Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Pharrryngula: Without knowledge, Dennis Prager is insignificant

We live on one planet orbiting one star, which is only one of about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is only one of a few hundred billion galaxies in our universe. These all have no meaning because Dennis Prager does not appreciate them.

Our universe is about 14 billion years old, our planet is about 4.5 billion years old, complex animal life has thrived for about a half billion years, modern Homo sapiens arose about 150,000 years ago, and none of this had any meaning until a few clannish goat-herders started worshipping a single sky-god a few thousand years ago."

The sacred pieties of these "God-centered Jews and Christians" reduce the meaning of a human life to equivalence with a single cell or a mindless near-corpse, and then they bestow on it only that portion of grandeur they can borrow from an imaginary super-being. His irony is a fabrication; humanists don't regard human life as worthless. Rather, one life in the here and now is all we get, and it is infinitely valuable. Furthermore, we don't need to boost our fragile self-esteem by deprecating everything else—dolphins are great and beautiful creatures, as are spiders and sea anemones and scrub pines and E. coli. The universe is a wonderful place, huge and complex and diverse and largely independent of my existence, and I am greatly privileged to be one small but precious voice singing in a mighty cosmic choir. Embracing the majesty of existence does not make me a smaller man.

Dennis Prager exemplifies for me the cheap and petty spirit of the Religious Right, the kind of small mind that tries to puff up its importance by diminishing the significance of everything else around him. Some "Christian"; I'd heard rumors that humility and respect for the awesome creations of their god were alleged virtues in his faith, but I guess those were wrong. They are worshippers of ignorance, acolytes of the cult of "me first", vandals and rapers of the natural world.


Whenever I'm informed that my life lacks value because it is not eternal, I think that it a strange kind of economy that assigns greater worth to what is in abundance while devaluing that which is precious and rare.

So this guy can pretty much blow me.

Bad theology

It's All Good...For Me To Crush
I won't even go into Prager's whole argument on secular vs. religious views of the environment, because it's basically the same thing that's gone on in the prior 15 installments of Us vs. Them: secular ideas strip everything of all meaning and turn you into a suicidal shell of your former self while Christianity makes the sun shine and the birds sing.


Ugh. To say nothing of the notion of the Covenant in Judeo-Christian tradition (not to the exclusion of similar notions in other traditions). Dolphins, like all nature, are good and beautiful because G-d created them. And we should preserve them, as Noah preserved the animals, because G-d created them. And to say that something is beautiful only if and to the extent that humans find it so isn't religiosity, it's solipsism and nihilism.

Whatta schmuck.

In the words of the Talmud, every person should look at the world and say, "The world was created for me."

I'm reasonably familiar with this---the original telling is that the rabbi said something along the lines of: "There are two truths, and you should keep both of them in your pocket, to bring out from time to time as you need each of them. The first, that the whole world was created for you. The second, that you are but dust and ashes."

It's one of my favorite religious lessons, expressing duality and goodness, complexity and simplicity, all in one little story. Somehow, repeating only one of them? doesn't seem to me to be a faithful retelling.

The key notion for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is stewardship. Humans have dominion only as G-d's local managers. The world isn't made for human consumption, but for temporary use in accord with G-d's plan. Since G-d made various creatures, environments, etc., humans are not entitled to capriciously destroy them.

On the science/history note, Prager is a moron. Newton was a Unitarian who was denied a position at Cambridge because he denied the doctrine of the Trinity (and implicitly the divinity of Jesus). Funny who Prager left that part out.

I'm with paul: the description of scientists who are also religious is patronizing in the least, and a blatant mischaracterization. Part of both the study of God (theology) and the study of nature (science) is humility; reading the evidence in a way that conforms exclusively to a preconceived worldview and selectively ignoring the evidence that doesn't fit in is arrogant in the extreme. One has to assume some pretty awful things about the Creator to look at the universe and try to ram it into a form commensurate with the "literal" reading of Genesis. This "literal" reading is based on shoddy reasoning itself, turning two different creation stories (even the name used for God is different, if I remember my Hebrew class correctly) into one narrative.

The scientific evidence seems to say that biodiversity is a good thing for the planet, which is consistent with the religious view of stewardship.

Jesse, I'm not seeing Prager fall victim to the central conceit of creationism-- namely that it is designed "just so." Rather, Prager seems to be making the argument that as rational beings, we can understand it. Now, his precise theological argument-- that we must use that understanding to dominate it-- is one that you can feel free to argue over on its theological merits, but I don't think he's falling victim to any of the standard creationist canards, and the starting point of his argument isn't anything that simply a generic belief in a god who created the universe would lead to.

The thing he misses, however, is the concept of humans as caretakers of the earth. He seems to be more concerned about the fact that abusing the earth is a personal sin than about the fact that abusing the earth also hurts others and shows a general disrespect for creation in general.

He also misses the truth of other parts of the old testament-- namely that nature will inevitably, inexorably wear us all down-- ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that. His attitude to the world owes more to the conceits of the Englightenment and what classical writers of Greece called hubris. He's just dressing it up in "Judeo-Christian moral values," because he wants to claim that his personal opinions are somehow the same worldview of a millenia-old religious tradition.

For those not familiar with Jump the Shark's website, it is based on television commentors discussing exactly why the left when their favorite programs started to go down hill. It would seem to me Dennis Prager's column on the environments insignificance would be the appropriate time to move on.

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