More Facebook Bullshit

12 Dec

Like many of you who have Facebook pages, I see a lot of bullshit posted by Christians. Here’s an item that appeared on my wall some time ago:


Philip Yancey is a well-known author in evangelical Christian circles, a favorite of many. The part of this quote that caught my attention was the final sentence, “We must believe in something-the instinct is as strong as thirst or hunger….”

First, I don’t agree that people must believe in something. Second, I don’t agree that people have an instinct to “believe.” Third, I don’t agree that thirst and hunger are instincts in themselves; rather, they are manifestations of the instinct to survive.

The crux of Yancey’s error is the second idea he states, that people have an instinct to believe. The drive that people have to learn and know is tied to our survival instinct: we must learn to control ourselves and our environment in order to survive. The best way to gain such control is to know what the facts of the matter are, not just to believe that we know what they are. The danger in simply believing in “something,” of course, is that mistaken beliefs often lead to costly, even deadly, errors.

The failure to distinguish between “belief” and “knowledge” is common among fundogelicals. Erasing the distinction makes it easier to settle for accepting simple belief rather than having knowledge about matters of faith. If “belief” and “knowledge” are simply points on the same continuum, it doesn’t matter too much where on the continuum their beliefs/knowledge lie. But, if belief and knowledge do not lie on the same continuum (which they don’t), then religious believers have a serious problem. Regardless of all their prattle about the beauty and value of simple faith (a term often used interchangeably with belief), and despite their many attempts to designate their belief claims as knowledge claims, and notwithstanding their attempts to pretend that belief and knowledge are two different points on one continuum, many believers seem to realize that mere belief really is inferior to actual knowledge. After all, there is nothing inherent in “belief” that makes one belief superior to another. This is why many believers search desperately for historical or scientific evidence that appears to bolster their beliefs and seemingly transform them from the realm of fantasy (which is where all those other wrong beliefs belong) to that of knowledge (where they hope¬†their beliefs belong). Unfortunately for believers in superstition, woo, religions, etc., any and all beliefs not genuinely rooted in reality are false. Any apparent evidence to the contrary, any bit of uncorroborated or unconfirmed evidence that seemingly justifies fantastical beliefs, is either mistaken, or worse, manufactured.

I think Philip Yancey is actually a pretty intelligent guy (this is a statement of what I believe, not what I actually claim to know – I may well be wrong) who just happens to be wrong about this matter. Humans don’t have an instinct to believe; rather, we have an instinct to survive. One of the manifestations of that instinct is a drive to know – not believe – stuff about ourselves and our world, because it is knowledge, not mere belief, that will enable us to survive and, if we use our knowledge wisely, thrive well into the future.

— the chaplain


14 responses to “More Facebook Bullshit

  1. Ric

    December 12, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Yancey may be intelligent. But intelligence is neutral. It is possible to be quite intelligent about astrology or numerology, or about math and physics. But I wouldn’t want to drive on a bridge built by engineers using astrological principles.

  2. Lithp

    December 12, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I like those observations. I’d have just said, “I don’t feel like I’m going to die if I don’t pray every few hours, so it’s not the same.”

  3. Kagehi

    December 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Maybe he should ask the average bird for the “value” of the instinct to dive into shaded rooms, to get away from predators, find a place to rest and/or seek out food, in a world full of glass windows. Just because something is “instinctive”, and in this case, the instinct isn’t “god”, but rather, “Something did that, since everything is caused by something.”, doesn’t mean it can’t be so bloody flawed as to be useless, in many, most, or even sometimes entire categories of cases. Gods… are one of those cases where, “Something made this/made it happen.”, has no practical value at all, and where it can actually derail other instincts, in favor of doing things that are totally bloody stupid, in a fairly long list of circumstances.

  4. Graham

    December 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Well Philip Yancey is right. We must believe in something. You may believe in Knowledge. But knowledge is not always beneficial. I may know how to use a gun but how will i use it. ??? Belief or faith in God is one practical way by which a person can be transformed for the better. But your final sentence reveals it. IF we use our knowledge wisely. Do we use our knowledge wisely ?. Your instinct to survive is not much good if your neighbour wishes to survive over and above you or it causes you harm. Whilst its important to survive its also about the quality of our existence that matters Far better the God in whom we love our neighbour(s) as ourself than survival of the fittest.

    • Kagehi

      December 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      When you find someone that isn’t completely, totally, and self servingly, following that “love our neighbor” god consistently, all the time, then come back and talk. Or, don’t bother, since some of the people that follow that god actually follow its ***original*** meaning, which was, literally, “the guy in your same tribe, not the other guy across the river.” In any case, no one follows “survival of the fittest”. Its the second stupidest means to arrive at a better society any one has ever deluded themselves about. Interestingly, the only people actually claiming that ***anyone*** follows it are the same people that follow the **worst** method of arriving at moral and ethical codes of conduct, which is, “What ever I believe is what ‘love thy neighbor’ means, so you are evil, if you appose my goal of trying to cure gay people, promoting abstinence, forced female mutilation, making everyone where burkas, for the well being of everyone in society, etc.”

      None of those things are “contradictory” to a vision of “love thy neighbor”, which assumes that allowing certain things, or failing to condemn others, will endanger your neighbors. So, some wacko that thinks your sister should have her genitals chopped up, stuffed into a sack for the rest of their life, and stoned, so someone rapes her **is** loving his neighbor. To them, you are the one getting it wrong.

      If you have no better justification than, “But my version, out of thousand of different versions, including the ones that might agree with every single one of those things, of X religion doesn’t say that, so no, they are the ones wrong!”, then.. sorry, but your god is absolutely useless in defining right and wrong.

  5. vinnyjh57

    December 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    I’m not so sure that Yancey is completely wrong, although I doubt that evolutionary psychology can answer these questions with any kind of certainty. I can’t help but wonder whether some sort of spiritual instinct or propensity or need evolved along with consciousness in order to enable man to cope with the awareness or his own mortality. Unfortunately, what we know about how the human mind works and how it evolved is still a tiny fraction of what we don’t know.

  6. Graham

    December 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I agree that we know so little about the subjective nature of the mind. I am overwhelmed that we have the cognition to even consider these things at the end of a seemingly random biological evolutionary process. Emotion and imagination too. Simply awesome. The question though is ”spiritual need vs ”spiritual reality” or perhaps ”comfort for death” vs a ”different experience” of reality. Many people accept death without the need for God and people of faith are not routinely preoccupied with death. Its what faith can do to benefit the individual and those around.and the experience that can come with that which is wholesome to many. People draw from lots of influences to determine their moral path ( that’s why i said ONE way ) It can be contentious what good and bad actually means its certainly not common to all mankind. I find Jesus impressive not just for the Christian ethic including love thy neighbour ( all tribes as per the Good Samaritan ) but also how he teaches the pathway to spiritual experience with God which i must say i thirst and hunger for much more than many other aspects of life which of course can also be enjoyed.

  7. Haldol

    December 14, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I would have agreed with you until last Month. I was watching the latest episode of Morgan Freeman’s show on the Science Channel entitled “Did we invent God?”
    It seems that we do have a belief instinct. I realize this is very general, so you should try to catch that show. Blew me away.

    • Kagehi

      December 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      A number of people have tried to make that claim. The problem is, they gloss over the possibility that it is an “artifact”. I.e., that, as a result of our need to make predictions about the world around us, we can make very stupid predictions, in some cases. The default assumption of every person writing books, putting out shows, or doing “studies” on “faith”, is invariably that such belief is a thing, in and of itself. They then ignore everyone that doesn’t fit the category (which is growing in the US, and is, if anything, a very large percentage in Europe now). Its one of the things that annoys some of us about so called “Evolutionary Psychology”. You just propose X is true, run some studies, maybe cherry pick the results, then conclude you have evidence. No question ever seems to be asked, like, “Could this be coincidental to some other, actually adaptive, trait we have?”, or even, “Is this actually cultural, not genetic.” The failure to ask the latter **ever** is the most frustrating, especially when you can, sometimes, take less that 5 minutes on Google and find examples of places where the behavior just doesn’t happen at all.

      One such “study” was on the “ancient benefits of rape”, for example. I guess they didn’t know that there was one obscure culture, who, by giving women the same allowance for promiscuity as men, reacted to someone describing such an act with, “Why would anyone do such a thing to someone?” Whoops.. guess its not so “universal” a trait… Point being, such shows “default” to the assumption, “Its common everyplace, so it can’t be cultural, so, maybe its adaptive.”, then go on to babble about all the reasons they think it happened. They never examine if the central premise was wrong, and/or show that “belief” of this sort is, itself, and adaption, and not just an unfortunate accident, of another adaptation, and not something that we are pre-programmed to do.

  8. Kagehi

    December 14, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Every religion contains much the same things, and they almost always mean “the guy literally next door, not the other guy over there.”, Graham. Faith is a shortcut, and its a shortcut invented not by the people that want answers, but by the con artists who realize that people will be satisfied with bad ones, if no others are available, and that they can, in some manner, profit from it. That, throughout history, there have been some churches, where the leaders are bloody dumb enough to not get the point, doesn’t change the fact that, even today, the largest groups are controlled by people that have almost as much money as corporate CEOs, and think they need more power, and more money, to “grow” their religion.

    As for the “Good Samaritan” nonsense… The whole point of that passage was, “Even horrible people can sometimes be good.” The default assumption being, some people are bad people *period*, outsiders, those “not like us”, and gosh, isn’t it just amazing that one of them can be so “Christian” sometimes. Its a backhanded commentary, sort of like saying, “Wow, isn’t in great how some girls in that neighborhood are not sluts!”, or, “Gosh, if you thought all Mexicans where lazy, I know this guy that is an example of them not all being that way!” In short, the mere use of the term denigrated those people, in a backhanded way, while trying to teach some pretty useless message.

    But, it also teaches “bad” morality, because instead of working out what is right, it just declares that what ever the priesthood things is good, is, because well.. god said so, and then chastises everyone else for not following it. Its not relevant, at all, whether or not those things “are” good or not. Jesus had a mess of things that where inconsistent, angry, shaming, etc., along with some of the good things, and an whole lot of what is in the NT sounds suspiciously like someone writing a bad script which says, “Submit to authority, don’t fight back, don’t strive to gain the same things as the rulers, live in the dirt, because it will make you better than them, nay, don’t just live in the dirt, but if they say they own the dirt, give that too them too, and be humble instead.” In short, given the time, the place, and the conditions, it arose in, it sounds way less like a moral code, than a means of the Empire to convince anyone gullible enough to follow it to submit to rule, and not do what the Jews did, and fight back against their conquests, or what the slaves did, and rebel, or what the other “lesser” people did, and refuse to be ruled by Rome. That some distorted philosophy that presumes to, but doesn’t actually do, on sum, any better than any other religion at making anyone moral, at all, came out of it, seems to me to be fairly secondary to what it actually represented, at a time when Rome was becoming insular, more violent, unsettled, and its rulers where seeing their glory and power slip between their fingers (and, thus, needed someway to bamboozle people into letting them keep it). They should have just rid themselves of the idea of Emperors, and gone back to the earlier Senate system, but, that would have required giving other people power, not keeping it all.

    Christianity was a neat solution for them. It told the masses, “You are meant to be ruled by kings, and true morality stems from submitting.” Its hardly a surprise that the official Catholic church came **out of** the same ruling class, not out of the common people that, until the ruling class began enforcing it, where as likely to visit a temple dedicated to Zeus.

    But, the key point here is, its a bad source of right and wrong, because, when it gets something wrong, it either refuses to recognize it, or it fragments, or it takes it hundreds of years to actually admit it. The people move one, long before the church admits it got it wrong itself. And, if you are making up your own mind about things, and ignoring what the church says about it, or you are shopping around for which every one of thousands of churches happen to “mostly” reflect your own beliefs, then its not religion, or faith, that is bloody defining your morality anyway. All you are doing is joining a club, which follows the same ideas that you already came up with, on your own, and would have, without ever having so much as even heard of the Bible, or faith, or religion. And, if your conclusions are that you hate X group of people, think good things are bad, bad things are good, and that you are right anyway, the net result is that you I would argue, you will be worse than someone that got there without religion. Why? Because no one that reached such shitty conclusions, without faith, has as strong of a vested interest in maintaining those shitty opinions, but.. if your faith, salvation, other people’s salvation, your friendships, your membership in the “club”, etc. all depend on you being right… any resistance you have to seeing the truth of how wrong you are about something will be amplified to such a point that you may be completely impervious to arguments.

    And, there is no argument you can possibly give, which justifies, “Unshakable faith in the wrong things, due to the cost of changing your mind”, as being the same as, “learning to be moral”.

  9. Graham

    December 16, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Its true that we learn by experience and what we learn from others but right cannot be assumed to happen and we draw our morals from many different sources. That does not mean that we cannot place a set of values which are useful to us as central. Not because we are not thinking or that the priest told us ,or that its in the bible, nor that we blindly accept them but because they make sense according to our life experience. For example the good Samaritan is actually about loving the other tribe as is the Samarian woman at the well or accepting the gentile. We cannot say that humankind has learnt to be accepting of other nations or tribes. I think Jesus is giving this as an example of how we should be and i don’t think he meant it to be interpreted as you suggest.So its a useful message to repeat which we hear when we go to Church as a reminder of any prejudice we might hold. The point that you make about authority is really interesting and i know that many Atheists have a real problem with this because it is seen as servile,a kind of spiritual doffing of the cap or acceptance of injustice. Jesus though is making a different point here and that true liberation is in submission to him yet this is hard to understand until you actually do it and then it frees you from a lot of everyday anxiety. But it does not mean that you idly stand by and accept injustice because if so why are there countless Christian organisations campaigning against starvation, persecution, modern day slavery homelessness and many other things. The interpretation of scripture is an ongoing process. I agree that in Rome they worked out that to have God on your side was useful to keep the people on side and the early Church were glad of the protection of the rulers as they were being persecuted at that time. The authoritarian structures that arose have been useful for a certain time in history but become limited as time moves on. Yes there have been many who have subverted the teachings of Jesus for their own gain but that does not mean the teachings in themselves are bad. We also sometimes ignore that the so called ”better” liberal values which enable us to have free choice can also be harmful to us. In most opinions that we hold we think we are right. Atheist /Humanists think they are right and can be just as unshakable, fixed and impervious to argument. I think we all weigh it up and find what works for us as individuals. Christianity is not just about ethics though it is also about communion and spiritual experience.

    • kagehi

      December 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      Sigh.. As I said, not everything “Jesus” is supposed to have said or done is even rational. More to the point, you don’t create a moral code, with vague gibberish, which then has to be “continually interpreted”. The very concept denies that it differs, in any valid way, from how anyone else might get there. Finally, by codifying such a things, at all, especially when you can’t bloody tell when/if its supposed to be literal, or parable, or just made up gibberish, you specifically **open** it to abuse.

      I don’t just have problems with the claim that it teaches morals, I have a problem with the whole claim as to what happened, who did it, and thus, what the “intended” messages where in the first place (or, whether, like any good scam, there was a version the masses was supposed to buy, but a whole list of other intended results, for the rulers).

      All of which doesn’t even address the fact that you can’t claim, “Jesus said X.”, when the only evidence he said anything at all, it purely the Bible itself. The facts of his supposed place of birth are wrong, the various claims of proof of who was supposed to be are a muddled hack, attempting to fit his story into Jewish prophecy, which fundamentally contradicts his messages of peace, there is no, in a state with meticulous record keeping, any sign he was ever born, or where, or to whom, or that a census was done when it claims, or that he ever visited any of the places he did, or did any of them, etc. The only other mentions of him are written, suspiciously, at the same time the rest of it showed up, or later. The only claim to the contrary is not documented facts, but assertions that, “Oh, no, I wrote this way back, and only now decided to show up with it.” One whole section, for frak sake, isn’t even making a claim to be personally witnessed (or written, for some reason decades after the fact), but was “revealed to them”, via mystic visions.

      In short, nothing, nadda, zip. We have a clearer record of what Zeus was doing during the time, and years prior, and we all, I hope, recognize that he was entirely made up.

      Its not a surprise that its been misused. It would be a surprise if it wasn’t.

      Any “faith” which can, without anything other than your personal opinion, hold justification for both the right wing vision of, “We are the chosen, god wouldn’t let us hurt the planet, the poor should submit to us, who are rich, etc.”, and the liberal vision of, “We are all equal, should all have similar opportunity, etc.”, isn’t much of a guide. It also ignores the fact that, back when founded, priests married, the church was the bank, the brothel, the place to buy indulgences, the place to go to get your documents copied, the place for “everything”, other than what *they* allowed the kings to do, an institution that they themselves helped create, and keep in place. In short, they where what the right wing in the US want it to become again, and they want this, because it allowed them to claim that, what ever they did, and who ever they did it too, as long as the priests thought it was a good idea, was “right”, including mass murder, war, theft, slavery, and so on. I am sure the modern liberal Christian would claim that, somehow, the very people that codified the Bible itself, 5 seconds after finishing, took a wrong turn into **all** of those things, and that every change since was a, ‘Correction in our course.” I see it, instead, as a lot of people not taking the parts of both the OT, and the NT, which support such things, seriously, because it hurts people, and taking everything else just as seriously as they intended to peasantry to do so, with the ironic result being that “modern” Christians have more in common with the mythological figure they follow, than they do with any Christian ever living, other than the poor, uneducated, dupes, ruled by Church sanctioned kings and emperors, possibly, since the moment it was founded.

      Its not clear to me why Jesus, or god, or even the Church, which ever one that may be, there are so many of them, should get any credit at all. It smacks of a sort of self induced form of the, “Those primitives where too ignorant to have built the pyramids without help from space aliens.” And, not just that, so long as one keeps attributing success not to long, hard won, understanding, but “truth” handed down by a book, that “truth” will continue to propagate bad ideas, along with the good ones. Because, after all, the “word of god” is much harder to question than, “Some idea someone got out of a useful, but otherwise fictional, story.”

  10. PhillyChief

    December 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Lot’s of beliefs systems teach morals, however they’re not always very good morals. They also rarely give justification for their code of morals other than via some fanciful threat, fiat, or both which leads us to…

    true liberation is in submission to him yet this is hard to understand until you actually do it and then it frees you from a lot of everyday anxiety.

    It sure is easier to not have to think, to place blind faith in things rather than worry about unwanted possibilities which may come to pass. There’s nothing hard to understand about wanting to indulge in some kind of escapism. This is why people indulge in drugs and alcohol, for example.

    But it does not mean that you idly stand by and accept injustice because if so why are there countless Christian organisations campaigning against starvation, persecution, modern day slavery homelessness and many other things. The interpretation of scripture is an ongoing process.

    When societal morals were not as developed as they are today, people were much more willing to accept such human injustices as a matter of faith. As societal morals develop however, it becomes more difficult for believers to accept such things so they “interpret” their belief system in such a way that reconciles it with what they’ve come to know is right. It happened with slavery, has and still is happening with women’s rights, acceptance and acknowledgment of equal rights for LGBT, and so on.

    I would also have to agree with Kagehi that much of the teachings from the Jesus character are quite bad. The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, is full of horrible advice.


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