Ideas should never be above criticism, particularly religious ones. Though I have great respect for Ben Affleck’s acting and humanitarian work, I have to go with Sam Harris on this debate. Islam not only leaves room for violence and oppression, its texts call for it. I am grateful that a great deal of the adherents to Islam, being around 1 billion in the world, have found a more nuanced way to view and practice their faith. Yet, many Muslims take the fundamental dictates of Islam regarding violence very seriously.
Affleck was impassioned in his challenge to Harris. Yet, his indignation, straw men, and non sequiturs added nothing to his argument.
There are several key points to consider about this issue:
1. Islam is not a “race,” rather, a religious ideology. Ideas are not above reproach or criticism. People deserve protection, rights, and respect. Ideas are made to be tested, discussed, debated, and even ridiculed. To quote Steven Brutus, “Anything that can’t be mocked is dangerous.” No idea, philosophy, or ideology should ever be off-limits from being battered like a pinata to see what ends up falling out, for better or for worse.
2. Islamic religious texts not only allow for violence against non-believers, but actually prescribe it. The portion of Muslims who put those admonitions into actual practice (or just agree with them) are not employing strained or fringe interpretations of those religious texts, but literal ones. For a list of such references, click the link: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/cruelty/long.html
Not to single out Islam for possessing religious texts with a call to kill unbelievers, as there are plenty of similar verses in the Hebrew Bible & other religious texts. I am no fan of those either. But, it is Islam that is the matter of debate in the video above.
3. Any fundamental and violent faith text or system is an enemy of human progress. ANY text, religious or otherwise, that says, “Kill a person who does not agree with this,” is an abomination to humanity. Any or all texts deserve public condemnation. We should all support religious freedom and also the freedom NOT to be religious. But, that doesn’t include the right to harm, imprison, or kill others for not agreeing with you.
When I heard several weeks ago that Bill Nye would be debating Ken Ham at the “Creation Museum,” I was beyond excited. Not only that, but I ACTUALLY got one of the less than 1,000 tickets to the event! (see my previous blog, “I Got a Golden Ticket! I’m Going to the Nye vs. Ham Debate!”)
Since then, I’ve noticed quite an outcry against Nye participating in the debate with a “young earth creationist.” There is the assertion that Nye’s presence will give the Creation Museum and it’s founder, Ken Ham, a new level of credibility. Also, that the task is a waste of time because those who don’t regard modern science over their religious dogmas regarding the age of the earth, evolution, etc. will not change their minds anyway. Some suggest that Nye, like Richard Dawkins, should eschew debates with creationists outright.
Let me give you several reasons why I support Nye participating in the debate:
1. Nye is a true ambassador for science- From 20 years ago with the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” show until recent years appearing on many news shows, Nye desires to educate the masses about the Scientific Method and demonstrable facts about the world and cosmos. We live in a Nation where nearly everyone uses advanced technologies, yet the vast minority of people is scientifically illiterate. We NEED people like Bill Nye, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and others who are giants in the scientific community, yet passionate and able to deliver a zest for science to the masses.
2. Bill Nye ISN’T a “debater”- Some have decried Nye’s potential potency as a debater against Ham, who is a seasoned debater for his YEC cause. Ham knows his “argument” well and is very experienced at presenting it. You can see Ham’s unforgiving debate style even against a fellow believer that holds an “old earth” position in his square off with Hugh Ross in this video.
Bill Nye is a natural educator, not a debater. He follows the patient, explanatory pattern of his own professor in college, Carl Sagan. Sagan’s desire to kindly and methodically impart scientific facts is illuminated in this video of his dialogue with a creationist challenging evolutionary science decades ago:
You can note Nye’s similar style in this video where he was supporting the issue of climate change:
In this ongoing, “beating a dead horse,” creationist vs. evolutionary science battle; we need more dialogue and less debate. Bill Nye can be a HUGE part of that needed dialogue.
3. People DO actually change their minds- I know, because I am one of them. I used to be a fundamentalist, Young Earth Creationist Christian. I took the book of Genesis as a literal history of the creation of the earth and humanity. Eventually, I had to face science, logic, and reason. When that happened, I changed my mind. Even if it’s the minority of adults who WILL ever change their minds for the better, it’s still encouraging. It is the next generation that will be the real catalyst for moving from fables to fact. Events like this one that Nye is participating in will add needed momentum to this paradigm shift in our scientifically ignorant Nation.
4. “Credibility” isn’t so easily earned- There is a large number of American Christians that give Ken Ham’s teachings and the Creation Museum credibility now. There is a larger number of Christians, believers in other faiths, and non-theists who do not. Successfully inviting an established scientist to a publicized debate isn’t going to cause many of the second group to dispense a new-found credibility to Ham or the Creation Museum. I am going to the debate. I spent my $30 for the ticket. But, I do not have 1% more respect for the veracity of Ham’s position or the Creation Museum than I already did. That said, I am glad the Creation Museum is having the event. I also doubt the “Museum” will lose much credibility with those that support it when they hear Nye’s presentation. Though I believe the greater potential for gains is on the side of science. Facts don’t always win, but facts do possess more traction than fables in the long run. We can’t be afraid of the bullying of fables or those who preach them as truth. I applaud Bill Nye for being willing to confront a premier preacher of these fables on Ham’s own turf.
I am in great anticipation of this event on the 4th of February. Please follow my blog for more updates and information before, during, and after the debate! For more information and opinions on this debate, see the links below:
AronRa’s take on the debate:
Bill Nye talks about debate:
Bill Nye’s original viral video against creationism:
Ken Ham’s initial response to Bill Nye’s viral video against creationism:
The Friendly Atheist’s blog on the debate:
It’s easy to get bummed out about life; especially when your own isn’t going so smooth. But, there are legitimate reasons to be encouraged about things in general. As a human species, we are actually making real headway in some important areas.
From unintended pregnancies and absolute poverty, to overall violence and murder, statistics are improving. Since the numbers in these stats represent humans, the stats really mean something. The “macro view” of life today is a bit sunnier than it used to be.
I first took notice to some of these trends last year when exploring Dr. Steven Pinker’s work on violence and murder rates across the span of recorded human history. Not only have the rates of violence and murder gone down over the centuries as a whole, there have been some noticeable declines in the last half century. If you’d like to see a condensed presentation of his work in the area of violence, please view his TED Talk, “The Surprising Decline in Violence,” in the link at the bottom. He has also done other extensive talks and writing on the subject.
After seeing a very recent video on some other improvements in the world from John Green, “GOOD NEWS: 14 Reasons 2014 May Be the Best Year Ever,” I decided to share some of the good news with my readers. He briefly covers some good related data in the video below.
Is there still plenty of room for humanity to improve? Sure. Do many people still suffer preventable ills and injustices? Of course they do. Are there still areas of the world where tragedy is the present norm? Yes. So, we still have much room for progress and there are lots of opportunities to make a difference.
For some though, I know there is a resistance to such assertions of global improvement. I have gotten some ideological “push back” in personal conversations from people who actually believe and/or hope things are getting worse on the large scale. I’ve also run across the same thing on social networking in some cases. In relation to these anecdotal experiences, I’d like to offer two possible reasons for the denial of human progress.
First, we humans tend to have a very myopic view of “life” in general. We project our own experiences onto the masses, unable to see things from the perspective of others. Such a self-regulated scope can have negative implications in two distinct ways: 1. if we “have it good” and are very optimistic in general, we can forget that many others don’t get along so well and/or may be suffering in ways that we could help alleviate. 2. If our own life is rough, we can be depressed about life in general and not realize that things are better for many others and can get better for us as well. That pessimism can create an infinite loop of negativity and a feeling of situational impotence in life.
The second reason is something I’d like to introduce. I have not seen this formally referred to before, so I’ll name it myself. I’ll call it an, “Apocalyptic Bias.” I have seen this bias at work personally in the lives of others and my own life in years past. For those that embrace the fundamental “end times” doctrines of some major religions or some cults, there is a tacit need for things to be getting worse. A particular holy book, prophet, or god said things would be declining, so they are. Also, when there is a deep cognitive desire for a forthcoming “salvation” to rescue one from the mundaneness of life, things must get worse before they get better. Any data that does not jive with such a worldview must be retooled, ignored, or spun in a way that fits the apocalyptic paradigm.
To allow that the overall picture of humanity is improving is to admit you are wrong theologically or that you might not be in the “chosen generation” to experience the Apocalypse, Rapture, etc. Either scenario makes for a potentially long, boring life working and paying taxes for decades before a natural death whisks you away from the lively side of this terrestrial plane. Such a life is definitely not as exciting as parting skies, raining fire, demonic locusts, and angelic trumpets sounding.
All that said some important things are getting better. Why? There are multiple causes. Many people are helping others and improving their own selves as well. The world is getting smaller, so it’s easier for individuals and groups to have a global impact. Also, with the instantaneous dissemination of information via the internet, people around the world have access to positive ideas that they were not exposed to even a decade ago. Many who have only known backward and repressive dogmas in the past are being enlightened by the arts, superior ideologies, and science. More than ever, humans are empowered to write their own story or edit the one they were written into.
So my fellow homosapiens, turn those frowns upside down…