atheism – Page 4 – The Wayward Willis Podcast

A More Perfect Solution

Comments on a recent blog post of mine prompted me to do a thought experiment. Seeing as how the Bible has been fragmented, pieced together, translated, interpreted and altered is there a better way than the written word for god to have disseminated what could be considered the most important information in the history of the world? I think so.

I’m running with the standard model of the Biblical god for this example meaning he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipresent. He is perfect and unconstrained by time and space. Consider this:

When a child reaches the age of 12 he or she is considered by god to have the capacity to understand the concept of his existence and Jesus’ sacrifice for their eternal salvation. On each child’s 12th birthday, god visits them in a vision. During this vision, the child is locked in a trance state where no stimuli other than god can be experienced. In the vision, god reveals to each child that he’s their Heavenly father, he created them because he loves them, and that they have the choice to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation. He reveals this in their native tongue without using parables or vague language. When the vision ends, the child is released from the trance state feeling refreshed.

At this point, the child has the choice to use his or her free will to either accept the vision as truth or reject the vision as a delusion. They have the choice to accept the gift of salvation or reject it as nonsense.

Here’s the rub: the vision is the same no matter the culture, language, or dialect of the child. A child in India can compare their vision to that of a child in Zimbabwe, Chile or Canada and the description will be identical. Some will accept this for the miracle that it is and rejoice. Others will consider it coincidence or mass hysteria and dismiss it out of hand. Others may take years to decide what they think but no matter what the message was clear, concise, and cannot be misinterpreted.

Would that not be (at the very least) a better solution than a vague book full of magical stories and parables? It certainly beats the telephone game of the oral tradition.

Here’s the question: what problems do you see with this approach?

I’ll Have the Garden Salad with Damnation Dressing

The Christian story of the “fall of man” is a tale of magnificent power, poor decision-making skills, cunning linguists, and problems…lots and lots of problems. I’ll give you the ones that immediately spring to mind. This takes into account the literature from the Bible in Genesis 1:26-31, Genesis 2, and Genesis 3:1-19.

Problem #1: Ignorance
God creates human beings with free will – although he never gave us a choice as to whether or not we wanted free will or even to be created at all. As Christopher Hitchens says, “Of course we have free will; we have no choice!” What god does not create humans with is the knowledge of good and evil – that is to say, they had no sense of right and wrong and no way to tell if disobedience was a sin – or even what “disobedience” or “sin” were. I doubt their vocabulary included such complex words. They were completely innocent.

Problem #2: Temptation
God creates the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” (sounds like a metaphor, right?) right smack dab in the middle of the ignorant human beings’ living space. This tree produces delicious-looking, aromatic fruit (not apples though, they’re more like “knowledgeberries”) so – of course – god tells the humans not to touch it. In fact, it would probably be best if they didn’t even look at it. Perhaps just forget it’s even there…even though it’s in your living room. Oh, and it’ll kill you.

Problem #3: Clarity
God instructs the humans not to eat the fruit and tells them that the day they eat the fruit they’ll die, right then and there. He didn’t give them a definition of “die” and from everything I’ve heard, the humans at this point had no experience whatsoever with death because everything was perfect in the Garden and nobody ate meat…not even the meat-eating predators. One could argue that telling someone who has never seen or heard of death that they’re going to die doesn’t really have the impact that you’d expect. Anyway (SPOILER ALERT), the point is we’ll see later that god bent the truth on this one because the humans didn’t die the same day they ate the fruit and, in fact, lived on to bear many children.

Problem #4: Outside Influence
God creates a talking, ambiguous serpent and sets it loose in the Garden, fully aware that the paths of the humans and this serpent would cross and that the serpent was a tricky little guy who derived pleasure from messing with people’s heads (or at least, it would seem). Now, one could argue that setting up a scenario like this is a test. I would argue that this scenario is nothing short of a masterful chef’s no-bake recipe for disaster. Either way, it displays a woeful lack of foresight on god’s part.

The talking serpent convinces the woman (oh, of course it’s the woman because they’re weaker than men, right?) to just have a taste of the knowledgeberries because she’s most likely misinterpreting what god is saying and should actually be listening to what his words mean. Now, I don’t know how things worked in the Garden but if I were confronted with an eloquently-spoken Gecko accosting me with persuasive arguments, I’d be inclined to buy his insurance.

Problem #5: Nonintervention
Anyway, the woman exercises her (coerced) free will by eating the fruit and convinces the man that he also misinterpreted what god meant so he eats it as well. God is chilling somewhere else at this point. Maybe he was in the shower or something. Of course when god gets back and finds out (didn’t he already know?) he damns them and all of their descendants for all time. That includes you, bub.

Conclusion
What have we learned from this story? It’s best not to make decisions on an empty stomach, right? No. We’ve learned that god is a sadist who intentionally created humans ignorant so that he could have the pleasure of damning them forever after laughing at their decision to save 30% or more on car insurance (they didn’t even own a car!).

Now, the creation myth is said to be allegorical by some and literal by others but no matter how you slice it, it’s got problems from a moral standpoint.

For one, god gives humans free will but keeps them completely ignorant of right and wrong and therefore the consequences of their actions. That’s pretty bad. To make things worse, he puts the innocent-looking device that will cause their destruction within their arms’ reach. That’s horrible. Let’s not stop there though, because we haven’t yet introduced the cunning serpent who gets created with the powers of speech and convinces the humans (who don’t know right from wrong) that it’s OK to set the doomsday device off. That’s detestable! But wait, there’s more! Next we’re going to damn the humans for making a choice that was a product of their god-given free will combined with their god-induced ignorance. That’s disgusting! Don’t stop there, though. While we’re damning people we may as well extend the punishment out for eternity, applicable to every descendant of the humans without exception. That’s just pure, unfettered evil.

I Have No Soul

I have several problems with the concept of a soul (or spirit, or whatever you may choose to call it). Aside from the argument for lack of evidence, there are issues facing a person who claims that humans have souls that are created by God and that outlive the body on a separate, spiritual plane of existence. I’ll outline these issues as follows:

IF I HAVE A SOUL, WHY DO I NEED A BODY?

This first question stems from the idea that God creates human souls (I’m not sure when) and implants them or attaches them to the fertilized egg at conception so that the bundle of cells becomes a viable human. Never mind that 25% of these “viable humans” will be naturally aborted or miscarried without intervention from humans. What I don’t get is this: God’s ultimate plan for everybody is that their souls reside in Heaven with Him eternally and that we are all happy, healthy, and free of sin. So…why do I need a body? If my soul would be happy in Heaven then why can we not forego all of the formality, suffering, and nonsense and just get right to the end goal? If God cares nothing at all for my body and only wants my soul, then He should have just created my soul in Heaven directly. It’s reasonable, it’s simple, it’s loving, and it accomplishes the goal with zero room for error.

WHERE WAS MY SOUL BEFORE I WAS BORN?

Since we’re assuming that God creates souls, but don’t know when He does it, we might assume that He created my soul a long time ago and was waiting for my parents to find each other and conceive the body into which He would ultimately place my soul. This begs the question(s): how long was my soul around before it was joined to my body, and where was it? If my soul was in heaven with God waiting to be transplanted, then I find it particularly disturbing and despicable that He wouldn’t have just left me there. After all, Heaven is where He wants me to end up, isn’t it?

If my soul was not in Heaven with God, then where was it? What other existential plane is there on which my soul may have sat in wait for a body? The flip side to this question relies on the idea that souls don’t exist prior to being joined with a body and that God creates them at the point of conception (kind of a chicken-and-egg argument, in my opinion). This brings us to my next question.

WHEN DOES GOD CREATE SOULS?

If, statistically, 25% of all pregnancies end in natural abortion or miscarriage then we have to question when, exactly, God is creating these souls. Is there a period of time during which the bundle of cells is under observation and in a probationary period before God deems them worthy of being joined to a soul? If not, and God joins the soul immediately at the time of conception, then why does He deem some souls lucky enough not to have to undergo the suffering of mortality and get a “Go Straight to heaven” card? Is He showing favoritism, or is He just shooting dice with these souls and they happen to hit the jackpot? If these souls were destined to end up in Heaven without having to struggle through life, then why did He bother with their conception (obviously wasted energy and resources for nothing) and bonding of their souls at all? He would have already known where they were going, because they never got to exercise their free will (a central tenet of religions which I find incredibly contradictory).

WHY IS GOD STILL CREATING SOULS?

God presumably knew prior to creating the first human soul that He would have to mourn their poor decisions, deal with sin, and eventually sacrifice His son for their forgiveness. The question then arises: why did God – angry at Adam and Eve for sinning – command them to go out and make more sinners?! To whom does that make any sense at all? Not to me. So perhaps my biggest question is why God is even creating souls at all. If I were in charge, I would have just let the two sinners die, send their souls wherever they needed to go, and call it good enough – an experiment that turned out poorly and from which I can learn a valuable lesson.

WHY DOES MY SOUL NOT DEFINE ME?

If we have non-corporeal souls that outlive us, then whatever defines who we are should be contained in that soul. That is to say, our personality, our compassion, our jealousy and anger and greed should not simply be a product of chemical reactions in our physical brains, but should transcend our bodies on the spiritual plane. If we have these souls, then they would not be affected by drugs, social pressures, local culture, or trauma. Regardless of what was happening to our bodies, we should always be exactly what our soul defines us to be. We know this isn’t the case. Brain trauma sometimes causes an irreversible shift in a person’s personality to the point where – behaviorally – they would be unrecognizable even to their own family. Drugs cause personality shifts and behavioral changes where people will do things and say things they would otherwise never do or say. It can be argued that moving to a different geographical location or immersing oneself in a different culture causes fundamental shifts in behavior and personality as well. We tend to change ourselves to suit our surroundings if we are unable to change our surroundings to suit ourselves.

How could this happen if we have an immortal soul? I don’t think it could, and I have yet to come across an argument convincing me that this question isn’t valid.

IF I HAVE A SOUL, WHY DO I NEED A BRAIN?

Even if my soul doesn’t define my personality, then it is said that it is what gives me life. Religious people often claim that our brains are so complex and amazing, it couldn’t possibly be reduced simply to electrical impulses and chemical reactions – an argument from incredulity. But why, if I have an immortal soul that gives me life, do I need a brain? Why doesn’t my soul do that work? Why isn’t my soul more actively and apparently involved in my living process? This may be the weakest of my problems with the soul concept, but it’s still a problem.

IF ANIMALS HAVE NO SOULS, HOW DO THEY LIVE?

It is commonly accepted and stated as fact in religious circles that only humans bear a soul. Animals don’t have souls and they don’t go to Heaven or Hell. It seems odd then that animals have identical living processes to humans – that is, brains, hearts, digestive systems, etc. Why do we look the same as animals on the inside if we’re so much different? Why are we made up of exactly the same material? This makes absolutely no sense. If humans have souls, then animals must also have souls because we can find no fundamental difference between animals and humans (who, as we all know, are still animals). I find it frustrating to think that any religious person could hold to this idea and even go so far as to construct some type of elaborate defense of this position that defies all logic and reason.

I HAVE NO SOUL.

Given that these questions are never answered, I have to operate under the assumption that I have no immortal soul. As such, I am not in any terrible danger of ending up in Hell and I have no reason to make myself subservient to an oppressive deity on the off-chance I might make it to Heaven. Instead, I’ll act as though this life is the only one I get; that I should be kind to my fellow humans in the hopes that it will propagate to all and we’ll live in peace; that my happiness here on Earth is my ultimate goal, so long as I don’t harm others in my attempts to attain it; that I should not waste a single moment of my life bowing and scraping to an invisible person who doesn’t care about my mortal existence anyway. I’ll just be the best human I can be. Is that so bad?