I had the privilege of attending a gathering last evening billed as celebrating the double anniversaries of Darwin’s birthday (200) and the first publication of On The Origin of Species (150). For those who are not aware of recent events in the evolution vs. intelligent design pseudo-controversy, Harrisburg PA was the focal point of this brouhaha back in 2005 when the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover took place in Federal Court here.
Some of the local participants in the trial put together this little event as an anniversary celebration, and as a celebration of the outcome of the trial, roughly four years ago. It was sponsored in part by the local chapter of the ACLU and PA Nonbelievers. It was held at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, a wonderful little venue that was an old movie theater, refurbished and recently opened in downtown Harrisburg. The ambiance for a concert like this was perfect, as you sit in the store, facing the stage, surrounded by stacks and stacks of books. It’s almost like being in a library, with the added advantage of being able to buy the books you like.
The Wall Street Journal asked two authors to respond to the question “Where does evolution leave god?” Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins were those two authors. I suspect that the Dawkins response is culled from his upcoming book, “The Greatest Show On Earth“, being published later this month. Since I generally agree with Dawkins’ take on Evolution, and how it affects the concept of god, I’ll comment on his response only peripherally. However, Karen Armstrong’s’ response evokes a response from me. I’m not sure I completely follow her thoughts, so I will try to do so here, and come to some conclusion at the end.
It’s coming on four years since the beginning of what’s now called the Dover trial. Kitzmiller v. Dover, or the Intelligent Design trial. We’ve all had that time to digest the impact of the decision. Since then, our Most Holy of Presidents has left office, the radical right is rudderless, and fundamentalist Christians no longer have the ear of government. The “New Atheism” is all the rage, and Rush Limburger and Sean Vannity are sputtering in their cups. An outside observer could even, with some validity, point to Judge Jones’ 139 page opinion as a turning point in the cultural war that’s been raging for some twenty or so years. Of course, as long term wars are apt to do, it’s probably not something to get too excited about, being no more than a slight ebb to the flow of the battle. But one can hope, can’t one?
We had a few yucks in some past posts about what it would take for us to believe in god(s). We batted around miracles, and concluded a true human limb regeneration, spontaneously occurring after a prayer-for-all or something, might just be the ticket. Chappie entertained a few other criteria, such as a direct, unequivocal, simultaneous revelation, but with no real consensus. But I think I’ve found the one thing that would do it for me.
I saw this book review and thought I’d share it. It was in the Christian Science Monitor, of all places, but that’s not what struck me. It’s a autobiography of a man who went through what most atheists such as myself have gone through at some point in their lives – a spiritual search for truth – that landed him right on the doorstep of non-belief. He started relatively apathetic, tried to find meaning in religion, went through various churches, and eventually ended up happy, but atheistic. Unfortunately, according to the review, the impetus for his loss of faith was the Catholic pedophilia scandals. It wasn’t disgust with the Catholic hierarchy, however, that drove him away from theism, it was
…the fact that Christians who were in a position to stand for principle and clean things up, regularly chose to turn a blind eye to dishonesty, corruption, and hypocrisy.
As a kid I loved to read science fiction. Even though I have not read any Asimov, Heinlein, Pohl, Herbert or Fredric Brown lately, I still have fond memories of it all. I believe, though I couldn’t prove it to you, that it had a lot to do with my present attitude towards science. Certainly, I didn’t particularly like my science classes in school (until I got to college and took Geology) and my best grades were not in any of those courses, so I can only attribute my current fascination with all things scientific to the fiction I read as an adolescent. In turn, my love of science has underpinned my atheism, so indirectly, there is a definite link between Duneand my religious viewpoints.
The current Non-Believing Literati book is Zadig, by some guy named Voltaire. My copy indicates that it was “Translated from the French Original of Mr. Voltaire”, and was published in MDCCXLIX, so if some of the quotes I use look a bit archaic, you now know why.
Call me Ishmael. At least, that’s what my master calls me. He found the name in a book somewhere; he’s always reading books, never has much time for me, other than to throw me a mostly-eaten leg of mutton or some scraps from the table. What kind of name is that for a dog? I’m a pedigree English Sheepdog, (though plagued with a lean and hungry look)! I have papers, dammit! He could have called me Spot, it would have been more appropriate.
After reading Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” a wonderful historical perspective on the textual criticism of the Bible, I looked forward to his next book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer. In it Ehrman makes even clearer the reasons why he is no longer an evangelical Christian, or any type of Christian for that matter, despite being born again as a youth and devoting his life and education to the study of the Bible, instead acknowledging his agnosticism (though I think he is clearly an atheist).