God bless the Titanic and all who sail in her

I had at some point in the near future intended to address the arguments that we in the West can account for our morality because we, historically, derive our morals from a residual “Christian culture”, and therefore, although many of us reject the basis of Christianity, are actually borrowing from its standards. Therefore, the story goes, because we by-and-large act morally we are only doing so because of Christian influence and this demonstrates the truth of Christianity somehow.

Of course, there is no such thing as a Christian theory of morality to begin with, so this is not a claim that can be dealt with rationally. All we have to go on is a series of commandments from a supposedly omnibenevolent entity that never shows up in real life. The word “morality” doesn’t even appear in the Bible, at least not the King James version. So, at best, Christian morality is based on a personality, indistinguishable from the imaginations of believers, rather than any principles based on real life. In any case, anyone looking for good examples of how not to behave should look no further than the pages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The reason that I’m writing this now, rather than putting my thoughts down in a longer piece later, is a document that I stumbled upon yesterday (April 17). By now I should be inured to Christian tactics but I must confess to some annoyance here. The piece is from Irish Central, and purports to demonstrate the immoral basis of evolutionary theory. There is also a link to a disreputable web site called textaddons, for which there is no time for analysis.

It can be seen on the Irish Central website that most recent commentary centres around the activities of the Catholic church, and there is a lively debate in Ireland from which the church is not emerging unscathed. However, the article in question doesn’t mention these activities, but is concerned with the role of the teaching of evolution, particularly in the US.

The occasion is a bill in the State of Tennessee, scheduled for passing into legislation this month. In summary, the bill states:

This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming. This bill also requires such persons and entities to endeavor to:
(1) Create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues; and
(2) Assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.

The first thing to be said is that proper scientific teaching is all about understanding, analysing, critiquing and reviewing, and therefore the bill is to that extent uncontroversial. But shouldn’t Tennessee be doing this anyway, and if not, why not? There should be no reason to introduce such legislation. However, why single out evolution and global warming? Opposition to these theories are endemic to conservative Christian worldviews. And although there is conflicting scientific thought – as there should be – within those two theories, some aspects of cosmology are much better candidates for a full appraisal.

Steve Casey, the author of the Irish Central article is under no illusions. As he says, “they will henceforth be able to discuss in biology class increasingly prevalent criticisms of Darwinian evolution, using supplemental material such as the mind-expanding addenda available free at http://www.textaddons.com“. I suggest that textaddons would only be mind-expanding if the subject was starting with a single brain cell, as it is nothing more or less than ideological propaganda.

In a textbook example of shoddy journalism, Casey then departs radically from the subject of the headline to discuss not whether evolution is true or amenable to criticism, but his ideas of the implications of accepting evolution. Apparently Casey can’t tell the difference between a scientific theory and an ideological doctrine, as he links the Columbine School massacre of 1999 to Darwin’s theory. The misfit perpetrators, Kleber Klebold and Harris, appeared to have no better understanding of the difference between scientific theory and doctrine than Casey does. If anything, Klebold and Harris understood natural selection as it is portrayed by Christian apologists.

Of course, it suits Christian apologists to conflate the two. Casey quotes professional Liar For Jesus Ravi Zacharias:

When we have told our young people today that Naturalism is true – we have evolved from nothing more than some primordial slime; when we have told them objective moral values do not exist – you decide what is right and wrong for you; when we have told our young people that there is no ultimate destiny; when we have told them that man is the measure of all things, that there is no transcendent basis on which to find out what life is about and what life’s goal is, why then are we surprised when we see the hell that is unleashed by that kind of philosophy?

At least Zacharias refers to naturalism rather than evolution, although he goes nowhere near explaining why naturalism would unleash mass murder, or why naturalism is antithetical to objective moral values, or why indeed moral values have to be objective to prevent such deeds as Columbine. Is it just an accident that the Columbine massacre took place in the most Christian country in the first world?

The most bizarre aspect of Casey’s article departs even more – if that was possible –  from his ostensible subject. In the UK at the moment the flavour of the month is the story of the fate of the Titanic. A new museum dedicated to the story has opened in Belfast, a cruise ship has retraced the voyage of the vessel, various TV programs have been screened and it is almost exactly one hundred years since the tragedy. Even this does not escape the attention of the Christian apologists. Barely believably, there exists an organisation called the Christian Boy’s and Men’s Titanic Society (CBMTS). The purpose of the Society is to be “[d]edicated to the proposition that the strong must sacrifice for the weak, and to the enduring legacy of those men who died that women and children might live“. In other words, reading between the lines, we should reject the so-called doctrine (which is grossly misinterpreted anyway) of Darwinism which would suggest, according to the CBMTS, lead to a gadarene rush to the lifeboats by the strongest men. Doug Philips, the society’s founder, says:

The Titanic’s sinking marked the darkest and brightest night in maritime history.

Though more than 1,500 people died in this international tragedy, the Darwinian notion of the ‘survival of the fittest’ was rejected in favor of the age-old Christian doctrine that the ‘strong sacrifice for the weak.'”

May God give grace to allow such a selfless, culture-preserving spirit to be awakened here in America on our watch.

There is nothing at all wrong with the strong defending the weak – albeit in typical fashion apologists have wilfully misinterpreted the meaning of “the fittest” as described in rudimentary Darwinian theory. I don’t deny that cultural constraints in all probability contributed to the situation on the Titanic that night, but to what extent is this a Christian doctrine above anything else? What evidence does Philips have to demonstrate that people would act differently outside his own interpretation of a Christian cultural context? A similar situation involving a ferry full of Muslims would suffice, perhaps, but he offers nothing.

Philips does quote a verse from the Bible, John 15:13, which doesn’t even state that the strong should protect the weak. Instead it says that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends“. Looking at the verse in context of the chapter, it seems that “friends” is referring to other believers.

12This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

The Catholic church in Ireland, as elsewhere, is looking after its own right now, although I hadn’t noticed any laying down of any life to protect the interests of the church. The interests of the weak, in this case sexually-abused children, don’t seem to figure too much in their calculations. Note also, from a book on Auschwitz, cited here, it’s revealed that every Auschwitz guard was a self-labelled Christian. This is not so surprising, however, because non-believers were banned from membership of the SS. According to Philips, one would think that this would be good news for European Jews. Not so.

The weak will always be with us, but in all probability the best method of protecting the interests of the weak is to help to make them strong. Christopher Hitchens, for example, said on many occasions that the most efficacious method of doing so is to empower women politically by promoting their ability to control their own lives. Does Philips want this? Of course not. Feminism, according to Philips (I’m assuming that he is the writer of the CBMTS article) is just as dangerous an ideology as Darwinism – at least he is correct insofar that it is indeed an ideology.

How do we reconcile “women and children first” with the spirit of feminism? We do not. Today, many are confused. They have a quaint appreciation for “women and children first” while misunderstanding the application to the duties of manhood and the distinctions between the sexes.

In other words, keep them weak and make sure they know their place.

The whole Irish Central article is an exercise in dishonesty. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if Casey had stuck to the headline purpose of the article, or if he had included any input at all from anyone with an alternative view. But he made it into a dishonest ideological statement. I have to keep repeating that in general Christians are no worse or no better in their lives than any of the rest of us. But when it comes to discussing their so-called faith, they can’t help but be dishonest about it. In some respects this is not their fault – they are called on to defend the indefensible, and being unable to defend it rationally, do so irrationally. For example, Zacharias defends his belief by citing the consequences of his belief, and he’s wrong about that, too. Five years of contributing to a Christian internet forum taught me this much.

For anyone with any time, I recommend that they read the comments following Casey’s article. A contributor called Dr_GS_Hurd does his best to put forward a reasonable view, and he does it well. But, sadly, it seems that he is wasting his time. I sympathise.

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2 responses to “God bless the Titanic and all who sail in her

  • Keith

    This sort of thing makes me very angry. And, while my ire used to be raised mainly by people’s rejection of their place in evolutionary history (the sheer arrogance of this position still astounds me), I now get just as hot under the collar by the astoundingly bad reasoning that these people rely on.

    Just recently, in Dawkins’s debate with Pell, Dawkins once again had to spell out in plain words that he did not advocate Darwin’s theory of evolution as an ideological doctrine. It amazes me that people still mix this up.

    Finally, just a quick typographical note: The Columbine killer was Klebold, not Kleber.

    • Headbutter of the Gods

      Thanks very much for the correction. I’ll tidy that up.

      But you see where I can get frustrated by Dawkins. Even if there is a doctrine that advocates that the “weaker” get eliminated – and I suppose eugenics or some forms of fascism come closest to it – Darwin’s theory of descent by natural selection isn’t it. It’s not a doctrine at all. Period. Full stop. If a rock falls on a Christian’s car he doesn’t blame Isaac Newton.

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