A writer for Charisma News wrote a listicle of reasons he believes in, not just a Christian deity, but the one he specifically gleans from his reading of the Bible. Lists like this come in two forms (scientific “mysteries” and trite emotional manipulation), and this one somehow managed to be both of them, which makes it oddly fascinating to deconstruct.
Lee Grady opens his article with a quote from Madalyn Murray O’Hair and discussion of “evolutionist” Richard Dawkins and “comedian/atheist” Bill Maher. The quote selected is not as bad as Grady claims it to be, but Grady gives no space to why “When you die, you go in the ground; the worms eat you” doesn’t register to many of us as a “sad” view of life. I, for one, find it much sadder and more horrific that my trials are a supposedly game a cosmic entity is playing with us because it doesn’t know what the words “love,” “sadism,” or “effective communication” mean, than to imagine that humans and everything else are the subjects of impersonal, natural laws that we can understand and manipulate for the betterment of the future. But if Grady believed in advancing the human condition, he wouldn’t have introduced Dawkins with the well-poisoning term “evolutionist”; neglected to quote any of the passages of inspiring beauty in Dawkins’s published discussions of how scientific atheism prods us to view the natural world; or left out of the discussion altogether what raging bigots all three of the big-name atheists he mentioned turned out to be. One gets the sense that Grady doesn’t face that bigotry with any real moral indignation, given how many of his fellow Christians embrace it wholeheartedly.
Grady seems to think a list of seven things is enough to defend his theism and convince some others to join him in it. Naturally, his list is…decidedly wanting.
I have come across this idea before, and it is more insulting each time. This is a version of theists’ in general and Christians’ in particular claim that beauty is their sole possession, and nonbelievers are thereby incapable of experiencing or appreciating it. The feelings evoked here have one important, hideous basis: that things are only valuable, beautiful, or worthy of the emotions they inspire in us if they bear God’s imprint, and therefore, those who deny that imprint cannot see value, beauty, or worth. The idea that things are beautiful, valuable, worthy, or emotional because they are intrinsically so, or because we give them those properties, is a thought these Christians refuse to entertain, because either would mean they have to grant that atheists can experience them too, instead of being joyless monsters who destroy for fun. With this paragraph, Grady accuses us of being unable to love our own children, an act many Christians would recognize as grotesquely bigoted if it were aimed at Jews or Buddhists, but which finds a constant home on Christian blogs.
Grady also advances other errors here, this time in facts instead of ethics. A human cell contains information “equal to that of 1000 books,” he claims, recognizing neither that “books” are not a standardized measure of information nor that books contain much more than their words. One can, in close examination of a book, collect information from its ink, its paper, the bleach used to whiten that paper, the typeface used to place that ink, the wear and fading patterns on all parts, the glue used to hold it together, insect damage on that glue, patterns of blank-page use, graphic-design motifs, the stitching used to hold its leaves together, its previous owners, and dozens upon dozens of other parts, attributes, and properties. Similarly, “one cell in the human body” contains infinitely more information than the sequence of its A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s, found in its organelle arrangements, membrane lipid composition (the subject of my doctoral thesis), enzyme levels, reaction rates, protein synthesis patterns, genetic repair mechanisms, and numerous other properties. A living cell is smaller than its genetic contents spelled out in size 12 font on paper because it is an overwhelmingly more efficient data storage device operating on a much smaller scale than a human, not because of magic. For exactly the same reason, one could carry a set of encyclopedias in a trunk…or on a keychain. It’s a failure of imagination to hang on to “books” as one’s amorphous standard for information transmission, and a failure of understanding of biology in particular to insist that life is made of magic and cannot function in physical terms.
Thunderstorms are indeed awe-inspiring experiences, and I miss the intensity, closeness, and frequency of South Florida’s rains. There is something serene about them that makes rain further north seem dingy and sad. They’re also weather events that meteorologists can predict and track across oceans, and no one seriously believes Zeus or Thor is handling those lightning bolts anymore. This does not detract from the beauty of the storm, for human understanding is itself a wonder and things are not less beautiful for having their mysteries resolved. Relatedly, using “creation” as evidence of the divine is a circular argument. “The thing exists” is not evidence of any particular origin for the thing, and it is a feat of bald lying to claim otherwise.
Grady’s other claim is equally laughable. Nature is not, in fact, full of “quantifiable miracles.” Most so-called miracles are demonstrable and demonstrated frauds, and the “natural miracles” Christians like to trot out to claim that the universe is full of supernatural magic are, at best, well-known areas of scientific investigation, and at worst, questions that have already been solved whose solutions Christians refuse to acknowledge so that they can keep the false mystery. The circumsolar habitable zone, Grady’s example, is one of these. Planet Earth’s distance from the sun actually varies by millions of miles during its orbit, which combines with axial tilt as the reason that seasons happen. Further, the circumsolar zone in which life can continue to exist in recognizable forms is much wider than this zone of seasonal perihelion and aphelion, and other planets and stars would have wider or narrower zones. The location of Earth’s orbit is not, in any sense, optimized for human life or life in general, and could be quite different without incident. Conversely, Earth was an incredibly hostile environment for life and especially human life for much of its history, for reasons totally unrelated to its distance from the sun. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of the universe is an even more hostile place, lacking breathable air and being close to the temperature at which all molecular motion stops. Humans evolved on Earth because us evolving elsewhere was impossible, and we have stuck around because we are an ingenious, inventive species capable of addressing and mastering our own biological imperfections to persist in a world that was not made for us. What would be evidence of the supernatural is our existence a universe whose physical laws should preclude creatures like us from ever forming…but we don’t have that, because humans aren’t magic.
Flowers don’t have “jobs.” That’s a very Christian way to view the elements of nature, as though they were all parts of a grand machine whose purpose was humanity. It is also a tremendous error that leads to ecological disasters such as exterminating bison and introducing European sport-fishing preferences around the world. Flowers, and the untold multitudes of living things with which they share this planet, simply exist. They evolved to try to propagate themselves into the future, and the ones we see are the ones that succeeded. They collect resources, they attack and consume one another, and they find ever more beautiful and ever more macabre solutions in their eternal quest to stay alive. The evolutionary principles that gave us flowers also gave us Plasmodium, Dracunculus, Aedes, and Ixodes, and the millions of people these creatures directly or indirectly kill in gruesome ways every year. If flowers’ colors and shapes are beautiful because God made them so, the Christian must also assign such purpose to the parasites behind malaria and dracunculiasis and the painful vectors of yellow fever and Lyme disease. Flowers may beautify God’s green earth, but what purpose does hosting a life-threatening nematode infestation serve? There are no answers to this question that permit God to be powerful, kind, and good without abominably warping one or more of those words.
But the flower example is particularly amusing, because the flowers Grady mentioned do show the work of an intelligent designer…the generations of human horticulturists who have selectively bred, grafted, and hybridized them into their current shapes. Perhaps Grady would like to discuss bananas next.
- The Bible
The Bible is none of the things Grady claims here. Its message is amazingly inconsistent from one section to the next, as discussed in exhaustive detail on this well-crafted blog. Its contents are clearly inspired by or copied from older works, and show the evidence of their multitudinous, contradictory origins in their own text and in the arguments that led to Christianity murdering millions of heretics, forming grand councils to declare certain interpretations standard, and fracturing into over 40,000 sects. The fact that the Bible cannot decide from one section to the next whether the Christian god is the specific creator and patron of a small Jewish sect, one among many such tribal deities, or the single universal creator of everything, is only the most obvious of its inconsistencies.
- The Global Spread of Christianity
Christianity’s advancement around the world has everything to do with its evangelical message, prompting its proponents to spread it where the proponents of many other faiths feel no such need, and its capturing early on the minds and ambitions of world-spanning conquerors, who filled Europe with Christians and then set them on quests to convert the rest of the world at gunpoint. Mocking and scorning Christianity contributed nothing to its advancement compared to declaring it the state religion of the Roman Empire and its ocean-crossing successors. Christianity’s message is not uniquely consistent, not uniquely uplifting, and not uniquely convincing—it is uniquely viral, nothing more.
And if scorn and mockery do indeed cause ideas to spread…Christians had better watch the way they talk about atheists.
Using a story corroborated by no sources other than the one from which you quote it as a history is a poor scholarly move, Grady. Your own source differs, in its four versions of the story of Jesus’s resurrection, in the number of witnesses and the role of each participant, among other details. There is no evidence that the magical deeds attributed to Jesus happened anywhere other than the writings of Christian evangelists, none of whom even claimed to be actual witnesses of the events they described, and historians even contest the evidence that an actual, non-magical person existed to whom these magical stories were later appended. These stories fit more neatly into the tradition of inventing magical deeds and parables to bring others into one’s sect than they do into any tradition of recording true events. Relatedly, claiming that a man who, if he even existed in a form Christians would recognize, has been dead for longer than any country on this planet has existed in its modern form, whose remains were never verifiably found, is “touchable” is rhetorical sleight-of-hand at its sleaziest.
- My Personal Friendship with God
There isn’t really an argument in this paragraph, just half a condescending concluding thought. The argument, if it can be extracted at all, is that being a Christian made Grady happy, therefore, God is real.
Well, he’s right. Something real did indeed make him happy. Perhaps it was the idea of the Christian god, poorly read and therefore not recognized as the disturbing horror show that it is. Perhaps it was the community Grady has found in Christian spaces, and the social support that came along with it. Perhaps it was a space where he could finally be free to express hatred of science (“evolutionist”) and other anti-modern and fundamentally destructive views and receive the accolades of hundreds. Perhaps it was the transcendental feelings that come with sharing ritual and song with large numbers of people in a space where one feels safe. Perhaps it was the sense of purpose that comes with being part of a cause and working toward goals with others. Perhaps it was all of these things.
Every one of those things is real, and exactly none of them are evidence that a cosmic being with magical powers put its special imprint on the poliovirus and cares what kind of sex I have. People have found the same benefits in groups devoted to other deities, and to none. People actively seek these benefits for lots of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with any gods. To widen the concept of “god” to include what ACLU volunteers and the people behind the rationalist Winter Solstice celebrations are trying to achieve is to render it meaningless, and to attempt to co-opt every human endeavor as evidence for cosmic magic. It is dishonest, it is insulting to nonbelievers, and it will not be tolerated here.
As expected, then, J. Lee Grady’s seven reasons to believe in God are anything but, and represent more of the usual Christian dishonesty that characterizes all Christian writing targeting atheists. On the bright side, this screed was nowhere near as overtly bigoted as what I encounter from right-wing atheists, so…there’s that.