Saturday, October 4, 2008

I don't know... you don't know... and no man or woman who is, was, or ever will be knows.

President George W. Bush has said that the United States is engaged in a battle between good and evil. Many faithful people have agreed. My question is; how can the battle end without massive bloodshed? Only when we collectively realize that the real battle is not between good and evil, but between reason and irrationality. The end to this battle starts in United States by having reasonable discussions with our fellow Americans. The only sustainable manner in which to secure and defend the United States is to raise generations of rational citizens who value logic above emotion in the face of adversity.

When enemies in a conflict are painted as inhuman evil doers it lets a warrior feel less about killing them. In order to acquire more resources and therefore more power, empires need warriors that won't have psychological qualms with killing people. Portraying enemies as pure evil helps deal with these qualms. Terrorists attacks and retaliatory military responses are the violent manifestation of the "battle between god and evil." The men that committed both suicide and mass homicide on September 11th 2001 were poisoned by the delusion that they would be rewarded in the afterlife with their scriptural promises of virgins in heaven because, in their eyes, their deaths were honorable as they were carrying out jihad against the infidel. A Christian warrior in the Middle East in 2008 filled with the idea that his or her actions there will be rewarded in the afterlife is affected by the same delusion.

Thomas Paine was mocked by his contemporaries and later called a “dirty little atheist” by Theodore Roosevelt (I tend to like Teddy in general, but I think he got this one wrong). The fact is that Thomas Paine was not an atheist. None of the founding fathers were. They like many Renaissance people before them knew that certainty marks the beginning of the end of empires. They were deists who derive the existence and nature of God from reason, and refuted claims of supernatural events such as those described in the scripture of all holy books. They did not set out to found an American Empire, but rather a new order of the ages. "Novus Ordo Seclorum" as is enunciated in the great seal of the United States. A new world order in which freedom and equality are the foundation of a government empowered by the people, not nobility and not theocracy. Certainty comes from dogma and many churches survive and thrive among generations of other dying cultural trends because of the ease and comfort it gives the faithful. There is no need to think about issues if what is right and wrong has already been decided for you by a church. Certainty is what blinds fanatics. Certainty let the middle ages hinder centuries of scientific progress. Certainty put Galileo in house arrest. Certainty burned nearly all of Gregor Mendel's scientific works. Certainty caused the Holocaust.

In 2008 Americans need to choose knowledge over certainty more than ever. As we watch our sea levels rise, our population outpace our food production, and our children go on 21st century holy wars, we stand at a tipping point between a sustainable future and a self-fulfilling prophecy of anthropogenic end-times.

As a American who has watched the debate set aflame between atheists and the faithful during the past decade I have to agree with Bill Maher more than I do Richard Dawkins (as much as that pains me as a scientist). When the idea of "God" can have as many different meanings as there are sentient beings on earth then it is pointless to go on a secular crusade against that amorphous blob, that continuum of changing perceptions. It is much more effective to attack the root of self righteousness. It is more effective to tackle certainty. To introduce skepticism. The most glistening example I can think of from recoded history is the story of Johannes Kepler. From faithful follower of the gospels of Christ to someone who saw the imperfections in the heavens and was able to explain them with a scientific theory. These should be the bedtime stories we read our children. The stories of discovery. Certainty precludes hope from earthly life, while the unknown provides an infinity of potential discoveries. Skepticism and doubt are prerequisites for freedom, without these tools freedom is just another word.
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