Monday, December 26, 2005

Don't Get Too Close to That Conbine...

*I realize this isn't exactly breaking news*

Marshall Brain, of How Stuff Works fame, has written a piece called "Why Does God Hate Amputees?"

Recognizing it as a piece on atheism - or agnosticism at the least - I quickly absorbed it. From the title, I'd expected the traditional Bible critique with a focus on passages setting forth the prerequisites for entrance into YHWH's "congregation" (the Judeo/xian god didn't really like handicapped/deformed individuals very much - see Leviticus 21:17-21 ; Deuteronomy 23:1 ).

My assumption was half correct: while he does offer some verses for critique, there is no mention of the aforementioned topics. This takes nothing away from the book though (it definitely would have been an appropriate inclusion), and I was quite happily impressed with it as a whole.

Marshall presents this work as a "proof" against the existence of god - the God of xianity in particular - and mainly approaches the topic through the age old issue of theodicy.

While there may be some liberties taken with his logic, Marshall presents a very strong argument. Nothing new is presented, but it's his delivery that impresses me most. This book is perfect as an introduction to religious skepticism. The reading is very easy and quick and the overall feel is one that is aimed at teenagers or young adults, or simply those who are still closed-minded toward questioning their "faith" - so long as they're open-minded enough to be honest with themselves, acknowledge the doubts and questions they have in moments of introspection, and willing to give the message an "ear."

He opens by quickly demonstrating the obvious inefficacy of prayer, moves on to presenting some complications with the bible (offering, again, merely an starter's course of sorts - nothing approaching complete or exhaustive), then moves in on a course of Jesus examination before finally sumising and analyzing the conclusions that should be drawn from the evidence presented. He then defends the morality of atheism and drops some whoppers (although admiral) in the suggestion box for society.

Reiteration is relied on heavily, and quite effectively as Brain builds his case. He also employs hypothetical conversations between a xian (Chris for Christian) and skeptic (Norm for Normal - although atheist secular humanist skeptics are far from "normal" in this society), and offers forth some predictable theistic rebuttals which he quickly refutes.

Some of the issues I had are the liberties he takes with labeling we atheists/agnostics with terms like "normal": "any normal person would...". I understand his reasoning here, and ultimately this may be an issue of semantics, but when dealing with topics a serious (and sensitive) as religion we need to be realistic in our approach. "Sensible" - or even "realistic" or "honest" - would have been a much better word choice. I'm not at all suggesting we water down our approach, just that we maintain integrity and not fall into some of the questionable methods employed by those across the debate table. He also puts "devout xians" in hypothetical situations that, well, a devout xian wouldn't be in (e.g. a casino).

All in all, I think the piece is an absolutely wonderful introduction to skepticism. I've printed it out (yep, all 170+ pages) and I have full intentions of passing it along to those I want to get the message to, but whom may not be quite ready for works as extensive (or academic) as, say, Earl Doherty or Michael Martin.

There is no need for an intrinsic or encyclopedic understanding of philosophy, theology, philology, linguistics, biology, physics or any other of the tools usually employed in such endeavors, just a realistic view of the world, a slightly open mind, and some sense of logic (no syllogisms or illustrations of error here).

In the past I would usually offer Thomas Paine's classic "Age of Reason" or works of Ingersoll for this purpose, but unfortunately, since the advent of radio and television, written language is much less eloquently presented, and thus reading comprehension has been severely affected (in other words, today's average reader runs into comprehensive issues when reading most anything written a century or more ago). As a deist, Paine is still a very viable option, followed by Ingersoll (agnostic) as one works their way toward full-blown atheism, but Marshall's work presents a pleasantly refreshing alternative - let's face it, with a topic this "heavy," light reading is quite welcome.

PS - On the topic of easy(er)-to-approach atheism, I will be ordering both "Natural Atheism" by David Eller and "Atheist Universe" by David Mills (which also has a companion audio CD which can be ordered). Yeah, I know Mr. Mills has hair issues, but he comes across as an amazingly nice individual in his interview on the Infidel Guy Show .


breakerslion said...

I love coincidences. I just posted that link too. Here's another, sort-of. When I was in my teens, I had a friend whose parents had a lake cottage in Northern NJ, and we spent a lot of time there. Believe it or not, Northern NJ is a redneck area. We got so sick of country music on the radio that we made up a song titled, "Don't Fall in Love With Your Thresher". Your title is especially amusing to me because I can almost hear Loretta Lynn singing it. I always pictured ours as more of a Tex Ritter.

UberKuh said...

As we all know, HowStuffWorks has been very influential. I am so happy to know that Marshall is not religious.

Tanooki Joe said...

It is a rather good intro to thinking critically about religion, methinks.

franky said...

wooohoooo, welcome back DUB! It's nice to see a substantiative post from you. Keep 'em coming.