The Missing Link

Almost Us?

 

almost-us.jpg   Does it ever bother you that, as non-scientists, we are deemed too ignorant to disagree with scientists? Well it does me. Some scientists, it seems, can easily shift into philosophical musings launched from their observations and their subsequent suppositions. They don’t seem to allow us “mere mortals” the same freedom. Well, it may be poorly stated on my part, but I reserve the right to shift to the philosophical from just plain observation. Admittedly, my thinking is colored by my faith, but I don’t think that’s much different from the faith required to believe the stuff some scientists do.

I am presently listening to a book called The Botany of Desire on my two and a half hour drives between Abilene, my home, and Lubbock, where I teach. In his preface the author, Michael Pollan, considers life the result of a series of propitious accidents modified by natural selection. The thesis of the book is that plants have been in control of humans as much as humans have been in control of plants. I have only listened to one section, but for a plant lover such as me, it is fascinating listening. I just mentally weed out the nonsense. Talk to me later to see if I would recommend it for others who have an interest in popular botany. But it set me to thinking about humans as much as plants.

Humans, we are told by Darwinians also arose from that same primordial accident and subsequent beneficial mutations. They like to remind us that our nearest animal relatives, the chimpanzees, differ from us by only a tiny amount of DNA (we share 98%!). Be that as it may, the more obvious differences are so vast as to render the words, “amazing,” and “awesome” as terrific understatements.

As a human, I was driving an air-conditioned automobile fueled by highly refined petroleum at a high speed (legally…really!) passing and being passed by equally amazing machines. I was driving down a smooth highway toward my dwelling built out of timber and brick over 50 years ago by highly skilled craftsmen. I was (and am) wearing clothing consisting of amazing blends of wool, cotton and synthetic materials woven or knitted into cloth and skillfully transformed into shirt, trousers, socks, etc. I was listening to this book wirelessly downloaded from some distant source to my computer and thence to my little digital listening device. As I listened, I contemplated my own existence and thought of the past, present and future. When I got home, I retrieved my laptop from its carrying case, plugged it in and connected it to the internet to check my email (there were no messages from apes as we usually think of them). I thought about art, spoken and written languages, agriculture, spirituality, and the sciences. Does any other animal even come remotely close?

My next thought was of my chimp “relatives,” at home in some jungle or zoo, whose tools are rocks to break open things to eat and sticks to collect delicious termites as a special treat. Their communication consists of gestures, howls and screeches. Do they contemplate their own existence? Do they have plans for the future? Do they ever think of the past? Do they ever write articles no one reads? What a huge, yawning gap! (Does that mean that humans never act like chimps? No, just check out the Bonobos (Pan paniscus)  whose sexual behavior bears a remarkable resemblance to some humans).

Even though we frequently don’t behave like it, everything about humans screams “special creation.” I know, I know…I’m not a scientist. But, I can observe and then I can study, and then I can think and draw my own conclusions. William H. Calvin, of the University of Washington, has done so on his website (that’s where I got the picture) in which he maintains that the great apes (they are not monkeys) are “almost us.” Really? OK, I see some similarities but…almost us? Bill, say it ain’t so! In that immense chasm of difference, the link is…well…it’s missing.

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26 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Religion

26 responses to “The Missing Link

  1. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have people who actually comprehend the subject be the ones who debate it. Otherwise it’s something akin to trying to explain calculus to someone who can barely do their times tables.

  2. Alex Speller

    Dwight,

    As soon as I read the first paragraph, this video came to mind, and I was delighted that you mentioned bonobos towards the end! I’m sure that this 20 minute video will be of great interest to you:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/76

    This seems to suggest to me that a lot of human behaviour that you mentioned, such as technology, spirituality and the sciences, are less phenotypic effects (the external effects of genes, such as eye or hair colour), and more the effect of culture. In other words, imagine the bonobos in these videos passing on the skills they demonstrate through thousands, or even millions of generations – surely it is not hard to imagine that the result could bear striking similarities to us. (Also, that monkey is better than me at Pacman! 😉

    “I’m not a scientist. But, I can observe and then I can study, and then I can think and draw my own conclusions”

    If this is true, then you sir are as entitled to the title of scientist as any other who will keep an open mind.

    This leaves me in mind of an issue of my favourite web comic, xkcd:
    http://xkcd.com/154/

    🙂

  3. barryweber

    When I was a child, I believed food came from my parents, I didn’t care or need to know how. As long as they were alive and able, there might have been no need for me know otherwise.

    But I was curious. Grocery stores were the next answer. More curiosity led to farms and ranches, and transportation systems. Further curiosity took me into plant and animal sciences, and now- at 57, and not a scientist- I see the real sources of that food, and all things, in the exploding stars and formations of new galaxies. I am also sure there is more and more to be discovered.

    I have heard so many people, and have even collected some recordings at the Creation Institute in Glen Rose, saying they believe in Creationism because “it is easier to believe than evolution.” Indeed it is; in exactly the same way it was easier intellectually to believe that food came from my parents. The frontal lobes of human brains, however, will not allow humans to stop wondering and asking questions. So I kept looking for the origins of food, just as specialists look for other things and, thank God, in the case of the polio virus and other maladies, find them.

    Intellectual pursuits can be stopped by religionists who make the imagination and the asking of too many and too deep questions, into sins, in an attempt to “protect” their territories. The Dark Ages of the Church are historical proof of that! They tell others that it is OK to believe only what they can see- flat earth, earthcentric universe- because that is all the ancients who spoke Creation stories could see. Well, again thank God, not all of their ‘subjects’ bought into that nonsense.

    I cannot make God fit into my limited abilities to speak of God. Neither could Moses. If I think I can define God by what I know today, let alone what the Hebrews of 1500 BCE knew, then I will either be terribly surprised by new information coming in tomorrow, or I will have to disregard- play dumb- about that information, and take the “easier” route through it.

    Bottom line, we are discovering our God to be bigger than it is possible for humans to imagine or write about God. That should not threaten us at all. It should be making us feel the awe that most people are now able to discover and feel only through the work of scientists. Science and spirituality are not separate pursuits; they are both part of the same human consciousness that wonders, “Why?” and “How?”

  4. Thanks for visiting my site. I thought I’d reciprocate, by reading your suggested link and commenting. I love comments on my site, negative or positive, as they all, ultimately, tend to advance knowledge.

    In reading your musings on the relationship between man and apes, I was struck by two thoughts.

    The first was the apparently intended juxtaposition of your use of all those technological conveniences we humans have become accustomed to, to the total inability of our supposed ancestors ability to devise the same. What I found incongruous was your first paragraph, which implied a certain distrust of scientists, because they deem to inform us that we are related to chimps. You, of course, realize that it is science that is completely responsible for the underlying knowledge that gave rise to our present standard of living of which you remark and enjoy. I sense that you are a religious man, so I have to ask, what has religion done to contribute to these same advances that allow us to live in this century the way we do? I can not think of any.

    Second, you indicate that science tells us that, genetically, chimps are 98% human. That’s a fact, incontrovertible so far. That is not to say that chimps are 98% human in all respects, which your incredulity seems to imply. They are nothing of the sort. We are not descended from chimps, or bonobos. Chimps, Bonobos and humans have a common ancestor, which may have been similar to all of us in many ways, but was certainly not a chimp, bonobo or human, as we know them now. That common ancestor lived some 6-7 million years ago. We (chimps, bonobos and humans) then diverged in different directions, based on different environmental factors pressuring us to do so. Humans’ more advanced development is better explained not by the increase of a further 2% of our genes, but primarily by the increase by approximatively 50% in the size of our brains. That is what distinguishes us more from our closest relative, and what allows us to invent computers and use them while chimps still use rocks. It is most likely that something, perhaps a minuscule portion of that 2% change in DNA, is what led directly to our skull size increasing, along with the brain within it.

    Understand that, and you’re a lot closer to understanding what science is telling us. Understand that, and you realize that science is trustworthy. Yes, it sometimes falters, but usually at the rate of 10 steps forward and one step back. But overall, over time, it always goes forward, never back. Religion, on the other hand has not changed in 2000 years. It is more a force for stagnation, than for progress.

  5. dwhitsett

    Hello John,
    Thanks for your comment. I too welcome comments whether pro or con. I appreciate the time it took to respond to my scratching. But where did I say I distrust scientists? I don’t distrust scientists any more than other professionals who may disagree with me. I would be the last person to discount science and scientists. I just don’t like arrogance and disdain with its consequential dismissal of those who disagree with the assumptions of some. I think everybody ought to chime in to address matters they do not agree with. What can be wrong with that? Let the scientist explain his philosophical stand. Let her correct the misinformed. But I reserve the right to agree or disagree. As you said, knowledge is ultimately advanced.

    As you stated, science has made possible our present standard of living. There is no argument or contest here. Religion is not in the business of science. Religion, particularly the Christian religion has made possible other things. The first scientists were religious men who observed the world because they sought to understand God’s creation. Indeed, a number of notable scientists of today have varying degrees of belief in God. Aside from that, it is primarily religion that takes the initiative to:
    • Feed the hungry
    • Care for orphans
    • Establish hospitals and schools in poverty-stricken nations
    • Establish and run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers
    • Are at the forefront in providing for those stricken with AIDS.
    • Provide for the homeless
    • Provide free counseling for the troubled
    • Provide clothing for those ill-clothed
    • Organize medical missions to third-world countries
    • Rush to the aid of victims of disasters world-wide
    In most of these pursuits, religion heavily utilizes science to bring relief and consolation to the suffering. Cooperation, not competition, characterizes these efforts and that’s the way it should be.

    I would like to kindly urge a more careful reading of what I have written. I never said we were descended from chimps or Bonobos. I am aware of the concept of a common ancestor. That’s why I used the term “relative.” I also never called chimps 98% human. Obviously, I don’t believe that. They are remarkably similar in many ways but my whole point is the huge gap between humans and our nearest alleged relative. Is the gap explainable in terms of relative brain size? Maybe, maybe not…depending on whom you read. Understand that and you understand what science has not yet told us. Understand that and you understand that science is only trustworthy when it majors in observation and minors in speculation. I have no argument with facts. Deductions are another matter.

    Of course you are wrong about religion not changing for 2000 years. In the case of “Christianity” as it is popularly understood, its history is one of constant change…not usually for the better. It is a history of constant, persistent desertion of the teachings of Jesus Christ and his messengers and the resulting chaos and tragedy. It is a history fraught with division and infighting. In the case of Roman Catholicism it is a history of not accepting the very discoveries made by the science it gave birth to.

    In the case of those who have clung to the teachings of our Master, however, it is a history of constant love and service to and compassion for mankind. Its values were foundational for our American republic…values we are now rapidly repudiating to our peril. A force for stagnation? How so?

  6. Spanish Inquisitor

    But where did I say I distrust scientists?

    You didn’t. I said you implied it. Your first sentence. And the conclusive second sentence. I apologize if I misread it, but a certain amount of distrust bleeds through those sentences. I could be wrong.

    The first scientists were religious men who observed the world because they sought to understand God’s creation.

    They were religious men because religion WAS the world at the time (at least if we reserve our discussion to the West). They sought to understand God’s creation, because it was assumed that God was responsible for that Creation. Religion assumed that. And dictated it. They believed in God because to do otherwise invited ostracism, persecution and in many cases, death. It was heresy not to. It took a long time, with long term, incremental changes, for religion to release its stranglehold on intellect and inquiry. Only after the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance was science given a much freer reign to poke and probe into nature, previously the province of bishops. The progress of civilization was retarded as a result. Would it have advanced any quicker, more efficiently, without religion holding it back? Most likely, but for me to be dogmatic about it would be foolish and speculative. However, I don’t see where religion actually helped speed things up, or in any way encouraged free inquiry so necessary for scientific advance. So in that sense, it was a force for stagnation.

    …it is primarily religion that takes the initiative to:
    • Feed the hungry
    • Care for orphans
    • Establish hospitals and schools in poverty-stricken nations
    • Establish and run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers
    • Are at the forefront in providing for those stricken with AIDS.
    • Provide for the homeless
    • Provide free counseling for the troubled
    • Provide clothing for those ill-clothed
    • Organize medical missions to third-world countries
    • Rush to the aid of victims of disasters world-wide

    I’d have to agree with you here, but not for reasons you might expect. And there are exceptions. Religion has historically taken the lead in these areas, again by dint of it being the only game in town for such a long time. I’d be sorely disappointed if it hadn’t. It commands the initiative of so many religious people that by sheer numbers it handles the bulk of what we call charitable actions. But none of these actions are necessarily religious in nature. They are all secular, and can be handled by secular people in secular organizations with equal aplomb. The motivations of the individuals involved may be religious, but don’t necessarily need to be. There are many secular organizations that do the same thing without any reference to the supernatural. Doctors without Borders comes to mind.

    An as for exceptions, let’s not forget that it is the Catholic Church that refuses to acknowledge that the free use of condoms in Africa could save lives, but actively discourages it.

    I would like to kindly urge a more careful reading of what I have written. I never said we were descended from chimps or Bonobos.

    Nor did I accuse you of that. I did, however, preface my discussion of the genetic and other differences with my statement that we were not descended from them. If I gave the impression that I was refuting you in that regard, again, I apologize.

    My point was that you seemed to at least imply, if not explicitly state, that the observable gap between chimps and humans should be closer, given the 2% difference in genes. That’s a faulty conclusion. Genetically they are our closest relative, but they are anything but close developmentally, primarily because they don’t have our brains. Your conclusion:

    Even though we frequently don’t behave like it, everything about humans screams “special creation.”

    does not follow from your premise, that there is a huge “gap” between chimps and humans. When I look at humans, everything screams “accident”. I see no special creation. When my disc ruptured in my lower back, I didn’t feel so special. When my father’s appendix almost ruptured, his creation didn’t seem so special. When my mother died of ALS, a degenerative nerve disease, her creation looks less and less like an act of god. Logically, I just don’t see the development gap as evidence of special creation. For that matter, I don’ see any evidence of special creation. To me, it’s just wishful thinking. You are arguing with facts, whether you see it or not. Your deductions are suspect as a result.

    The scientific evidence (so far *) for evolution tells me that we did evolve directly through a string of proto-humans from a common ancestor we share with the chimp. No special creation necessary. Why bother trying to convince myself that I’m special because a supernatural entity made me, despite evidence to the contrary, when I know I’m special because I am an example of the pinnacle of evolution, even with my many flaws?

    (*) and I do mean 100% of the evidence so far – it’s possible we might find an intermediate creature that shares 99% our genes, but I doubt it.

  7. dwhitsett

    Hello again John,
    I don’t think I’m capable of proving my trust of science and scientists to you. You’ll just have to trust me on this. So, believe it or not, I actually love science and admire the work of scientists. I’ll say it again: it is not scientific observation that I question…it is speculation. The terrific, malicious infighting among scientists themselves results not from their proven observations but from their unproven, speculative interpretations.

    I’ve already stated my agreement with you about the Roman Catholic reluctance to accept certain scientific discoveries. Some of those Catholic scientists were remarkably courageous and maintained those views under duress. Their motivation is the matter under consideration. Whether you think them misguided or not, their faith was their motivation. Are you saying that the only reason for their faith was fear of the consequences of unbelief? I think you would have a hard time establishing that.

    Can you demonstrate that religion held back science? Mendel was a monk, not a bishop. Kepler, a protestant, thought he had discovered God’s scheme for the universe. He was driven to this because of his religious convictions regarding the connection between the spiritual and physical. Linnaeus, a deeply religious man, was intent on showing how God had ordered the universe. On and on we could go. Even Robert Oppenheimer (who was not a Christian) thought that the climate of thought nurtured by Christianity was necessary for the genesis of modern science. In other words, instead of stagnation, religion actually helped speed things up and encouraged free inquiry. Some retardation!

    When I speak of the religious initiatives in my list, it was to show that science and religion can be blended to benefit the world. The initiatives I spoke of are not just ancient…they are happening today. People I personally know are taking these initiatives at great personal cost. They do it because they trying, however imperfectly, to follow Christ. These are modern initiatives that grow out of the practice of their faith. My point is that science can give us a wonderful lifestyle, but pure religion (James 1:27; 2:15) provides another essential dimension. If we don’t share that lifestyle, a huge portion of humanity suffers.

    John, exactly what facts am I arguing with? I have no argument with truth no matter how or where it is found. Did we evolve from a string of proto-humans? Neither you nor I know that. Talk about wishful thinking. The scanty fossil bone remains are fragmented, scattered and open to varying interpretations by scientists themselves. The lack of cohesive intermediate forms is striking. The chasm remains.

    I’m not arguing with evolution. Even today, humans are changing and adapting. But how does evolution tell you that we evolved directly through a string of proto-humans? That is yet to be credibly demonstrated by impartial, empirical evidence.

    You have chosen atheism and scientism and I respect that. I have no illusions that I could change your mind. I see some pain smoldering following the fires of suffering, disease and death you have experienced and witnessed. These realities of life have caused many people to reject the idea of a Creator and I understand and respect that. Some are drawn to Christ by suffering and some are repelled by it. I believe you have faith. In faith you look to science to provide all the answers we need. I think that is regrettable, but so be it.

  8. Of course religion held back science. Galileo is a famous example, put under so much pressure and persecution that he was forced to refute his own findings just to have some semblance of life returned to him.

    The church went on to try to track down and destroy any english bibles they could find. There’s a definite suppression of knowledge.

    Wycliffe, the first man to translate the Bible into english, … well, his remains were dug up 40 or so years after his death and thrown into a river for his attempt to expand knowledge.

    Even now, you have the fundamentalists who think mental illness is actually possession and rather than get actual help, turn to the church for exorcisms (the case of Emily Rose comes to mind).

    Or then there are Scientologists who refuse to recognise psychiatry, despite proven history, etc.

  9. dwhitsett

    Matt,
    I think I will side with Oppenheimer.
    What the RCs did to Galileo was indeed stupid. You won’t get any argument out of me on that. The worst Galileo had to endure was house arrest during which he continued his work. Eventually he was allowed to return to his villa.
    Hasty generalization will ultimately prove nothing. When you speak of “the church,” I assume you are speaking of the Roman Catholic Church. Are you going to lump all of us in that basket? Is Scientology a religion? Not in my book.
    Now, shall I tell you about the crazy people and the things they have done in the name of science and use that for a blanket condemnation? Shall we discuss the heinous crimes against humanity committed by atheists? Come on.

  10. Those acts, however, were not done in the name of atheism whereas the acts I listed were done solely in the name of religion. There is a world of difference between the two.

  11. dwhitsett

    Not done in the name of atheism? History says otherwise. 100 million slain by atheistic dictators might disagree. Dinesh D’Souza says it well: “Whatever the motives for atheist bloodthirstiness, the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in 2,000 years not managed to kill as many people as have been killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades.” Don Feder agrees, “For 70-plus years, the Soviets tried everything imaginable to kill religion: show trials, mass murder of clerics, confiscations, indoctrination and even attempts to co-opt religious symbols and ceremonies.” If these are not the crimes of atheism, what are they?

  12. Spanish Inquisitor

    Dwight (hope you don’t mind the informality)

    I’m going to have to side with Matt on this one. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that people like Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot killed all of those people “in the name of atheism”.

    First, you can take Hitler out of that. His warped mentality had nothing to do with atheism. In fact, Nazism was simply a replacement religion. Hitler himself was a theist, and was raised a Christian. he never denounced his theism. I don’t think you’ll find any evidence for atheism in the Nazi party.

    Second, I’ve never seen any evidence for the number “100 million”. Where does that come from? A lot of people died in Russia, Cambodia, and perhaps China, but no where near 100 million. Most of the evidence in Russia under Stalin indicates that there were only 3 million deaths by actual intent. Maybe another 6-8 million died in a famine in the Ukraine in the 30s. But did they do so in the name of atheism? No. Atheism, for Stalin was the means to take away from the peasants a source of community that they could use to resist the power of the state. The state wanted no competition, and the church was just that. The people he executed were deemed enemies of the state, but not because they refused to embrace atheism.

    So to claim that all these death were “in the name of atheism” is unsupportable, nothing more than brute assertion. Antisemitism (the main driving force behind National Socialism) is a Christian phenomenon, dating back to the idea that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, continuing through Martin Luther, the Spanish Inquisition and into modern European thinking. So do we blame the holocaust on Christianity because the Nazis were anti-semitic? No. Similarly we don’t blame the pogroms, executions, and purges of Stalin on atheism, because the leader was himself an atheist. There are many things you could point to, but atheism is not one of them, and it’s really disingenuous of Christians to do so.

    “For 70-plus years, the Soviets tried everything imaginable to kill religion: show trials, mass murder of clerics, confiscations, indoctrination and even attempts to co-opt religious symbols and ceremonies.” If these are not the crimes of atheism, what are they?

    No, these are crimes of communists attempting to secure the power of the state. Atheism is a not a replacement for religion, it is simply the lack of religion. It’s what you call the lack of beliefs when you take away religion. But it is not a social force in and of itself. Communism is what replaced religion in Russia, Cambodia and China, and if there were any deaths, they were in all the name of communism.

    The same can be said of Pol Pot and Mao. They may have been atheists, but there is nothing anywhere indicating that they did anything because they wanted to impose atheism on anyone. I can find nothing anywhere that people were killed because they refused to embrace atheism. The fact that religious people were killed does not logically mean that the killer was an atheist.

    The whole issue is a red herring. The real issue is, if they were atheists, were they correct in their lack of belief? Theists have this tendency to avoid the question by falsely attempting to paint atheism with genocide.

    Wanting to believe that atheism was responsible does not make it so. Evidence might, but there is none.

  13. dwhitsett

    Waitaminute…let me get this straight. When an atheist who happens to be a communist tries to rid his realm of religion, that is the work of communism, not atheism. But, when a Roman Catholic (or a Protestant) kills to rid his realm of the other religions, that is the work of religion. Excuse me, but I think I see a teeny-weeny inconsistency and a heap of generalization here.
    What drove the “Christian” (it sticks in my craw to call them that) murderers to do their deeds was, I think you will agree, a misguided fanatical belief that God would be pleased if they eradicated Jews, Muslims and others from their realms. They were driven by their worldview – perverted and ungodly as it was. So, now are going to tell me that those atheists who committed crimes against humanity were not driven by some fanatical variation of an atheistic worldview? Come on guys…that boat won’t float!
    Matt and John (I’m all for informality), I would like to believe that the vast majority of atheists are non-violent. I believe you are non-violent (you seem like nice blokes). The vast majority of atheists seem to want to win their point through reason, not violence. But some fanatical atheists have taken their crusade against religion to the point of violence. Neither camp is free from their extremists. Tell you what…let’s make a deal. I won’t paint all atheists with the same brush if you’ll agree to not paint all religious people with the same brush. Sound reasonable?
    Diniesh D’Souza, the Rishwain Research Scholar at Stanford University is the source for the figure of 100 million. Is that accurate? I don’t know, but several others seem to agree.
    John, I never put Hitler in my list in the first place, so I guess I don’t need to eliminate him.

  14. Spanish Inquisitor

    Waitaminute…let me get this straight. When an atheist who happens to be a communist tries to rid his realm of religion, that is the work of communism, not atheism. But, when a Roman Catholic (or a Protestant) kills to rid his realm of the other religions, that is the work of religion. Excuse me, but I think I see a teeny-weeny inconsistency and a heap of generalization here.

    No, I think you got it right. No inconsistency there whatsoever. It’s your desire to believe there is one that it affecting the equation, not the facts.

    First, he’s a communist that happens to be an atheist, not the other way around.

    Second, he doesn’t kill to rid his realm of other religions. The state kills to get rid of religion, not because he’s an atheist, but because he’s a statist, and the state is threatened by organized religion, because it is competition for the totalitarian nature of the communist state. The beliefs of the adherents are irrelevant.

    What drove the “Christian” (it sticks in my craw to call them that) murderers to do their deeds was, I think you will agree, a misguided fanatical belief that God would be pleased if they eradicated Jews, Muslims and others from their realms. They were driven by their worldview – perverted and ungodly as it was. So, now are going to tell me that those atheists who committed crimes against humanity were not driven by some fanatical variation of an atheistic worldview? Come on guys…that boat won’t float!

    Not only does it float, it sails the seven seas.

    Look, you admit that the Christian killed because it pleased his god. Definitely have a religious motivation for that particular bad deed. So where is the nexus between the atheist and his “god”? There must be a connection between the deed (murder) and the belief, or in this case, the lack of belief. People were not killed in Stalinist Russia because they refused to embrace atheism. They were killed because they threatened the hegemony of the state. It was communism that killed them, not atheism, if you need an “ism” to blame. The world view that drove Russian communism was not atheism, but Marxism and Bolshevism, which were primarily economic worldviews, not religious. Atheism was simply a tool of communism, not the end desire. Stalin actually reopened the churches in Russia during World War 2, because he thought it would help motivate the people and win the war. Clearly, the religion didn’t bother him, unless it threatened his position as dictator.

    If an individual kills another, and says he does it because it glorifies god, then he does it for religious reasons. But if he does it and also just happens to be an atheist, there is correlation, but not connection.

    Would you say an atheist bank robber, who killed a teller during a robbery, killed in the name of atheism? No. Atheism is incidental to the crime. Same thing with Stalin. I he was a Democrat, would you blame the Democratic party.

    You want to pin 3 million deaths (or 100 million, though frankly I wouldn’t trust Dinesh D’Souza for facts) on a regime that was atheistic, yes, but was much more. It was totalitarian, it was ruthless, it believed in collectivization, it was led by a paranoid who could not stand any possibility of free thought (something that is the hallmark of atheism). He was atheistic in name only. Atheism, as it is understood by all atheists, is something that a free mind comes to voluntarily, by thinking it out, and arriving at the conclusion that there is no evidence for the supernatural. Stalin’s atheism was imposed from on high, something that is antithetical to the term. It was not atheism, or at least it was not the theism that you probably oppose (me, for instance).

    Theists like to think that all those people died in the name of atheism, but as I said, that’s nothing but a brute assertion based on wishful thinking. A little thought, and a lack of evidence, demands a contrary conclusion. Theists would be better off understanding their enemy, and using arguments that make sense, and do not insult the intelligence. If it was me, I’d stick we building up the good things religion has done. Try to stay away from the bad things atheism has done, because it’s a non-starter.

  15. dwhitsett

    The argument hinges on whether atheism has anything to do with the actions of its adherents. If an atheist’s actions have nothing to do with any crime or misdemeanor, then it has nothing to do with being “good” or law abiding either. So what good is it? If it has no bearing on one’s actions, then it is a nonentity. Did this individual who killed another just happen to be an atheist or did his atheism influence his behavior? Was his atheism instrumental or incidental? Atheistic dictators have a terrible record when it comes to mass murder. Is there a connection between their godlessness and their deeds? If members of the Democratic Party had as terrible a record for murder as the atheist dictators, I would say there was a connection.
    Atheism can be imposed from “on high?” Stalin’s atheism was not atheism? Well, I guess that is one way for “true” atheists to achieve some distance from him and his deeds.
    “Brute assertion based on wishful thinking?” Do you think I wish or like to think these things? John! What do you take me for? Let’s have a little Christian charity here! Who’s insulting whose intelligence? You say, “If it was me, I’d stick to building up the good things religion has done.” Well, in my discussions so far, I hear only about the harm that religion has done and how we are all shallow and illogical. If atheists want me to stick to the good things, then they need to get off the offensive against people of faith. Throughout our discussions I have admitted that religious people have done terrible things. I have attributed such behavior to a desertion of the principles conveyed in the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles.
    Now, have atheists done even a little tiny thing wrong (or, right, for that matter) as a result of their godlessness? Let’s see how honest atheists are.

  16. Spanish Inquisitor

    The argument hinges on whether atheism has anything to do with the actions of its adherents. If an atheist’s actions have nothing to do with any crime or misdemeanor, then it has nothing to do with being “good” or law abiding either. So what good is it? If it has no bearing on one’s actions, then it is a nonentity.

    OK. That’s a different argument now. What I believe you are asking now is whether an atheist’s lack of belief changes his morality to the point where it is the reason for his brutality. Previously, you had stated that Stalin, for instance, committed genocide “in the name of atheism”, meaning he killed all those people because they refused to embrace atheism. He wanted everyone to disbelieve, like him.

    If his atheism made him do it, i.e. he sunk below otherwise low levels of depravity, then you might be able to make a case. But you need to prove it. Where’s the evidence? I say the evidence is not there, that in fact the evidence says the opposite, that atheism was simply a tool for shoring up his power struture, with him at the top as a sort of psuedo god. He had to get rid of organized religion in order to repleace it with his communist form of theocracy, deifying himself in the process.

    So, All I can say is, “Where’s the beef?” (with apologies to Wendy’s)

    BTW, I blogged on this issue in a little more detail. Feel free to check it out.

  17. Dinesh D’Souza is just a wingnut welfare recipient who cranks out loads of crap for a living, like blaming 9/11 on liberals, gays and atheists.

  18. dwhitsett

    I asked Tommykey to provide some references for his allegations and he sent me these two links. I’ll leave it to you to decide their validity.
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/10/enemies-within.html
    http://campusprogress.org/tools/118/know-your-right-wing-speakers-dinesh-dsouza

  19. phillychief

    “Does it ever bother you that, as non-scientists, we are deemed too ignorant to disagree with scientists?”

    Well when you form opinions on scientific theories by marveling at how humans are the only animals that speak, have cars and laptops and air conditioning and you consider this credible “observation and study” to conclude that humans must be a “special creation” then you really shouldn’t be upset that scientists or anyone for that matter consider you too ignorant to disagree with scientists.

  20. dwhitsett

    Thank you Mr. phillychief for your well thought-out response to my blog. You obviously are a man of great knowledge and insight. We theists need people like you to put us in our place. I bow to your superior intellect.

  21. phillychief

    Oh gee, I get it. Take delight in your simplicity and ignorance and shake your fist at intellectuals. Yeah, that’s a good life strategy. Good luck with that.

    Ignorance is not a valuation of intellect, but willful ignorance is a gross abuse and waste of an intellect.

  22. dwhitsett

    My response to your first comment was sarcastic. Sorry about that. Sarcasm has its place, I suppose, but it didn’t work in this case. See, I don’t think you really “get it” at all. Your response indicates one of two things:
    1. I failed to make myself clear in the original article. Or,
    2. Your response was not well thought out.
    It seems you have constructed my argument for me and proceeded to demolish it in your own imagination. I think you’ll need more luck with that strategy than I will with mine.

    Let’s revisit what I was trying to say in the article in question. It was not scientific facts I took issue with, but supposition. When it comes to supposition and speculation, I reckon one person’s is as good as another’s. Would you deny my right to speculate?
    The gap between humans and the rest of the animal world is vast. No one denies that. What accounts for that? No one really has a definitive, factual answer. My speculation is that man is a special creation of God. I take it you deny that. Fine. What is your speculation? I promise not to make fun of it.

    I assure you, if I am ignorant and simple, it is not willful, nor do I take delight in it. Furthermore, I am not sure where I shook my fist at any intellectual. If you consider yourself to be an intellectual, I apologize for the perceived fist-shaking.

  23. phillychief

    You started with an assertion that scientists “shift into philosophical musings” but never substantiated that claim. Then you proceeded from there to argue if they can wonder outside their realm like that, why can’t you. Then you went through (sorry if it sounds harsh) a rather childish series of “observations” about humans having air conditioning and laptops and felt that deserved to be treated with the same respect as scientific observations. That’s how it read to me.

    Now you’re saying it was about speculation, and that one’s speculation is as good as another’s. Well no, I’m sorry, there’s a big difference between weighing evidence and making hypotheses and seeing something as complicated and assuming a god did it. You try to present both as the same but they’re not. Not by a long shot.

    Here’s an example: We haven’t landed a probe on Triton but through scientific observations such as orbit, infa-red analysis, gravitational pull on other objects and a slew of other things they can speculate on what the moon is made of. A group of cheese aficionados from Wisconsin look at a photo of it and think it clearly must be composed of roquefort. Are both “speculations” just as valid?

    Hey, you can sit at home and speculate about the world being flat, moons being made of cheese and deities making stuff all you want. No one denies your right to do that. It’s the assertion of such thoughts as being on equal ground as plausible scientific hypotheses that will raise objections.

  24. The gap between humans and the rest of the animal world is vast. No one denies that.

    I do. We are different in kind to them, in characteristic, but why does that imply a gap? Your gap is in your mind, only. That gap is a mental construct only. To say there’s a gap is to make a totally subjective assumption.

    What accounts for that? No one really has a definitive, factual answer. My speculation is that man is a special creation of God. I take it you deny that. Fine. What is your speculation? I promise not to make fun of it.

    Why even speculate? Why not simply accept? If if you assume a gap, there’s a gap, so what? Define gap. Aren’t we being just a bit conceited in assuming there is even a gap? Perhaps chimps think they are superior to us, and wonder about the gap between us? I know my cat thinks he’s superior to me. 🙂

    There appears to be a wide gap between worms and, say, birds, too. Again, so what? It’s a subjective expression of our assumption that birds are superior to worms. Why? Probably because birds eat worms, and not the reverse. But does that make them inferior or superior? No, it just makes them. Period.

    Does any of that lead to the conclusion that there is a god? I don’t see it. You do, but you can’t say there is any logic behind it, because it’s purely your subjective opinion that you, as a human are special, and that there must be a reason for that. Put yourself in a lions den with no defenses, and let’s see how special you are.

  25. dwhitsett

    Well, I think this time you have me (almost) speechless. If I understand what you are saying, there are no higher or lower forms of life. I don’t think I have ever come across that argument before. Maybe your cat can explain it to me.
    I will agree that an earthworm is superior to me in regard to the ability to process soil (although, if you grew up in sandstorm country as I did, you have made a pretty good stab at it) but if we use intelligence as a measure the superiority of man seems self-evident. I think I have enough intelligence to not put myself “…in a lion’s den with no defenses.” Why would this be conceit? If you say you are a better mathematician than me, there’s no conceit involved if it is true. If it is true that man is superior to the other animals, then that is not an opinion it is an objective observation.

  26. Speechless! Cool. You’ll have to change the name of the blog to ” (Almost) Speechless Whitticisms”.

    I was thinking out loud there, and really, I’m not sure I was clearly writing what I was thinking.

    I’m not saying that there is no gradation in life from lower to higher forms. Clearly, as one who marvels at evolution, that’s almost self evident. In fact, evolution is based on the premise of just such a gradation.

    I think where I take umbrage is in the idea that there is a gap between one form of life, and the next. The concept of “gaps” seems to me to be a simple mental construct, something to help us understand, but in the process actually making it less understandable. I just don’t think it’s helpful to think about our differences in terms of the concept of gaps, just because we exhibit characteristics that we conceitedly feel are superior to the next surviving lower form. In many ways we may be superior, but only relatively so, as my lion’s den example illustrates. In one setting we are superior. In another, we’re not. Drop me in the middle of the ocean a thousand miles from shore, and I’d wish I was a fish.

    There is a gap between us and chimps, but it’s not helpful or useful to think that gap is significant. There is no gap between us and our immediate predecessor in evolution (which incidentally are not chimps), and there is no gap between our immediate predecessor and it’s immediate predecessor back through the chain of evolution, ad finitum. Evolution is a seamless process, that does not produce gaps. We may not have a total history of lifeforms based on samples of every change (this would be impossible) but we have enough evidence of the method of evolution to know it true, that it is seamless.

    It’s this misunderstanding of evolution, and the insistence that there are gaps, that gives rise to religious folks such as yourself feeling the urge to fill those gaps with God. Hence the term “God of the Gaps“. However, if you understand the seamless nature of evolution, as most evolutionary biologists, zoologists, and paleontologist do, then you realize there are no gaps for God to fill.

    The perceived Gap between Chimps and Humans is the same as the gap between one limb of a tree and the next one. The connection between the two is way down there on the truck of the tree, where they diverged, but by the time you get to the tip of each limb, there is no connection, and only superficial similarity, between them, because they grew separately from the point of divergence, in response to their own needs.

    Likewise, chimps and humans evolved from a common ancestor, that had some similarity to both of us, but that was neither chimp nor human, as we now know both. We then went our own ways, over some 6-7 (some are saying now 10) million years to become what we are now. Hence the perceived gap.

    I hope you’re not one of those Christians who believe man evolved from the present day apes, and who say dumb things like “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes”” and other such nonsense. It’s those kinds of things which give the false sense that Christians are just stupid hicks. If you know anyone like that, try to educate them.

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