"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

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God & Me, John Derbyshire

"Q. What caused you to lose your faith?

A. I can identify four factors: age, parenthood, biology, and exile. It’s counterintuitive, but often the case, that you get less religious as you get older. Well, perhaps it’s not really counterintuitive: Other passions fade, why shouldn’t religious feeling?... You hear a lot about deathbed conversions, but not much about deathbed apostasies. Well, let me tell you, it happens.

Parenthood. Again, this is counterintuitive, and I’m sure a lot of people go the other way, but the experience of raising two kids — mine are now 13 and 11 — was one I found de-spiritualizing. For one thing, it pushes genetics right in your face. (I recently heard quite-new parent Jonah Goldberg, in conversation, wonder aloud how anyone ever came to believe in the “blank slate” theory of human nature. I share Jonah’s bafflement.) See below for more on this. Again, it made me realize how perfectly natural religion is. We have a religious module in our brains, and with little kids you can actually watch it waking up and developing, like their speech or social habits. The paradox is, that to the degree that you see religion as natural, to the same degree it becomes harder to see it (and by extension its claims) as supernatural.

I can report that the Creationists are absolutely correct to hate and fear modern biology. Learning this stuff works against your faith. To take a single point at random: The idea that we are made in God’s image implies we are a finished product. We are not, though. It is now indisputable that natural selection has been going on not just through human prehistory, but through recorded history too, and is still going on today, and will go on into the future, presumably to speciation, either natural or artificial. So which human being was made in God’s image: the one of 100,000 years ago? 10,000 years ago? 1,000 years ago? The one of today? The species that will descend from us? All of those future post-human species, or just some of them? And so on. The genomes are all different. They are not the same creature. And if they are all made in God’s image somehow, then presumably so are all the other species, and there’s nothing special about us at all.

Now of course there are ways to finesse that point — intellectuals can cook up an argument for anything, and religious intellectuals, who cut their teeth on justifying some wildly improbable stuff, are especially ingenious [Ed: Emphasis mine] — but the cumulative effect of dozens of factlets like this is devastating to the notion that human beings are a special creation. And without that notion, traditional religious belief is holed below the water line. The more you read and learn in the modern human sciences, the more your image of homo sap. fades back into our being just another branch on the tree of life...

Q. Do you believe religion is good for people?"

I have now come to think that it really makes no difference, net-net. You can point to people who were improved by faith, but you can also see people made worse by it. Anyone want to argue that, say, Mohammed Atta was made a better person by his faith? All right, when Americans say “religion” they mean Christianity 99 percent of the time. So: Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just going to inflame that conviction. Again, I know cases, and I’m sure you do too. The exhortations to humility that you find in all religions seem to be the most difficult teaching for people to take on board. Mostly, I think it makes no difference. Evelyn Waugh would have been no more obnoxious as an atheist.

And then there are some of those discomfiting facts about human groups. Taking the population of these United States, for example, the least religious major group, by ancestry, is Americans of East Asian stock. The most religious is African Americans. All the indices of dysfunction and misbehavior, however, go the other way, with Asian Americans getting into least trouble and African Americans most. What’s that all about?...

I have trouble seeing the Roman church as an institution as being any friend of liberty. When I say this to my Catholic friends, they always say: “What about John Paul II?”... He was mad that the communists presumed to think that they owned men’s souls because in his mind the Church was the rightful owner of men’s souls. That’s why he hated Communism. Well, nobody owns my soul. That’s why I hate Communism. That’s liberty, as I understand it."
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