Objectivist Christians and the Unselfish Atheist

I have never read Atlas Shrugged.  Nor The Fountainhead.  In fact, other than in quote form, I think it is safe to say that I have never read a thing that Ayn Rand ever wrote.  Like Twilight or Mein Kampf (that’s right, I just compared the work of history’s greatest monster to one of the foundational tomes of Nazism), I don’t feel any appreciable hole in myself for having not ingested these “seminal” works of literature.

For me, I care very little about what Objectivism stands for in its Platonic form, the way Rand intended it.  In debates, one is often chided to contend with the best form of the argument, but if that form isn’t practiced in the real world, it’s meaningless.  A debate on purely philosophical levels is masturbatory.  If I’m going to engage with someone in a debate, I’m only interested in their philosophy in so far as it shapes their actual thoughts and actions.

I say all of that as a preamble to this post because I intend to talk about the philosophy of Objectivism in this post, knowing full and well that I am a noob when it comes to Rand’s literary output.  However, this philosophy has grown in popularity among Conservatives in recent years (as can be evidenced by all the pundits and talking heads referencing Rand and her books), and so I feel like I can comment on the philosophy as it is being preached today, whether or not it truly represents Rand’s original intentions.

Objectivism As I Understand It

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” ~ Ayn Rand

If one portion of the quote were to be bolded, highlighted and festooned with bachelorette party, penis-shaped hats, it would have to be “with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life.”  That is certainly the portion of the philosophy that has become the rallying cry of conservatives.  The ‘productive achievement’ aspect ties in with the whole notion of Free Market Capitalism, but it’s hardly a matter of grave importance to the modern Objectivist (at least, not in comparison to the personal happiness aspect).  And ‘reason’ as the only absolute?  Psh.  Tell that to the evolution-denying, climate change-denying members of the Conservative wing.

No, happiness is all that really matters.  It ties back into Jefferson’s most quoted line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It’s the foundation of our nation, after all, pursuing happiness.

Objectivist Christians: Oxymorons or just morons?

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

The sad irony of the rise of Objectivism in the last decade is that it’s not just popular with Conservatives, it’s popular with Conservative Christians, despite the fact that it was a philosophy developed by an atheist with an atheist’s focus on the material world.  You couldn’t develop a philosophy that stands in starker relief to Jesus’ teachings than Objectivism, but it’s being preached from pulpits and being upheld as a foundational pillar of America in the same way people like to assert that we’re a Christian nation.

Well, if so-called Christians want to claim that the selfish, all-consuming pursuit of personal happiness is the most important facet of their lives, godspeed.  In fact, I’m all for it.  The one thing that religion offers that keeps it alive and beneficial is its sense of community and concern for those in need.  If Christians start stripping their faith of those admirable traits, I foresee the whole enterprise crumbling within a hundred years.  Good riddance.

No, I don’t give a sixpence about selfish Christians.  Let them clean their own house.

I’m here to raise my objections to Objectivism as an atheistic philosophy.

Unselfish Atheists

Objectivism is atheistic to its very core.  It cares nothing for life after death.  It’s not worried about everlasting punishment or consequences for actions other than one’s own happiness (this presumably extends to the happiness of your loved ones, or maybe not?).

But just because it fits with the general godless view does not mean it is the only philosophy for atheists, or even a good one.

As atheists, we should take care of our fellow humans.  We should be concerned with the well-being of the poor and downtrodden.  We should put the happiness and welfare of others on the same plain as our own.  We should not be only interested in the pursuit of our own happiness.

And the reason should be obvious to any atheist who’s come to their non-faith by process of logic and reason and not just because they’re one of those annoying people who get off on being a contrarian.

The survival of our species requires corporation.  Our sense of community evolved not because we survived long enough to develop it, but because without it we wouldn’t have survived.  Objectivism in the wild is going to get you killed.  That’s also the reason religion evolved, to help enforce a mode of behavior that was beneficial to our continued existence.  I’m no defender of religion, but I understand the important role it played in our survival (a role it now only tangentially fulfills).

Social Darwinism is the erroneous idea that Charles Darwin’s “Survival of the fittest” concept was an ideal and not simply a description of reality.  Those who are strongest survive, fact, but that doesn’t mean we should try to govern with that sort of philosophy.  Social Darwinists would argue that helping the weak survive is detrimental to the species’ survival, because we’re ensuring the continued existence of that weakness in the gene pool.  But that’s a complete misunderstanding of Natural Selection.

If we see a bird with a long pointed beak pecking into a tree for bugs, we understand that the natural force of evolution selected his ancestors for survival because they were better adapted to retrieving hard to reach food.  But in another environment, with different vegetation, a long beak may not be helpful, and could even be detrimental.

In the same way, our long, often regrettable history has helped shape a modern society in which some people thrive and others falter.  It’s not a matter of strength or weakness (as if Mitt Romney being born into money proves his worth).  Out in the wooded wilds, a hunter would survive longer than a computer programmer, but no one is going to claim Bill Gates is a weak member of our species.

How about alcoholics?  Or manic-depressives?  Or schizophrenics?  Those are clear weaknesses, right?  If those kinds of people fall between the cracks, wouldn’t we all be better off?

I must ask: How many of our greatest artists have been addicts?  How many of our greatest thinkers, inventors, creators and philosophers have been plagued with mental illness?  If we had been able to wipe out such afflictions, how many of our treasured works of art and science would be lost?  How many will be lost?

But the better question is, how much can be gained by fostering a society that cares for its fallen?*

Just because one does not believe in God or eternal consequences doesn’t mean one must necessarily think only of one’s self.  If an atheist can understand the logic in not murdering or raping, they can understand the benefit in living for others.

No, selfishness isn’t a viable philosophy, especially not for those of us who put no stock in gods or the supernatural and, instead, concern ourselves only with our physical world and the natural process by which we evolve to survive.  A species that favors variety in its ranks and does not willfully allow its own to perish is a species that will continue to survive.  That’s as Darwinian as it gets, and any atheist worth their salt has got to appreciate that.

Think of it as the successful implementation of Game Theory.  Call it a Welfare State or just call it humanity, but however you see it, if your happiness isn’t directly tied into the happiness of your fellow homo sapiens you are unfit for survival.

And in that sense, Jesus got it right, even if his followers don’t.

*I will leave the discussion of how for another post, but I’ll just say here, I absolutely believe the government should be a player in the game.

The 10 Cities Meme

“When we die there are two things we can leave behind us: genes and memes.  We were built as gene machines, created to pass on our genes.  But that aspect of us will be forgotten in three generations… We should not seek immortality in reproduction.

“But if you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a sparking plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool.  Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G.C. Williams has remarked, but who cares?  The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong.” ~ Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

“Everybody wants to go on forever.  I just wanna burn up hard and bright.” ~ Ryan Adams, “Firecracker”

The concept of the meme was first articulated by that British rogue, Richard Dawkins, and has since, quite fittingly, become one of the internet’s most persistent memes in itself.  In a profoundly moving passage of the excellent, The Selfish Gene (quoted in part, above), he expresses how we as a species have two ways to propagate ourselves through ongoing generations.  On the biological level, there are our genes which are in a constant evolutionary struggle to ensure their own survival and reproduction.

The meme, though, as Dawkins argues, is the more lasting and substantial way for ‘us’ to live on long after our meat suits have decayed.

On the internet, ‘meme’ is predominantly just shorthand for pictures of cats and celebrities doing odd things, and more cats, but a meme is really any idea that survives and then flourishes as it passes from one mind to another.  The Great Gatsby isn’t a meme, but Fitzgerald’s expression of the American Dream is, and by crafting one of the finest works of American literature, he provided a vessel for his idea to spread.

Similarly, Kerouac’s On The Road has spread a meme that could concisely be labeled as “freedom from normal,” though it’s really more complex than that (and not as idyllic in practice).

That meme took root in my imagination as a teenager and it has given birth to 10 Cities / 10 Years.  Other people have their own, unique ways of expressing that same meme, which is the beauty of the truly transcendent ideas: They can be reproduced in a million different forms but those variations all trace their DNA back to the one, core idea.

On The Road (among countless other works) had an influence on the formation of my project, so in that way Kerouac lives on through my life.  And I can only hope when I’ve completed my decade and written the book, it will be the kind of work that survives in the imagination and art of future generations.  It will likely be dissected and eviscerated by my own generation, but the most powerful ideas take hold in the minds of youth.

It might seem a lofty, even haughty, goal to seek the kind of influence that Kerouac had, but if an artist, inventor or thinker doesn’t want their work to spread, what are they creating for?  I’d rather be deemed an asshole because of my conflated ambition than be just another money-hungry leech on the nutsack of true artistry.

Aim For The Stars…

The unflattering truth is that most people I know have no ambition to ever matter in a lasting since.  The world is filled with vapid, listless, upright apes dreaming of the day the world finally gives in and showers them with wealth and pleasure.  Even most of the artists I know care more about making a bunch of money than they do about crafting truly unique, lasting works of art.  Boring.

And if you’re wondering if I mean you, let me put it this way:  I could probably count on one hand the people I’ve met whose ambition and efforts have that special spark of ingenuity that makes for world changing influence.

For most of you, both your genes and your memes will die off with your grandchildren, at best.

The same may be true of me, I can’t know.  I may never make an impression on the world, but it won’t be for lack of effort.  My goal is not merely to sign a book deal, do the talk show circuit and maybe get a movie made based on one of my novels.  I’m aiming to be discussed in college classrooms.  I’m aiming to be on the bookshelves (or Kindles) of every teenager in America.  I’m aiming to be the inciting idea that inspires some future writer to live differently.

I’m aiming for nothing short of Memehood.*

While people are chasing invisible gods in pursuit of everlasting life in heaven, I aim to achieve the only sort of immortality that can ever exist.

And if I fall short, I’ll have tried.

How many can say that?

*This puts me in the company of some of history’s greatest assholesAlso, history’s greatest innovators.  In the Venn Diagram of history, these two sets pretty much overlap.

The complete lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is working

Conspiracy Theories

Everyone I meet seems prone to imagine conspiracies.  There are always the flashy ones like, “9/11 was an inside job” or “The moon landing was fake,” and then there are the more grounded ones where [Fill In The Blank Group] is manipulating [Fill In The Blank System] for some agenda, secret or otherwise.  Some believe in aliens, or the Illuminati, or spirits.  Others take a more pragmatic take and think that the government is being manipulated by corporate interests, or corporate interests are being manipulated by government, or both are being manipulated  by something bigger.*

Rarely do all of these conspiracies tie together, because just like any good faith, they tend to contradict each other.  That said, I have met at least one person who has never met a conspiracy she couldn’t love.  She drops the name ‘Illuminati’ like it were just another established fact and believes in global conspiracies that range from the forced emasculation of males (literal or figurative?) to the notion that a unique isotope (my word, not hers) of gold transforms people and allows us to use more than 10% of our brains**, and the world governments secretly possess it and fight over it.

I have no interest in going through all of these conspiracies and trying to refute them.  There’s no point.  If you believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, still, it’s obvious nothing will ever convince you otherwise.  You’re not looking for evidence, you’re holding onto a reason to remain prejudiced (or you’re just trying to goose ratings for you reality TV show).

It’s kind of an accepted fact that the best conspiracy theories (like the best religions) are those that cannot be proven wrong because there is always a window open for adaption.  But, frankly, even crap conspiracy theories will survive as long as someone is willing to believe it (Flat Earth Society, anyone?).  The mind that seeks conspiracies is a mind more interested in a compelling story than facts or logic.  Note, I said ‘compelling,’ not coherent or cohesive.

We all seek stories to explain experiences or phenomenon.  It’s an evolutionary trait.  It’s the reason for myths, fairy tales and religions (I mean, other than that one true religion, [Fill in the blank]).  It’s the reason science exists.  It’s also the reason that we sit around obsessing over what that girl meant when she said, “We should hang out sometime.”  We create narratives.  Smart people do it.  Dumb people do it.  People with faith do it.  Atheists do it.

Conspiracy theories are just another form of narrative building, but on crack.  The classic conspiracy theory usually assumes some body of power exists which has a secret agenda (presumably that we normal humans would oppose if we knew about it).  They have devised a complex, almost certainly nefarious means of achieving their goal, which has resulted in an ever widening net of lies, misdirections and false ‘facts’ to throw us plebeians off the scent.

Why?

When I hear a conspiracy theory (in whatever form it may take), my first thought is: Where is this going?  In fact, instead of trying to argue facts with conspiracy theorists, I’ve taken to pulling a maneuver out of every 3-year-old’s handbook and just ask, “Why?” ad nauseum.

And I usually get a pretty obvious answer, at first.  A conversation might go like this:
“Why did Bush and Cheney (or whoever) arrange 9/11?”  To invade Iraq.  To get oil.  To create opportunities for Halliburton. 

Those are all things Bush/Cheney/Whoever very well might have wanted.  “But you didn’t answer my question.  Why did they arrange the 9/11 attacks?  Because, if they wanted to invade Iraq, why pin the attacks on a ‘terrorist’ who had no connection to Iraq and required that we get involved in a war in Afghanistan first?  They had to falsify evidence to get us into Iraq, so why not just create a story where Saddam Hussein funded the 9/11 attacks and skip the middle man?”

And the response that follows starts to break down.

OK, but maybe 9/11 wasn’t about money and oil.  It’s just about power.  They needed a terrorist attack to create an atmosphere of terror in order to seize even greater power through the Patriot Act and other means. 

“Why?” 

“So they could control the populace.”

“Why?”

“So they could have more power.”

“Why?”

Either this conversation turns into a big circular argument (they wanted power to control people, and they wanted to control people to have power) or there is some long game being played here that either has failed or is completely staggering in its scope. 

Sure, under Bush the Executive branch finagled some extra powers and some rights were curbed.  But, really (unless you’re Middle Eastern), how much have your personal freedoms really been hampered?  To borrow a Chris Rock quote, is there really anything you can’t do on Wednesday because Bush won?  Obviously, there are some troubling aspects of laws passed by both Bush and Obama, but they’re hardly of the Orwellian scale one would expect from the sort of global conspiracy necessary to fake 9/11. I guess what I’m saying is, this fascist takeover is kinda a let down.

If you want me to believe your conspiracy theory, you need to do a little better job of explaining why such elaborate schemes are needed to bring about rather unimpressive results.  I know we’re never supposed to trust the “official story,” but usually the official story makes a whole hell of a lot more sense than what ever cockamamie theory you are spouting.

Emergence

People love to believe in secret power pulling the strings.  Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s the Illuminati, maybe it’s the Boy Scouts.  But somebody has to be manipulating the world, right?  Because the alternative is that we’re just a bunch of people on this planet with pretty basic wants and desires and sometimes in the pursuit of them we come into conflict with someone else.  Sometimes we’re bad people; sometimes we create plans in order to meet our needs and those plans hurt other people.  It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just humanity.

Most of the supposed conspiracies in the world can be explained by ‘emergence.’  There are multiple, intelligent actors interacting, all in pursuit of their own ends.  These interactions create networks of events and circumstances and then we stand back from them and we see patterns, like the shape of a butterfly in a cloud.  These patterns couldn’t possibly have arisen by pure chance and chaos (we think), so there must be a conspiracy to explain it.

The funny thing about conspiracy theories is that while they are often very cynical and even dire in their conception of the world, they are actually an attempt by their propagators to make sense of the world and, by turns, create a comforting sense of order.  “I might not be in control, but somebody is and that’s something.  (Maybe I will usurp the powers that be, or join them.)”

Your average conspiracy theorist is like your average American Christian: You have these beliefs but rarely do said beliefs play a substantial role in your day to day life***.  The Illuminati might control the world’s gold supply, but you’re still going to go to work today and buy your Starbucks coffee and log into Facebook and generally play into the world system that you decry as a sham.  It’s enough to have your story, you don’t really care about the consequences.

Occam’s Razor

You might not believe in the Illuminati or 9/11 conspiracies or anything of that sort.  But there is some conspiracy lurking in your mind that you flick at like it was a loose tooth.  It’s probably about the pharmaceutical companies or Wall Street or food manufacturers.  It’s not just that you think they pursue policies that might be harmful in order to make greater profits.  You think that they are secretly controlling politicians, laws and government policies all in order to get richer.

Maybe.  But it begs the question, “Why?”  Considering the amount of years and money it would take to set all these pawns in place, might it not be more realistic to believe that [Fill In the Blank Profiteer] is using legal, albeit ethically questionable means to benefit themselves, the same way you might use your friendship with a manager to get a better schedule at work.  Yeah, the system might be rigged in certain groups’ favor, but I’m not convinced it was a conscious decision by a secret panel of shadowy figures. 

Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest answer is usually the best answer.  Rarely is a conspiracy theory simple.  In fact, complexity is one of the strengths of a good theory, because it makes it harder to disprove or even completely understand.

Generation and generation of Hollywood movies and comic books have bred us to believe in evil villains who aim to control (or, for some reason, destroy) the world****.  But reality is far more prosaic.  There are certainly dictators in the world, and that’s a whole other issue.  But here in America, most of the ‘villains’ are really just people whose individual goals don’t align with our own.  It’s possible for me to find certain Republican policies repugnant without thinking they all hate women.  And it’s possible for you to oppose ‘Obamacare’ without having to claim it’s an attempt to turn America into a Socialist State (it’s not).

No matter how compelling or reassuring it might seem to believe in a great story, it’s always worth stopping and asking yourself, “Why?”

And if the answer requires more steps than the ‘official story,’ you’re probably just enjoying a good ol’ fairy tale.

*When I say that government being manipulated by corporate interests is a conspiracy theory, I’m not talking about Citizens United or Super PACs or lobbyists.  It’s a well established fact that corporations use their money to influence politicians.  I mean on a larger scale, a more systemic manipulation that involves buying off scientists (or relevant experts) and any governmental official all to line the pockets of a small group of power players.

**The 10% myth is a frequent player in a variety of conspiracy theories, as well as for homeopathic ‘cures’ and mystic healing.  If we could just rid our collective consciousness of this utter bullocks, we might save a lot of gullible people a lot of money.  Probably not, actually.

***And just like any religion, there are fanatics whose beliefs completely guide every aspect of their lives.

****Notice how these movies about World Conquering Villains usually fall apart in the 3rd act?  Because even the best writers have a hard time coming up for a legitimate reason why anyone would want to conquer the world.  Any villain smart enough to take over the planet would realize that he could just make a billion dollars and have the world hanging from his nuts.  No henchmen required.

Snap Judgments and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

 

“It was a Jump to Conclusions mat.” ~ The fat guy.

I’m seriously not trying to read too much into this because it was really an insignificant moment.  But it illustrates a point so I’m gonna mention it.

A little more than a week back, at that whole Soul Club Shebang (maybe they should change the name to that), I had this minor, 15-second interaction that amused me.  When I arrived at the club, my friend and her friends were already there and dancing.  I ordered a whiskey and waded through the throngs to find them.  Once I did, I stayed on the outside a bit so I could drink until I achieved my dance-intoxication level.

A couple of the friends of a friend were a lesbian couple that I had met the night before.  We had chatted some that evening (not a lot) and parted with hugs.  As I was standing at the periphery of our group’s moving dance circle, mostly watching and sipping on my whiskey, one of the ladies in the couple curtly said, “Excuse me,” before gently jostling me aside so that she could dance next to her partner.

Now, I knew even before she addressed me that this woman didn’t recognize me.  There was a tenseness in her body language that told me she thought I was a stranger hovering around her (mostly female) friends.  It was a dark club, I was wearing a hat the night before, I wouldn’t have expected her to pick me out after only one other interaction.

Once she did recognize me, she apologized and it was no big deal.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal even if she hadn’t apologized.  I wasn’t offended and I knew what must have been her assumption:  I was just some creepy guy trying to grind up on some girls at a club.  I’ve seen plenty of guys do it and I’m sure she’s seen more.

An aside:  Hey guys, why don’t we all just agree to not be the creepy guy grinding on girls at clubs.  Deal?

Snap Judgments

It’s an interesting phenomenon, the snap judgment.

From an evolutionary point of view, it’s a necessary trait.  Creatures that react quicker to potential threats live longer.  Yeah, you might offend someone (or just look dumb), but at least you’ll still be alive to reproduce.  And that’s what it’s all about.

We jump to conclusions about people pretty easily, based on very little information.  Some times we get the opportunity to reconfigure those judgments over time.  Often, though, we never see those people again, or only ever briefly, and that initial picture we formed lasts. 

I know there is nothing profound in that observation, it’s part of our daily experience being human.  Yet, for a trait so obvious and, to be honest, banal, I can’t help but notice how frequently we ignore it and allow our snap judgments be our guide.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The real issue with the snap judgment isn’t that we make them, but that so often when we get a chance to recognize them for what they are and perhaps correct them, we instead stand firm and hunker down in our shortsighted opinions.

That chick was rude to you the first time you worked together?  Obviously a bitch.  So what do you do?  You treat her like a bitch every time you see her and, what do you know, she acts like a bitch to you from then on out.

It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy and it is this common psychological phenomenon that is at the root of all stereotyping and prejudice.

The example I used earlier was minor and by no means an indication of that woman being prejudiced against men.  But it does illuminate the issue I’m referring to, which is our need to review every situation.  We don’t always have the time or mental capacity to give every person and every situation our full attention.  In order to take action, we have to form some sort of judgment, so we hastily form an opinion on the details that are most readily apparent.

There is nothing wrong with that, it’s an evolved survival technique that has obviously done our species a lot of good.  But it’s also done us a lot of harm, and the one great thing about our highly-developed minds is that we have the ability to rejigger an opinion after we’ve made it.  Unfortunately, we seldom do.

Tourism

I am not a tourist.  Tourism is fun, it’s a way to briefly experience a lot of different areas, cities or countries in a short amount of time.  There are lifelong tourists who will experience ten times as many places as I will experience in my lifetime of travels, and I feel a pang of jealousy knowing that.

But there is only so much you can truly know as a tourist.  I’ve fully admitted that even in a year I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a definitive experience in a city, but when a tourist visits a city (for a day, for a week, maybe even a few months), they get an impression of the spot and then afterwards they are expected to tell their friends and family what that city is like.  It’s understood that this is just that one person’s experience, but it so often becomes the de facto experience of the city in those people’s minds, especially if there is no other opinion to serve as a counterpoint.

(Yelp, while helpful and usually insightful, is largely made up of tourist and one-time visit reviews.  From a customer service standpoint, I understand that “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” but one bad waiter or meal at a restaurant shouldn’t become the definitive review of any establishment.  I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that everybody has a bad day.)

How many times have you gone to a movie or a concert or on a trip with a friend, and when it was all done, they had a completely different opinion of the event than you did?  Granted, because they’re your friends, you probably tend to agree on most things but I’m sure disagreements happen from time to time.  Comparing multiple experiences, especially contrasting ones, is the best way to get a richer understanding of anything.

Arguments and Counterarguments

Most of us take our experiences and barricade ourselves behind them, seeking out the views and experiences of others only when they serve to reinforce our own.

When I wrote about the (weak) arguments against gay marriage in a previous post, I mentioned that if there is even one example of a gay couple raising a well-adjusted and successful child, it fatally wounds the assertion that gay couples can’t raise healthy children.  But some people still hold to that belief.

When we hear a counterargument to a longstanding belief or opinion, we very rarely try to process that new information and adapt our views.  Instead, we almost always rationalize away the dissenting view.  We all do it.  I do it.

When a view is a well-established and heavily supported fact or opinion, it’s fine to be intensely critical and skeptical of conflicting accounts.  For example, after a research team purportedly discovered neutrons traveling faster-than-light, a feat that is considered impossible and would undermine Einstein’s most famous theory and all the knowledge we’ve gained from it, the research understandably came under heavy scrutiny.  Even the original researchers were pretty sure they must have made a mistake somewhere (and it looks like they did).

But, when a view is nothing more than a snap judgment made because we didn’t have time to make a more thorough analysis, any contrasting view should be given equal footing.

The real danger of a snap judgment is that we’ve usually already fallen into self-fulfilling prophecy mode before we even take the chance to second guess the original judgment.  By the time we are in a place where we can question our initial evaluation, we’ve already self-selected, through our bias, examples that support our view.

Frankly, it seems like our entire political system is based on this sort of irrational conclusion-jumping.

As a species, we aren’t going to suddenly evolve out of snap judgments, but as rational beings, we can do our best to be aware of them.  Taking that extra ten seconds to contemplate a situation further could have momentous effects.

But, sometimes, the dude standing next to your girlfriends at the club really is just a Creep.

Extranatural: How Intelligent Design Hopes To Reclassify ‘God’

Ex-tra-nat-u-ral: Adj. – 1. Any explanation for unexplained phenomenon that is a possibility in nature, yet so outside the realm of normal human experience and scientific discovery that it is highly improbable.  2. A method of explaining the Supernatural as an aspect of the Natural.

Let’s discuss the idea of God A Designer as a scientific theory.

I think it’s fair to say that the Intelligent Design movement does not mean Spock when they say A Designer.  After all, if we concede that aliens created life on this planet (a theoretical, but unlikely possibility) that would still just leave the question of the origin of those aliens.  It’s merely passing the buck in a way that even IDers would find unsatisfactory.

The Designer then must be something other than just another, ancient biological creature.   After all, the point of ID is to confront the materialistic worldview, specifically biological science’s reliance on a wholly natural approach to describing life and the universe.  The Designer, who or whatever that may be, is something that exists outside of our normal understanding of nature.

The vast majority of Intelligent Design proponents would happily call that Designer “God” and would mean the monotheistic God of either the Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith (ID has made inroads in many Arab nations).  However, as a ‘scientific’ proposal, the Designer need not be labeled in any direct way, and, in fact, the ID movement must be careful to distance themselves from their religious supporters for fear of, rightly, being labeled as reconfigured Creationists (the landmark case Kitzmiller V. Dover Area School District ruled that ID is merely Creationism 2.0 and thus unconstitutional to teach in schools, as the Judge stated in his decision: “For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child.”)

(Interested bystanders would be advised to watch the documentary about the case, “Judgment Day,” available to watch for free online.)

It is worth noting (though, not as a mark against ID’s validity) that the outspoken proponents of ID are all very religious (Christian) men, Including Michael Behe (Roman Catholic), Jonathan Wells (Unifacationist), William Dembski (Southern Baptist) and Stephen C. Meyer (Presbyterian), who is the director of the Discovery Institute, the single organization behind ID’s explosive emergence in the past two decades.  Their religious background and association under one Institute’s umbrella by no means debunks ID, but it should be kept in mind when the more conspiracy-minded proponents of ID start claiming a widespread blackballing of ID on ideological grounds (I ask, who is more likely to have an agenda: A worldwide spectrum of scientists with varying backgrounds and religious beliefs, or a singular organization brought together under the flag of one idea?).

The Designer

Back to the theory: Can the idea of the Designer be somehow both non-naturalistic and yet not religious?  God is supernatural by definition, but to be supernatural is to be ostensibly religious.  Science as it has been understood since its origins has always been interested in the material world.  Even when science has delved into ideas like psychic abilities and ghosts, there has been a determinedly naturalistic approach to the studies.  After all, we are natural, material beings, how else could we expect to understand the world?

The point of religion and faith has always been to try to explain the supernatural, the realm beyond our senses (in the grandest case of Begging the Question the world has ever known).  But, whereas scientists have historically been religious to some extent, it was almost always understood that science dealt with one realm (the natural) and religion dealt with a different realm (the supposed supernatural).

ID hopes to upend that paradigm by claiming the natural world is a window into how the supernatural world exists.  They are seeking to manufacture a middle ground between science and religion, all the while claiming that their feet are firmly set in the realm of science.

The Designer must be something beyond nature, but for ID to be scientific, it can’t be supernatural.

I suggest a new term for this merging of natural and supernatural into a plausible sounding (but ultimately specious) form of nature:

Extranatural

Alien abductions are an extranatural phenomenon.  By that, I mean, from a purely hypothetical point of view, aliens could exist (probably do somewhere in this unimaginably vast universe), and less likely, but still infinitesimally possible, could be visiting our planet and abducting humans.  No real evidence exists for such occurrences and scientific insights lead us to conclude that it is highly improbable, but even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a chance that this happens means it cannot be ruled out as a real, natural event.  All natural understanding denies it, but extranatural understanding keeps the door open.

Aside:  One of my favorite shows, “Supernatural” (about brothers originally from Lawrence, Kansas who hunt and kill demons, monsters and other assorted beasts of legend), has taken the classic myths and legends of world religions and combined them into a mythology that is actually less Supernatural and more Extranatural.  The monsters are usually mutants or changed humans and the demons and angels are affected by natural items, like symbols written in blood or a special gun that can kill any creature (and the demons leave behind sulfur wherever they go).

(It may sound a bit hokey when written on the page, but as a show it nicely runs with the humor and excitement that the best seasons of the X-Files had in spades.)

Back on point:  How does this relate to ID?

Intelligent Design is an attempt by Creationists (the history of the ID movement is littered with Creationists who adjusted their views to get more public and legal traction) to move the Designer out of the realm of the Supernatural and into the realm of the Extranatural.

Obviously, since I’m coining the term Extranatural, this isn’t their stated aim, but it is ultimately what they are trying to accomplish.

The Argument from ID

This is the ‘scientific’ argument of ID, as concisely as possible.

Aspects of nature (the eye, bacteria flagellum) are so intricately fashioned and precisely crafted that if they were missing any parts they could not possibly function as they do.  Since evolution by Natural Selection builds up from simplicity through random mutation [but not by chance, it should be noted], it would have been impossible for these ‘irreducibly complex’ mechanisms to have been evolved.  Therefore, something or someone must have intentionally created them.  Ergo, Designer.

Now, an astute reader will recognize that this argument is not a scientific hypothesis, but rather a logical argument.

It could be reworded as such:

Aspects of nature appear to be intentionally designed.
Natural Selection cannot explain how such designs came into being.
There must be a Designer.

I apologize to IDers who might consider that overly simplistic, but that is the argument boiled down to its most basic form.

As we can see, it is a logical argument, and so to approach it requires addressing the premises and questioning if the conclusion follows.

What can also be plainly seen is that this is not a scientific argument.  Science is a branch of philosophy.  It has specific qualities that distinguish it.  Logic informs science, but it is not science in and of itself.

No (scientific) predictions are made based on the conclusion that there is a Designer.  No testable hypotheses come from the conclusion.  The only pseudo-prediction we could make, once accepting a Designer, is that we will find aspects of nature for which we cannot explain a natural evolutionary development.  But this is a circular argument: “Because of irreducible complexity, God exists, and because God exists, things must be irreducibly complex.”

From a scientific point of view, the idea of a Designer is antithetical to inquiry and exploration.  It tells us to stop looking further, to give up if a problem seems too complex to figure out.

It also assumes that because we have yet to unlock the evolutionary history of the flagellum that we never will.

(I will not go into the actual evolutionary science behind the eye and the flagellum here, but interested parties are encouraged to research “evolution of the eye” and “evolution of the flagellum” or simply “responses to irreducible complexity” for counterarguments to ID assertions.)

If the ID movement can affectively transform The Designer (God) into a logical conclusion, they will have moved this supernatural figure into the realm of extranatural existence.

So, the question remains, do they have a sound logical argument?

Logic?

Let’s look at it again:

Aspects of nature appear to be intentionally designed.
Natural Selection cannot explain how such designs came into being.
There must be a Designer.

We must look at the first premise.  The words ‘appear to be’ in there is important.  If we leave that out, the argument is a logical fallacy, “Begging the question.”

Aspects of nature are designed assumes a Designer, the conclusion.

That ‘appear to be’ in there is important not only for logical consistency, but because it allows us to probe further.

The second premise is where all the heavy lifting is done.

It is, in fact, missing an important word.

Natural Selection cannot yet explain how such designs came into being.

Science is an ongoing endeavor and to assume that a lack of knowledge now precludes future knowledge is counterintuitive and in complete disagreement with the spirit of science.

Furthermore, the leap from the second premise to the third premise is another fallacy, a False Dilemma.  It assumes if not X, then Y, but it gives no reason for ignoring a potential Z, or A through V.

If any of A through V, or Z, is true, then it would undermine X (Natural Selection) and Y (Intelligent Design) equally.  For any of the hypothetical alternatives to X & Y to be considered, though, they will have to be testable, researchable and capable of making predictions.  Natural Selection has all of these features.  ID does not.

And that is where we live, with two prominent theories, one that has been vetted for 150 years and, while not perfect, has stood the test of time, and another theory that has existed since the beginning of time, yet has never produced a satisfactory prediction, test or repeatable result.

The Designer (“by any other name”) is still Supernatural.

The Intelligent Design movement is attempting to give said Designer an Extranatural makeover, but they lack the science and the logic.  They have some pretty confounding rhetoric, though, so don’t expect them to go away anytime soon.