The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why I Don't Believe - The Great Chain Part 6 - Tiny Gods and Monstrous Egos.

Level 7 - The Greatest Show on Earth!

Assuming God were actually interested in our star and in our planet, it makes a large amount of sense that if such a being were truly watching Earth, it would most likely be watching us.  We are a rather interesting species.  In an incredibly short time, we have risen from a small population of bipedal scavengers living on the verge of starvation and at the mercy of nearly all of this world's flora and fauna to a massive population covering the entire globe that exerts dominance over nearly every aspect of the planet.  In 5000 years we have gone from small nomadic bands on the verge of learning to make metal tools to a globe spanning civilization that has split the atom, cracked its own genetic code and overcome the inexorable pull of gravity that has held every living thing in its grip since the moment of its birth.  We have become such a dominant force on this planet that our activities actively impact the climate, the atmosphere, the geography and topography and ecology of the entire world.

To be sure, we are not the first species to drastically alter the atmosphere.  Life and evolution are messy, messy processes.  Living things take in energy, metabolize it and let out gases.  In sufficient numbers and given sufficient time, any creatures will change the chemical makeup of the atmosphere. Earth’s primordial atmosphere would have been poison to nearly every creature that lives today.  It was only after countless generations of cyanobacteria exuded oxygen as a waste product, wiping out virtually all anaerobic life on the planet, that aerobic organisms began to thrive.  Those humble organisms precipitated an atmospheric crisis unparalleled in Earth's history.  But it was that very crisis that enabled the proliferation of life to proceed. Indeed, at points in its history, Earth's atmosphere has been incredibly different.  350 million years ago, oxygen levels, far exceeded those that exist today.  In such an environment, massive insects thrived among verdant swamps and enormous trees.  Thankfully for us, a Supervolcano combined with other environmental stresses wiped out that biosphere, and altered the atmosphere, allowing small lizards to predominate.  In this newer Co2 rich world, plants thrived like never before and the abundance of food led to the most massive creatures of all time, the Dinosaurs.  Luckily for us, they too were wiped out, by massive impact event, setting the stage for the rise of our distant ancestors.

The difference between the impact of our activities and those of previous generations of atmosphere and biosphere altering species is the speed at which our impact has been felt.  When cyanobacteria oxygenated the atmosphere, for example, it took tens of millions of years.  By contrast, we have been burning fossil fuels for roughly 250 years and in that time have already driven Co2 concentrations above 390 ppm, a massive increase. 

While some of our activities are doubtless harmful to us and other species, there can be no doubt that humans have a tremendous and profound impact on this world.  No other species on the planet even comes close.  No matter how one chooses to look at it, humans are easily the most powerful living force of nature that has ever lived on this planet.  Unlike any other creature, humans, through their intelligence, adaptability and technological capacity have developed the ability to meaningfully associate with nearly everything on this planet.  Humans are capable of meaningfully associating with the atmosphere through our voluminous emissions, humans are capable of meaningfully associating with the biosphere through agriculture, through selective breeding, through pollution, through construction, or thorough conscious conservation or eradication efforts.  Humans are capable of meaningfully associating with the topography of the planet through earthworks.  We actively modifying the hydrology of the planet with dams.  We actively mine the subsurface. We have even begun to have a meaningful impact on low earth orbit due to the number of satellites we have put in place for our extensive communications networks.  No other species has ever possessed the ability to meaningfully interact with this planet on so many levels and in so many ways.

For that reason alone, if one were to assume the existence of a God who actually bothered to take an interest in our planet, it seems logical that such a being would probably be most interested in our species, even if its interest amounted to nothing more than a celestial nature program.  Religious understanding, however, doesn't stop there.  The Abrahamaic religions in particular don't merely assume that such a being would be interested in humanity as a whole.  Religious understanding asserts, and billions of people somehow believe, that this being, this entity that created the WHOLE Universe, is not only interested in humans as a species, but is actively engaged in taking sides between different liturgical and ethnic groups of humans.

Level 8 – Geographical, Ethnic, Political, and Liturgical Groups

While each of the previous two steps have made sense if one assumes that God is interested in our star system, the idea that God would choose to take sides between different groups of humans is one that simply makes no sense whatsoever and merely serves to illustrate the intense narcissism and egocentricity of Religious understanding generally and Abrahamaic traditions in particular.

The human species can be divided in so many different, overlapping ways that discussing these divisions individually is incredibly tedious.  In general, however, most divisions usually boil down to divisions along roughly geographic lines.  Generally speaking different geographical regions of the world share (roughly) similar cultures, ethnicities, liturgies, and systems of governance.  While this is a massive oversimplification, it is generally true that if a person is born in a specific geographic area, chances are very high that person will be of a specific ethnicity and further, that person  will likely be raised in the specific liturgical tradition dominant in that geographic region.

Different liturgical groups and different political groups or nation states are clearly capable of meaningful association not only with one another, but also with the species as a whole.  Clearly, the introduction of new liturgical practices can have a dramatic effect on human society as evidenced by the spread of nearly all of the world's major religions and even more dramatically when those regions of the world dominated by one particular liturgy come into contact and or conflict with a different region following a different liturgical practice.

But why would God, even if one were to go through all of the levels of existential association and arrive at the point where he is interested in our species as a whole, make present day distinctions amongst human beings based on human interpretations of ancient human writings based on even more ancient human oral tradition?  Why would God even care?

Adherents to most of the world's major religions, the Abrahamaic religions in particular will, of course, object to the characterization of their sacred text as an ancient human writing.  Indeed, this is one of the chief objections I hear every time I debate Christians.  Their objection is that the Bible (or the Koran, or the Torah and the Talmud) was either directly written by God, or at the very least 'God breathed.'  Timothy 3:16 states that “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction[.]”   The simple fact is that every single Sacred Text has passages identical to those found in the Bible.  Indeed, if the Text did not make a claim to Divine Authorship, it would, by definition, NOT be a Sacred Text.  One has to wonder, however, how it is that all of these ancient writings, all supposedly written by God, and all supposedly containing literal truth seem to be mutually and expressly exclusive.  Despite the attempts of theologians to soften the impact of their Sacred Texts for more modern times, all of the Sacred Texts also contain a variant on the exclusionary theme best expressed in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”

How, or why, would God, who created and is master over all of the the entirety of the Great All, bother with humans?  Further, why would God bother to write or inspire all of these mutually exclusive tracts supposedly containing his will and then make distinctions among humans based on their adherence to either one rule book or another?  Indeed, when one considers the simple fact that religious identity is primarily a product of geography and class, distinctions made on such a basis look less like the distinctions a divine being would make and more like those WE make.

The idea that God would make distinctions amongst humans based on other criteria Ethnicity, National Identity or other false human distinctions is equally ludicrous.  Such distinctions do not even possess the patina of divine approval and represent PURELY human distinctions.  Nevertheless, billions of adherents to the world's major religions believe that the God of the Great All makes such distinctions and further that he makes even further distinctions, preferring not only those whose liturgical practices center on a specific book, but based upon some human interpretation of the way the teachings of said book are to be carried out.

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