Saturday, October 10, 2009

Earth is Spherical and Religion is Over

Various cultures have had conceptions of a flat Earth, including ancient Babylon, Ancient Egypt, pre-Classical Greece, and pre-17th century China. This view contrasts with the realization first recorded around the 4th century BC by natural philosophers of Classical Greece and later proved by brave seafarers, that Earth is spherical. Many Americans still believe the myth that it wasn't until Columbus sailed to the New World that Europeans knew Earth was round, but even in medieval Europe, it was already too late to write an "even-handed" Time magazine-style article about the flat vs. round issue. Even in 16th century China, a culture holding a seemingly immutable belief in a flat Earth, the whole mental paradigm shifted almost instantly once the evidence for a spherical world became overwhelming.

By the same token, evidence from the sciences of biology, chemistry, genetics, astrophysics, geology, etc. has piled up so high as to be overwhelming regarding the fact of evolution. Plus, for the first time ever in America, books against blind religious fundamentalism have hit the mainstream, with authors such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Chris Hedges, and Christopher Hitchens writing NYT Bestsellers taking on religion. So again, major segments of humanity, including the whole developed world, are on the edge of another huge and almost instantaneous paradigm shift. Like the belief in a flat Earth in 16th century China, fundamentalist religion is just about over. Unfortunately, most people don't know it yet.

Eighty percent of the world's people still believe that the creator of the Universe dictated a book. Many believe this so strongly that they will kill other people who believe that a different creator dictated a different book. Many Americans reading this would immediately think, "Yeah, those damned Muslims, blowing people up over religious differences," forgetting that a large percentage of Americans in the 1960's and 70's, mostly "Christian" at the time, had little problem with their government killing hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people ("godless communists"), almost as casually as if they were ants at a picnic. If we had information about a domestic terrorist, such as Tim McVeigh, and we knew that he was hiding, in the Bronx for example, would we take out an entire block in order to get to him? The answer is no, we wouldn't. People in this country would be outraged if we bombed a block and killed civilians to get to this guy, and yet that's what we're doing every day with our killer drones to non-Christians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But already, especially in the developed world, we're seeing more and more "Christians" believing in evolution. In 2009, it's almost impossible not to believe in evolution and still be sane, with so many scientific disciplines seamlessly proving it. For the "holy book" idolizers, knowledge of evolution seems to diminish the majesty of God. Yet with a slightly open mind, evolution and all the other amazing laws of the Universe should only lead us to feel more awe in the face of Creation!

What has been diminished is the stature of the primitive mythology books, written by superstitious, perhaps even insane men, at the dawn of the Iron Age, that people have dragged into modern times as literal guides to cosmology and correct human behavior. Literally billions of people still base their lives on the stories in these books, a pathological, dysfunctional behavior that imperils all of humankind.

I've had "Christian"-deprogramming Web sites for 15 years (check out my vintage early-1990's web page design!--and click on the picture). Why do I bother? It's not just some pet peeve of mine. Fundamentalist religion is like a computer virus, which cripples the function of a computer. Teaching fundamentalist religion to a child is a serious type of child abuse. Sexual child abuse damages a child's self image, confidence, and attitude about sexuality, but teaching fundamentalist religion often damages a child's thinking capability for life. Fundamentalist religion is not a benign thing, like somebody's preference of one professional baseball team over another. President Reagan invited televangelists Hal Lindsey and Jerry Falwell into the Pentagon to advise him on nuclear weapons policy! Sarah Palin, chosen by almost half of us Americans to be second in command of our nuclear arsenal, would have gladly started World War Three in the name of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps in one or two more generations, fundamentalist religion in America will become a harmless hobby, like astrology. There won't be any need for laws or prohibitions against it because it will become conversationally inappropriate, and no one who adheres to it would ever be trusted with any kind of power or serious responsibility. It might take several more generations for people in some other countries to realize the absurdity of fundamentalist religion, just as it took centuries for the Chinese to comprehend what the ancient Greek mathematicians had discovered about Earth's shape.

If any of you take exception to anything I've written here, please read these very few Sam Harris quotes, carefully selected from two of his books I've read, before you respond. If you still feel like responding, I will of course answer every comment. I ask that you please comment by clicking the "Comments" link right below this post, so that others can see your comment and perhaps comment on your ideas. Posting anonymously is fine.

From The End of Faith:
"How is it that the absurdity of this idea [that certain books were written by God] does not bring us, hourly, to our knees? It is safe to say that few of us would have thought so many people could believe such a thing, if they didn't actually believe it. Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain films were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything--anything--be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in."

From The End of Faith:
"Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of these incompatible claims they accept--rather than on the basis of language, skin color, location of birth, or any other criterion of tribalism. Each of these texts urges its readers to adopt a variety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not. All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: "respect" for other faiths, or for the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses. While all faiths have been touched, here and there by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error, or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes--really believes--that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one."

From The End of Faith:
"While Christianity has few living inquisitors today, Islam has many. In the next chapter we will see that in our opposition to the world view of Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and fourteenth-century hordes are pouring into our world. Unfortunately, they are now armed with twenty-first-century weapons."

From Letter to a Christian Nation:
"Your qualms about embryonic stem-cell research are similarly obscene. Here are the facts: stem-cell research is one of the most promising developments in the last century of medicine. It could offer therapeutic breakthroughs for every disease or injury process that human beings suffer--for the simple reason that embryonic stem cells can become any tissue in the human body. This research may also be essential for our understanding of cancer, along with a wide variety of developmental disorders. Given these facts, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the promise of stem-cell research. It is true, of course, that research on embryonic stem cells entails the destruction of three-day-old human embryos. This is what worries you.

"Let us look at the details. A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembering, in this context, that when a person's brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst."

From the conclusion of Letter to a Christian Nation (this quote spoken to a typical American Christian):
"Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well--by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God. This letter has been an expression of that amazement--and, perhaps, of a little hope."