Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beauty, ugliness, and god's plan for Aunt Gertrude

Once again, I've been involved in arguments in online forums over belief.

Yes, I know it's pointless.  No, I don't seem to be able to stop myself.  The problem is, while (as I mentioned yesterday) I don't really care what people believe personally, it does bother me when someone trumpets a counterfactual or illogical statement in a public fashion, and the only responses are a sort of Greek chorus of "Right on!" and "You tell 'em, brother!" and "Bless you, sister!"  I feel like I am honor-bound to step in, even if it never seems to make a difference.

This particular iteration of that pointless pastime was launched by a woman who asked how anyone who was a biologist could look around at all of the wonderful things in the natural world and not be absolutely convinced that a deity, not evolution, brought them about.  "Look at how pretty everything is," she was basically saying. "God musta done that."

Well, that leaves us with one teensy little problem, which I pointed out, not that it did any good.  There are a lot of parts of the natural world that, well, aren't all that pretty.  Each December the Hallmark stores are full of next year's inspirational calendars featuring bible verses set against photographs of rainbows, birds in flight, waterfalls, sunsets, brilliant fields of flowers.  Okay, fine; if those are god's creations, and are supposed to inspire us with divine awe, then give equal time to the aphids, dung beetles, slugs, the Ebola virus, and the charred remains of trees following a forest fire, which are presumably the work of the same creator.  I wonder how many calendars of bible verses set against photographs of athlete's foot fungus and naked mole-rats Hallmark could sell.  One, is my guess, because I'd buy one, but I'm guessing not many others.

Funny how we're quick to attribute the Lilies of the Field to god's hand, but not the Pinworms of the Pig's Intestines.  They, too, toil not, and neither do they spin, but Jesus conveniently didn't mention that.  And if you claim that all of the nasty little parasites and so on were created by Satan, now you're just making stuff up, because I've never heard of a bible verse that says anything remotely like, "And then the Evil One didst fashion ticks from the dust of the earth, and he did sayeth unto the ticks, 'Go, thou ticks, and tormentest man and beast, for that shalt serveth them all right, ha ha ha.'  And it was so, and the Evil One was well pleased thereof."

It reminds me of the wonderful song by Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame), set to the tune of "All Things Bright and Beautiful:"
All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom.
He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid--
Who made the spikey urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.


None of this, of course, is any kind of proof or disproof of the existence of a creator; it's more an interesting feature of how our psyches work.  It's just the Dart-Thrower's Bias again, isn't it?  We're quick to attribute beauty, happiness, and good fortune to god, but seldom if ever do the converse.  If you're crossing a street, and a Mack truck screeches to a halt within an inch of your torso, you might say, "Wow, god really had his Mighty Hand protecting me that time!  He must have some grand plan for me."  Whereas, if Aunt Gertrude falls down the stairs and breaks her neck, we almost certainly wouldn't say, "Man, god really creamed Aunt Gertrude, didn't he? Guess he was done with her."

My own attitude is, take your understanding, and follow where it leads.  If you believe that god really does create beauty, then he created ugliness and horror, too.  If he saves some people miraculously, he allows others to die in freak accidents.  Use one as an explanation, and it requires you to explain the other.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

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