Monday, December 27, 2010

God and Sex

A few months ago I was listening to a local radio program on my way to a job site. It was one of the morning talk programs where a few guys and one girl talk about and offer un-informed analyses of news and current events. Aside from serving as a strong reminder of the reason I usually only listen to NPR, the chatter that day also offered another example of an amusing / annoying lack of Biblical literacy.

Somehow the topic of God and sex came up, and the three (or maybe four) of them starting going off about how God hates sex and how the Bible teaches this and that about how sex is bad. This belief seems to be very common (Philip Pullman makes it a major issue in his anti-clerical but pretty good series His Dark Materials) yet, as is true of many beliefs about Christianity, it is false.

In their discussion of how God feels about sex, one of the hosts actually said something very nearly like, "have you ever read the Bible, God doesn't want you to have sex or have any fun." Apparently she missed that part of the creation story in Genesis where God creates males and females to join together "as one flesh" and how that union (physical, social, and spiritual) somehow fully encapsulates who God is. They apparently missed the verses in Proverbs emploring young married lovers to rejoice in each other's bodies as well as that whole book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, which is essentially erotic love poetry. Paul, in the New Testament, says that husbands and wives should offer their bodies freely to one another (though he also says he thinks it is better to be single, this is a separate issue and has to do with time rather than sex).

I think this myth probably has a variety of sources. Some Christians throughout history have thought that sex itself was sinful and have even thought that sex was the original sin that occurred in the garden of Eden. However, this view was informed more by certain strains of Greek philosophy (in which physical bodies, by their very nature, were considered corrupt) than the Bible. Also, I think that many of us somehow confuse a strong set of sexual ethics (forbidding adultery, etc.) with condemnation of sex itself. There is also the stereotype (too often true, unfortunately) of Christians as prudes. Lastly, I think a big part of this is willful ignorance: people believe what they want to believe. The radio host asked "have you ever read the Bible" but clearly had not actually read it herself. I was annoyed enough that I almost wrote in to the show to helpfully point them to some relevant passages, but it probably wouldn't make any difference.

Sigh...if only they knew that God thinks rather highly of business time; heck, he created it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who designed the designer?

A common objection to the Judaeo-Christian view that God created the universe involves pointing out that if you explain something by appealing to God you have not really explained anything because you would then need to explain God. Richard Dawkins has often written on this topic and his position is essentially this: by explaining an event or an object through reference to God (or, more generally, a designer), the explanation becomes worthless because you have invoked something that itself would need to be explained. The question would then need to be asked, who designed the designer? It would be much better to have a simpler, natural cause that would not require further explanation.

At first this sounds about right; indeed, walking around explaining everything by saying "God did it" would be about the same as not having any explanation at all. But upon closer inspection the argument breaks down completely.

After all, every explanation requires further explanations. Imagine a simple dialogue between a scientist and a curious inquirer:

"Why did that apple fall?"
"Gravity pulled it to the Earth."
"Where did the gravity come from?"
"Gravity is the bending of space-time around objects with mass. It is governed by natural law."
"Where did the natural laws come from?"

This line of questioning could go on and on no matter what answer the scientist gives. Either the scientist would have to explain one answer in terms of another, further, explanation or at some point the scientist would have to argue that one particular, arbitrary answer was somehow final. This illustrates two main problems with Dawkins' argument. First, just because an answer may require further explanation does not mean that the answer is worthless. No one would, after hearing it explained that the Earth's gravity pulled the apple to the ground, exclaim, "you haven't explained anything, because now you have to explain where the Earth came from!"

Second, an infinite regress of causes or explanations, as philosophers have called it, is an age old problem with explanations in general, not just explanations involving God. People of all worldviews have to take something as fundamental and not requiring further explanation. Aristotle had his Unmoved Mover, Christians have God, and some scientists believe the laws of nature to be "brute facts" not requiring explanation (Neil deGrasse Tyson begins a chapter of one his books with: "In the beginning, there was physics.") It is silly to single out one specific explanation with a criticism that applies to all types of explanations.

So what can we learn from this? My suggestion would be for Dawkins to stick to zoology and maybe stop writing publicly in areas that are so clearly outside his expertise.