Seeing God at the Bottom of a Water Bong

Once again we are visited by our good friend David Goza who lights our way regularly from the dark pits of YouTube

Anatomically modern humans have lived on this planet for at least 200,000 years. During that time, our ancestors – or people whom our ancestors knew – have eaten, drunk, smoked, snorted, or otherwise ingested (use your rich imagination) absolutely everything on the surface of this planet. You know that’s true – hell, they’re still doing it! Now, some of those things caused the ingestees to die horribly. Those particular people were not our ancestors. Our ancestors no doubt learned from their unfortunate example, however, and the observations they passed along have become the received wisdom of later generations: don’t drink that, don’t stick that up your tookus….

 

But some of those things caused our ancestors to see the world in ways they might otherwise never have discovered, and to interact with it in ways that could not have been foreseen. Here’s an example: about 23,000 years ago, at the height of the last of the Pleistocene glaciations, there were modern humans living along the Atlantic seacoast in southern Europe – I’m talking about the Solutrean culture. If there’s ice year-round only a few hundred miles north of you, that means you’re living in a climate that’s similar to what present-day denizens of Wasilla, Alaska enjoy. People could live on the coast during the summer – and we have ample evidence that they did, and that one of their main sources of protein was fish. But it’s too cold to live there during the winter, so you go inland and upland and take advantage of the karst features. In nearby regions in what are now France and Spain, people weathered over in the limestone caves, taking with them whatever they could hoard over the course of the summer: dried fish, fruits, nuts, berries, tubers… and of course they supplemented their diet with whatever grows in the perpetual darkness of caves, in that growth medium so generously provided by roosting bats.

 

We all know what that is, right? Et voilà! – art is born! You know the art I’m talking about: art so extraordinary that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the splendid cave paintings associated with such place names as Lascaux, Chauvet and Altamira. Do you imagine for a moment that there’s no connection between magic mushrooms and the birth of art? And can you think of any better event to fix as the watershed between being merely anatomically modern and being behaviorally modern, than the birth of art in a particular culture? The birth of art and the birth of truly modern humanity are two names for the same thing. I suspect that Mother Nature’s natural pharmacy has had much to do with the blossoming of human creativity. Please understand that I’m not fixing the birth of modern humanity at the birth of art in any one particular place: it happened at many different times and in many different places, and is in some sense an ongoing process. There’s a reason that the most fantastic symphonies – and I mean that literally – were written during the Nineteenth Century, when virtually every major European artist was coked to the gills on opium (which was perfectly legal and not overly expensive).
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Young Earth Creationism and the Ultimate Question Concerning “Number 2”

In the course of a recent exchange with a Young-Earth Creationist, I was accused of dodging what my interlocutor imagined to be “the hard questions,” all of which were pretty much on the level of Bill O’Reilly’s “OK, smart guy, how’d the moon get there?” His rapid-fire questions basically took the form, “If there’s no God, why do we see something instead of nothing?” They boiled down to the ontological difficulties concerning the origin of the universe and the origin of life, both of which (of course!) he imagined to be inadequately addressed by “evolution.” No surprises there, right?

 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard those objections raised by some close-minded troglodyte who had no intention of paying any attention whatsoever to any answer that involved more syllables than “God did it,” I’d be a very wealthy man by now. As any honest person recognizes, there’s still a lot to learn about the origin of the universe and of life. There’s still a lot to learn about evolution, for that matter, which is why the relatively new science of EvoDevo is so exciting: it’s starting to furnish some answers to some longstanding puzzles. But it will inevitably raise other questions, a prospect that is troubling only to a person with no native curiosity and a deep-seated need for “the sure thing.”

 

I think maybe it’s time to turn the tables on people who raise what they imagine to be unanswerable questions (and who, in raising them, show no sign of actually being interested in answers, but raise them rhetorically, as a “gotcha” device). My motive in doing this is to try to get Christian fundamentalists to see just how ridiculous their “questions” are. Let me counter with a few nagging theological questions. Let’s see if I can get some straight answers from fundamentalist Christians, who seem to be so damn sure that their “holy book” has all the answers we need to all the questions that are worth asking. Turns out, the Blessed Old Leather-Bound Bible leaves quite a few things unexplained.

 

Let’s start with the matter of feces. Does God’s Word really tell us all we need to know about that?
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Dreaming of Darwin: Fundamentalist Night Terrors

Some of the great scientific discoveries have been syntheses that emerged more or less organically from the systematic crunching of a compendium of data accumulated over time. Plate tectonics furnishes an illustrative example: the Grand Unified Theory of Geology was made possible by a great many observations made over the course of a couple of centuries, some of them serendipitous (e.g. the discovery of deep-ocean trenches and mid-ocean ranges during the submarine era). Put enough data like that in a room with enough smart people and a really big idea is sooner or later going to take shape, in a manner that kind of resembles abiogenesis.

 

Others have been leaps of pure intuition so striking as to seem truly original. One of them is Darwin’s theory of evolution. I wish I could have seen the look on his face when the idea of speciation driven by natural selection occurred to him. That’s got to have been one of the greatest OMG moments in history. It must damn dear have stopped his heart: imagine having a single insight that explains everything you’re interested in! He must immediately have recognized how revolutionary an idea that was, and how much resistance and rancor it would incur. No wonder he sat on the idea for two decades before going to press with it – and even then, only out of concern of having his thunder stolen.
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Let’s Talk about Snakes!

Gather ‘round, young creationist True Believers™: time for a little herpetology lesson from the Blessed Old Leather-Bound Bible!

 

Genesis 3 begins with a description of a talking animal – one of two such wonders found in God’s Word:

 

//Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”//

 

There follows the story of “the Fall.” Later, when the blame game is being played:

 

The woman said, “The serpent tricked me and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

cursed are you among all animals

and among all wild creatures;

upon your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

 

That’s all we hear of this wondrous eloquent reptile in the Bible, unless that “old dragon” reference in Revelation 20:2 is intended to refer back to the creation story.

 

There are many things about “the Fall” that I find puzzling, but as much as I’d like to start listing and raising questions about them – the kinds of impertinent questions that tend to aggravate the hell out of True Believers™ because they aim at getting people to think about the notions they take for granted – I’m going to focus on the snake because that’s the kind of mood I happen to be in at the moment (that copperhead I encountered in the Ozarks last weekend might have something to do with it). Let me address a few serpentine questions to any creationists who happen to reading this:
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Raising Cain While I’m Abel

In the fourth chapter of Genesis, we encounter one of the most curious stories in the Blessed Old Leather-Bound Bible. This is the story of Cain and Abel, the divinely-inspired account of the first murder. Here are the first sixteen verses from the NRSV:

 

“Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying ‘I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.’ Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’

 

“Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the LORD said, ‘What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.’ Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

 

The remaining ten verses of the chapter account for the descendants of Cain, including Enoch, who built a city and named it for his son (also Enoch), Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, and Lamech, who by means of his two wives Adah and Zilla whelped Jabal (the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock), Jubal (the ancestor of harpists and oboists), and Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The chapter concludes with an account of the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve, declared by the latter to be a divinely-appointed replacement for the unhappy Abel, and the peculiar observation that “at that time people began to invoke the name of the LORD.” (Hadn’t they already been doing that?)
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