Evil is as evil does

29 Sep 2008

Via Jack Shedd's Big Contrarian: Steven Weinberg's essay Without God casts a sober look at the conflict – or "tension", as he puts it – between science and religion, and finds that we're slowly losing God (and that that's okay). It's a good read; have at it.

I wanted to highlight the same passage that Shedd did:

[E]ven someone who believes in God can feel that Abraham in the Old Testament was wrong to obey God in agreeing to sacrifice Isaac, and that Adam in Paradise Lost was right to disobey God and follow Eve in eating the apple, so that he could stay with her when she was driven from Eden. The young men who flew airplanes into buildings in the US or exploded bombs in crowds in London or Madrid or Tel Aviv were not just stupid in imagining that these were God’s commands; even thinking that these were His commands, they were evil in obeying them.

This is what I was just writing about in "Would you do it?": An open question to believers: that an evil command is evil, regardless of its source. One of the saddest aspects of religion is the backward logic of starting with the bald-faced assertion "God is good!", and from that, proclaiming that any command attributed to God – any murder, any atrocity, even Old Testament-style butchering of children – must also be good. (Good for the circumstances of the time, as apologists try to argue.)

Whereas even as limited a mind as my own long ago figured out that evil is as evil does. We have to start with the actions, and judge evil/good from there. Is God good or evil? I dunno; that depends on his actions. What'd he do? Let's find out. [opens Bible...] He slaughtered children left and right, and demanded that his followers do more of the same? Then the God of the Bible is evil. Utterly evil. Full stop.

There's nothing as bizarre as a believer making the claim that "anything is permissible" without religious morality. It's with religion that anything is permissible, through the simple utterance "God commanded it". Formalities completed; commence murdering! 

PS: An aside to mythological human progenitor and gardener of Eden, good old Adam: You chose your wife over God? I know you've been taking millenia of flak for that, but rest assured that you've got your fans as well. You didn't back down from some cosmic nutcase, and you stood by your fellow human. Bravo! Forget Jesus; you're the hero of the book. 


When I left religion, this is one of the things that drove me in that direction. How can any God kill people, especially children and babies, and be considered Good?

One believer I know tried to explain it. I think it's a common defense: It's okay if God kils people, even babies, because He can give them justice in the afterlife. That still doesn't sound to moral to me, but I don't have a reply that I think is great (other than to say "well, there's no reason to believe that".)

Just wondering if you have any thought about that.

defaithed's picture

Sorry, I missed this comment and never replied. Much belatedly so:

One believer I know tried to explain it. I think it's a common defense: It's okay if God kils people, even babies, because He can give them justice in the afterlife

I think you've probably heard that explanation from a lot of believers by now. There is, of course, zero reason to believe that a magic god grants justice to us all in an afterlife. But even if we were to make the assumption that this god can and does operate in this way, I don't see the need for a long theological debate over whether it's acceptable that this god allows children to suffer and die, and even murders them himself, as long as he "make everything OK" in the afterlife.

We can short-circuit the debate by pointing out a simple fact:

No matter what this God does to balance the scales, I know a better way to do things. To wit:

If you're an ommipotent being, don't murder children. Period. And don't sit by and watch them die, either. Use your omnipotent powers to give them hope and health and happiness now. Later you can do whatever it is that goes on in the afterlife.

I don't care how "acceptable" it is that the Abrahamic God allows (and even causes) suffering now because he balances it out in the afterlife. My way is better. Period.

The constant thread that the faithful use to justify the contradictive nature of their god is one constantly used by politicians and con-men today. Divert and deflect attention onto someone else. As with Adam and the original sin, the creator diverts blame from the creator onto the creation. This all-knowing omnipotent gangster refuses to accept responsibility and constantly deflects guilt and blame onto the 'sheep'. In fact the whole ideaology insults the intelligence of any rational person. The bottom line and the biggest excuse is often 'Who are we to question the workings of God?' That's like something the Master would say to the slaves'

defaithed's picture

Well spoken. See my reply to the comment right above; it addresses yours as well. Specifically:

"Who are we to question the workings of God?"

Right, that's the silly question we are often asked by believers. There's a simple answer to give them: 

Who am I to question your God? That's easy: I'm someone who is better than your God. (As are most people!)

This God commands His tribe to "fill the courtyard" with the corpses of men, women, and children murdered in His name (Ezekiel 9:5-7). His apologists are quick to add, "It's OK! He'll give those children justice in the afterlife!"

But my commandment to the same tribe? It's this: Don't kill this people. Just don't. Let them live – especially the children, for cryin' out loud!

I'm simply better than the believers' God. So is everyone else.

(With the exception of serial killers. They're not better than God. They're down there right at His level.)

It's often claimed that without religion mankind would have no morals.

That basically means that if mankind had never developed religion, then we wouldn't know right from wrong. Scripture is often quoted and the Ten Commandments etc are held up as a moral code for Humanity, while in other chapters a wrathful, jealous and vengeful god murders people in their millions.

It is ridiculous and arrogant to suggest that religion has the monopoly on morality or that if you don't worship some invisible omnipotent alien monster you will burn and be tortured for eternity. Religions only exist by threatening, frightening and conditioning people from the cradle to the grave to believe and follow blindly. Religion is a business, it sells a product and will use any technique necessary to win customers. It's best selling product is eternal life in an antiseptic paradise where you get happy pills for eternity and worship the master.

We all need to live by a set of rules and these are often enshrined in the laws of our country. We judge a nation by its laws and if they safeguard basic Human Rights or empower a tyranny. Within societies where religious dogma is the law, we find the worse attrocities. Beheading, Stoning, immolation, amputation - the list is endless. In more progressive secular societies religion has been relegated to the status of private belief. There are many who continue to demand that Creationism be taught alongside Evolution as an alternative theory for the origins of life. The courts have ruled that religion is opinion and cannot be taught as fact in mainstream education because it does not meet the required evidential standards. Evolution however has been tested and scrutinised constantly for over 150 years. It is supported by the overwhelming majority of the worldwide scientific community and considered to have satisfied the evidential criteria. When we test religion to the same standard it uses against Evolution then it fails every time.

Faith is an emotional reaction and yes we are entitled to make and follow our opinions peacefully but not to impose them on everyone. Faith schools still exist to manipulate and condition innocent young minds but with every passing generation the supernatural beliefs that infest our planet are gradually being replaced by reason and knowledge gained through the facts science uncovers.

Religions do not unite us they divide Humanity, every religion claims it is the truth and the rest are damaged or damned. They deny free-will and accuse others of the very faults they are guilty of. Wake up people see it for what it is.

defaithed's picture

It's often claimed that without religion mankind would have no morals.

Yes. It's the craziest of claims. Yet many believers claim it – not only where mankind is concerned, but also about their own "flock", and themselves as individuals.

It's really bizarre. "I get my morals from scripture!" is a statement declaring... that the claimants have no moral concepts of their own. Is murder OK? "I don't know... So I'll let scripture decide." Child abuse? "No idea. What does my God say?" Torture? "I could go either way. Let's see which side my Instruction Book tells me to stand on."

In short: "I have no morality. I just follow instructions."

Me, I've got a much higher opinion of the believers out there. Most are good people (because most humans are good people). The morally positive commandments to be found in scriptures resonate with these believers because they're naturally inclined to follow that good behavior. If they never encountered scriptures or preachers, they'd still gravitate toward hatred of murder and abuse and torture. Because that's how we humans – a social, pleasure-seeking, intelligent species – tend to operate.

Really, believers, please stop insulting yourselves and your fellow believers. You are not shallow, moral-less husks requiring a fill-up of behavioral commands to set you on the right path. You have minds and hearts. You're mostly good people. It's perfectly agreeable to turn to scripture as a means of further discussing and contemplating moral questions, or as a source of inspiration. But please stop pretending you're amoral monsters who just follow orders. You're better than that!

Just recently the Pope ended more than 150 years of Catholic rejection of Darwins Theory of Evolution.He stated in unambiguous terms that Evolution Theory and Science was a truth which religions could no longer refute. By any standards a remarkable occasion, because this was not a part-acceptance, Roman Catholicism was embracing the fact that Humanity evolved from more primitive ancestors and the Genesis account was simply allegorical myth.

Some may argue he had no choice because of the evidence science has uncovered, and that religion was just moving the goalposts again, I'm not sure how much of a ripple this news made among the general public, probably not as much as some think.

Previous to the Pontiff's announcement, a Clergy Letter had already circulated among the various denominations of Christianity and other faiths. The various clergy were being asked to sign up to a letter which called Evolution Theory the foundational truth at the heart of Humanity. It sounds like some kind of April Fool prank, but it really happened. What's more amazing, is that the overwhelming number of sects abd denominations agreed to sign up to the letter.

To me these events have to be among some of the most significant developments to occur in the old Evolution v Creation debate. A real landmark in world history which the majority know very little about, if anything. I'm going to post the info and the text for and from the letter. Judge for yourself, these are remarkable times. Of course there's still a staunch opposition to Evolution Theory from Islam, and the literalist, fundamentalist creationist groups, who maintain every word of The Bible is literally true and the inspired word of God.

The Clergy Letter

“Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief. Documentation offered in support of these claims is typically limited to the special publications of their advocates. These publications do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge.”

This is not a secular viewpoint, it is a scientific one, and many religious people and organizations share it. The Roman Catholic Church, the American Jewish Congress, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the Rabbinical Council of America, the United Methodist Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association have all publicly endorsed evolution. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, a noted geneticist, and also an evangelical Christian, calls evolution “unquestionably correct” and rejects ID. And more than 13,000 American clergy members have signed the Clergy Letter Project letter endorsing evolution and rejecting ID. The letter eloquently justified why believers should be just as much against creationism/ID as non-believers:

“We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.”


If I weren't a confirmed atheist I'd be shouting 'Hallelujah'!  




defaithed's picture

Thanks for the comment. The URL you close with is an interesting piece.


There's a sober argument put forth by Atheists United San Luis Obispo board members, suggesting refusal to teach Creationism / "Intelligent Design" on the reasonable grounds that it fails to meet the burden of proof as valid science.

Then there's the rebuttal in favor of teaching Creationism / "Intelligent Design" – a rebuttal that has to resort to calling out "militant" and "ardent" atheists guilty of "intimidation and bullying", as well as "censorship" and "treating the theory of biological evolution as if it is infallible dogma that is above critique or refutation". This is followed by – right on schedule – a call for "academic freedom" in presenting the opposing Creationist viewpoint.

Naturally, that call for "freedom" forgets to mention the corresponding "freedom" to teach alchemy, astrology, phrenology, and a thousand other "competing ideas". How convenient!


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