Saturday, October 22, 2011

Letter to a generic apologist

Dear generic apologist,

So far, all of your pro-theist bluster is based on the unwarranted belief that there are supernatural forces at work in the universe. There is not the slightest shred of evidence that this is so. Tens of billions of human beings have walked the planet. Not one has offered evidence of the supernatural that could be verified, let alone resulted in a fundamental change in the way we view such claims. Instead, fundamental changes to human understanding of the universe have always come from detecting phenomena and exploring their causes - creating hypotheses that could be tested, testing those hypotheses and rejecting them, refining them or accepting them as adequate explanations of what we observe. You continue to not participate in this global endeavor. You have not offered a shred of evidence to support your claim(s) of the supernatural.

Certainly there may be phenomena for which no answer can be found in our lifetimes. This is not cause for worry, and absolutely never a reason to fabricate explanatory schemes that are more fantastic and less plausible than what we can temporarily infer based on the incomplete evidence that we *do* have. Use String Theory as an example of where a skeptical approach is appropriate. It sounds great - space-aged - complicated - mysterious, but is it a fact? No. Ask any physicist. What will they tell you? They'll tell you string theory is a contender for a hoped-for Theory of Everything that explains and links all known physical phenomena. What's wrong with it? It has never predicted any results that have been observed and verified, leading some scientists to believe that it is not correct to consider it in the same sentence with the word "science". We cannot accept it as anything but an interim hypothesis until it can be tested, rejected, refined or accepted. This approach prevails throughout all successful projects that attempt to explain the world. It is a long and tortuous process, this search for the truth. It takes baby steps.

The conjecture that the supernatural exists ... angels, prophecies, gods, demons, the devil, messiahs - may have been useful when primitive groups of people spent all of their days in the struggle to obtain adequate food and water, to construct and maintain shelter, to defend themselves against animal and human predators. It may have been part wishful thinking, part social adhesive, part emotional defense against facing the gross uncertainty of life early in human history. Some of the words that have survived have a timeless quality that still ring true. Most of the words do not.

The world has grown up. Our understanding of the universe is monumentally greater than it was two, three, four thousand years ago. Most of the stories we told ourselves thousands of years ago are no longer necessary to explain the phenomena that we observe in everyday life.

If you enjoy religion, or take comfort in its rituals and practices; or find it a convenient tool to maintain familial and social bonds and harmony; or use it as an ethical guide instead of your own ability to behave civilly without the threat of retribution; or gain a platform from which you can be heard; or benefit from some other effect that I didn't mention; you are of course free to do so. You may even genuinely, fervently believe the sacred texts and doctrines that the religion has developed over time. Just don't expect moderately rational, moderately informed, moderately independent, moderately civil, moderately intelligent people to accept the fevered repetition of Calvin, Henry and other apologists as anything more than obsolete rationalizations for why ancient texts might be the word of some entity that deserves even passing consideration, let alone worship. This entity, for all you've been able to establish for an anxiously waiting world, is so invisible, so inconsequential, that it is indistinguishable from its own absence. There is no indication that what you say is there, is there.

You have a right to have yourself heard. I have a right to ask that you make sense. You have no right that guarantees your ideas will be respected - in civil discourse, that has to be earned. Until you can present evidence that the most trivial supernatural concept is real, making claims for anything supernatural will continue to be met by reactions ranging from indifference, through gentle kidding and skeptical inquiry, to derision and outright scorn. The broader the claims you make, the more difficult your evidentiary support and rational justification efforts will be.

I patiently await evidence of anything supernatural from you or anyone that you may offer as your surrogate. After we establish the veracity of that evidence, we can start talking about the possibility of a god. Once that's resolved, we can investigate why your preferred conception is more compelling than the thousands of others that have come and gone. It may even be worthwhile, if you have the time, to examine the different versions of the sacred texts and explain the reason such differences are necessary. While we're at it, some attempt at clarifying why separate sects and denominations exist will also help to solidify your claim to representing "the truth". After we resolve that, we can concern ourselves with the possibility of an incorporeal, eternal soul, an afterlife, eternal punishment and reward, and finally, the proposition that a messiah figure is a necessary delegate of the primary deity, could fit into to this grand scheme, in fact exists, and is worthy of our consideration and ultimately, worship. It is a long and tortuous process, this search for the truth. It takes baby steps.

Have a nice day!

The preceding mental exercise was written with a particular obscure apologist in mind - a fellow who has participated with me and others in a blog about the bible. I believe that the preceding generic admonishments can apply to most apologists.

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