Thursday, April 2, 2009

God’s “Miraculous” Achievement--or Justice?…It’s Either-Or.

Recently a close acquaintance of mine was discussing the treatment she is receiving for a potentially devastating condition she suffers from called macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness. She described how immediately following commencement of the treatment, her eyesight improved measurably. She then proceeded to say how grateful she is to God for this "miraculous" treatment, describing how her minister told her that it is because God is watching over her. When I asked her "Don't you think you should be thankful to the scientists and researchers who actually created this new medicine?” she immediately said "Oh yes".

But it is the initial urge to give credit to "God", rather than to those who actually deserve the credit, that must be strongly challenged. With all due respect to this acquaintance, a good woman of 81, the mindset behind this line of thinking is one of gross injustice. It is not that those who subscribe to such religious dogma are necessarily unjust (my acquaintance was quick to acknowledge her true benefactors), but rather it is the mystical belief that God acts through individual human beings to create these products that is. The implication is that the scientists, researchers, investors, and companies who coordinate their activities are mere conduits for His good works and deserve no credit.

So, where did this "miraculous" treatment actually come from?

The treatment is called Lucentis, a revolutionary breakthrough that entered the marketplace in 2006. Developed through a joint effort between biotech company Genentech and pharmaceutical giant Novartis and marketed in the U.S. by Genentech, this incredible product stops the progress of the disease in 95 percent of the patients who receive it, while actually improving the eyesight in an astounding 70 percent of them.

A new drug typically takes at least 10 years and many hundreds of millions of dollars to bring to market. But it is the unrelenting drive and determination of actual people working under a social system of (relative) freedom…people of extraordinary ability, vision and courage…that make these medical breakthroughs possible. In other words, it is to the scientists, inventors, and researchers who work patiently and painstakingly for years to bring their theoretical ideas to practical reality that we should be thankful.

To brush off their heroic efforts as God's doing is to make a mockery of volition, reason, intelligence, ability, history... and justice. One need only consider the contrast between the Dark Ages, when mysticism ruled amid the abandonment of reason and freedom, and the Enlightenment-spawned Industrial Revolution, the product of reason and freedom. For thousands of years there was no treatment for this disease. Are we now to believe that God, having sadistically allowed untold thousands of people to go blind throughout history, has suddenly and on some inexplicable whim brought to man Lucentis? Would a "good and merciful" God act in so callous a fashion in regard to so devastating a disease as macular degeneration? Are we also to believe that God is deliberately withholding vital treatments for the many diseases, for which there currently is no cure, causing untold suffering and premature death? Why would any religious believer want to ascribe to Him such a cruel nature, or to worship such a being?

The questions posed above are not supposed to be asked... or answered. The standard response of a religionist who takes these ideas seriously would be some such evasion as "God has a plan" or "It's part of God's design", which of course no mere mortal can ever understand.

But it is of the utmost importance, I believe, to understand the exact nature and consequences of such a belief. Rooted in mysticism and collectivism, the belief in some “higher power” that directs and/or is responsible for men’s good works is inimical to human freedom and progress. This doctrine holds that there are essentially no differences between people... that people succeed or fail because of forces beyond their control (determinism)... that such attributes as ability, intelligence, self-motivation and other such qualities are of no essential relevance to human achievement. We are all “God’s children” who should all share equally in “God’s bounty.” This mysticism takes many forms, both secular and religious. Former Democrat House Speaker Dick Gephardt once said, in defense of compulsory income redistribution, that "those who win life's lottery [the successful and productive] should be forced to turn over part of their winnings [earnings] to those who did not [the lazy, the incompetent, the unlucky, the failure]." A statement of this kind is in principle no different from the belief that God is responsible for the good works of people. Both deny credit to the people of achievement.

Of course, mysticism is not necessarily synonymous with a belief in God. America's Founding Fathers, for example, were predominantly deists who held a supreme belief in the power of reason and individual self-determination. Deism is the belief that a Supreme Being did indeed create the universe, but that he is a distant God that gave man the tools he needs to survive and thrive but doesn’t interfere in man’s or nature’s affairs. Deism does not ascribe to the belief in miracles, organized religion, or the divinity of Jesus, for example, and may be looked upon as a way station between theism and atheism. Deism reached its cultural peak, and religion its Enlightenment nadir, around the time of the American Revolution and helped pave the way for the birth of a country that unleashed the creative energy of man’s individual mind. The history of the next 200 years is indisputable proof of the source of human technological advancement…the human creator, not a supernatural force. What all mystics…secular or religious…have in common, though, is a belief that each person's lot in life is predetermined or controlled by God or society or the tribe or the race...i.e., a denial of individualism.

The re-emergence of the power and influence of religion in the culture over the past few decades, its increasing penetration into the political realm, and its growing alignment with the collectivist Left means that the religious tenet that God, not actual human beings, is ultimately responsible for the material benefits we enjoy must be taken very seriously. It will become a potent new lever for the rise of socialist tyranny, if current cultural trends continue. If productive output is determined not by individual human attributes but by some "higher" power, then ultimately it is up to whomever claims to speak for this power (i.e., the state, the King, the Clergy) to "equitably" distribute, by force, the nation's (the collective's) output. Hence, socialism...i.e., tyranny.

Man is a being of free will whose primary means of survival is his rational faculty...reason. He exists in a universe that is independent of his consciousness and which is governed by absolute natural laws. The material requirements for his survival do not occur freely in nature, but must be discovered, invented, and produced by him. Each individual is an autonomous being who must choose to focus on the world around him; who must choose to think for himself and acquire knowledge; who must choose to develop skills necessary to support himself. Men will succeed or fail at these tasks mainly due to their own individual qualities of character. While individuals differ in regards to natural attributes and potentialities, the fact is that charactoralogical attributes within the sphere of each person's choice are the primary driving force within each of us...attributes like self-motivation and perseverance, dedication to goals, hard work, integrity, honesty, self-esteem and rationality. Whether one believes man's "creator" is God or nature, the facts of man's nature and the requirements of his survival are indisputable.

The statement about God made by my acquaintance and quoted at the beginning of this essay may sound innocent enough, and coming from her I know it was. But ideas have consequences, and will eventually find their way into the realm of politics...i.e., into the realm of force. Politics is the handmaiden of cultural ideas. It is not God’s whims that determine the extent of human achievement and thus his progress and well being. The uncontestable fact is that man’s spiritual and material well-being is solely a consequence of individual reason and productive work…if, when, and to the extent that the social conditions conducive to his nature are established. Those conditions are individual liberty protected by government. To the extent that the belief in the individual as the source of human wealth and progress is accepted by a culture, the result will be a just and free society. To the extent that a culture accepts the idea that a “higher power”…be it God or society…rather than individual effort is the source of human wealth and progress, the result will be a growing sense of entitlement, predatory exploitation of the productive, collectivist tyranny, and poverty.


Harold said...

Discovered your website after reading that ridiculous businessweek "debate".

A few months ago, I used to visit a very popular personal finance blog and one of the posts was on Christians tithing and home foreclosures (think it was a guest post). Anyway, I got into a discussion with some guy who insisted that his recent job promotion--a few dollars if I recall--was a result of his continuing to tithe even during his wife's car accident. Things were tough for them while she was recovering. I wondered aloud who was responsible for the car accident occuring in the first place. "God?" He then said that we can't know such things, and I pointed out he did just that when claiming that this entity had rewarded him for his tithing. I chastised him a bit on attributing their success in the long run to some supernatural being while many other faithful have lost loved ones in such accidents. (Or maybe they weren't faithful enough?) I also suggested that they take pride in themselves for pulling through those hard times.

Well, the owner shut down that conversation pretty quickly, and I haven't been back since.

Like the lady in your story, I'm sure this guy is otherwise a good person, and it's unfortunate that he thinks that way.

Mike Zemack said...

Thank you relaying that personal experience, Harold.

For anyone interested, click here to read the debate that Harold references. The comments follow. My contribution can be found here.

While some valid points are raised by opponents of Rand and Objectivism, it is obvious that ignorance, misinformation, and outright dishonesty dominates the "thinking" of the "con" side of this debate. The arguments from straw men, ad hominem, and intimidation/insults substitute for any actual attempts to refute Objectivist principles.

This pattern is widespread and tells me that the intellectual road ahead is clear for the spread of the philosophy of Objectivism in the culture. Ideas cannot be stopped except through logical and open refutation.