My Brethren without Christ, I have to let you know you're all a bunch of Darwinian primates. (Just hit the link below to get the joke.) I just got back from the September 28, 2010, Dinesh D'Souza/Michael Shermer debate at USF in Tampa. They took questions at the end of the session and I got a chance to ask the following question in front of around a thousand attendees.


The opening comments by Dinesh were very similar to the debate a couple of years ago. At first, I was going to ask him about the old Dostoyevsky conjecture he mentions in his opening remarks: there's no morality without God. To an atheist this conviction is an insult and I knew he probably answered it many times, so on the queue I thought of a better question. I knew he couldn't possibly answer without time-lines and equations and a blackboard to write on.


In his opening remarks, Dinesh stated that he “accepts” the theory of evolution as valid, and that there's no conflict with Biblical thought. So I switched my question to, ”Since you accept evolution, could you explain why it took over four billion years for intelligence to arrive on the planet?”


Actually, dinosaurs and early mammals evolved some intelligence in the Cretaceous Period, but I knew he would take a anthropocentric view—being a Christian. For a few seconds he seemed to take the question in stride, as Shermer sat complacently smiling like the Mona Lisa. Dinesh gave it some thought, then squirmed in his armchair and proceeded to get into a circumlocutory rant. I wish the response were recorded because Hamlet somehow got in there (no bull), and I think it all came down to the old catchall “God works in mysterious ways.”


This is a complex technical question. The most conspicuous answer, to me, is the eons it took to progress from prokaryotes (bacteria with the genetic material dispersed throughout the cell) 3.6 billion years ago, to early eukayotes, (bacteria and algae with a distinct nuclear membrane that houses and protects the genetic material) 2.5 billion years ago. That's over 1.1 billion years where our beautiful planet was the habitat for nothing more than germs. The protective nucleus was the springboard to the Cambrian Explosion around 540 million years go. That's another two billion years before complex microorganisms (plants and animals) came on the scene. This is why Carl Sagan in his Cosmos TV serious states that space probes like the Explorer were likely find life in the universe, but only at the microbial level.


I think this is an important question and would bet it shows up again in future debates. This consideration destroys Pope John Paul II's explanation in 1996 that “God infused a soul” as in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendition of God and Adam touching index fingers. If humans were the centerpiece of God's plan, why did heck did it take so long? It's pretty evident that evolution moves at it's own speed and the human genome is a digital book that wrote itself. With all the junk in there—around 30%—the human genome manifestly contradicts “intelligent design.”


As always I welcome any comments on this blog. The link is the debate with Shermer from two years ago. It's pretty much what I heard Tuesday night, so I guess these guys have been playing this road show for quite a while. It gives A/N members a chance to discuss and analyze what Christians are trying to put forth as reasons to believe. .





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Tags: Michael, Shermer, USF, debate, endmeme

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Comment by Matt VDB on October 3, 2010 at 10:56am
"Historical religious leaders get a lot more credit than they deserve in our history books. I really think it is okay for atheists to concentrate on the bad aspects of religion and for us to say: "Religion is a fucking cancer." "

That's a very strange syllogism. So because religious people like their history slanted one way, it's okay for us to like our history slanted the other way?
Why? To arrive at some sort of equilibrium in irrationality or something? No thanks, not interested.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on October 3, 2010 at 10:23am
Diana,
Well stated.
Comment by Diana Agorio on October 3, 2010 at 10:08am
And I would argue that in some of those areas, specific religions have had positive effects, though it's also obvious that they have negative ones (witchhunts being one clear example). - Matt VDB

Do we have a count of all of the full time religious professionals there are in the world? How many priests, preachers, rabbis, Imams, and gurus of every stripe are there? Their full time job is to tell the world about the good things of their respective religions. They even have interfaith conferences, where they claim the goodness of religion in general. Take a look on Amazon at how many books there are proclaiming the greatness of religion. Religion has an enormous megaphone in the world. Everyone already knows any good or presumed good associated with religion. Historical religious leaders get a lot more credit than they deserve in our history books. I really think it is okay for atheists to concentrate on the bad aspects of religion and for us to say: "Religion is a fucking cancer." The encyclopedia of bad religion is a fabulous idea.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on October 3, 2010 at 10:06am
Richard,
That was a clever question. Doubtless there are thousands of quips, questions and vulnerable areas. I still think it is better to steer away from the mental patient fixated in his delusion. Or that should be a secondary or tertiary attack.
Comment by Richard Goscicki on October 3, 2010 at 9:52am
I just sent the following to Michael Shermer. It would be nice if he gets back to us. This discussion brings out some important points.

Michael,

I was at the USF debate in Tampa last Tuesday, September 28. I was the one who asked the question about intelligence arriving four billion years after the creation. Dinesh's answer was pure obfuscation and circumlocution. I noticed you smiling, so I know it was a tough question. How the hell did Hamlet get in there?

Here's what I wrote on my blog on Atheist/Nexus:
Comment by Richard Goscicki on October 3, 2010 at 8:56am
Religion is a fucking cancer. I agree with Diana, Glen has some excellent posts here.

To me, it's not a cancer as much as a run-away computer virus that takes over the human mind and reprograms the host to do its bidding for the sake of its own replication, and just as in the natural world with tapeworms and plasmodia, cares nothing about the fate of the host.

Dan Dennett tells the story of the lancet fluke that infects an ant, takes over the ant's primitive nervous system and motivates it to climb a blade of grass and stay there 'til it is eaten by a bovine. The fluke then gets into the gut and completes its life cycle.

Suicide bombers are a good example of what the meme complex can do. How about a monk that thinks it's a splendid idea to climb a remote mountain and live in a tiny hut with nothing but a prayer stool and a couple of bibles. To the memeplex, human life means nothing.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on October 3, 2010 at 8:18am
ENCYCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS HARMS
omitted categories from my prior post: terrorism, imperialism, torture, human suffering in 3rd world countries, animal cruelty, medicine, politics and the human genome. I would eliminate witches and zenophobia as those belong in subsets.
Matt, let us agree to leave the nuance for apologists. If the enemy accuses our side of being tendentious and one sided I can live with it. I grant you that buddhists and quakers have done some good. I also concede that some of the ills produced and coveted by religion would be there in the absence of religion or in a civilization that attempts to live rationally. I will not concede that the outcome of the project will be wishy washy and ambiguous. Religion is a fucking cancer.
The enemy has pulled off a propaganda bonanza that would make Goebbels druel. The mass of man believes that religion and morality are one and the same-that you cant lead a good life without it. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not all that complicated. Ask the questions. What is religion? What does it do? What does it do when it has the power? Would you enjoy living in a theocracy in the middle east today? That is an active culture. Look under the microscope. Do you like what you see?
There is no question in my mind that an educated person should be able to expound at length on all of the categories in the encyclopedia that will never happen. (lazy assed atheists-when I was younger I toyed with the idea of doing it-realized it would consume my life and thought humans were not reachable.) Religion is so inextricably linked with every facet of history and human civilization that mankind's ignorance in what it produces is criminal.
I also believe that much of the vitriol between atheists and theists, atheists and atheists is misdirected. Bottom line there is a will to believe and it is difficult to deconvert the theists when you argue about the details of their delusion. My idea for the encyclopedia that will never happen will focus on something tangible and nearer to objective. It would cause some believers to abandon ship. The catholic church has gotten a little press regarding sexual abuse. I am sure that has not helped the catholic cause. While it is a significant story and has of course been continuing for centuries it aint but a bucket of sand on a beach of evil caused by religion.
A CALL TO ARMS. Nay, a bloodless revolution.
Comment by Matt VDB on October 3, 2010 at 5:07am
"Matt, we finally agree on something. Right on. Lol"

We probably agree on a lot of things, but talking about things where there is disagreement is so much more fun than endless agreement ;)

@Glen:
Such a project would be great to see, though I don't think the result would be quite as you think; it would probably be more nuanced. Take the women, gays, xenophobia, slavery... is anyone honestly of the opinion that these things originated with any particular religion. Of course not. What we would have to investigate is to what extent this was aggrevated by various religions and - to be fair - where religious institutions have participated in their removal. It would be a difficult thing to assess. And I would argue that in some of those areas, specific religions have had positive effects, though it's also obvious that they have negative ones (witchhunts being one clear example).
But I know I'm in big disagreement with many of you here.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on October 2, 2010 at 11:56pm
Atheists would be well served writing an encyclopedia of religious harms. Category by category
IMPACT: women, gays, mentally ill, witches, minorities, war, zenophobia, the environment, disease, poverty, literacy, science, slavery, sexual abuse. Scholars will research and handle their particular fields. Publish it. Promote it. Attempt to incorporate it into the public school curriculum. Encourage public debates between prominent atheists and prominent theists. If the atheists cant bury theists . . . Let the apologists talk about charity and comfort for believers and whatever else they can muster. The scale will tip decidedly in favor of rationalism. The future of human civilization is at stake. Religion is a cancer on mankind.
Comment by Richard Goscicki on October 2, 2010 at 3:56pm
The church consistently defended slavery. It was secular governments that outlawed slavery, with the shamefaced church eventually following.

I certainly agree with this. And what about the “Divine Right of Kings”? Indeed, God empowers the king to make your pheasant life miserable.

As far as as respecting the marriages of pheasants, what about the Bravehearth ritual, prima nocta, that the lord of the manor has the right to first night with a pheasant's new bride. In this way he bastardizes the first born so as to weaken the family structure, making rebellion less likely. Pretty sinister, but sanctioned by the church.

I wish I would have been there to ask a question:

Brett, great question—nothing ophidian about it. It's maddening how this guy Dinesh can get away with this nonsense. The Christians love him tough. I just heard him on the conservative radio station I listen to. He's was substituting on the Dennis Prager Show.

I'm going to send this blog link to Michael Shermer to see what he thinks. He's a little too soft on religion in my view. Religion is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity.

Matt, we finally agree on something. Right on. Lol

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