Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sathya Sai Baba

Sam Harris has referred to an Indian mystic by the name of Sathya Sai Baba on more than one occasion. Sathya recently died on April 24th, 2011, about five years short of his predicted death of ninety and on Easter Sunday of all days. Sai Baba had legions of followers and was known for his miracle working powers. He purportedly performed all of the miracles that Christ did and then some. Yes, he has even resurrected people from the dead. Sai Baba wasn’t trying to convert people to Hinduism or anything; He encouraged people to continue with their own religious faith that they were brought up with and find their own pathway to heaven. It was more of an “all roads lead to heaven” sort of accomodationalism.

Sai Baba is an interesting figure for many reasons, but I’m just going to focus on one point as Harris has aptly stated on many occasions. These millions of people actually believed that this guy was performing miracles in an age of scientific enlightenment and advancement. People came in droves from around the world to see this guy and to get healed. Upon his death, devoted followers were having heart attacks and others were in complete shock because, like so many other gods, their god died. If there was a Jesus, which is actually a disputed point among scholars, would it really be that much of a stretch to believe that he was deceiving followers as well? This was a time when there was no such thing as empirical research or video recording. The people who were said to be his most devoted followers were the uneducated and illiterate underbelly of society. On a slight aside, the god of the N.T. isn’t even the same god as the O.T.! Things aren’t even consistent. The god of the N.T. was comingling with sinners while the O.T. god was saying “kill those motherfuckers!” Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Sai Baba, not entirely unlike Benny Hinn, has managed to deceive more people than even existed in the ANE at the time of Jesus’ supposed sojourn. As far as I know, Hinn is still doing his “miracle” crusades around the globe despite being exposed for fraud and his adulterous affair with another minister. People are just gullible and credulous beyond reason. It’s the goal of science to bring reason and logic back into societies psyche and to better understand the world in which we really live in; not the world that made sense before the development of scientific theory.

In the days that follow, it would not be surprising to me if we started hearing reports of Sai Baba’s bodily resurrection being witnessed by masses before he and his giant afro ascended into the starry skies above. People will make shit up just to keep his legend and mystic intact. The question is as David Hume once similarly proposed: What’s more likely, that Sai Baba really performed all of these miracles or that there’s deception at hand? We’re talking about the more likely scenario in light of the greater understanding we have of how the world and sentient beings work given the groundwork science has made.

In the case of Christ, we have weak historical evidence to rely on. We have no contemporaneous eye witness testimony and contradiction between the gospel writers that were not present to witness the events. In the case of Sai Baba, we have legions of followers that insist on the validity of this man’s supernatural powers, but I seriously doubt that a single Christian would believe likewise. This mostly has something to do with the fact that they weren't raised as Hindus but as Christians within a society which greatly accomodates Christianity. The billions of Hindus may struggle to believe in televangelists like Benny Hinn for similar reasons; although, I suspect that Hindus are more open minded than Christians as Christians generally believe that Christ is the only way. When it comes to Christianity, it seems like it’s the one time where parents forgot to tell their children that Jesus isn’t real, unlike Santa Claus. I don’t mean to simplify religion or even pretend that I understand the reason it captivates the masses like it does. I do know that people are credulous when they want something to be true. Death and the fear of the unknown have always scared humanity and I suspect that this is at least a fragment of the answer.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When God goes to Extremes

The story of Elisha and the two female bears is a fine example of god's extreme nature. I can probably think of one hundred different less extreme ways god could have dealt with a jeering mob without executing them all bear style. As in the case of most any mob, there are people that are not as enthusiastic about the whole affair as some of the others, yet they all received a mauling. Of course, there's examples a plenty of god going to extremes. You take the story of the man steadying the Ark so that it didn't fall and potentially get damaged. God killed him on the spot. You take the Amalekites and god ordering that children and animals to be slaughtered alike. Presumably, those animals might come and attack the Israelites later or lead them astray. Those children presumably couldn't be, at the very least, assimilated into the Hebrew culture and given a chance to live. Essentially, it was follow Yahweh or die in the O.T.. Now, it's follow Jesus or roast in hell for all eternity. Geez, I'm glad he expects us to love him for putting such a severe penalty on us for not doing so. Where else can one find such a great deal?

Anyway, this video pokes delightful fun at the story of Elisha and the she-bears. Most apologists will suggest that this atrocity occurred as a result of Elisha being in a dire situation ,and it necessitated a harsh punishment. The youths were yelling "go on up bald head" as if to say that he would die by their hands if he didn't miraculously escape. Some Christians applaud this story as a fine example of what god does for those who follow him, and it's a showcase of his power. You can look at the apologist Matt Slick's take on it here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

We’ve all heard about near death experiences and the sensation of going towards the light, via a dark tunnel. The experience seems to be nearly ubiquitous regardless of culture or ethnicity. Along the way, people have reported that they see their lives flash before them; we may revisit our first birthday, a memorable moment on a trip to Cancun, holding hands with the love of our life, our child’s first step and even events that haven’t happened yet, like having grandchildren. There are at least two explanations often offered for this event: A) it’s the natural consequences of a dying brain, or B) this is just the gateway to another dimension, heaven perhaps.

On the one hand, it seems rather depressing that the brain gives us this amazing calmness and drawing toward the light--mammals are naturally drawn to light--but, apparently, the event is merely the process of cell death. These primitive parts of the brain located closer and closer to the brain stem and within it remain active long enough for this last experience to occur. The visual cortex or the superior colliculus, when activated, produce the “vision” of light. Just imagine it, many of these events and people that have so much meaning to you cascade before you one last time, and then the curtain suddenly closes right before you see what’s at the end of the tunnel. It’s like it was all just some dream and then you die.

The other possibility is that it’s a tunnel which leads to heaven, and many Christians are probably thinking that they are well on their way as they travel down the tunnel. Can you imagine what that means for a Christian when the lights go out just before they are about to reach the pearly gates? Some Christians spend their entire lives dedicated to the notion that they are going to go to heaven, and I’m sure people like William Lane Craig will be laughing at all those stupid atheists while in route.

One of the more reasonable explanations for this phenomenon was actually captured by Air Force pilots going through centrifuge training. The pilot would pass out due to a lack of oxygen to the brain, and the whole experience of going down a tunnel of light and seeing loved ones was captured. Far from being dead, these pilots just passed out momentarily and came back to their senses briefly afterword. If this is a supernatural phenomenon based on the events experienced immediately after death, god has a very loose and peculiar habit of manifesting this phenomenon regardless of you actually being clinically dead or not.

Then, there’s this whole notion of out of body experiences that often occur when a person is on the brink of death during, for example, a emergency surgery. The person is seeing people even though they are completely unconscious, and their eyes may even be taped shut. Furthermore, they may have never laid eyes on the surgeons before but have a detailed description of them just from the out of body experience. The person may be able to see what is going on during a surgical operation and even what kind of shoes the surgeon was wearing during the operation. All we can do at the moment is speculate on what’s going on here. We can say “I don’t know” and be fine with that because, as Lawrence Krauss often says, that’s how we learn. But, if we simply put god as the answer than we really haven’t answered anything. We have discovered time and time again that things which were once explained by god(s) really have rational natural explanations. We can speculate for the time that perhaps the 1st law of thermodynamics plays a role in the fact that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Some believe that consciousness is a form of energy that may persist after death. We could also just say that these are nothing more than unverifiable hoaxes or lies, that would be more parsimonious. This is something that only time, and science can bright to “light”.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What Harris Said

Having just listened to the Sam Harris/William Lane Craig debate, I want to just illuminate one portion of the debate that really made me giddy. It was Sam Harris’ twelve minute rebuttal that began with the statistics that 9 million children die each year under the age of five. It was as if Harris was saying EXACTLY what I feel about the Christian religion. I was so excited about it that I ran around the house to look for my wife because I wanted her to hear this. She continues to wonder why I’m an atheist, and I can tell her in plain terms but Sam Harris says it with such clarity and poignancy that anything I said would be an injustice. Unfortunately, she wasn’t around at the time.

This speech that he gives is something that I wish every Christian would listen to. If they just shrug their shoulders at the end and say, “well, god is mysterious” than I think a justifiable homicide is in order. And yet, I know that many Christians will do exactly that. They can live with the idea that what god says goes and that he is our authority figure who never falters from being 100% correct in every command. He would be right to tell you to sacrifice your child or kill a group of children but you would be wrong to do the same thing without his authority. How can something be objectively right or wrong solely on who is giving the orders? It has to be right or wrong all of the time and regardless of what the orders are to be an objective standard. As Harris points out in the Q/A section, even children know that it is wrong to punch another child in the face even when an authority figure like a teacher tells you to do so.

As stated earlier, Harris points out that 9 million children die each year under the age of five. It would be analogous to the 2004 Japan tsunami occurring every ten days and only killing children less than five all year around. He goes on to illustrate the agony that the bereaved parents are going through who very likely prayed wholeheartedly for their child to survive. Tragically, the children die and it renders us with the conclusion that either god is incapable of helping them, or he simply doesn’t care. Some might say that this is all part of god’s plan.

Harris rightly states that there is no evidence for the existence of hell. However, if hell does exist, then the majority of people who live in India are doomed for their Hindu faith. Yet, god engineers the circumstances of their birth place and death thus rendering them essentially unaccountable. Conversely, the run of the mill serial killer here in America need only come to Jesus on death row and end up spending eternity in heaven. Hindu’s, on the other hand, perish in an eternal state of torment because of their cultural and physical circumstances. “This vision of life has absolutely nothing to do with moral accountability,” says Harris. God is loving, kind and just but when we point out the horrible things that occur he suddenly becomes mysterious and the tired mantra “who can understand god’s will” plays as a seeming remedy to the travesty. We are told that god is good when something favorable happens, but we are told that god is mysterious in events like the 2004 tsunami where children were torn from their parent’s arms and cast out to drown. “This is how you play tennis without the net” says Harris.

This kind of faith is the epitome of narcissism. The Christian claims that god healed them of eczema but, meanwhile, millions of children go on dying. Harris states that this actually prevents us from caring about the suffering of other human beings. We trivialize their dire situation but magnify the fact that we have a corn on our big toe that god just supposedly healed.

Harris goes on to ask, “why give us a book that supports slavery or to kill those who practice witchcraft?” These are poor principles by which to live, and they fail to support the well-being of humanity. Whatever god commands is good only because he commands it, such as when he orders the Israelites to slaughter the Amalekites. It is easy to rationalize the slaughtering of children when god tells you to do so and that's what makes religion so scary. The “horror of religion” is that it allows perfectly rationale and sane people to believe by the billions what only a few psychopaths would normally believe.

Harris states, “Salvation depends on believing in him on bad evidence”. God got tired of being helpful and hasn’t performed any miracles nor shown his face in 2,000 years. Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice, and Christians celebrate a single human sacrifice as though it was effective. Jesus suffered the crucifixion so none have to suffer hell. This is of course excluding the billions who live in India or the billions throughout history who haven’t received the message.

Anyway, it was some of the best stuff I’ve heard that summarizes exactly how I feel in such a poetic and articulate manner. I don’t necessarily want to get in to who won or lost, but I think that Harris brought up a brilliant point with great poignancy that the god of the O.T. is seriously lacking as an example of objective morality. You can listen to the audio debate here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Thoughts on the Ray Comfort/Atheist Experience Discussion

After recently listening to the Ray Comfort/Atheist Experience discussion, I’ve concluded, as Matt Dillahunty kept suggesting, that Mr. Comfort is always going to place the “evidence” from the Bible over that of modern scientific research. Ray will simply side with the Bible whenever and wherever conflict emerges. He’s uncomfortable with evolution because it’s seemingly at odds with the Bible and particularly Genesis; Although, there are many evangelicals who accept the evidence of evolution. He doesn’t like how old scientists are claiming the earth to be, or the fact that the age has changed quite a bit throughout the centuries. The estimates generally keep going further and further from where Ray’s comfort zone seems to lie, a mere 10,000 years old. Then again, Ray tried to say that the age of the earth doesn’t matter because saving souls is more important. Indeed, anything that science says which contradicts the Bible’s “facts” no longer seems to matter.

Matt tried to explain that evolution is what medical researchers use today to combat viruses and bacterial infections. Russell spoke a bit about the fruit fly experiment which demonstrated speciation inside the laboratory, and Ray simply shrugs his shoulders and states "I don't believe that evidence." Essentially, Ray doesn't believe man when he contradicts the men who wrote the Bible. This is just too hypocritical for words.

When challenged on the atrocities of the O.T., Ray decides to ask Matt and Russell if they believe that the O.T. is true in the first place. Of course, they state that they don’t believe in it and he then says, “Well what are you worried about then?” We should just live and let live and not seriously analyze the heinous commands god ordered the Israelites to carry out against neighboring countries. Yet, Ray should worry about it since he actually believes that the Bible is true in its stories of war, slavery and genocide.

On questioning creation, Ray stated that everyone knows there is a creation, and its “always been called a creation.” Anyone with a reasonable and sane mind should know that there is a creation. This obviously means that there must be a creator since there is a creation. After all, every painting has a painter. Everything is designed according to Ray but as Matt Dillahunty pointed out, “not everything that appears to be designed is designed.” We can look at sand dunes or snowflakes which look extremely intricate and rich with variety and patterns but realize that they came out that way through natural causes. We can look at the clouds in the sky and see images that aren’t really there because we are pattern seeking animals.

Ray ultimately believes that Christianity is true because of personal experience, not unlike William Lane Craig. He says that it goes from an intellectual understanding to an experiential one. He criticizes Matt for not being an authentic Christian in the 28 years that he served god because he never recognized the depth of his sin and truly repented of his sins. If he did, he would have experienced this presence of god that can only be felt by totally dying to sin. It seems unreasonable that god would have not helped Matt in those 28 years before falling to atheism so that he could have experienced this deeper relationship with god before it was too late.

In the end, the Bible is always the source of ultimate truth because it says so. How else do we know so? Well, Ray has personal experiences that attest to that fact. The Bible stands head and shoulders above the other major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam because, as Ray claims, they emphasize salvation based on works instead of on who you know and put your faith in, as if that somehow makes it more true. Of course, the other religions could claim that Christianity is false because it’s based on who you know and put your trust in instead of how you use your time and what you do for your god and others, sounds just as legitimate as the argument for Christianity.