We've got them on the run
This letter was sent to us on myspace. It turned out to be quite an interesting introduction.
I'd like to start by saying that I greatly appreciate what you and Kelly are doing and stand behind you guys 100% (as does reason, which you'd think would suffice.) I recently watched the Nightline debate that you and Kelly were a part of, and like the torturous act of tuning into Fox News, I found my blood pressure on the rise. I commend you on your efforts, because debating with the superstitious who lack sense and reason is a daunting task indeed. I tend to get angry very quickly when I find myself in similar conversations, and sincerely wish I could retain the calm composure that Sam Harris always seems to have. (Thank good ness for Sam Harris.) Often times, I find the efforts of atheists or people of reason to be an exercise in futility - the beating of the proverbial dead horse. Yet I know this is not the right attitude to have, and I try to keep in mind the words of the great Daniel Dennett that he spoke at the recent AAI Convention: "Don't be angry, be amused, be proud - we've got them on the run."
Anytime a religious person uses morals as evidence for the existence of God, a red flag goes up for me. I am again, reminded of Daniel Dennett's 07 AAI presentation, in which he discussed the likely probability that more people believe in the belief in God, rather than God itself. And because morals were one topic discussed during your debate, I have to wonder about Mr. Cameron and Mr. Comfort. I have even encountered those who would identify themselves as atheists who have told me that they think religion is an institution that should remain intact, due to their belief that society would collapse without it, and that there would be mass chaos. This is a disturbing opinion to be confronted with, because it reveals that we have more work cut out for as than I initially anticipated. Atheists vouching for religion?? Now I'm also forced to point out the fallacy in this way of thinking.
Now there is a fundamental difference between arguing that in the absence of the belief in God, there would be mass-suicide and a great spike in the rate of depression vs. people committing crimes, violent or otherwise. I think the latter is far less likely, yet I could envision many people who feel lost in the absence of belief. I do not know why people believe that morals are derived from some invisible man in the sky, or even that they govern the lives of the believers. One need only glance at our recent history to see evidence to the contrary. Many horrendous acts have been committed in the name of God, thought to be justified in the bible - slavery, gender discrimination, or just flat out murder, to name a few. Why the religious community does not recognize this completely baffles me. In one concrete example, look at gangs in the United States - I was recently watching a program on MS-13, a Latino gang whose tenets included, God, and their gang, respectively. (also noting a third which I cannot recall.) It struck me humorous that one of the most violent gangs plaguing our society, names God as the central figure in each members' lives.
It's quite evident how hard-pressed the religious are when they start attacking evolution. I only wish Dr. Richard Dawkins would have been present during your debate as the "expert witness" to the occurence of evolution. I wanted to scream at Kirk Cameron when he noted that we cannot witness macro evolution, implying, in a human lifetime. Funny, how the natural constraints of the human lifespan permit his assertion. Of course we cannot stand by for millions of years, documenting the evolutionary line of man. But we DO have the ability to collect fossils, using the scientific method to deduce that OF COURSE we are descended from an ape-like creature, who evolved from a smaller, mammalian creature, who descended from a reptilian creature (this being quite evident in the make-up of our brains, i.e. the "R-Complex" - a vestige that cognitive processes sometimes/often times cannot overcome, i.e. all the violence in the world.) and so forth.
(On a side note - I don't know if you're a "Tool" fan, but I love the song "Forty-Six and 2" in reference to our evolution:
"My shadow's shedding skin and
I've been picking Scabs again
I'm down Digging through
My old muscles Looking for a clue
I've been crawling on my belly
Clearing out what could've been
I've been wallowing in my own confused
And insecure delusions
For a piece to cross me over
Or a word to guide me in
I wanna feel the changes coming down
I wanna know what I've been hiding in...
Soften this old armor
Hoping I can clear the way
By stepping through my shadow,
Coming out the other side
Step into the shadow
Forty six and two are just ahead of me."
The question of whether or not Jesus even existed was also debated. It's difficult to conclude whether or not someone who supposedly lived 2,000 years ago actually did. Now, for the sake of argument, let's say that he did exist. Mr. Comfort, I believe it was, asked you how it is that you can trust that historians are being truthful. I would have turned that question around on him, and asked how it is that he can put faith in a council appointed by a pagan Roman Emperor some 325 years after Jesus' death? I am of course referring to Constantine I and the council of Nicea, who decided to deify Jesus, exclude gospels counter-productive to their agenda, and legalize Christianity. How on Earth can such a shady group of people be trusted? Christians find it easy to put their faith in God, supposedly omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, but how is it that they can so easily put their faith in MAN?
Of course, someone was bound to bring up the tiring Stalin/Hitler argument against atheism, which Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have all sufficiently addressed in their literary works. Yet, I believe, because Christians do not take the time to listen to the rebuttal of the atheist community, (or read anything except the bible and other works of fiction) we have to keep repeating ourselves.
The claim that the worst mass-murders in recent times were atheists as an argument against atheism implies that these men did these terrible things not because they were megalomaniacal dictators, but because they had no fear of their consequences. This only solidifies the argument that religion is merely a form of social control – a tool devised by man to control the masses, taking God out of the equation all together, and thereby making the original argument a moot and weak one at best.
Even if one was to tally the number of deaths of all those who died at the hands of men like Stalin, Hitler and Polpot, they would pale in comparison to the number of those unnecessarily sentenced to death in the name of religion.
The Hitler/Stalin argument is a pathetic attempt to justify the need for religion – and I should emphasize the word ‘need’ vs. actual proof of God’s existence. It is quite apparent in the world that religion does not safeguard us from immoral behavior. A quick glance at our history reveals just how ineffective and futile faith is when it comes to safeguarding us from heinous behavior, and how useful the bible can be when seeking justification for things like, slavery, torture, and murder. The irony is simply too much to bear.
Any way, I just wanted to leave you with some comments on the debate, which turned out to be a little longer than I intended. Good luck to you and RRS, and thank you for your efforts! Perhaps someday we will be able to rid ourselves of the "atheist" title, when it is not longer necessary - when we are not longer "a cranky sub-group that meets in hotel rooms" as Sam Harris recently noted.
Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server.