Ask Dr. Salvo
October 25, 1994
Dear Dr. Salvo,
Despite your "Hank"ering and "Shiver"ing, and the amusing irrational rantings of QR and others of his ilk including the Oxford University philosophy (an obvious navel contemplator) professor, Richard Swinburne to whom you so graciously make available space and precious resources -- trees (paper), energy, etc. -- so they can publicly express their scientific illiteracy, you, and they, still do not have it right. Belief in a deity is just that, a belief. It is something that an individual takes on faith. Faith is not fact. The fact is that such individuals have faith. But, that which they have faith in may not be fact.
Faith may be defined as the willingness to accept something as true despite the absence of supporting evidence and even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Another definition: the illogical acceptance of the improbable (I regret that I am unable to supply proper attribution for this concise statement).
All the wishful thinking, including the amusing, sophomoric, tortuous reasoning gyrations of professor Swinburne, as relayed to us by QR, will not transform his, or anyone else's, religious faith to fact. Unless of course, he also believes in -- better, practices -- a new form of alchemy or witchcraft. In fact, any discerning student with a reasonable command of the English language and who has successfully completed the appropriate Biology 101 course should be able to demolish the navel contemplator's argument with minimum effort. There is evidence that Professor Swinburne and others are not cognizant of the differences that exist between the words hypothesis and theory. Professor Swinburne's personal explanation is nothing more than a hypothesis -- in his case, a personal opinion, that must be tested: it is neither a proven explanation for a perceived phenomenon nor is it an all encompassing statement that explains sets of data.
I wish you the very best with your efforts in warding off the Ayatollahs in brown shirts and in defending your civil rights. In the long term I suspect (hope) that you will win. I am sorry that you have to experience such anguish in the interim. Keep the faith.
Your occasionally amused reader,
Thanks for your good wishes in re: the Ayatollah Brownshirts. I regret to report that they appear to have won the first round. Or, at least, the referee declared that he would not rule on this fight in his ring -- it would have to be referred to a higher venue. You're right, though, we will win. It will just take a little longer!
Dear Dr. Salvo,
In a recent Harbinger, Quite Rational, whoever that might be, proves that he or she doesn't know the meaning of the word reason. He or she thinks some deranged professor at Oxford has come up with an argument that proves there is a Deity and most likely the Judeo-Christian one. We know the professor is a crackpot for there is not one scintilla of evidence to support belief in a Deity of any sort.
It makes me sad when an uneducated person is deluded into thinking there is a Supreme Being. When an educated person puts on a gloomy face and starts talking about God it is time to tell them they are as full of s*** as a Xmas turkey.
Why believe in an imaginary creature? Who needs a Deity? What good is it? What can it do? It is impossible to believe in something that does nothing and hides from everyone. If there really were a God, someone would have proved it long ago.
JC has been dead nearly 2,000 years and no one has seen hide nor hair of him. Why? He is a creature of myth and legend. Albert Schweitzer said "There is nothing more negative that the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus."
Some theologians say the burden of proof for God's non-existence rests on the atheist. They are in error. Atheists want the believer to do what should be, in principle, much easier. If their God exists bring Him up for all to see. [Editor: And if electromagnetic waves exist, let's see one --- not just its effects!]
Believers talk about a Creator or Designer. The Cosmos contains only matter and energy that has always existed and always shall; there was no uncaused or first cause. [Editor: Well, why did it and why shall it? Who needs it?] Whatever looks as though it was designed is the result of millions of years of evolution.
A 1,000 years from now, most people will be atheists. Christianity will principally be remembered for bringing about the Dark Ages.
Good to hear from you again, back at the old stand stamping out religion and declaring your faith in science.
However, science suffers from its own predicament of being unable to prove anything is true! That is permanently and unalterably so. The industrious paleontologist can spend his life defending a certain pile of hominid bones as being the indubitable remains of the first homo habilis, or homo erectus, or homo sapiens. If that scientist is lucky, he will die before learning that his discovery is not only not the first (of whatever), but only the first thus far discovered. Indeed, that some frivolous graduate student has dug up the skeletal remains of a much better candidate for the honor, and that the latest champion is two million years earlier than his entry.
Therefore, one can prove: "Here is the first so far." One cannot prove: "There will never be an older one discovered." So relax in your efforts to bring light to the scientifically unenlightened! In the very next century or two some sophomoric astronaut may discover indisputable (he hopes) evidence of Creation. It will be on another planet in another galaxy, and will show a fossil record unequalled for clear sequence of plan and design with no missing links like ours, but much more complete; older, cruder at the start and more sophisticated at the end. (Note, the end.) The scientific situation thus far: "We have proved there is no God -- but one might turn up regardless of our views."
Meanwhile we can bet either way. May be Pascal's bet was the more
P.S. Perhaps the argument would go better if one claimed that science cannot ever prove anything to be untrue? But it can, so the sun no longer travels around the earth. But, to be fair, have all the efforts to prove the non- existence of a Creator brought about any change in cosmology, cosmogony, or even astrology?
Dear Dr. Salvo,
I have spent a long, hot summer contemplating the condition of our beloved country, from whence we came, and where we are presently headed. Needless to say, this exercise has exhausted me both physically and mentally. I must ask for your wise counsel in overcoming my distress. Please comment or elaborate on, deny, or affirm my present meandering.
The origin and influence of the Christian religion in America is often a subject of controversy. Why is our Constitution godless? How were all men "created" equal in the Declaration of Independence if there was no "creator"? An examination of the religion of the Founding Fathers seems to be in order. These men were primarily Deists who believed that a "creator" had created the universe and gone on about its business. They used many terms in referring to this "creator": divine providence, supreme judge of the world, nature's god. Many doubted the promise of the "afterlife," but some remained hopeful.
Does this information shed much light on our original queries? We are often told to examine the entire historical record when trying to evaluate and understand the meaning of words and ideas. Likewise, we are cautioned against taking some part of a work out of context. I contend that studying neither text nor context will guarantee a reliable answer. Many texts contain contradictory accounts: the Bible is the best example. One could spend years examining the writings of the Founding Fathers and considering the context of the works and still reach no sound conclusions. These men were first and foremost politicians and we know the fallacy of relying on truth in politics. It is better to do one's own thinking based on the most reasonable and reliable information currently available. The influence of the Christian religion in America can be evaluated much the same as most other religions world-wide and in all times. Their premise is divisive and the results are war, persecution, and death. The problem, particularly with organized religion, is that the metaphors of individual belief are espoused literally and written into law to be upheld by the state. The clergy cannot control the behavior of the masses without state consent and mandate.
World-wide, religious hatred has given us the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Holocaust, and continued global warfare. In America, we can clearly document the adverse influence of religion in the Salem witch trials (ended in 1692 by the court's declaration that "spectral evidence" would no longer be admissible), the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, and presently, the killing of doctors as "justifiable homicide."
Whether you view organized religion as a negative or a positive influence, it would be advisable to question its position today. Historically, power in the world has been shared, and contested, by "king and cross." Our concept of the separation of "church and state" has, at least outwardly, eased conflict and insured democracy. The truth is that the people who are in the hierarchy of the church are the same as those in the hierarchy of the state. These people, known commonly as the "elite," are determined to control every aspect of our lives. Whether through church doctrine or state law, or church doctrine as state law, the "elite" are in control. Despite all of our grand and glorious intentions of preserving democracy through the "separation of church and state," we find the clergy and the politicians in the same bed and the "will of the people" out the window.
Your trusting servant,
Your lovely letter is placed next to J.B.'s in hopes that its grace will rub off on him. Perhaps he will learn that a soft answer not only turnth away wrath, but renders the riposte more difficult. One doesn't gladly growl at a blossom or shout at a snowflake.
Sister, you are a harsh but fair critic of the Founding Fathers' muddles about God and Creation. I can offer only the excuse that those were fighting writers, some of them, and much of their fight for the previous two hundred years had been: democracy vs. theocracy. No wonder their Creator just threw the Universe together and then lay back to observe it through the aeons. Not a meddler, so beloved of would be theocrats, whose allegiance and edicts could be invoked on any disputed issue, and used against the ungodly.
Now, Sister, I can't strongly disagree with your ideas and I applaud your style. Still, a mind like yours could probably have a more joyful tenure in this universe, were it more inclined to plunge into uncertainties and relish the swim. If, as in some scientific views of the world, all basic questions concerning existence have been settled once and for all, then what's new for entertainment? When all has been discovered for certain by science, how is this better than the looking-backward sterility of having everything settled forever by the Bible, the Qoran, the Bagavad Gita....etc.??? By the way, what is the best understanding of the stranding of whales? Is it a virus? A disease of echo- location? A religious sacrifice? An act of God? Write on, dear Sister.
P.S. Besides, Sister, I mostly object to the Declaration and its runaway adolescent verbiage concerning "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." An inscription written by Abd-Ar-Rahman III of Spain (according to an old column by Sydney Harris) reads as follows:
"I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honor, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have carefully counted the days of genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot -- they amount to 14."
I can't find Rahman III in my small reference library, but I assume he was a Moorish ruler in Spain during the 800 years or so of Moslem rule there. He did, in that case, have all those blessings he mentioned, but perhaps not much happiness. (The columnist concludes we might do better to seek serenity.)
-- October 25, 1994