Thursday, September 2, 2010


How big are you compared to the earth? Not very, of course. How big is the earth compared to the sun? Pretty small. How big is the sun compared to other stars in our galaxy? Take a look.

This would be a good video to return to whenever you start getting infatuated with your own importance. In fact, one of the lessons this video illustrates is how utterly insignificant we are, or would be, were we not loved by the God who made both us and those other stars.

If you'd like to watch some more there's a bunch of National Geographic videos at the link that are all pretty good. This animation of how scientists think the moon formed I found especially interesting.

Thanks to Jason for passing along the links.

Morality and Atheism

Research Psychologist and gay atheist Jesse Bering has an article in Scientific American in which he opines that our behavior, particularly our sexual behavior, is the product of natural selection and chance and therefore carries with it no particular obligation to be faithful or monogamous. At one point he says:
Much of this discussion is being fueled by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá’s scintillating new book Sex at Dawn, which explores how our modern, God-ridden, puritanical society conflicts with our species’ evolutionary design, a tension making us pathologically ashamed of sex.

There are of course many important caveats, but the basic logic is that, because human beings are not naturally monogamous but rather have been explicitly designed by natural selection to seek out ‘extra-pair copulatory partners’—having sex with someone other than your partner or spouse for the replicating sake of one’s mindless genes—then suppressing these deep mammalian instincts is futile and, worse, is an inevitable death knell for an otherwise honest and healthy relationship.
Intellectually, I can get on board with this. If you believe, as I do, that we live in a natural rather than a supernatural world, then there is no inherent, divinely inspired reason to be sexually exclusive to one’s partner. If you and your partner want to [engage in various unorthodox behaviors with others] then by all means do so (and take pictures).

But the amoralistic beauty of Darwinian thinking is that it does not—or at least, should not and cannot—prescribe any social behavior, sexual or otherwise, as being the “right” thing to do. Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn’t work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms.
This is refreshing, in its way. It's good to hear an atheist acknowledge that in a world where there is no God moral right and wrong simply don't exist. They're "irrelevant," to use Bering's word. This is true, though Bering doesn't mention it, not only of our sexual behavior but the rest of our behavior as well. In other words, Bering is admitting that any time an atheist makes a moral judgment all he's doing is describing his feelings. It's as if he's discussing his preference in ice cream flavors.

So here's the bind the atheist finds himself in: If there is no God then there are, as Bering acknowledges, no moral duties or obligations. On the other hand, if one believes there are duties and obligations then he has to accept that there is a God. If he wishes to remain an atheist he has two options: He can accept a moral subjectivism (as Bering does) that leads logically to egoism and an ethic of might-makes-right, or he can simply embrace moral nihilism.

What he can't do is insist that his moral judgments mean anything significant to anyone but himself. When he declares that it's immoral to overpopulate the planet, or to be cruel or selfish, all he's doing is telling us that he doesn't like these things. When we ask him why we should care what he likes and doesn't like he can give us no answer.

This is an awkward state of affairs to find oneself in, but for the atheist there's no way out. He's trapped in an unsustainable tension between what he believes about God and what he believes about moral duties. It's amusing that despite willingly embracing this logical incoherency the atheist is fond of calling theists irrational.

HT: Telic Thoughts