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neurological dryer lint

dirty deeds... and the dunderchief


just grab em in the biscuit

Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?: A Professor And a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism & Christianity

i'm not sure i could have not liked this book. for one, the setup is compelling - Preston Jones, a history professor, both follower of Jesus and fan of bad religion, in a conversation about belief with Greg Graffin, the voice of said band, outspoken adversary of any organized (or unorganized) religion, and knowledgeable scientist and biologist. for another, the style of the book is an email conversation between the two, perfectly suited for geeks like me. Jones notes in the introduction that this book is not a 'debate' per se, though it approaches one a few times.

distilled, the two sides represented (Christianity and Naturalism) clash on a few points. my summary is pretty choppy, as there are very deep, extensive conversations in the book:

  • Graffin is a proponent of Naturalism because it is a system of beliefs based completely on known facts about the universe, things that can be measured. insufficient evidence exists to include anything else, especially an invisible, almighty creator, in the equation.
  • Jones feels that, while pure science is able to answer some questions about life, there are many aspects of life that cannot be completely explained by just biological processes and physics (for example, love, or beauty). Graffin feels that these are adequately handled by philosophical and social sciences, but that they shouldn't even enter this discussion. Jones contends that the varied human desires, needs, and behavior usually run contradictory to what biology alone would suggest.
  • Graffin claims that religion in human history has been vastly detrimental, misleading millions of people into foolishly following a falsehood, and causing events like the crusades which have ended up in countless deaths. Jones notes that plenty of anti-religious crusaders have also led to extensive damage to humankind in efforts to wipe out specific faiths or religion as a whole.
  • Graffin feels that the sooner we abolish religions around the world, and invest our time in teaching children the truth about science and biology, so that they have an accurate view of the world, the sooner the world will improve. Jones points out that plenty of 'secular' societies - including some in our current world - that have followed this ethos have ended up far worse for it, with increased suicide and crime rates, etc.

one concept Greg comes back to a few times is that most kids have a concept of "ultimate meaning" - i.e. a significance to life that goes beyond immediate circumstances, time, society, etc - only because it's taught to them, and not because it's wired into human nature to search for it. Graffin urges the teaching of "proximate meaning" - searching for meaning only in limited scope, i.e. without thinking there's some greater story. this life is all there is, and looking for anything else is a waste.

i'm fairly solid proof against Greg's theory, though. i sought a life of proximate meaning for a time, rejecting the concept of ultimate meaning, reveling in my secularism - and it left me empty, lonely, weak, despairing, hopeless. it wasn't until i found an ultimate meaning - met the Almighty and realized i was His beloved, saw Him work in my life through circumstances too outstanding to be coincidence, proving His existence, and the profound, unmatched love He somehow felt for me.

Greg would say that social forces that reject proximate meaning repressed me, made me that way. if everyone subscribed to proximate meaning, we would all be in harmony. bull*@&#. human nature would eat our species alive, anarchy would dominate, our already rampant selfishness would escalate into a do-what-you-want-at-any-cost planet with no rules and no ethics.

Greg says that morality comes into play as a 'best practices' type of force that automatically emerges when humans live in a communal society - they figure out, for example, that murder and stealing are bad things and, for the benefit of society, one should avoid that behavior. from a scientist, this theory is laughable to the point of absurdity. societies isolated from civilization almost always meet a brutal, anarchistic, savage end.

in any case, it's an entertaining, enlightening illustration of the two sides, and gets you thinking more than anything, and i'm better (as usual) for the mental exercise.


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