I Seem to Have Hit a Nerve

My last post, Hitler – The Last Refuge of a Theist, seems to have hit a nerve among skeptics and atheists. I’ve seem some excellent comments regarding the truth about Hitler and his supposed support of Darwin and evolution. Among them is the following outstanding comment from fribnit.

“The single “scholarly” work of which I am aware that promotes a Darwin-Hitler connection is a piece of propaganda funded by an “Intelligent Design” promoting group called Discovery. The book, called From Darwin to Hitler by an “Historian” named Richard Weikart, is widely discredited as nothing more than propaganda.
As stated above, the Nazi’s burned Origin of the Species. Evolution was among the areas of scientific study derided by Hitler as “Jew Science”. Interesting in that Darwin was not Jewish.

It offends me deeply when someone uses the Hitler card in such a patently false manner, intended to discredit with guilt by association.

As Jay points out, Hitler self identified as a Christian. He felt that “The Almighty” guided and approved of his actions. Certainly the Christian-Hitler connection is much stronger than any supposed Darwin-Hitler connection.

I do not blame “Christianity” for the actions of Hitler and the Nazi scum, nor do I blame “Christianity” for the atrocities of the KKK, who also consider themselves “God Fearing Christians”. I don’t even blame “Christianity” for the Spanish Inquisition (Hundreds of years before Darwin) or the Crusades. I hold as responsible the people that conceived and committed these atrocities.

Long before Darwin, The Greeks and Romans and many others, considered themselves separate races from, and superior to, other people on the planet. Long before Darwin people of a variety of races considered other races to be less than human and tried to eliminate or enslave them. Human history is littered with attempts at genocide.

Believing in Intelligent Design or Creationism in the face of all the SCIENTIFIC evidence to the contrary is a remarkable exercise in willful blindness.
Trying to discredit Evolution by claiming it inspired one of the greatest atrocities in the history of man is vile and despicable and a pathetic attempt to defend the indefensible: “Intelligent Design”.”:

There are several very good points made here. Hitler did self-identify as a Christian and did, if we can believe his written and spoken words, that the “Almighty” was guiding him and supporting him.

The Nazis did burn copies of On Origin of Species and considered evolution a “Jewish” science. Burning copies of a book that describes a theory you supposedly support is incomprehensible.

Eugenics is not based on Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, but rather artificial selection, or breeding. Just as humans have bred animals for thousands of years, Hitler and his cohorts believed that they could breed better humans and even set up communities where Aryan men and women were paired, married and had children. A major goal of the Holocaust was not just to kill the Jews and other “undesirables”, but to remove them completely from the human gene pool by both exterminating those who existed and breeding the various percentages out of these genes out of the remaining population.

This type of evolutionary selection is anything but natural, which is what Darwin’s theory is all about. Those who wish to use the Nazi example of eugenics against evolution show a gross lack of understanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and of history.

To compare Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection to Hitler and the Holocaust is intellectually dishonest and reprehensible. It is a desperate ploy by people who can find no reasonable and cogent arguments to support their religious beliefs. It shows the narrowness of their world view and the smallness of the intellect.

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Coexistence?

A dear friend of mine posted some disturbing videos from Indonesia of people being stoned to death for one religious offense or another on her Facebook profile to highlight the terrible violence that religion continues to inspire. She changed her profile photo to
wpid-174270_830719950_2402185_n-2011-02-13-18-21.jpg

I found what I consider to be a much more accurate version of the Coexist sign above,

wpid-sexist_by_dailyatheist-small-2011-02-13-18-21.png
*by http://dailyatheist.deviantart.com/. Used with permission.

I’m not a graphic artist, but I’m sure if I had the talent I could come up with other signs that contained more “truthiness” that the Coexist one.

Of course, the Coexist message represents something to strive for and as such it serves its purpose well. If religious coexistence was a fact, we wouldn’t need the logo in the first place.

While I fully support efforts for peoples of all faith to coexist, my feelings, as I said in my response to one of the videos, is that to coexist we must see each other as fellow humans, not as believers and unbelievers and until we can throw off all vestiges of religions, that can never happen. As long as people allow religion to guide how they live their lives, the violence and hatred will continue. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but we need to be realistic about just how insidious the influence of religion really is and how very difficult it will be to change that.

Religion Kills Another Child

In Bangladesh, a religious cleric ordered a 14 year old girl to be given 100 lashes with a bamboo pole for supposedly having an illicit relationship with a married cousin. The man’s wife said that she saw the girl speaking to her husband near their home and notified the village cleric who order the husband and the girl to undergo the punishment of 100 lashes. The girl collapsed half way through the beating and was taken to hospital where she died a week later.

If this weren’t horrifying enough, the wife tried to claim that her husband was raping the girl and upon hearing the girl’s cries, the wife ran in and began beating the girl. Let me repeat that. Upon supposedly hearing a 14 year old girl being raped by her husband, the wife said that she ran in and beat the girl! The police aren’t buying that story, but what does it say about these people that she would think that beating the girl who was being raped was actually justification for her death?

This incident speaks volumes about the almost non-human status of woman in many religions and cultures. While it may be true that some of the attitude toward women is cultural, it is almost always supported by religious writings and teachings.

Wether the girl was just talking to her cousin, who is a male relative after all, or if there was an illicit relationship ilvolved, murder is not an appropriate punishment, especially for a young, impressionable 14 year old child.

I am reminded of a quote by Nobel laureate and physicist Steven Weinberg:

        “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil – but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.”

Living In The Real World Is Hard For An Idealist

I just finished watching Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen. I’d never seen it before, nor many of his other movies. The only ones I’ve seen before were Zelig and Sleeper, and those back in college.

A very dear friend of mine suggested to me that I watch the movie, which I watched on Netflix. She also mailed me Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, and Annie Hall, which I plan on watching in short order. She said that she thought that the themes explored in these movies were the same that I explore here in this blog and after watching Crimes and Misdemeanors, I have to say that she was right.

What I found most compelling about the movie was the struggle that the main character, Judah, has with himself between his life long rejection of religion and superstition and the Jewish religion that his father raised him and his siblings in. As a youngster he questioned his father’s beliefs and as a man, he openly rejected them, but after he commits a terrible crime, he is racked with guilt to the point of a mental breakdown.

At the end of the movie, he is at a wedding reception talking to Cliff, the idealist and romantic, played by Woody Allen. Cliff is despondent over a lost love and sardonically say, thinking about his brother-in-law who got the woman Cliff was in love with, that he was contemplating murder. Judah, knowing that Cliff is an aspiring film director, tells him that he has this great plot for a movie about murder with a twist.

“And after the awful deed is done, he finds that he’s plagued by deep-rooted guilt. Little sparks of his religious background which he’d rejected are suddenly stirred up. He hears his father’s voice. He imagines that God is watching his every move. Suddenly, it’s not an empty universe at all, but a just and moral one, and he’s violated it. Now, he’s panic-stricken. He’s on the verge of a mental collapse-an inch away from confessing the whole thing to the police. And then one morning, he awakens. The sun is shining, his family is around him and mysteriously, the crisis has lifted. He takes his family on a vacation to Europe and as the months pass, he finds he’s not punished. In fact, he prospers. The killing gets attributed to another person-a drifter who has a number of other murders to his credit, so I mean, what the hell? One more doesn’t even matter. Now he’s scott-free. His life is completely back to normal. Back to his protected world of wealth and privilege.”

Cliff, the idealist and moralist, says that the murder would never be able to live with what he did and, if he were directing that movie, he’d have him confess to the police, becoming the moral authority of the story. He says that it would be a great tragedy. Judah chides him by telling him that his ending only happens in the movies, he is talking about reality.

The meaning is clear, we can, and do, rationalize away those things that cause us guilt, or else we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves.

I have written quite a bit here about cognitive dissonance, the theory that people, when faced with uncomfortable facts that contradict their world view, will resolve the dissonance by either accepting the truth and rejecting their world view, or rationalizing the facts away, so as to be able to live with themselves. The situation portrayed in the film is very similar, in that Judah had to rationalize away the crime he had committed in order to live with himself. After all, the reasoning goes, if he turned himself in he would destroy his family and himself end up in prison for life, and what would that accomplish; who would that benefit?

It is a very seductive and, in many ways, reasonable way of resolving the guilt he feels. Of course, this goes against our concept of morality. We believe that someone who commits a crime should be held accountable for it. Yet if that person is not the type to normally commit crimes, if they don’t pose a reasonable danger to anyone else, what really is accomplished by confessing and accepting the consequences? It is a tough nut to crack and one that rationalists and ethicists have been debating for thousands of years, and I certainly don’t think that I have an answer.

It is a fascinating topic for reflection and debate. What is the real reason for punishment for those who commit crimes? On the larger scale, it helps keep social order, but what about on a personal scale? It can give the victims a sense of justice, but isn’t that really just rewarding their desire for revenge? Of course, if the offender is a career offender, or has a pathological personality that drives them to commit crimes, then prison makes plenty of sense, and this is probably the case with many offenders. But what about those people who are basically good and decent, but are driven to commit a crime out of fear or mental anguish? Is the same penalty we would give a dangerous career criminal really appropriate for them?

The movie doesn’t answer these questions. Judah is shown as having moved on with his life, in fact, his life is better than ever. Cliff is left alone with his idealism, even though it has failed him once again. This is as real as it gets, and real life is messy and arbitrary and the film gets that perfectly.

More Senseless Violence – Why And What To Do

I wrote several entries, here and here, this week about a shooting at a local high school in which a principle and assistance principle were shot by a student angry over being suspended. The assistant principle died and the student killed himself shortly afterwards.

Now we have news of another senseless shooting. This one involves U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona who was shot along with 12 others at a meeting she was holding at a grocery store in Tucson. A federal judge was also among those shoot. So far, 6 people have died, including the judge. The shooter, Jared Laugher, is in police custody.

There have been death threats against both Rep. Giffords and the judge in the past; Giffords for her support for President Obama’s health care bill and the judge for his ruling in an immigration lawsuit. It is too early to say if this shooting was motivated by either of this issues or who the intended target, if any, was.

I’m not a big propionate of gun control, but I do support laws to require background checks of people purchasing guns and laws requiring gun owners to properly secure their firearms. I believe that there should also be laws that will hold gun owners accountable for crimes committed with their firearms if it can be proved that they did not properly secure them.

For those who would assume that I am against gun ownership let me say that I don’t own a firearm, although I have on several occasions in the past. The only reason I don’t own one now is that I have teenagers in the house and I just don’t feel comfortable having one in the home. Personally, I enjoy target shooting and skeet shooting and once my kids are out of the house, I plan on purchasing a shotgun, rifle and possibly a handgun, all for target and skeet shooting.

To get back to the main focus of this post, it is unclear what the causes or solutions are for these sort of events. There will always be angry and violence prone people and they will always find a way to act on their violent impulses.

There are plenty of statistics to be thrown around. From the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence we get:

In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States. This seems to indicate that the number of people killed in the U.S. is disproportionally large compared to other western countries and when you run the numbers, they seem to bear this assumption out. I used estimate population for 2010 from the CIA Worl Fact Book and here is the number of people killed by guns per 1000 people in each country :

Country Percentage gun related deaths per capita
Number of gun related deaths per 1000
Finland 0.0032349724 3.2349724
Australia 0.001626715 1.626715
England and Wales 0.0006255168 0.6255168
Spain 0.0012901571 1.2901571
Germany 0.002357717 2.357717
Canada 0.0059242159 5.9242159
US 0.0305705847 30.5705847

So the US has 5 times the gun related death than the next highest, Canada. I’d call that significant. The real question is what to do about it?

This, of course, is something that has been debated for decades and this particular incident probably will inspire more debate, but with a Republican controlled House of Representatives you can be sure that no real progress will be made to address the issue of gun deaths in America.

There has been a lot of speculation on the motives for this shooting on twitter with some people pointing to Sarah Palin’s web site that used to have a Rep. Gifford’s district on a map with a target on it. That was removed from the site today after the shooting. Wether it was removed out of respect for the congress woman and other victims or because a target has been eliminated is unknown, but some people are trying to infer the latter. There is also many who are promoting the idea that the shooting was politically motivated, but until the facts are in as to the gunman’s motive, we can, and should, assume nothing.

The new Speaker of The House issued a statement condemning the attack in which he said, “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.” I heartily agree.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

The Only Life We Have

We just got back from the candle light service for the assistant principle who was shot and killed at school yesterday. Here are some pictures I took with my camera phone. I didn’t think to bring my good camera because I wasn’t thinking about recording it in anyway.

It was very eerie and unreal, with somewhere between 1000 and 2000 people gathered. They started off with the school cheer and then I couldn’t really hear much else, that was until the most poignant point, when they sang Happy Birthday for the woman who’s birthday would have been today. It was very emotional and very unreal. You see things like this on the news, but it is always somewhere else. To be actually standing there and realize that a human life has been needlessly taken, and seeing the hundred of students and faculty who’s lives have been so horrible changed in an instant is just beyond words.

My kids don’t go to that school, but my son’s girlfriend does. Tonight was actually the first time I’ve met her. Most of the kids I saw were either very quiet or they were acting like this was just another school event, but you could tell from the way they quickly looked away whenever they met someone else’s gaze that emotional turmoil was just under the surface.

The saddest thing to me was realizing just how many people were affected by this tragedy. Students obviously were directly affected, but you knew that their parents, who must have been panic stricken yesterday when the news hit, we just as affected. There too, were the faculty, all of whom must have known and worked closely with the woman who was killed. Even the look in the eyes of a couple of the reporters seems to show that even they were not unaffected.

As I said on my blog earlier today, it is things like this that make you realize how precious life is and how terribly quickly and suddenly it can be snuffed out. Tonight has made me treasure all of the people I know and love more than ever. A message to take away from this is to never, ever take anyone for granted because in the blink of an eye, they could be gone (or perhaps you could be). Our lives are all we really have in this world and it is the people around us who make those lives worth living. To take that for granted, to overlook this fact is probably the one of the greatest mistakes we could ever make.