James Carey, whom I know from university out there in meatspace, asked a few questions that were well off topic on the prayer post, and questions about prayer itself that will be, I hope, adequately answered in the course of the series proper. I decided to post my response as a full blog post of its own because I don’t really want to derail the point of the prayer threads.
I had a bit of an ephinay the other day.
Every once in a while I find two silverfish in my bathtub. Silverfish are very inoffensive little critters so I just usually let them stay for a bit. Finally I go to take a shower and I look at them and think to myself, you guys aren’t going anywhere, you aren’t going to do anything productive. Gave you time to get going, now it’s too late. Turned the water on and sent them down the drain all the while thinking “I bet the apocalypse will be something like this…”
I have read several of your articles and I feel that there is an underlying venom that you try to camouflage with all of your facts, links, and introspectives. I am not particularily religious but even I realize that “prayer” is synonomous with “hope”. You say prayer is usless, it might be, but in my experience thinking good thoughts is never a waste. It goes further beyond trying to appeal to some diety, it is searching for some personal comfort to ease pain, fear, anxiety, etc. When you crap on prayer, you are crapping on hope.
“My father is dying of cancer, rather than praying to ease his suffering, I’ll go shop for hats.”
“My little girl has been kidnapped by a pedophilr, instead of everyone out of reach to offer any help praying for her safe return, you may as well squeeze in an extra game of solitaire”
“My husband is a firefighter, instead of praying for him to come home safely, I cry myself to sleep everynight thinking that tonight will be the night he doesn’t come home”
So I have a few questions for you. Why are you doing all of “This”? And more importantly, what is your moral compass? The Bible, the book of mormon have all been provided to you to tear apart and criticize but have you provided us with any sort of literature of what has helped form your own morals and core beliefs for us to inspect and criticize? If so, send me the link and I will be happy to read it and give it the same consideration you would on my beliefs.
And for anyone who wants to know what my moral compass is:
Response below the fold.
When someone is absolutely certain of the answer to otherwise contentious questions, especially ones philosophers have grappled with for a very long time, it’s pretty easy to assume they are merely zealous, and to read “venom” into their words. PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are both supposed monsters with their excoriations of the religions they believe to be empirically harmful, when what they are in reality are a bearded teddy bear with a PhD in evolutionary biology, and a meek-sounding, overly polite science author, respectively. If you read any venom into my words, you’re reading my words wrong.
That is, unless I’ve intentionally amped up the tone in an explicit effort to offend some people who need offending. And in those cases, you can hopefully tell. Look back at that recent post on pictures of Muhammad and the attacks on Lars Vilks if you want to see venom. Or in the post about the oil spill if you want to see someone misconstruing a specific attack on people trying to meditate away the oil, with a broad-brush attack on Christians, or even people who pray. It was the genesis for the prayer posts, in fact. That row specifically spurred me to throw salt in the wound. I learned a long time ago about trying to advocate social change that, if you’re not striking nerves, you’re doing it wrong.
At one point, I was “merely” a science-booster — someone that looked at each new scientific discovery and each new elegant theory with wide-eyed wonder and awe at what humanity achieved — and further awe and wonder at what, if we kept discovering things, we COULD achieve as a species before we burn ourselves out. And then I started commenting on posts on the internet about science, and I was confronted, with disgusting regularity, with people that had absolutely no clue about reality and thought their particular faith was being affronted by some new tidbit that science had discovered. I was confronted with utter cluelessness, willful ignorance, and sometimes outright mendacity, repeatedly, until I said, “enough’s enough, these people need to be reined in!” So I, an English major turned computer geek, started absorbing philosophy and theology like a sponge, as is my wont. And once I got myself to a point where I understood their dogmas, their arguments, and their fallacies, and could effectively debate against them, I took it upon myself to start posting counterarguments. And I found myself “in my element”, so to speak. My element being, letting myself get trolled for the greater education of the internet-reading public.
Later, I got my own blog. I have made an effort to write about things other than those fights, but they’re never-ending, and they often take a good deal of my brain space. I post about atheism now, because I want “there’s probably no gods” to be an acceptable position for someone to take without being treated like outcasts. Prejudice against disbelief is heavy — especially so when the prevalent religion specifically codes against other beliefs. And most of them do. So I do this to help normalize my personal beliefs. I don’t do it to tear anyone down explicitly, but I’m more than happy to tear down BELIEFS that are nonsensical, illogical or self-defeating. Not the people — their beliefs. People deserve respect, not beliefs. In engaging in these arguments, the intent is mostly to make people question their most cherished beliefs about the nature of the universe, especially where those beliefs intersect with reality. I don’t particuarly like that religion has gained a “sacred cow” (pardon the pun) status, wherein one cannot discuss religion without being viewed as being vitriolic or venomous.
Now, I really, REALLY have to take issue with the conflation of hope and prayer. Atheists have hope. Hope is not prayer. Do not marry the two, because that’s false and disingenuous and implies that having hope or being hopeful is somehow implicitly theistic or antiscientific. Understanding that the universe is a long chain of cause and effect, absolutely does not preclude hoping for favorable outcomes where we can’t predict with any degree of confidence the outcomes. Having hope about the future — about futures that can’t be predicted because we don’t have powerful enough computers with accurate enough models to make these predictions — is human nature. Saying I’m crapping on hope because I’m crapping on prayer is just plain wrong. Slightly insulting to boot, though I’m not one to shy away from insults in arguments so I can’t bloody well expect anyone else to.
However, that example about cancer did strike a nerve. If I thought I could somehow affect the outcome of DanJ’s potential lymphoma, I’d do it, freely, and often. It doesn’t cost me anything to pray, right? It’s not going to help though. Not the least reason being because I’ve already insulted any deity that could possibly answer such a prayer, if any such deity actually existed. Scientific studies have actually shown that when people about to undergo surgery know they’re being prayed for, it ups their stress levels, having the exact inverse correlation to what they were hoping — there was a slight negative correlation with knowing you’re being prayed for, and healing from the surgery. I’m guessing it amounts to a combination of performance anxiety and the mistaken realization that, if all those people are praying for them, they might be worse off than they are. So, since I want Dan to get better, I’m not going to pray for him. Instead, I sent him some money, knowing that they’re in a bad financial situation and in the States, you gotta pay to play the health insurance game. That way, I’ve given him some material aid, instead of “good vibrations” or “karma” or whatever the hell prayer is supposed to do to help.
My moral code is a separate discussion. Suffice it to say it comes from my brain and my social upbringing, just like yours and every other human on the planet’s. That you found a philosophy in Taoism that you find fits what you’d like in a moral code is great for you — and you’ve probably, in liking aspects of the code that already fit with what you think and do, changed other aspects your behaviour to match. This is fine, for you, but cannot be exported to others. And others might have found moral teachings they found to be good, that you and I would find reprehensible. I find there are some moral teachings in many religions (e.g. the Golden Rule, which makes a part of just about every religion ever) that are good and noble and just, and if I absolutely have to pick and choose my morals from religious teachings, I’m sure I could cobble together a lot of specific rules that are great and even pluralistic.
But nowhere in any religious text (at least, none that I’VE read) is “thou shalt not have sex with the prepubescent”. Some religions even explicitly allow consummation of marriage with children — Muhammad supposedly had a nine-year-old wife. And yet we both agree that defiling an innocent in such a manner is reprehensible. One does not even need to have that passed down as a commandment to agree with this! You and I, however, probably wouldn’t agree on classifying willful ignorance as a moral failing, but if I had to have a set of commandments written down so you could peruse and judge me by them, that would probably be rule number three — right after “treat others like you want to be treated” and “do not defile the innocent children you sick perv”. Having it written down, though, is no sufficient condition for your code to be good. In fact, the surest way to convince someone not otherwise predisposed to hurt someone, is to tell them that their religion says they should. Otherwise, why would anyone care about, say, homosexuality? Or about what women are and are not allowed to wear? Or about whose lives you can and should save (e.g. the unborn — blastocysts are generally only considered “people” by the religious), and whose are forfeit (e.g. the mothers, or the soldiers sent to war, or the citizens of that foreign country who follow a different god)?
Everyone picks and chooses how to treat others. The fact that we have the ability to empathize with people (a trait that has evolved to facilitate social interactions and help us build societies) means that we already have some measure of hardwired altruism. We can even alter our ability to empathize using magnets, for FSM’s sake. So morals come from your brain. Period. They don’t come from a book — books that were just written by other people setting down the morals that came from THEIR brains, in concert with the societies they were brought up in.
Anything else you’d like to ask about? My favorite posts all come from rebutting specific arguments.
(Now that I’ve fully linked this post, mostly to older pieces of my own, I hope you’ll read them all. If you don’t, I can see why, but I’m sure if you did, you’d understand me, my positions, and why I do what I do much better.)