Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Shark Bible

“But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” Shark 5:15.

We often hear the complaint about the God of the gaps. Within discussions surrounding the development of the universe, or the evolution of biological life, the cringe at the cry of “Goddidit.” Yet I see this spill over into other areas of discussion—the same reliance of inserting and asserting a god to bolster a claim.

The other day, listening to Christian Radio, I heard the enthusiastic claim, “Without God there is no way to put value on human life. Humans have as much value as an apple or a blade of grass.” How is whether there is a god or not modify value of humanity from our perspective? What is the great gauge in the sky that tells us of relative worth, and the pointer indicting how humans fall on the scale?

I see theists wrestling with the same issues of determining the value of lives, and instead of coming to grips with how to do that, flatly state, “There is a god. And my god values human life,” swish their hands together and think they somehow made an argument. Simply asserting a god exists and then imposing what you think value should be upon your god does not an argument make.

As humans, it is somewhat easy to have another human agree with us the human species has value. Talk about preaching to the choir! It is almost intrinsic we agree our own kind has worth, because we believe in our own worth. Yet go outside of our species, and convince them of your value!

Imagine being in the water with a great white shark, and convincing it you have value. The only value you have to a shark is as a meal. (Not what we have in mind when we use the term “value,” is it!) A shark may convince another shark that their species has worth, but when it comes to the human species in the water, we are lower on the food chain.

If the sharks had a god, and the sharks had a Bible, it would proclaim the value of sharks. The sharks’ god would value sharks’ lives.

How do we determine “value” when it comes to biological species? “Value” is a compared worth of good within the market place. A baseball is worth a coupla bucks. A baseball signed by Babe Ruth is worth a great deal more. Each is just a baseball; one is even smudged with someone writing on it. In our marketplace we “value” that ink smudge more than 15,000 brand-new unsmudged baseballs.

When it comes to species, though, this because a far greater difficulty. What is a human compared to a flower? What if the flower contained an element which cured all cancer? What is a human compared to two humans? Or three humans? Even within our own species we manage to devaluate other humans. Think of war—we are willing to kill the soldiers for the other side, consider them “less value” than keeping our comrades alive.

We are willing to kill 10’s of 1,000’s of civilians in war to protect ourselves. In the marketplace of value, we consider our own citizenry of higher value to protect than the citizenry of another country.

Even if a god exists; it is not informing us as to value. For all we know, it does consider sharks more valuable. They’ve been around longer, and haven’t yet found the need to evolve. Sure, they don’t have opposable thumbs…but with those teeth and that speed—how needs thumbs?

We can see how people throughout history have used “Goddidit” to justify devaluing others. The Aztecs would offer captives as sacrifices to continue the sun on its course. The life of the captive was worth less than the lives of the captor. The Jews devalued those living on land they wanted, and boldly proclaimed it was God who had made the value determination. (Deut. 20:17-19). However, if the Jews wanted…say…some female virgins—their God (coincidentally, we are sure) did a role reversal and ordered them to value the female virgins. Not the little boys or the already married, of course. (Numbers 31)

The authors of the New Testament considered the teachings of females of less value than that of males. Lo and behold, their God did too! (1 Tim. 2:12) Over and over, we observe this technique: 1) Assert a God, 2) Make the God value what you want to value.

Christians would like to claim humans have value because of their God, yet even that brings struggle. What has more value to a Christian: life or a soul? If a person died, yet their soul was saved, many Christians would consider a soul of higher value than life. What has more value to a Christian: human life or God’s glory? Many Christians would claim the ultimate value was the glory of God. God could kill a human to demonstrate his Glory, and a Christian would have to say this has more value. (Rom. 9:20-24)

So why DO we value other humans? Whether you like it or not, I think it is a matter of similarity. We value other humans because they are similar to us, and we consider ourselves to have value. If we were sharks, we would likewise consider other sharks to have more worth.

This translates to relations among humans as well. Think about it, right now some 19-year-old kid is aiming his rifle at another 19-year-old kid. Each has brothers, sisters, parents, friends. Each considers themselves of value. Each is willing to kill the other. Why? Because the other 19-year-old is more dissimilar than the kid’s parents, family, country members, etc. It matters not which side of the battlefield we spot this kid—each is willing to kill the other out of the same dissimilarity.

Using a god to get one off the hook of attempting to make these decisions doesn’t work anymore. God hasn’t given us a value system, and those who don’t believe in a God see you are only using God to impose your own values.


  1. I tend to think empathy (as nebulous a concept as that may be) is the basis of morality and, hence, the basis of value.

    Need to go to war and kill a bunch of people? Dehumanize them the first and it is much easier. Need to start a war that will kill a bunch of people or layoff thousands of people and destroy their communities? Be a sociopath first and it is easy to do as you won't empathize with the soon-to-be-destroyed.

  2. BTW, seems that a lot of religions agree with me.

  3. Mind if I submit this post to Carnival of the Atheists?

  4. Eric,

    I would agree that empathy is a basis for morality. Especially coupled with aversion and social contract theory.

    The Barefoot Bum,

    As always you are free to submit this if you like. Glad you liked it.