(This is the 9th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)
After last week’s monster of a post, you’ll be glad to hear that this week’s will be shorter than usual. But first, a couple of semi-related things I’d meant to refer to in earlier posts but missed.
In the last post, I briefly discussed (due to the subject of “speaking in tongues,” or glossolalia), the concept of left and right brain hemispheres, and how one controls language and the other is the emotional center. Sometimes the emotion, to convey it to others or even to express it for one’s self, the language centers of one half of the brain need to be bypassed in order to “speak” directly to the emotional regions of the right-brain.
Well, here are a couple of absolutely fascinating videos which address this dual-brain dichotomy.
I Can Smell Your Spicy Brains!
The first is an excerpt from a show about the brain, and features Alan Alda interviewing a doctor and a patient who has had the connection allowing the two brains to communcate, severed. The results are fantastic:
There used to be a model of “understanding” the human, the personality, called dualism, that was the accepted and simply assumed model since Plato at least. Philosopher René Descartes did a lot of work on the subject, so we’ll often hear it refered to as “Cartesian dualism.” It’s basically this: The brain and the mind are two separate and distinct entities. The mind is a result of the spirit, or animae, and operates with the influence of, but apart from the physical brain. Of course, this belief, utterly philosophical (and religious) and not based on any hard evidence, makes sense to those who believe in the soul, spirits, ghosts, etc.
The problem is, we know without a doubt that everything about the person, behavior, personality, wants and desires, fears and memory, are all derived from the physicality of the brain. We know this because the brain can be manipulated, whether from internal damage (disease, stroke, etc.), by injury, and by experimentation (surgery, drugs, focused magnetic resonance), and any changes can create marked and stark changes in the “person.”
Case after case of people suffering brain trauma show people going from very kind and nice to mean and cruel, and the reverse. People with Alzheimer’s, in which the brain is literally being disintegrated, suffer extensive and constant personality changes. Neurologists have done studies where parts of the brain will be temporarily “turned off,” resulting in subjects who no longer recognize they are within their own body! They perceive their own body as someone else following behind them! People whose brains are changed, become completely different people. Even our senses can be tricked to fool our brain into short-circuiting the body awareness. People who’ve had changes to the only organ we have to perceive our world and tell us what is “real,” experience different and altered realities.
So naturally, this raises the question: If all of our personality, everything we are, exists in the physical brain — what happens to “us” when we die?
Something to think about, eh?
Is God Good? Or Is Goodness Godly?
The next miscellaneous topic involves the question of morality and God. Is what is “good” and “evil” that way because they are objectively so? Or because God arbitrarily decrees them to be?
See this page for an excellent explanation of this ancient question and how either way it’s answered, is not good news for believers in Yahweh: Euthyphro Dilemma.
If there is an objective right and wrong, good and evil, that exists outside of what God says — then God is unnecessary as we can determine that good and evil ourselves. In fact, we constantly do when we read something in the Bible, like Yahweh’s command to slaughter all people, children included, in a town, tear open mothers’ wombs with sword, but keep all the virgin girls for themselves — and we declare that as cruel and terrible. On the flip side:
“The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good.” – Bertrand Russell
Why And How Should I Tell Others
OK, on to Nicky for this week.
We walked in on the video already on progress and missed the few couple of minutes. I don’t think we missed much, though. Nicky was in the middle of a story about William Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish slavery in the U.K. I think it was his point that individuals can make big differences. Yeah, that’s sometimes true. Especially if the individual happens to be a major public figure or has access to Parliament.
But then he then went on to talk about Nelson Mandela, and his belief that it’s not kings who change the course of history, but the masses. Indeed, that’s true! For example, the entire rise of modern capitalism is attributable to the French Revolution, not any important individuals in it. The Scottish Rebellion, not particular individuals, changed the course of feudalism. As Bertolt Brecht wrote:
“Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?”
— from Bertolt Brecht’s “Questions from a Worker Who Reads”
It is indeed the masses who build, who create, who change, and develop our world.
But the point Nicky is leading to, is it’s the masses who were tasked to spread the word of God. Evidently, this understandable and perceptive belief that masses affect change is the key to rationalizing why God would put the responsibility of telling the world of his plan to damn everyone to eternal torment, because he so loves the world, unless you believe in the resurrection of himself/his son, onto the shoulders of humans traveling on foot and camel and horse. The most important information of all the world, and all eternity, in fact, affecting the entire world and vital to each individual at the cost of their eternal soul, and it’s revealed to/by one man in the desert, preaching to other people, who are then tasked to spread it on their own.
A concept that utterly absurd and ridiculous must be rationalized. So naturally, the apologist has to grasp for a reason, and Nicky decides masses of people overthrowing apartheid, or abolishing slavery, is the same as passing on the news that everyone in the world in all corners and the farthest reaches, are damned by a loving God unless you follow some rules he gave to a handful of men in a superstitious time. I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, but I think an all-wise, all-knowing all-creator could think of a better method than a giant game of “Telephone” to tell people “Do this or burn for eternity.”
Nicky states that “Christianity is not a blind leap of faith — it’s a reasoned step of faith.” Once again, we see Nicky has a very weird concept of what words mean. Here’s a book filled with events that can be proven didn’t happen, and some that at best can’t be corroborated by any evidence outside of the book, and events that violate everything we know about how the world and reality works, written in a time and place overwhelmingly superstitious and myth-filled — and we’re told we must believe this despite the fact it’s illogical, unethical, and unreasonable, and similar in these ways to thousands of other mutually exclusive religions on the planet, all of which are predominantly believed in by people who were raised to believe it simply because of the luck of where and when they’re born…. And I’m to accept that doing so is a “reasoned” step of faith and not a leap?! Funny, I have a feeling that the Muslim Imam and the Hindu Maharaj and the Shinto Kannushi and the Buddhist Monk and the Scientologist Tom Cruise and the Hari Krishna cultist and any of the thousands of religious leaders in the world would say the exact. Same. Thing. And each has their own revealed religious books and scrolls and whatnot to present as “evidence” that they’re right.
At some point Nicky said, “It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know. . . I don’t know — I’ll go away and find out.”
Whoa. Pick my jaw up off the floor! That is the most (nearly the only) reasonable, logical, rational thing Nicky has said the entire video series! Indeed, if you don’t know an answer to a question, the only intellectually honest response is, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
But unfortunately, Nicky is pretty much only saying that in order to appear that faith is a reasoned step. Because I have yet to see an apologist in any debate ever say, “I don’t know.” They all seem to claim to know the answer to any question, and will try to claim the answer is in the Bible. Just like the pastor last post did, she never said “I don’t know.” She tried various empty apologetic answers and ended up with some non sequitur of a story. Religious leaders actually hate to say “I don’t know.”
On the other hand, the very basis of scientific inquiry, of skepticism, is “I don’t know — let’s find out!” Ask a scientist how life began on earth, they will all say, “I don’t know. We have some hypotheses, but we don’t know. We may never know.” Ask any religious apologist, and they’ll tell you exactly how life began, and have the scripture to prove it. Why did the universe begin? Pre-Big Bang? The intellectually honest scientist says “I don’t know. We have some theories, but we may never know for sure.” The apologist, will not only tell you with certainty, but will tell you the mind of God and the purpose for it! Ask a scientist what the meaning of life is, and nearly all will say something like, “Don’t know. There probably isn’t any meaning beyond the meaning we make for ourselves.” The apologist knows exactly why we’re here, will tell you why you’re here, and what God wants and desires. And yet, scientists and skeptics get pegged as the arrogant ones.
Not just apologists, but most believers will do the same things. Especially the more fundamental, evangelical. But in this group of liberal Methodists in small group, saying “I don’t know” is perfectly alright! And I love them for that. Even the one guy in group who is the most boisterous and full of stories, he has no problem saying “I don’t know.” And because of that, I have a great deal of respect for these people.
I’m afraid, though, that it might be amplified — this ability to admit “I don’t know” — given the environment of inquiry we’re in, with this Alpha Course. But, probably not. I think each of these people are sincere and forthright enough to admit they don’t know. Well, except the one lady who see humans as clay to be molded and broken by dictator-god’s whim. Her answer is simply God knows and it’s not even our place to question. Sheesh, these darn silly inquisitive brains we have! How dare we have the audacity to use them to question and explore and discover and wonder “what” and “why”!
Nicky made some claim that evangelist Billy Graham has spoken to half the world’s population. What?! There’s nearly 7 billion people on the planet. I can’t believe that even since 1950 his total audience has been 3 billion people, much less 3 billion currently living people. Heck, there’s only 2.1 billion Christians in the world! And most of those are people in third-world countries who don’t exactly get out to the stadiums and watch TV all that much.
But here’s the coup de grâce of the night, in marked, ironic contrast to his claim that Christianity is a reasoned step, he said: “You can argue about contradictions and evidence and suffering — but you can’t argue with your story!” Translation: screw evidence and logic and reason, personal anecdotes trumps all!
Really, Nicky. Really? Let’s examine this claim, that the ultimate proof of religion is the personal story. Remember what I just said about 2.1 Christians? That means there’s at least 4.6 billion people who aren’t, and each of them has their own personal story for why they’re Hindu or Ba’hai or Janist or Muslim or Buddhist or Zoroastrian or Wiccan or etc etc.
Think about it this way: Someone comes up to you, they same perfectly nice and reasonable. They tell you this story, a very personal story about how their child was ill, seriously ill. And doctors couldn’t do anything. But the family prayed and prayed, and miraculously the child got better and is now healthy! That’d be a pretty impressive personal story, no? Now what if that person then tells you they’re a Hindu and the god they prayed to was Ganesha? Would you find their story particularly convincing then? No? But they believe it. They’re very sincere, very honest… very certain. Why is this story not enough evidence for you to believe in the power of Ganesha? There are 4 or 5 billion people with similar personal, intimate, powerful, sincere stories of how Allah, Vishnu, Ganesha, spirits, ancestors, the Goddess, crystals, etc. etc. ad nauseum changed and touched their lives. Why are their stories not compelling to you?
Why would you expect your story of how Yahweh or Jesus affected your life be any more compelling than any of the other billions’ of sincere, good, loving peoples’ stories?
If someone’s personal story, of a different faith or god or religion, is not enough to convince you, then you obviously accept that for a person to believe something is true, evidence needs to be objective and not personal. Otherwise, why don’t you believe every magic trick ever done by an illusionist is real magic? You saw it with your own eyes! Why don’t you believe every optical illusion you see as a real violation of the laws of physics? Your own senses told you it’s real. Aren’t your own senses, your own experiences enough to be convincing evidence?
If it’s not adequate evidence to convince someone a playing card was torn and magically repaired itself, how can it possibly be good enough evidence than a man/god came to earth, raised the dead, cast out demons, was himself raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven — all as some plan to save humanity from the fiery wrath of a disembodied mind who loves you enough to extort you into loving him? As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” And someone’s personal experience is actually the least reliable evidence there is. Otherwise, magicians would be out of a job, insane asylums would be empty, cops would never need to ask more than one person “What’d you see happen?”, and every religion would be accepted as real, no matter how mutually exclusive they are.
Well, I guess that’s pretty much it. As for my small group notes, all I have is something about how we’re supposed to assume that when God said to Adam and Eve, if you eat the fruit, “surely you will die,” he meant “one day,” and not immediately. When there’s nothing anywhere else in the Bible, at all, that Adam and Eve were supposed to be immortal when they were created.
And I also have a note about how someone in group expressed how one of the reasons, ways, that they were led to Jesus, was because someone actually stopped to listen to their concerns. No doubt, that act is a very powerful act — listening with sincere interest in someone’s concerns! I wonder, what if that person who had stopped and listened hadn’t been a Christian evangelist, but had been a Moonie? Or a Hari Krishna? Or a Buddhist? Or…an atheist? Would that have been the trigger to get him to become of one those (non)believers?