Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Crediting Chance and Self-Determination: Hump “Witnesses” for Reality

“[I] cannot comprehend [the things that happen in my life] being chance ... - if there is proof that these cannot be God [’s influence] or that He doesn't exist - I am willing to consider it.”

My Christian pen pal, a pastor’s wife, wrote the above after recapping for me some good results, predominantly financial, that came out of some recent unfortunate circumstances in her life. She credits God. My response to her follows -- slightly revised and extended.

Dear M,

I do not credit chance with everything in life. I do credit chance with some number of things. The fact is we influence our life, and whether we capitalize on those chance occurrences are often up to us. Let me give you an example.

I went to college and graduated with a BA in psychology, and a minor in religion. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. So I went to campus interviews with every company that I could. I received offers mostly from insurance companies, and retail companies. I picked retail because my father was a retail executive all his life. I had no particular interest in retail management, but I had some idea what it was.

Neither fate, nor chance, nor the influence of the supernatural played any role. It was simply the fact that my BA in Psych qualified me for nothing more in the business world than an entry level position in management. The retail and insurance industries would take people with any BA degree and a mediocre 3.0+ GPA.

I was assigned to a really good manager, who taught me the ropes and was my mentor. But I brought with me an innate skill set: a sense of urgency, a forceful persona, an analytical bent, and a dreadful fear of failure. I excelled in my assignments. I was promoted often; given progressively greater responsibility; succeeded in most every challenge. My income rose proportionately and faster than many of the MBAs the company hired from better schools.

Chance played a role in who became my role model. Had I been assigned to a lesser manager -- uncaring, inept -- perhaps my advancement would have been slowed, maybe not.

My upbringing was responsible for my other qualities and attributes. Certainly had I not been raised by upper middle class, non-religious, educated parents who were achievement oriented and success driven, who taught me personal responsibility and self-reliance, it’s more than likely my business career would have been negatively influenced. Chance determined who my parents were, and what my socio-economic status was; I could not influence either.

I was successful enough that I could easily retire to our New Hampshire home at 55 years old and not have to work to support my wife and I. But it wasn't chance / luck that allowed me to retire early. I invested well. My education / understanding of human behavior served me well. I learned quickly. I established personal goals and targets. I worked long hours, often six days a week. I hired the best people. I shared my knowledge, developed people’s skills. I took certain risks and made innovative changes that cemented my credibility with the organization. I understood corporate politics, albeit, I was often a maverick. Based on a combination of chance, personal qualities and decision making grounded in logic and intellect, I was able to significantly influence if not entirely control my destiny,

I can account for how each and every stage of my development and business success was influenced by chance, or by my upbringing, or by my own initiative. Not a jot or tittle of supernatural influence is in play. I expect the result would have been the same had I gone into insurance, real estate, or manufacturing.

Perhaps you’d still credit all that to a higher power. I'd guess you’d protest that you need “proof to the contrary” that a higher power didn't influence who my parents were, or influence my business life and manage my career for some "greater purpose." In fact, I’d wager that as you read this, you are compelled to look at each detail and put it into surpernaturalistic interventional terms. I attribute that to your religious indoctrination, dependency, and a sense of helplessness that upbringing imparts.

I can't possibly prove that no supernatural influence exists, just as I can’t prove that leprechauns, alien abductions, ghosts, or Thor don't exist. You could not disprove that a being that resembles a squid isn't circling a far off star, if I made such a contention. No one can prove imaginary things don't exist, and why bother? It is futile and non-productive exercise. But not being able to disprove the imagined doesn't make these things real by default, or even suggest they are acting upon or influencing anything.

Some people dismiss chance, self-reliance, personal accountability, and the impact of life’s cumulative experiences, preferring to credit all outcomes to "powers" from the beyond. It brings to mind the ancients who attributed war, famine, and every other natural event to supernatural influences. Such people lack the confidence and self-respect to credit their achievements to their own positive attributes and luck; or acknowledge that their failures are due to chance, bad decisions, and/or their own inadequacies. It’s too clear, too personal, too simple, and too real. Their lot in life “must” be in the hands of something else, an unseen spirit -- an uncontrollable influence—anything but their own hands and chance.

I went to Vietnam after almost flunking out my first year at school. When I came home from Nam people said: "God must have been watching over you, it's a miracle you weren't killed." But they spoke from ignorance and superstition. The reality was that of all the people who served in Vietnam “only” (only is a horrible word here, but the only one that fits) 58,000 died out of the 2,100,000 who served. That’s less than 3.0% fatalities. My odds / chance of being killed were higher as an infantry-rifleman, but even then comparatively small at perhaps 7%- 11%.

God/gods had nothing to do with my survival. Miracles didn't save me, nor was it God’s will that killed the evangelical sitting across from me in the bunker who was so busy praying he forgot to keep his head down and reload and fire his rifle. To those theists who like to say "Well, God had a purpose for saving you." I respond “Then your ‘god’ must not believe in itself, since evidently its purpose was for me to help bring as many theists as possible to their senses.” an explanation every bit as rational as their postulation.

The "reason," "greater purpose" for that Christian kid and thousands like him dying, resides only in the imagination of religionists. The only "reason" is that some people die in war; nothing supernatural about it. Or as we used to say “defecation occurs.”

But, what can convince an indoctrinated believer that god / supernaturalism isn't an influence in everything they do, or that happens, or is done to them? Reason, logic, and analysis of influences -- cause and effect -- are replaced by "God did it" by those who accept supernaturalism over reality. That will change only through the evolution of thinking, and the extinction of myth dependency. It’s coming.

Yours in reason,


NewEnglandBob said...

Extremely well said, Hump. I have nothing to add here except my admiration.

Atemis Ward said...

This is really good, thanks for being a voice of reason. I would love to know what you get for a reply, if you do.

Just finished your book and loved it. If only everyone would open their minds, read it and apply your ideas this would be such a better world. Keep up the great work.

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks Bob, much appreciated!

And thank you Atemis... glad you enjoyed the book.

She hasn't replied but she's been real busy this time of year. Maybe she'll comment here, I sent her the link tonight.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dromedary Hump said...

You post the exact same inarticulate meaningless silly thing on other blogs I frequent.
If you think it draws readers to your blog you're even more an imbecile than your posts suggest.

Anonymous said...

Well said - I think this is one of your best blogs to date.

An observation - One of the best persuasive techniques is the art of storytelling and relaying of personal anecdotes and experiences. While atheists have logic, peer reviewed evidence and the weight of history on our side, that all weighs less to a theist then personal stories (I’ve watch Televangelists (and AMWAY proponents) use this constantly and effectively very often . If us atheists would just tell our (successful) life experiences like the way you just did, it would go a lot farther then pointing out theistic failings to think rationally about reality/theistic inconsistencies (not that this shouldn’t be done, just that I hear more of this and not enough of living well by example)

- Fastthumbs

Dromedary Hump said...

Well put, and thanks.

Rachelle said...

Ditto. LOL! Great post. Why I love coming here. :)

Dromedary Hump said...

TY Rachelle!

Guanshi Edyo said...

It's hard to take an objective perspective when you experience extraordinary luck. My grandfather survived the holocaust by the barest of threads, and never understood that God need not have favored him in order for him to have experienced good fortune. Many died and many survived -- some just barely. His story happened to be one of the latter.

Dromedary Hump said...


Good point.
Thanks for sharing that with us.


Angel said...

Your letter to the theist drew my own mind back to when I first began playing around with the idea of Yahweh not being as omniscient and omnipresent as Christians are brainwashed into thinking.

I made a list exactly as you had; of struggles and successes/failures in my life where I once would have reported God being a helper I had to reasonably conclude that it was my own actions and reactions which were in fact responsible for where I am currently in my life. If we give ourselves the chance to see it, we really are an intelligent species and we ARE capable of guiding our own futures.

A well thought out post, Hump. Many thanks.