Playing God

Today, Thursday, October 23, 2007 I exceeded my natural lifespan. Had the year been 1907 rather than 2007 my abscessed appendix would have ruptured, and I would have died shortly thereafter.

During my stay at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria I was truly awestruck on a personal and visceral level by what I already knew on an abstract and theoretical level – the human beings who work to keep others alive in our health care system and associated support and research endeavours represent the highest pinnacle of our great golden age of human civilization. It is well known that their work frequently takes a toll on their emotional, social and family lives, but there is scarcely a single person among us who does not owe their own life to these champions of human dignity. We owe them our deepest reverence.

It is for this reason that when I hear morons and idiots malign advances in biomedical research as “playing God” I have to suppress a shudder at the medieval barbarity of their ignorance. I beseech all who read this to fearlessly and forcefully challenge such asinine specimens of non-thinking wherever they occur! The only solution that such fools have for my appendicitis – a certain death sentence for almost all of human history – is to blame the victim for not being sufficiently pious and try to save my soul for the fabricated “next” life. While in my case impiety is most assuredly a true charge, the causal connection between impiety and disease is clearly false. Here I remain, successfully living a happy life in defiance of an omnipotent God’s alleged punishment.

By contrast how many pious clergy have succumb to appendicitis? What does this say about the “intelligent design” of the human intestine? No better example then the appendix exists for how the human body was designed by a gradual process of piecemeal evolution, with no planning of forethought and riddled with potentially fatal and clearly sub-optimal features. Those who argue that biological creatures “are so well designed that only God could have done it” are going beyond arguing to ignorance and inventing a new logical fallacy: the argument to wilful stupidity. God certainly must work in mysterious ways to have designed the appendix… or simply be mind-numbingly incompetent in his error-prone role of galactic puppet master in training.

When these same nuts who spout nonsense about “playing God” or “intelligent design” also obstruct stem cell research, for instance, it makes me wonder how many people will die in the intervening period of time between when stem cell therapies come to fruition and when they MIGHT have come to fruition BUT DID NOT because of such asinine exercises in Dark Age “thinking.” If a stem cell based cure for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's or Multiple Sclerosis is delayed even a year because of such people this would represents a twisted crime against humanity, and yet another example of why I am not merely an atheist but an anti-theist.

As Christopher Hitchens says, “religion poisons everything” and does incalculable harm in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. The belief system responsible must be held accountable for the harm it does. We must move beyond being tolerant and respectful of religion, for it is currently high amongst the most destructive and harmful forces on the planet. Sam Harris is fond of pointing out that just as the KKK is today rightly maligned as both ridiculous and extremely harmful, it was once treated with considerable social respect in the American south. In a similar way religion ought to be mocked and ridiculed until the absurd stupidity of religious claims is laid bare and can no longer hide behind the veneer of societal respect. When it comes to harmful ideas we need to practice “conversational intolerance.” Those who foist barbarous beliefs upon their neighbours must be held accountable for the consequences of those beliefs, and the rest of us must stop tolerating or respecting them just as we do not tolerate those who espouse Nazism or racism. Those who warn against “playing God” must be high on our priority list for the conversational intolerance of Sam Harris.

The simple fact is that any old surgeon in a modern hospital is far more deserving of the right to “play God” than any of the genocidal, misogynistic bastards vying for supremacy among our mid-eastern spawned scourge of despotic monotheistic deities. Why? Here are the Happy Heretic’s top 20 reasons why doctors are better qualified at “playing God” than Yahweh, Jehovah, or Allah:

Your average doctor…

20. rejects cannibalism – be it literal (Catholic) or symbolic (Protestant) – as a valid or efficacious treatment for saving people from suffering.
19. prescribes drugs and treatments that work for verifiable medical conditions, not prayers and rosaries designed to exercise thought control of victimless “sins” confessed in secret.
18. will diagnose someone hearing voices in their head as mentally disordered and commit them to hospital, not take someone hearing voices telling them to murder their child and promote them as a paragon of virtue. (ie. Abraham)
17. encourages second opinions, rather than stoning, for those who disagree with their assessment. (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)
16. never threatens to taketh away what they giveth, even if you don’t pay your bill. (may not apply in the U.S.A.)
15. makes rational decisions based on inductive logic and observational evidence, not based on petty, psychological character flaws such as jealousy, possessiveness, ego, vainglory, rage or vindictiveness derived from low-self esteem.
14. seeks to halt genocide, not incite it.
13. will treat anyone – friend or foe – and doesn’t pick favourites between who they will or will not save on the basis of race, belief or loyalty.
12. isn’t perfect, but statistically if you want to be healed your best bet is at least one order-of-magnitude improved if you visit a doctor rather than pray.
11. seeks to alleviate or prevent plagues, not cause them.
10. treats women as human beings equal to any other, not as chattel. (Koran 4:34)
9. treats homosexuals as human beings equal to any other, not as abominations deserving death
8. doesn’t punish patients who disobey doctor’s orders by killing their firstborn infant sons.
7. chooses actions based on the consequences of a given set of circumstances, not arbitrary inflexible laws.
6. uses their abilities to alleviate suffering, not to inflict it as a tool to enforce obedience. (Koran 4:56)
5. seeks to promote good behaviour for its own sake, not on the basis of arbitrary rewards or punishments.
4. unquestionably and unconditionally helps those in need, rather than claiming to love everyone unconditionally on the condition that they do his bidding in abject slavery.
3. doesn’t go around trying to steal all other doctor’s patients and pretending competitors don’t exist, even while referring to such rivals by name.
2. knows the correct value of pi.
1. is real.

As Dan Dennett says, “thank goodness” for the knowledge and scientific skills of human doctors, and for all the organs of science, medicine and biomedical research. Human standards of morality have long since surpassed those of the barbaric, bronze-age Abrahamic religions. May our standards of healing likewise continue along the accelerating march towards conquering death itself, when humans will become truly immortal and banish the ridiculous gods of our intellectual infancy to the graveyard of history alongside other bad ideas such as alchemy, astrology, phrenology and dousing.