Evil


If no one can prove that God exists, then how can God can be the ultimate authority? When the occurrences that could be called “Divine Retribution” fall equally on the “evil” and the “innocent” it appears that the only authority of “God” is the fatwa, the inquisition and the burning at the stake. “Acts of God” rain indiscriminately on humans. Theologians cherry pick and memorialize the cases supporting their view and suppress the instances where the innocent are struck by brimstone or the nasty guy gets ahead.

The font of morality comes from a successful human species. What works for a society is good. What is bad for human society is in the long run, rooted out of both the genome and the society. A fixed (over tens of generations) morality is no more than a fable. The rules of acceptable behavior (morals) of the middle ages are wildly different from modern western society. Huckleberry Finn thought he would go to hell because he helped the slave Jim escape. Infanticide was the solution to deformity 100 years ago in Oceania. Jesus was crucified because he because he claimed to be the Son of God. It is no longer permissible for Catholic priests to molest children.

So much for rules: Perhaps more important, altruism is a trait which has been selected by natural selection. It does not mean that the trait is universal, but that it is prevalent in the population. Its value comes from societial benefit. Societies will usually reward altruism and shun sociopathy in its members. I know that there are scientists who argue against group selection, but there is enough evidence for it that it should be permitted as a working hypothesis

Religion and the supernatural have recorded some rules of behavior (morality) which are clearly evil. (Slavery, sexual slavery, ethnic cleansing, intent to commit filicide (human sacrifice of a son), killing of war prisoners – just in the Bible – we can find lots more in the Quran and Talmud, and that is just the Abrahamic religions).

Religion has instigated many of the worst evils on the world (9-11, the Cathars, Kosovo, Sikh pogroms, the Thirty Years War, the Crusades, Witch burning, the Inquisition, the Lebanese Civil War, the Irish Troubles etc.) all because “God told them to do it!” The fact that the Nazis and the KKK are Christian organizations has been repressed.

When a society shows children the acceptable rules of behavior for its members – that is where morals come from. Some old books serve only as props and justifications for parents and leaders who are unwilling to take the effort to search out what is important for themselves. Hewing to a tradition is easier than rational analysis. Tradition brings a stability that damps out sudden changes which may have unintended consequences. Unfortunately, religion becomes ossified – particularly when it tries to apply tribal Bronze Age morals to global Information Age life.

Religion has no guidance for morals beyond the tribe, no guidance for technologies that can wipe humankind off the globe and change the nature of what it is to be human, such as radically extended lifespan, cloning, cyborgs, gene modification, artificial life, enhanced consciousness, human actions which effect the entire world, multinational corporations, monoculture food, global climate change, WMD.

Just as important, Religion is especially blind on how to interact morally with people and sentient animals who are very different from ourselves. When the extent of a person’s actions never extended beyond ten kilometers Bronze age guidelines were OK. When the president can blow North Korea or Iran off the face of the earth with a pushbutton, we need a revision of morality – one that can be shared among all peoples. One that does not murder abortioners, stone rape victims, exterminate whales, hang homosexuals, blow up Buddhas or burn witches.

Thomas Jefferson prepared his own “New Testament” bible by pasting the words and story of Jesus Christ of Nazareth by razor cutting from a King James Bible and his personal translations from Greek.  The “Jefferson Bible” is  a chronological amalgam of the four New Testament  books.  His first attempt to extract the philosophy in a less successful work The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth which he edited in 1804.  It appears that this first forty three page pasted book does not survive.

In the winter of 1816-1817 he produced a handsome morocco-bound volume, labeled on the back, `Morals of Jesus,’ which contained parallel texts in four languages.  This book is held by the National Museum, and 9000 copies were produced for the Congress.  Jefferson kept the book a secret from the public during his lifetime, but reportedly read from it each night before retiring.

Jefferson said his task was:

“… extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense.”

The original bound manuscript is held by the US National Museum in Washington,   The actual manuscript has been scanned and can be viewed online, with the Greek and Roman next to the English King James excerpt.  Its age and old fashoned printing make this great as a reference, but hard to use to just read.

Since 650 AD, Jews, Christians and Muslims have crusaded, inquisitioned, jihaded and holocausted each other with a ferocity greater than any predator. Each believe they are the favored people of their God. Yet all serve exactly the same God.

CrusifixAmong the Christians there has been great bloodshed in the name of Christ – the Huguenots, the Cathars, the Knights Templar were all followers of the Lamb of Peace who were slaughtered in the name of fundamentalist belief.

Star and CrescentThe Shiia and the Sunni are at each other’s throats in Bagdhad today over which of the caliphs were true religious leaders.

Islam seeks “death to the Jews” and Christians, under Hitler tried to exterminate them.

Star of DavidEach of these religions envision man in “likeness to God”, and Ezekiel clearly shows the God of the old testament as humanlike.

My question and conjecture: What God of human sensibilities would permit such atrocities in his name?

How can men of religion countenance the slaughter of others who worship the same God?

A new breed of fundamentalist atheists, led by renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and neuroscientist Sam Harris are attacking religion as not only irrelevant but evil. Their thesis is that not only that religion fails to stand up to the test of science, but that it is the root of human suffering. In their view, religion should be shown to be just an obsession.
Religious fundamentalists counter by denying the facts of science. The Kansas State Board of Education‘s comic adoption of education standards requiring teaching “intelligent design” shows how religious folks are willing to believe anything, even that the Emperor’s clothes exist.

The athiest’s position is only furthered by the actions of other religious fundamentalists who advocate violent defense of their religious stand. (more…)

The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule

Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic Magazine and a frequent contributor to Scientific American has produced a work that explains the basis of morality and ethics on a scientific basis. The system of ethics and definition of what is good and what is evil has usually been assigned to the realm of religion. In ancient times, the likes of Aristotle and Socraties wrestled with this subject with only provisional results.

Religious folk tell us that God establishes right and wrong, and assigns punishment to those who break God’s Law. The premise is that without God establishing the rules, humanity would fall into disarray with everyone making up their own rules. Under this view, the rules are rigid and established under the authority and pronouncements of God as interpreted by the leaders of the religion.
Shermer soundly refutes this viewpoint, and makes an excellent case for his Provisional Ethics and Provisional Morality. These ideas are founded on several insights: Moral Naturalism, an Evolved Moral Society, the Nature of Moral Nature, Provisional Morality, Provisional Right and Wrong, Provisional Justice, and Ennobling Evolutionary Ethics. (more…)

Prison Cell from http://www.flickr.com/photos/stillburning/Civil societies have a duty to protect themselves from the actions of members of the society who fail to abide by the rules of the society. In modern society, these rules are established by representative bodies (Congress) and enforced by the executive. Infractions of the rules are called crimes. A police force is often the agency that identifies the commission of a crime, a prosecutor specifies the charges and makes the case before a tribunal or court, and a corrections department carries out the actions prescribed by the court. Often, the actions consist of confinement to prisons for some period of time, financial penalties or probation.

Why do societies do this? There are several purposes, some practical, some with unintended consequences, and some to assuage anger and pique. Lets look at some of these effects. (more…)

CheatingThe pressure on young people to be high achievers is immense. Only the smallest fraction gain access to the keys to success in academia and sport. When a substantial proportion making “the cut” have done so through cheating, the fabric of our society is in danger.

When acceptance to the most prestigeous colleges is dependent upon test scores, and many of the applicants have subverted the process, then truly deserving exemplary performers are denied access unless they also cheat. When ethical applicants are excluded because their honest performance in testing cannot match those who have the answers, we are selecting cheaters for the leadership positions in our society.

When our popular heroes in sports regularly are caught in using steroids, packed red blood cells and other prohibited substances to enhance their performance, this sends a message to our youth that not only is it OK to cheat, but it is necessary to do so to succeed.

When our school administrators and teachers design systems to stack the deck in standardized tests as part of the No Child Left Behind program they set a standard which condones similar actions on the part of their students.

(more…)

C.S. LewisC.S. Lewis said: “Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.”

Why is this? It is because the religious folks who listen to them are poisoned by their rhetoric, or shamed by their behavior.

When tithes from working folks are taken for sports cars and not the poor, this is not the work of God.

When a fatwah tells to murder, or the word comes from a pulpit to bomb a clinic this is not the word God.

When a priest molests an acolite, this is not the work of God.

This is corruption of the highest order.

Plato argues that there is no Evil, what we see as evil is just ignorance; what everyone wants “the good”.

Genesis speaks of Adam and Eve being cast from the Garden of Eden because they “ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Evil must therefore be something related to humanity in its current state.

The Bible considers sin as a break in the covenant between man and God. The Koran considers sin to be against the sinner himself. Sin, for purposes of this discussion may be evil, but is not necessarily so.

There are those that find anything that varies from their “normal” is evil: unapproved sexual practices, other religions, disobeying rules within their ethic system, etc. For purposes of our discussion, let us consider only those things that are morally bad, intrinsically corrupt, wantonly destructive, inhumane, or wicked in the abstract.

I propose that we consider Evil not to be terrible acts, but the principles and conditions that lead to destructive behaviors that make the world a poorer and meaner place to live.

I will be writing and revising essays on the following that are proposed for your consideration as Evil:

Corruption Cruelty to Animals Ecological destruction False Witness
Torture Slavery Obsession Fundamentalism
Genocide Greed

This list is subject to revision, and the definitions we want to use may not be the common usage. Please comment and add your views. Perhaps at this site we can come to a “generally accepted” definition of evil.

Torture

(my Definintion)

1) An act to cause substantial pain to a person held in captivity.

2) An act that through pain or severe discomfort that terrorizes prisoner so as to fear imminent loss of life, body parts or permanent function.

3) An act described above proscribed by international agreements and accords.

Torture is Evil.

Torture is ineffective as an intelligence activity because an individual will say whatever the captor wants to hear, whatever will “make it stop”. What the captor wants to hear as often as not turns out not to be the truth. often is not the reality.
Torture will cause an individual to make false confessions, to implicate innocents, and fabricate plots or false history. This terrible for intelligence, as decisions are made on the preconcieved notions of the captor, and not the reality of the situation.
No civil society should employ or tolerate torture.

See:

Torture in Wikipedia

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