500,000 years ago
Around a flickering fire sit Thag, Og and Clug, cavemen.
It's a clear night, the starts are out and there's a full moon casting a wan light over the landscape. Around them are the sounds of the savannah on which they eke out their existence. It's a daily struggle for existence. Recently, their companion, Morg, was eaten by a tiger.
The cavemen are feeling, for want of a better word, philosophical.
Thag: You know, Thag miss Morg
Og: We all same, Thag.
Thag: Make you wonder what it all about really, doesn't it?
Og: What Thag mean?
Thag: Well, it like, one minute Morg here, next, Morg tiger food. Thag feeling the tenuous and insecure nature of existence more keenly than usual tonight.
Og: Og know what Thag Mean. Thag feeling like Thag not control own existence, Og right?
Thag: Og right. It like Thag not shape Thag's own destiny, and this make Thag scared. Thag fear for the future. Thag, frankly, worried. Thag probably die too, one day. Thag fear this.
They gaze at the fire for a while. It took them 45 minutes to kindle the flame, one working to raise a spark while the other two watched for predators, crude spears in hand, ever fearful of the tiger
Og: Og often wonder about why world way world is. Og find world to be cruel and merciless place. Struggle for existence bear down on Og's mind daily
Thag: Tell Thag about it.
As Thag and Og stare at the flames, Clug stirs
Clug: Clug have idea about all that.
Og and Thag pause. Clug hasn't been talking much. He's been thinking, and occasionally muttering to himself. Clug has always been thoughtful, for a caveman, but this is new
Thag: Clug really have idea?
Clug: Yes. Clug believe man in sky control world. Clug believe man decide when we born and die. Clug believe man in sky control weather, and seasons and movement of herds. Clug believe man in sky look after Clug and Thag and Og, and Morg. Clug believe man in sky took Morg because it Morg's time to go. Morg now hunting with man in sky, and we see Morg again in future. This idea make Clug feel safe. This idea make Clug less afraid. Man in sky Clug's friend.
Thag and Og look at Clug. this is new. Clug usually doesn't have much to offer in the way of conversation, the usual fare being hunting stories, speculation about the movements of herd animals and mating prospects with cavewomen in small leopardskin outfits.
Clug: Furthermore, Clug believe man in sky favour Clug, and talk to Clug at night. Clug talk back. Clug believe talking back to man in sky bring favour on Clug's tribe. More Clug talk to man in sky, more man in sky reassures Clug. Clearly, man in sky with us. Clearly man in sky wants Clug and Thag and Og to be happy.
This is definitely new. Thag clears his throat
Thag (leaning inwards): Tell Thag more about man in sky
Clug: [begins to speak, interrupted by a cough from Og. Og seems skeptical]
Og: (raising a hairy eyebrow) About this man in sky then...
Og: If he really is how Clug describe him, then Og should see clear evidence of existence. Og not see evidence of existence. Also, Clug's tribe clearly not actually favoured. Clug's tribe actually have major social dysfunction as outlined by cave violence statistics and tribal crime figures, refuting Clug's hypothesis that man in sky help Clug's tribe. Also, while Og lack instrumentation to observe weather patterns, seasonal rhythms and herd animal migration properly, Og strongly believe they perfectly natural phenomenon that not require man in sky to explain. Also, based on observation of previous deaths, none of whom we've ever seen again, we never see Morg again. Ever. Morg gone, Morg not coming back. Clug sullying memory of Morg by using Morg's death to make cheap bid for authority. Morg gone. Og be gone sometime. Og live with it, not need man in sky for self-validation.
Clug: Ah, well, you see.... Og not have sophisticated understanding of nature of man in sky. Clug explain...
And as soon as that "Ah, well, you see..." was uttered, theology was born. A non-subject devoted to the diligent study of a particular phenomenon without first demonstrating that the phenomenon actually exists. A bunch of men (mostly) sitting round in rooms with the unspoken agreement that we do not talk about first principles and devising ever more convoluted justifications for their presence in that room when they should be out with the rest of us doing something constructive. The entire subject is essentially "ahwellyouseeology".
I have a natural contempt for theology, I'm afraid. And I'm not the only one. Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience often comments that he believes that many theologians are actually atheists who just keep doing it because it's all they know to do. Call-ins to Matt's show often consist of christians who wish to outline a complex theological argument but who just cannot propose premises which don't clash with reality. Dan Barker is in contact with many priests and theologians who have confirmed Dillahunty's speculation in letters. Peter Ellerton, philosophy teacher and all-round smart guy is of the opinion that theology is not even philosophy, and he outlines this in the Australian Book Of Atheism, recently published by Warren Bonnett of Embiggen Books. Buy one. Really. These are all arguments from authority, sure, but they all have sound reasons to dismiss "sophisticated" theology.
And I have to say I agree. Theology, in my opinion, is the study of rationalising away objections to a premise with the express intent of not abandoning that premise, no matter how poorly supported. It is the opposite of philosophy, and by far the opposite of honest inquiry.
Science, for example, a mode of inquiry with a rich philosophical framework and healthy culture of debate, discards hypotheses and premises to which too many objections exist. Theology puts the cart before the horse by retaining the hypothesis and instead attempting to remove, or magic away, the objections.
And to my mind, that makes it an utter failure as a mode of inquiry.
It is "ahwellyouseeology" and there's no two ways about that.
We need more Ogs and fewer Clugs. Please, make this happen.
p.s. If you are christian, think twice before you reflexively post an "ah, well, you see..." argument in response. You may just be confirming my hypothesis.
posted @ Friday, December 3, 2010 12:02 AM