Heresy Just In Time for Easter

A reasonably good friend of mine decided to claim that atheism is a copout on my part. This came about after I informed him that the reason we see instances of atheists apparently defending Islam is that they are trying to respond to anti-Muslim bigotry from Christians for the most part. This apparent defense of Islam is simply an example of pointing out to the Christians in question that there is a major case of the pot calling the kettle black as well as a great deal of misinformation and poor understanding where Islam is concerned. I go on to explain that the only reason we see more action against Christians here in America is because Muslims constitute a vastly smaller portion of the population than Christians, who make up the largest minority in the Western world. If Muslims were the majority here and were insisting on imposing their cultural choices on everyone else, we would see the inverse of what we see now.

My response is to ask how it is a copout to not believe in fairy tales? The individual in question doesn’t believe in 99.9999% of the Gods that people have believed in or still believe in…all of which had just as much veracity when claiming to be true and correct. There are “holy books” which support essentially every God that he doesn’t believe in with just as much historical accuracy and authenticity as the book that he does accept as being true. What makes the God that he believes in any more real than the Judaic God of the Old Testament or the God of Islam, the numerous manifestations of God in both Hinduism or Buddhism, or the multifaceted God of Baha’i…or even the Norse, Roman, Greek, Mayan, or Babylonian gods that he casually dismisses?

I think it is far more definitive as a copout to just accept something as true when there is literally no evidence to support it and ample evidence that goes against it. To shut off the brain and just accept something without critical thought is more of a copout than it ever will be to analyze something and apply scrutiny.

His response, of course, is to insist that I am guilty of another huge copout by claiming there is no evidence to support the Bible that he holds so dear.

He asks me about the Egyptian chariot wheels in the Red Sea exactly where the Bible said they should be. He touts the fact that they have found Sodom and Gomorrah exactly where the Bible indicated they would be, covered in the purest sulfur ever found. He argues that Noah’s ark was found in the 1970s, exactly where the Bible said it would be, though certain governments have been working to keep that a secret for some time. He goes on about how archeologists have used the Bible to find dig sites for a long time and that the Bible has managed to prove these archaeologists wrong from time to time where historical people and places are concerned.

I try to remind my friend that Sodom and Gomorrah having once been real cities is not evidence of Biblical accuracy. Those two cities, along with others that were not mentioned in the Bible, rested along a fault line located near the Dead Sea and could easily have been destroyed by seismic activity along the Jordan Rift Valley. Evidence of the partial (not complete) destruction of cities in that region has been potentially tied to activity along the fault line no different from earthquakes that plague California. I neglected to point out, because there would have been no point, that though there have been archaeological discoveries of settlements in the region, none of them has been verified as the basis of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. I also didn’t bother to point out that these stories were written at some point well after the devastation would have taken place, if in fact it did, and it’s nothing more than an example of taking an event from the past and applying a rationalization to what happened as a method of spinning it to fit the narrative of the writer. Similarly, someone centuries from now could write about some horrible, sinful event in Pripyat that led to God punishing them by unleashing a great poison upon the populace. From a point in the future, any past or present event could be suitably framed to reinforce any fictional narrative that we desire, especially when there is no written documentation of what actually did happen.

I tried to point out that he was dramatically overstating the claim that Noah’s ark had been found, considering that there have been dozens of finds in numerous locations that have been discovered to be hoaxes. There have been many searches in and around the Ararat mountain region, and nothing has yet been found. There have, however, been unsubstantiated claims by men who were trying to obtain fame and recognition, but there has been no evidence found of Noah’s ark aside from maybe a single plank of wood picked up a long time ago that the finder decided must be from the ark.

I pointed out that the claim that Egyptian chariot wheels were found in the Red Sea was a verifiably false story and that there were no Egyptian records that could be incontrovertibly tied to Moses, the plagues, or the exodus across the Red Sea.

I tried to explain to him that claiming the Bible could be used to determine actual historical and archaeological information is a no-brainer. Of course some of the places mentioned in the Bible existed in real life. A lot of places in Stephen King stories exist as well, though it hardly means that the narratives taking place in those locations are relevant or historically accurate. We have used myths from other cultures to dig up cities around the world. Would that fact make those myths as accurate and truthful as the Bible is?

I also felt that it would be prudent to suggest that he ignores the fact that Biblical scholars around the world concur on the fact that large segments of the Old Testament (from the creation myth to the flood and Noah) were adapted by the Jewish people from Sumerian/Babylonian myths that were not even monotheistic stories in the first place.

My friend suggests in response that I am guilty of casually dismissing what amounts to massive collections of evidence in his eyes, that the site of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah shows clear evidence of God’s footprint.

I had no choice but to ask him if he really thought that I hadn’t carefully paid attention to any of these major “finds” when they were reported? I have many areas of interest, and history is one of them…especially history of myth. I also felt it necessary to point out that what he calls God’s footprint is less dramatic of destruction than what happened in Pompeii, and that didn’t require God’s judgment.

Addendum

This conversation continued further after my posting the initial blog, I have added the following:

My friend replied to my last comment by telling me that what I claimed there is nothing close to what has actually been found. He suggested that I perform more in depth research and indicated that he would be able to share some things with me that I should watch or read.

I informed him that I have actually taken the time to do a lot of research on this subject, from childhood into adulthood, and that the things he insists are true are quite simply not supported by reality.

He went on to tell me that I don’t know anything about what was found in Ararat, that there is video of the chariot wheels in the Red Sea, and that there is an altar with Baal carvings and drawings on the opposite side of the Red Sea.

He mocked my claim, that I have done my homework, and stateed that I have not…while sharing a link to an article from December of 2013 from www.sunnyskyz.com regarding the claim from the 1950s that Noah’s ark had been discovered in eastern Turkey. He went on to say that he could continue on like this for days but believed that it would be more beneficial for me to do my own digging.

I replied that the “find” in Turkey that he is sharing happens to be one of the unsubstantiated finds that I was talking about previously. I explained that it had been disproven almost immediately, as soon as geologists were brought on site to examine it.

I assured him that I have already done my homework. I even took the time to explain to him that evidence to the contrary of the outlandish, albeit scientific sounding claims repeated in the Sunny Skyz article has been readily available from a number of independent sources for a long time now. I went through the trouble of laying out some of these refutations to the story he shared, letting him know that no pitch was actually found at the site (contrary to claims made by those who wanted to spread the story), the “regular structure” which was claimed to be found with metal detectors was nothing more than a random distribution just like one would find pretty much anywhere, that the shape (though it, like many other natural objects, may appear man-made upon cursory inspection) is nothing more than hardened mud and occasional boulders, and that only a couple of traces of petrified wood were found (substantially less than one would find here in the Black Hills).

I also assured him that the site where the story of chariot wheels in the Red Sea first appeared was a satire site, not a real news site, pointing out that they make a clear statement that the stories contained there are satire.

I expressed my sincere apology for poking holes in his beliefs, and stated that he is the one who needs to do homework and research on these topics. I suggested that he reads a story like this and accepts it as true without looking into it at all because it fits his worldview.

I know how strong his faith is and how much he wants to believe these things when he reads them…but he needs to take some time to actually study the sources a bit and look at what is being said and by whom.

I love him, and he is my friend, and I told him that he needs to stop doubting that I have done a lot of research on these things and others. I read almost as much non-fiction as fiction…and I read a lot. I watch a lot of documentaries along with the movies and television shows that I watch as well. I don’t have a life…so that is what I do for fun.

My friend replied by stating that there was no doubt that the find in Turkey was Noah’s ark. He accused me of not reading the whole story, that they found a lot more than a piece of wood. He further stated that my claim that geologists had studied it was false because it took the initial crew 15 years to gain access, that the government of Turkey had shut out anyone else who wanted to come in, and that after naming it Noah’s Ark State Park they almost immediately shut it down and guarded it at gunpoint.

As a brief aside, none of that is true, regarding the site being shut down and guarded at gunpoint. People have been able to investigate the site plenty of times.

He tells me that I still don’t know the whole story but claim to have done my homework. He talks about how they pulled aluminum rivets out of there as well as animal dung and proved it was a ship’s hull using ground penetrating radar.

All of which have either been proven to be total fabrications or have been explained without difficulty.

I told my friend that the story goes back a lot further than just that article posted in December of 2013, and that most of what he’s staking his belief on has been fabricated or exaggerated.

My friend went on to state that the initial person claiming to have found the Egyptian chariot wheels was Ron Wyatt, that he has actual footage from the late 80s of the find. He admits that they called him crazy, but claimed that they went back to the site in 2011 and found more than a few chariot wheels. According to my friend, they found human remains and animal remains, that this is a fact.

I assured my friend that I did indeed read the article he shared, telling him that it makes up all sorts of things considering that the initial investigation found no evidence of any kind pointing toward Noah or any sort of ark.

I felt it necessary to explain to my friend that Ron Wyatt was also involved in the surge of those pushing the belief that the Noah’s ark site was valid as well. It was necessary to point out that essentially everyone, including Biblical scholars, scientists, and archaeologists have dismissed Wyatt’s claims. I told my friend that Wyatt hasn’t ever been a credible source of information, that the guy was a crackpot and a fraud with no expertise of any kind.

I informed my friend that the story about going back to the site and finding remains and chariots was written as satire, that it didn’t happen, and that Wyatt’s original claims were bogus. I even went so far as to share the article from World News Daily Report (a satire site).

I went on to say that I clearly know more about Wyatt’s history as a well-known fraud…that his name is only popular or touted where pseudoarchaeology is concerned, within pseudoscience circles. This was a man who also claimed to have discovered Christ’s cross, his blood, the Tower of Babel, and who knows how many other things…a man with no geological, archaeological, or historical expertise wanders around and makes ludicrous claims, all of which were disproven, and my friend was using this man as a source of information.

My friend’s response was to say that I was wrong and that these were documented facts. He went on to say that this keeps me a clueless consumer, which is what they want.

I haven’t the foggiest notion who “they” are.

He hints at other archaeological facts that are out there in support of the Bible, but that none of which have been released or made into news stories. He suggested that I keep believing the lies and that I’m a great straightforward consumer, to, “keep the blinders on for a little while longer,” because they almost have me locked in.

My first question was to ask how he found out about these things if they haven’t been made into news stories. I admit that I openly mocked that the sites he uses for information aren’t somehow magically privy to information that the rest of the world lacks. I also pointed out that a lot of people knew who Wyatt was before he died, that he didn’t keep any of his “findings” secret and, in fact, spouted off his completely incorrect nonsense to every corner of the world.

What I wanted to ask was whether my friend is aware of what the term delusions of grandeur is indicative of…because, to believe that he somehow sees truth and facts that the rest of the world is somehow ignorant of kind of falls into that category, at least without him being an expert in one or another of the fields in question (which he is not).

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What Is Evil?

My mother asked me to do her a favor on behalf of one of her students by answering some questions regarding the topic of “Evil.”
The assignment was to define and explore an abstract concept, and evil was the subject that the student was assigned or chose for himself. I was more than happy to offer my assistance, but I found that the discussion merited more detail than was possible within the confines of the brief questionnaire.
This seems like a suitable place for me to discuss the subject.
The questionnaire begins with a quote from Joseph Conrad, “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” That is a sentiment with which I wholly agree. I would add one caveat; that the belief in a supernatural origin of either good or evil most certainly does provide adequate impetus to perpetrate even greater wickedness than we, as humans, might otherwise muster. We regularly and repeatedly utilize those supernatural forces as justification for the actions we intend to take or rationalization for those we already have. Rest assured, there is no supernatural origin for those evils that we commit, even when on behalf of a supernatural being, it’s all us.
I am next asked what thing or things I consider evil and I find that far more difficult to answer. There are numerous things that I think of as being evil, but that is little more than my own opinion and I recognize that I suffer from numerous cultural and personal biases. I think that that hate crimes and bigotry are evil, I think that willfully taking advantage of others and needlessly hurting others is evil as well. By all rights, I consider most of the same things to be evil that others would, such as rape, child abuse, and murder; but there are numerous things that I most assuredly do not find evil, homosexuality, drug and alcohol use (with some degree of moderation), and belief in science and a scientific understanding of the universe around us.
Aristotle said, “Evil draws men together.” That is absolutely accurate. External evils are frequently required to bring disparate groups of people together (at least until that evil is neutralized), a remnant of in-group/out-group aspects of our primitive, tribal origins rooted in kin selection. Fear and conflict can make for some strange bedfellows.
The questionnaire includes one of my favorite sentiments expressed by Nietzsche, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” I am asked if it is true that one can become the very evil that they fight to rid the world of, and I think that it happens all the time. Regimes are toppled in order to install new regimes of equal or greater toxicity. Revolutions are fought against kingdoms and empires only to build new ones that are no better than what came before. There is a passage in Revelations which asks a question that is quite similar to what the syphilitic said, “Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” It was recognized then that an equal or greater beast could be needed in order to combat the one that was being worshipped by the imaginary lost souls of John’s revelation.
I am asked if there are any people that I consider evil and there are. The question is unfair though, because there are always going to be people that I or anyone else would consider evil, but that doesn’t make them evil in an objective sense. It is easy to look back on men like Hitler and Stalin and write them off as being evil, but they probably weren’t born that way and they most certainly didn’t consider themselves to be evil nor did a number of the people who willingly and joyously followed them in their endeavours. There are people today that I think are evil, all around the world; and there are those like Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson as well as countless other ignorant and hate mongering folks right here in America…no need to look far afield.
Mae West apparently once stated, “Between two evils, I always pick the one I’ve never tried before.” As entertaining as that answer might be, I can’t go along with it. In circumstances like that I always go with the evil I feel I best understand, the lesser of two evils isn’t always the least destructive but is often the one that I feel would be easiest to subdue. I prefer the least damaging of two evils, but that isn’t always a known quantity, so I am forced to opt for the one I comprehend with greater clarity. It’s hardly optimum, but life rarely coincides with our level of comfort.
I do not consider some imaginary devil to be the root or source of evil, nor do I feel that money or commerce are the root of modern evils. To discover the root of evil one needs look no further than their own preconceptions and instances of willful ignorance. Substituting our own subjective version of reality for what is real, insisting that others believe what we believe (or live in such a way that it would be impossible to discern any disparity in those respective beliefs), and pigheadedly refusing to modify our beliefs and biases when there is ample cause to do so…those are the evils that propagate in our world today and always have.
In life we are all forced to make unsteady compromises with evil; to speak or act in ways that are damaging to our integrity and to work with people or organizations that are guilty of numerous things that we consider to be evil. There is no avoiding those compromises, no matter how steadfast and pure we might try to be.
I am asked if I laugh at the inconveniences or misfortunes of others in response to a quote from Will Rogers, “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else.” Of course I do, we all do. Our culture, especially here in America, is dedicated to guilty pleasures. We make celebrities of people we know, deep down, are inferior to us for the sake of feeling superior to someone. We watch the mighty stumble and fall and we smile because we see that our icons are as prone to mistakes and failure as we are. I try to avoid those aspects of our society, but I am a product of my culture as well. I don’t derive much real pleasure from the pain of others though, unless I am the one inflicting that pain upon them…a sort of righteous indignation fueled vindictiveness seethes below the surface within me just like everyone else.
I am asked if I consider myself evil, and of course I don’t. No one actually considers themselves to be evil, even when they are acting in a way that would be categorically defined as evil by the whole population. This isn’t The Lord of the Rings and there are no definitively good or evil people out there. What I do at times might be considered evil by another, but might (to me) be done with the greater good in mind…at least for myself and/or those I love and care for. We lie to avoid hurting the feelings of others or to avoid uncomfortable conflicts, we become physically aggressive to defend others, and we do so many other things on a regular basis that we ourselves consider to be evil when we see them done by others. We are, all of us, evil…if we define being evil by doing evil things. But I don’t believe that evil actions make a good person evil…they simply make them human, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.