal’s newborns and toss them into volcanoes.  The mainline group is afraid of both sides.  They fear the extremism of the conservatives, but at least they respect it because, at least, the conservatives honor god and try to do his will the best they know how.  They fear, and sort of hate the naturalists because the mainliners believe that the liberals do not honor god, and believe that they can grow crops without the direct intervention of god.  The liberals respect neither extreme acts of religious faith, or piety.  They put their faith in their own ability to grow crops.  Not only will god punish everyone for the hubris of the Naturalists, but the Naturalists seem to repudiate everything the other two groups stand for.

Against this backdrop, we have the seeds of all manner of prejudice.  How could it not?

The conservatives believe in a god that cares more about proper religious observance than he does about human life.  The mainliner’s god cares only that you behave according to his will.  The god of the liberals has very little work to do, and demands almost nothing, having done the bulk of his work in the beginning.  The liberals tend to be a more intellectual group that considers the others superstitious and mentally lazy.  The conservatives believe the other two groups do not honor god, and rely on their own ability to do what only god can do.  For the conservatives, the arrogance of the other two groups is overwhelming.  The mainline group is caught in the middle, and clearly sees the flaws of everyone else.  They are the only ones who are levelheaded enough to understand the truth.  Everyone else is a mission field.

Now, let’s take those three groups and add about 41,000 other Christian denominations to the mix, all believing that they have the inside track on god and religion.  That is the current reality of our time.  Every one of us looks askance at the other, suspecting the other of some grave misunderstanding of god’s will, and causing the world to be a slightly worse place than it has to be.  Conservatives are still blaming killer tornados and tsunamis on sinful people who know not god, and therefore, get what they deserve, while liberals blame conservatives for not having enough respect for nature to study and treat it appropriately so that life can be more happily sustained by all.

You will notice that all of these prejudices begin with our understanding of god.  Is god a busy bee who is constantly flitting about doing this and fixing that?  Is he more or less at rest, acting on our behalf only when our behavior matches his ideals.  Finally, is god less personal and more of the engine that started the universe, but not the drivetrain that steers it?  (Sorry, I know nothing about cars).  Your ideas about god govern your religious prejudice towards other people.  In other, more inflammatory words, religion breeds prejudice.  In fact, I would argue that it is impossible for it to be any other way.

A big part of the reason for that is revelation.  If you believe that god revealed to you the words of life, then you are special.  Your knowledge is superior over everyone else’s.  God spoke to you, either through a clear reading of his word, the opening of doors, or a fire in the belly.  God told you exactly what he wants, and you become something like a prophet.  When someone else contradicts your clear revelation, they are challenging both you and your god.  Therefore, we have not only prejudice, but hostility towards people of other religions.  Other people range from being a little wrong about questionable matters, to hopelessly godless, and kindling for the eternal flame.

In the end, it is all driven by religious fear.  We fear that our city will be blown away by storm, or that our nation will suffer financially, or our understanding of god is wrong, and thus the understanding of ourselves.  We fear missing out on Heaven, or more likely, the inheritance of Hell.  We fear that if we are religiously wrong, we will lose our sense of self and be utterly at a loss of who we are and how we should live.  We fear that we have pursued a false path for our entire lives, and have been made fools of.  Religion has us so full of fear; it is a wonder that we can navigate the world without medicine cabinets full of anti-depressants and panic pills.  In fact, it seems we can’t.  Even ecumenical movements are a lot more fearful than they seem, showing no tolerance for the intolerant.  In such places, political conservatives are openly bashed.  They have a hard time feeling comfortable or welcome in such places.

I was invited to the house of a Unitarian who seemed to be an extremely nice person.  She confided in me that she can deal with any religious point of view, but she absolutely draws the line at political conservatives.  I have found this attitude to be common among religious liberals.

I believe we can do better.  I believe that conservatives and liberals can learn to get along because we all want our crops to grow.  What separates us is our god, our revelation, and the religion that we use to serve him.

Join me next time as I tackle racial and cultural prejudice.

David Johnson