By way of introduction to a relatively new but, by now, familiar phenomenon, the suicide bomber:
A suicide bomber combines two ingredients: First, from infancy onward, he (or she?) has been programmed to hate. There is certainly nothing unusual about that; a goodly number of the earth’s inhabitants go through life with a scapegoat. But second, the suicide bomber believes in a deity, and the bomber’s duty is to join the deity while dispensing maximum punishment to infidels. Combine hatred and religious fanaticism, and one can get a literally explosive mixture.
The purpose of the present essay is to only consider, from a SCIENTIFIC perspective, the second ingredient, the bombers’ deity. I am not writing about the soldier, in every military action, who hopes that he will somehow survive. The discussion is restricted to religious fanaticism: Include the Jewish settler who enters a mosque, knowing that he will not come out of it alive, but who guns down unarmed civilians. I would even include the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War Two, who hurled themselves against military targets; for them the Emperor served as a kind of deity.
We begin with our ancestors some two million years ago, when they broke away from the great apes. They became more intelligent because survival of the fittest selected the brainiest of the lot. Eventually, they were intelligent enough (and their vocal physiology developed to the point) that they were able to verbally communicate with each other. So what are some of the things they did with their new-found “high” IQs? They became aware of life and death and the universe. Perhaps, at first, they said “It is all a great mystery, beyond my comprehension.” Sooner or later, however, they began to explain and control the mysteries of life via a multitude of deities that satisfied their emotional needs. They began to reject the notion of permanent death; instead, they gave their departed ones everlasting life. All of this required a primitive language, as a minimum, so that the rituals (dancing, burying, cremation, or whatever) could be carried on from ceremony-to-ceremony and from one generation to the next.
The evidence is that brain size, intelligence, and vocal ability kept increasing as modern man evolved. In a great leap forward (I was repeatedly assured of this when I was a child), the many deities gave way to a single deity. Since there are societies today (such as the Hindus) that retain many deities, it is obvious that the single-deity concept is controversial. As is true of many other religions, the Hindus believe in reincarnation, and they desire to be liberated from earthly evils. Doesn’t this sound familiar?
Be that as it may, the number of deities in the universe is not pertinent to this essay. What is the scientific viewpoint? Simply put, it is that there is no evidence for single or multiple deities of any kind. They are all figments of the intelligent imagination. But today, ironically, a negative feedback effect has set in: The average intelligence is no longer increasing. There are too many people, too much poverty, too much ignorance.
And too many suicide bombers. Picture this scenario: If a bomber is caught before he detonates, and appears in court before a judge, he can plead that he believes in a deity, that the deity programmed him to blow up the hated enemy, so he is simply following orders, and is therefore innocent. We’ve heard this argument before, of course. The bomber, however, has a good defense because the judge, prosecutor, police, and average person, in fact, all believe in a deity (and also, to varying degrees, in creationism, unidentified flying objects, extrasensory perception, ectoplasm, and so forth).
It seems obvious that, to get at the root of the problem, we should teach the scientific viewpoint, exclusively, in our schools. Alas, many in the scientific community itself pay lip service to separation of church and state in the public schools, while heroically endeavoring to make them compatible.
Some of my scientist friends believe in a deity, but they recognize that science and religion are incompatible. How do they survive this dilemma? They separate that part of their lives from the battles between science versus the paranormal. They lead double lives, in a sense, but it works for them.
Not so for an appreciable proportion of the scientific community, who cannot separate. Three examples, out of many, come to mind:
1) Intelligent Design: How can the Big Bang lead to hydrogen and helium atoms, to galaxies, to stars, to heavier elements, to planets, and to intelligent life? Many scientists argue that “intelligent design” is behind it all. But this is a euphemism for “a deity” is behind it all. A counter-argument is that an intelligent designer would not be such a slowpoke and take some four billion years from the start of life to where we are today – it could have been done much faster. Would an intelligent designer have us self-destruct by plundering the planet? And what about the litany of man’s inhumanity to man?
2) CSICOP: Almost single-handedly, some 25 years ago, in Buffalo, New York, Paul Kurtz gave birth to what eventually became the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Its chief publication is the Skeptical Inquirer. The organization has done a fantastic job of attracting humanists (social scientists, psychologists, philosophers, and so forth) in addition to exact scientists (physicists, engineers, mathematicians, and so forth). Therein lies the problem. Many of the humanists, and even some of the exact scientists, cannot separate themselves from a deity, so that the members are perpetually debating science versus religion. For example, the organization, which has very limited resources, devoted the September/October 2001 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer to “Science and Religion 2001.” This was followed by an “International Conference” held in November 2001 in Atlanta, Georgia, whose theme was “Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?”
3) AAAS: No, its inclusion here is not a typographical error. The American Association for the Advancement of Science was very much involved in “The Harvard Conference on Science and the Spiritual Quest” in October 2001, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Again, a mixture of humanists and exact scientists. Several of the speakers received “research” support from the well-heeled Templeton Foundation, whose quest is to make science and religion compatible. Some unappreciative “atheistic” scientists view Templeton Foundation money as a bribe.
With the above as a background, let us finally return to the subject at hand, the suicide bomber. With so many scientist and humanist groups that hold on to a deity, little wonder that the average person believes in “creationism, unidentified flying objects, extrasensory perception, ectoplasm,” and the like, and we have an extreme form of religious fanaticism consisting of suicide bombers. Bombers come in many different flavors, with various backgrounds and deities; regardless of how they germinated, however, we in the West will not let the bombers get away with the plea that they are only carrying out the orders of their deity. There is no scientific basis for a deity that is serving “pie in the sky,” or anywhere else. We are programmed to hunt down the bombers because they are the enemies of freedom, democracy, and all of the many wonderful values upon which our civilization is built.