The Blind Gift-Giver

Yesterday afternoon, I happened to be channel-surfing while driving when I came across The Michael Medved Show. His guest was atheist poster-child Dan Barker who was discussing his group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation's, campaign to erect billboards in various cities with a line derived from John Lennon's childish ode to Utopianism, "Imagine". The line used? Why, "Imagine No Religion", of course. (The phrase, "Imagine no religion" is actually not directly stated in the song, but in the second verse Lennon actually sings, "Imagine there's no country/it isn't hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too." So, the sentiment is there even if the words aren't exactly as stated on the billboard.)

Now, personally, I could care less about the sign. After all, the founders of this group seem to believe that I will sit back in my car as I drive by the sign and say, "Gee, wouldn't the world be a better place without religion?" But I know that's not my reaction. Whenever I think about the line "Imagine . . . no religion too" in Lennon's ode, I think what an impoverished place this planet would be. I think history has amply demonstrated that when atheism rules, bad things follow. Michael Medved pointed this out to Barker, but Barker simply brushed it aside believing that the examples of tyrannies arising out of officially secular regimes (North Korea, USSR and the French government following the French Revolution) were unrelated to the idea that God had been removed from the picture.

Much could be said about Barker's hour-long appearance. Obviously, I disagreed with Barker on a lot of issues. Medved said he was lying at times (such as when Barker made the obviously erroneous attempt to tie Adolph Hitler's regime to Roman Catholicism -- an implication that he denied that he was trying to make), but I don't agree that he was lying. I just thought he was misinformed, mistaken or flat out wrong on virtually everything he said. But one particular thing he said caught my attention.

During the course of the discussion, the issue came up of belief in God and foreign countries. Barker pointed out that people in poorer countries tended to have higher levels of belief in God than wealthier countries. Barker reasoned that it was because people who were poorer needed God more and so cling to an imaginary God. Actually, Barker is almost right on this one. However, it isn't that people in poorer countries need to cling to a made-up God. Rather, it's the case that people in wealthier countries tend to think more highly of themselves and tend to see less clearly the need for God. Of course, Barker's view actually supports my earlier argument that belief in God is not so much associated with IQ as level of poverty. (Thanks for the support, Dan.)

The conversation then turned to the issue of Western Europe's declining birth rates. In the course of the conversation, Medved asked Barker whether he understood that part of the reason that birth rates in poorer countries were higher than in wealthier countries was due to the fact that religious people in the poorer countries saw children as a gift. Barker responded that atheists generally (caveat: I don't recall whether he was speaking only from his point of view or for atheists generally although I believe it was the latter, hence the reference) agree that children are a gift. Medved then asked rhetorically about the idea (supported by many atheists who are largely pro-abortionists) that children were a choice. At this point, I arrived at my destination and didn't hear the next few minutes. Hence, if Barker responded, I don't know what he had to say.

But as Barker said that children were a gift, my wife, who was in the car, turned to me and asked an obvious question, "A gift from whom?" After all, a gift implies that someone is giving and someone else is receiving. Obviously, the couple having the baby are the recipients of this gift, but who is the giver? Is Barker's Gift-Giver the same as Richard Dawkin's purposeless watchmaker? How does Dawkin's vision of irrational forces fit with Barker's Gift-Giver? Let's see:

All appearances to the contrary, the only [Gift-Giver] in nature is the blind forces of physics [and biology], albeit deployed in a very special way. A true [Gift-Giver] has foresight: he [creates his gift with care], and plans [the recipients], with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of [Gift-Giver] in [child birth], it is the blind [Gift-Giver].

So, children are a gift? Not in Barker's world -- not if he is being consistent with his view. Still, it is my belief that he is using language that he actually knows to be true, i.e., that there is a gift-giver, but which he has suppressed in his desire to evangelize for atheism.


Peter said…
Some of the dictionaries define gift as "something acquired without compensation" indicating that you don't need address what/who the source/giver is. I guess Dan Barker could have said that the giver is the nature.

I have notice that certain theists try to insert God in many places by asking questions starting with "who is" (not "who are" or "what is the origin of"); "Who was the creator of the universe?", "Who was the gift-giver of baby mosquitoes?" ...
Puritan Lad said…
Unfortunately, we don't have to imagine what society would be like without religion. The 20th Century was full of examples that I dare say need not be repeated.
Paul Ehresmann said…
Well...Scandinavia is mostly without religion these days and they have a very high quality of life. Haven't heard of them waging any wars lately either...or burning witches. There were quite a few "examples" of religion behaving badly both during and before the 20th century that I daresay not be repeated. I know...I know...those things weren't the fault of religion per se, but misguided people flying the banner of religion. In any case, it is certainly NOT a slamdunk case to any thinking person that religion=good and no religion=evil.

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