Here I am, blogging on a warm and sunny Southern California Christmas eve... I'm definitely missing my wintery upstate NY hometown. But alas, I have vestigial traditions to attend to! The holiday spirit is alive and well within this vessel :)
Taking a cue from some historically chill religious figures, for this Christmas eve post I'm going to tone my essay down and address an issue that should give proactive "evangelical" atheists pause...
One of the toughest challenges we will face as evangelical atheists will come as we attempt to inoculate the religious against the sunk-cost fallacy. Can anyone imagine deconverting a grandmother who spent her entire life going to mass and praying nightly, deriving comfort and guidance from her rosary beads?
To shake the very foundations of one's upbringing, to be told that all he's been taught is incorrect, would be so difficult and painful to wrestle with. The desire to stick with his old beliefs would be incredible for two reasons: first, it's not likely that he would even accept the new information as valid, and second, if he does recognize it as valid, then it follows that he would have to acknowledge that all the time, resources, and effort* he spent on his religiosity was for naught.
Have you ever picked a bad line at the grocery store, waiting and waiting while the other lines move briskly along? Notice how you hit a point of no return... "I've waited this long, I'd better get my time's worth. I'm staying." This is a strong compulsion.
And it's completely wrong.
The correct choice is to move into one of the faster lines as soon as you recognize the delay in your own. But you feel attached to the time and effort you spent by choosing it, so you stick with the bad choice. I've felt this compulsion strongly enough in a checkout line. Imagine feeling it about sixty or more years of personality-molding belief structures. It must be shattering to go through.
Considering this, we have to decide if it is still worth the attempt, or if there should be a cutoff point limiting our efforts to a population less likely to be so difficult to reach. It was said that we should expect to 'lose a generation' if the country were to convert to the metric system. Should we plan to lose a generation on the march toward secularism? While the English/metric conversion would yield inconvenience and confusion for the 'lost', with religion/secularism it's a moral dilemma. How can I in clear conscience let someone continue to waste the remainder of their days putting energy into a system that will not pay back? And yet, how can I be so cruel as to pull the rug out from under them and show them what will appear to be a very harsh enlightenment?
The line might be there. On one side, truth. On the other, bliss. Who's prepared to draw it?
* -I think I'm going to acronymize this into 'TRE'... I feel like I'll be using this term a lot in the future.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Here I am, blogging on a warm and sunny Southern California Christmas eve... I'm definitely missing my wintery upstate NY hometown. But alas, I have vestigial traditions to attend to! The holiday spirit is alive and well within this vessel :)
Posted by Kevin Savino-Riker at 9:50 AM
Friday, December 21, 2007
For a long time, I was a global warming skeptic.
I blame it entirely on Michael Crichton, when he forced me to read 'State of Fear' by being one of my favorite authors (The Terminal Man, The Andromeda Strain, Eaters of the Dead, Sphere, The Great Train Robbery, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, The 13th Warrior, and Timeline, for chrissake). Honestly, I should've seen it coming with 'Prey'. He was losing his touch.
State of Fear is essentially an anti-global-warming-opus, and it turns out to be based upon some, *ahem*, flawed information.
Do yourself a favor. Reserve ten minutes to watch this film. Agree or not (as I disagreed once), give it an honest listen, and then share it. Really.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I was gonna save this for much later, but reading a recent series of posts and commentary on Possummomma's blog, I had to sound off on it...
I've read through dozens of debates between theists and atheists over the last year or two, and over the course of doing so, I noticed a recurring phenomenon that seems to be the single most common reason why these debates often end in a flaming wreck.
The Christians who fight tooth and nail against the most solid reasoning, the ones who unfailingly and effortlessly have a response and excuse for every monumental counterpoint, the ones who inevitably turn into violent and aggressive animals once their best attacks are parried, all seem to inhabit the same trait: they can't "turn off" the existence of God.
In other words...
A lot of these Christians seem unable to take the cognitive leap into someone else's perspective. They try to wade through all our arguments under the pretense that God still exists, instead of looking at it under the assumption that he does not.
It is the ability to do this very thing that allows us atheists to be so solid in our conclusions about the world... when weighing the theistic arguments, we can and do look at things under the pretense that God exists.
And when we do that, what we observe simply doesn't jibe with that presumption.
There will always be the problem of theistic blindness to the reality that the world does not behave as it undoubtedly would if God existed. Christian gamblers have their prayers answered exactly as often as non-Christians who don't pray and end up winning. God only heals those who have the exact conditions that we as humans know how to cure with our own learned scientific skills. God might actually exist and be doing these things.
Well if that's the case, then God's trying awfully hard to remain indistinguishable from 'nothing at all'. And in that case, then... what in the world is the difference?
Friday, December 07, 2007
Alright, now that I'm no longer a member of Blogrush, it's time for some hate-speech!!
(NOTE: At present, Ann Coulter is the only person who's made the ranks of my hate-speech list, so expect it to be about her whenever I use the term)
Ann Coulter, who hasn't changed her tampon in years, wrote an article for Vanity Fair* (in the same issue as the Tom "I'm bat-shit insane" Cruise, Katie Holmes and Suri cover story, in case you want to see for yourself) in which, among other unbelievably dense rantings, let slip that not only is she a young-earth creationist, she is a flat-earth creationist.
Whether the bitch has any explanation for the photos taken from space is at present unknown to me.
Regardless, she then hammers her point home making allegations against the vast liberal conspiracy that's planting globes in all the classrooms and explaining why the people on the other side don't fall off because of this cockamamie theory of gravity. She reminds us that gravity is only a theory, and that people like Pol Pot and Stalin also believed in gravity... authoritatively linking the roundness of the earth with pure evil.**
If I may, I'd like to try my hand at using this remarkable logic in an argument. What follows is a hypothetical conversation I'd have with Ann Coulter, assuming I'm out after the sun has set and she's not already out sucking on the necks of the homeless when I stop by to chat:
Me: "Ann, do you believe that two plus two equals four?" Ann: "Nowhere in the bible does it bother to say that, so it must not be important. Next question."***
Me: "Ann, all snarky avoidance techniques aside, if you were in math class and your teacher asked you what two plus two equals, what would your answer be?"" Ann: (sighs frustratedly) "Four."
Me: "Hmm, that's very disturbing. Jeffrey Dahmer also believed two plus two equals four. I had no idea you were a mass-murdering cannibal."****
In my amateur opinion, this woman is an intellectual parasite who robs listeners of their sanity... and then consumes it en masse, metabolizes it, and expels it as what I can only assume would be legendarily pungent flatus.
Ann, you're the worst kind of person.
* - I was at a coffee shop waiting for my order, and I was bored. Don't judge me.
** - I'm separating this one for the distinction it deserves. There is a slight possibility that she was using sarcasm here when she said this. If so, Ann Coulter has grasp of neither the purpose nor the application thereof. She's being sarcastic about the things someone arguing against her would be sarcastic about. Unless... what if she is using some ultra-subtle double-sarcasm where she's invoking her opposition's sarcasm for them??
*** - She used this in her article, so... I'm not taking liberties you might think I'm taking.
**** - Okay, I did kind of suspect it, but I was trying to be polite.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I humbly apologize for my absence over the past month; I do a lot of my blogging at work* and a recent promotion is keeping me in the field much more frequently than before. I'll try to sneak a few in there from time to time while I can, but mostly I have to learn to blog on my own time... which is gonna be tough because I'm addicted to Halo 3.
I'm going to attempt to create a sub-series of posts highlighting questions aimed at Christians. Obviously these will be rhetorical questions constructed to poke at the flaws and contradictions that come with religious belief. I'm not doing this to make fun of the religious, I'm doing it to prompt them to take a harder look at what they really think is going on in their faith. I think the ultimate goal of these queries is that they apply a prybar to the religious framework one might find himself boxed within.
If you're a person of faith, I think you should be asking yourself the tough questions anyway, even if it's to strengthen your faith. I cannot change your conclusions, but I respect how you came to them, even if our conclusions are polar opposites of one another.
While I have every intention to release a series of these questions, I have no idea how frequently the requisite ideas will pop into my head; it might be another year before you see the next one of these. Without further delay, I now present the first of many questions for Christians, in my half-heartedly named sub-series, 'Questions for Christians':
Questions for Christians
1a. Why isn't there a bible for today? When's the last time any of you had direct contact with a goat or a patch of desert in the middle east or a slave, or had to perform a wave offering? Why didn't God say "Come back to the top of my favorite mountain and get the new edition every 100th Christmas**"?
1b. If there's a reason explaining why not, then it only raises the question, "Why is so much of the bible irrelevant in today's world? If he only got one chance to write the user's manual for all*** humanity, why did it ever stop being the most amazing knowledge-filled piece of literature ever created? Why did we have to invent math and science on our own... shouldn't all of that information have been readily available in the bible? Why did he fail so miserably to create a timeless and definitive guide to living? Didn't he know we were going to be tinkering with stem cells and arguing over digital copyright law and ABOLISHING SLAVERY?
1c. Why did God stop talking to us? If he loves us as much as he loved his Abrahamic tribes 3000 years ago, why did he leave it up to them to deliver the Good Word to future generations? It's a several millenia-long game of telephone that started in an age when communication was, to put it politely, 'paralyzingly stifled'. How well does the telephone game work with one sentence within a single kindergarten class today? And God wanted us to do it with tens of thousands of passages and CHANGING LANGUAGES EVERY COUPLE CENTURIES?
1d. Why do we think God stopped talking to us? People all over the world today claim that God speaks to them, and we pay them no attention. Why, when we're so much closer to the actual source of the claims, are we so quick to dismiss them, when we take the same claims so seriously when they were made by primitive people who would interpret anything they didn't understand as a supernatural message?
I want to know what answers the faithful would come up with. And again, this isn't a snotty challenge to them, it's honest curiosity. I think whether you're a religious person or not, questions like these should be very important to you.
* - Don't judge. You're reading this at work. I have proof.
** - "The New FS&H Yellow Pages with more complete listings and up-to-date information"
*** - present and future
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The truth value of a scientific principle is nothing more than the measure of its predictability. If you test it, you get a result. Next time you test it, how likely will it be that you get the same result? The more precise the results, the 'truer' the principle.
Imagine you've never seen a calculator before. Someone shows you how to use it. You type in 2+2. It provides an answer: 4. You try it again. It answers 4 again. You try other equations, and they all return correct answers. After enough repeated attempts you become comfortable with the expectation that the calculator will return a correct answer, ergo, "the calculator knows math." This is your principle, which has been experimentally proven true.
Note that this is not axiomatically true; all calculators have a known bit-error-rate. Let's say, one in ten million calculations, you can type in 2 + 2 and it will answer, I dunno... twelve. Does this make the principle invalid? NO. It just makes it imperfect and still remarkably useful.
If you want to investigate why the calculator works, you might start with the hypothesis, "math elves live inside the calculator, awaiting your instructions. They then construct the answer and display it on the screen." Repeatedly using the calculator suggests that the elves do in fact come up with correct answers. But if you investigate further and take the cover off the calculator, it becomes apparent that there are no elves inside it. All you find is plastic and metal. You throw out the math elf hypothesis and form a new one regarding the materials you did observe. Let's say you eventually discover that the circuit board operates on the manipulation of electricity and the individual components behave consistently when voltage is applied to certain contacts.
The scientific method has a failure rate of zero. Not very small, not miniscule... ZERO.
How can I claim this when history documents all sorts of naive and incorrect scientific theories (i.e., phlogiston, ether, Lamarckian evolution)? Because the scientific method has nothing to do with identifying absolute truths.
It's about obtaining the most accurate model possible.
Functionally true according to the best information available at the time.
I can say the scientific method has a failure rate of zero simply because no scientific theory has ever been replaced by a competing theory that didn't fit the data as well.
Now imagine somebody comes up to you and proposes that it's not electrical interaction between the calculator's components, but that the calculator is actually a container that holds the mathematical spirit of the universe. All your electrical experiments still work. Is there any reason at all to throw those away in favor of a generic and vague explanation that ignores your data and has no explanatory power of its own?
Food for thought.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The exterminator over at No More Hornets wrote a post earlier this year, in which he claims to have pioneered a new creative art form: Google-oetry.
A Googl-oem is simply a poem constructed solely from the keywords people type into google that end up sending them to your website. You are allowed to add punctuation, but not to add or change words.
What follows is my first Googl-oem, entitled 'Verse Justice'. Each line appears in the order it did in my keyword log. Some punctuation has been added... no other changes.
There are one hundred students who open lockers,
Perfect squares... odd number of factors.
Technology and prose:
Perfect square, odd number of factors.
Huntington harbour boat-parade 2007,
Insomnia film post production?
Debate formats: rebuttal and re-rebuttal;
The only real justice is the justice you take.
Novels which incorporate back story...
Average bed time of a highschooler...
Remaining humble when becoming education.
Why do perfect squares have an odd number of factors?
24 hour insomniac film contest;
Shit, jury summons,
Gas leak! Front yard!!
Another word for prose?
It's friday... say a prayer to freyja.
...prayer to freyja.
...prayer to freyja.
...prayer to freyja.
- kevin savino-riker
Now, I didn't write my name at the end of the poem... the last search keyword in my log was actually my name, which was remarkably convenient.
Monday, October 22, 2007
I learned today that I do not like being discriminated against.
After hearing some good words about Blogrush, a relatively new traffic-generating widget, I signed myself up in an attempt to generate traffic*. It worked remarkably well, to an extent**. I did get a few new readers (which brought my total readership up to 'a few'), a couple of whom left positive commentary on my work; I was indeed performing up to Blogrush's standards by actively contributing materials deemed valuable to the service's readership.
This morning, however, I received an email from the Blogrush staff indicating that my blog has been removed from rotation. The full text of the email appears here, but the critical elements are replicated below:
We regret to inform you that your BlogRush Account has been made INACTIVE because your blog did not pass our Quality Review criteria. You will find instructions below for making your account active again.
We determined that your blog did not meet our strict quality guidelines. Please do not take this personally but realize that we must abide by a very strict set of quality guidelines. (They are listed below.)
The primary reason(s) your blog(s) did not meet our guidelines: Inappropriate Content Or Advertising: Hate Speech or Anti-Racial (emphasis mine)
Hate Speech or Anti-Racial*** content...
I guarantee you will not find one racist idea in all of the 127 posts that appear on this blog, for the same reason you wouldn't expect someone blind since birth to speak of a mental image; thoughts of that nature simply don't occur to me. So it must be hate speech they found.
Have I perpetrated an act of hate speech on any of these pages? I certainly don't think I have, but maybe 'hate speech' has swelled into such a broadly-defined word that 'criticism' falls within its blanket definition.
I have no illusions about this blog's critical views on organized religion, but I don't believe there is anything truly hateful spoken about any person or group of people, with the exception of Ann Coulter****, of course. To be clear, I passionately detest organized religion due its direct cause of so many personal and societal ills. I do indeed hate all the bad things religion causes, and I hate their cause equally. It is not wrong for people to have hated Hitler and Nazism; he caused tremendous undue human suffering. We should hate things that actively harm people.
Most importantly, though, is that when I speak out against religion I am not perpetrating hate speech. True hate speech is directed toward a person or group of people, not toward an institution. If you scour the pages of Prose Justice, the worst you will find... the thoughts that are as close to hateful as can be found here, will all be directed toward institutions, not toward people. It is not hate speech; it is just editorial opinion and information.
Just for fun, I myself looked for instances of hate speech. Using the search bar at the top of Prose Justice, keyword 'hate', Here's what I found:
"I love the English language for being so flexible and organic, but I hate when those attributes are exploited to supplement the argument being presented." - BLASPHEMY - EXACTITUDE
"Phones are as natural to gens X and Y as are toilets, and toilets are as natural as butts in this part of the world. We understand phones already. We understand their associated technologies as easily. Even the complicated ones like automated customer service. We hate that one, but we certainly understand it." - IDIOSYNCRATIC
"My roommate Tom's mugging - Tom was attacked by a handful of kids as he was riding home on a bicycle. They ran off the porch and chased him down, attacking him and taking the ten dollars he had on his person. I hate Brooks Ave...
...the massive standoff in my neighborhood, complete with lunatics holed up in a house with shotguns, and thirty-odd cops on the scene throwing around terms like 'kill zone'. I hate Brooks Ave." - PERTURBATION
"You may like foreign cars. You may like small cars. You may hate either, as a matter of fact, but with complete disregard to the preceding, you will love this commercial for this small foreign car. The Citroen C4. That is all...
...It's kinda like a gentlemen's club, really: Those who know about it love it, and everyone else hates them for being involved with it." - JOCOSE
"I HATE seeing great musicians wasting their talent playing other peoples' music." - INTERREGNUM
"I HATE the word 'holla' but will knowingly and willingly use it in jest to promote the disrespect of the word. I suggest you all do the same." - ORATORY 1
Any hate speech in there? Didn't think so.
But to be fair, let's try to look for instances where I actually have a chance to slip into hate speech. First we're going to use the term 'Christian', then we're going to use my frequent catch-all phrase, 'the religious'. If I'm going to say anything hateful about a person or group, those words will be there. So here we go:
"An example of this phenomenon is that Muslims are less likely than Christians to be killed in automobile accidents. When worded this way, it implies that Islam makes one a better driver than does Christianity. But it's much more likely that since Muslims generally don't drink, Muslims drive drunk far less frequently than Christians do, resulting in fewer enough drunk-driving fatalities to skew the results" - BLASPHEMY - ESPIALI left out instances in which the search term yielded hits for phrases like 'Christian organization' or 'the religious organization', again because regardless of what I say afterward, it is not true hate speech. If you want to look for them yourself, you'll see that what I say falls far short of hateful anyway.
"This one goes out to all the good Christian people out there who mistakenly believe atheism is nihilism...
...I know that you're expecting to be tricked, but honestly pretending that you weren't... would you have been compelled to say 'Christian'? Well, the fact is, I left one item off the bottom of that list. If that last item was "Believing that the character of Jesus Christ was the son of God and died for our sins," then and only then would you be correct in describing him as Christian." - BLASPHEMY - ALTERITY
"And in case there was any misunderstanding about the context of Mark 3:29, let me unambiguously state that the acts performed by Christians to spread Christianity represents the absolute worst of human nature. If any of our human behaviors deserve to be called demonic, it's the fear-mongering critical to successful religious indoctrination.
" - BLASPHEMY - COVENANT
"The 'Family Values' ticket, which you can find on your garden variety voters' ballot, really means 'Undercover Christian'." - EPHEMERAL
"Any sufficiently radical scientific study engenders passionate outcries from the religious: 'We must stop playing God before it's too late!' 'Playing God' to them is inherently bad; my guess is because of its violation of some deadly sin or another. Pride, vanity, hubris. Whatever it is... we can't puff ourselves up and presume to know what we're doing. We can't take God's place. We're violating natural order...
...It wasn't until our technology began yielding godlike capabilities that the religious got squeamish about it all." - BLASPHEMY - DESIDERATUM
"Blind faith removes the verification process something has to endure before you can have faith in it. This is the kind of faith the religious have; the problem is that they mistakenly believe that their faith is the unblind kind." - BLASPHEMY - EXACTITUDE
"We've been labeled that way by the religious for so long that we've gotten used to it. It's probably our own fault that we haven't done so much to correct the misinterpretations of what it means to be atheist." - BLASPHEMY - ATTESTATION
"Interestingly, the fact that the universe exists is a source of unspeakable awe and 'reverence' to me. It drives me to never stop learning. This is the kind of awe the religious could only dream of experiencing." - BLASPHEMY - REJOINDER
"The religious and the agnostics draw a circle, within which is the natural and explainable, outside of which lies the supernatural. The religious populate this external region with God...
...Because if it was worth it to you to ask about the universe's complexity, wouldn't it be more worth it to ask about God's greater complexity? That's only a rhetorical question because the religious would never dare to ask that...
...The pyramids were, with the obvious exception of their geometry, pointless. How many hours, how much raw material, how many lives were consumed in the building of these religious monuments? They serve well as a poignant example of the resource-sapping by the religious that occurs even today, though to a thankfully less drastic extent." - BLASPHEMY - SATIETY
"When the religious organizations lobby for teaching of intelligent design in schools, they often accompany this with a statement encouraging students to be cautionary in their thoughts toward evolution...
...If the proponents of ID want to be skeptical about evolution because it is just a 'theory', they should be raising as much opposition to relativity as well. But the religious community has no quarrel with relativity, because they do not believe support of relativity is equal to a renunciation of God." - BLASPHEMY - MODICUM
Looking through all that, there is only one passage that comes close to denigrating Christian people, and even then I explicitly aim my attack at the specific practice of fear-mongering for the purpose of indoctrination. Everything else there is statement of fact or constructive critiquing. Nowhere else will you see even a hint of bile or spite or flat-out insult*****.
After spending only a short while following links via the blogrush widget, I came across several websites with far more caustic language and direct attacks on groups and individuals, from atheistic blogs, from religious blogs, and from blogs that have no theological slant whatsoever.
So I guess this post is both a cry for help from my fellow atheist bloggers, and also a caution to my fellow atheist bloggers who use Blogrush. Their website indicates that they manually inspect every blog that signs up... I'd really like to know if this has happened to anybody else.
I realize this is a very modest instance of discrimination; nothing has happened to me, only to one avenue of distribution of my digital presence. But it's validation just the same that a blog about positive atheism and about religious criticism is viewed as hate speech, at least in the eyes of the constituents of Blogrush. Thank you, Blogrush, for proving to me that we atheists still have work to do.
* - and to win the lottery; well, one out of two ain't bad...
** - See footnote #1.
*** - which I think, etymologically speaking, means 'against differentiation by race'... so maybe all those people using the term 'anti-racial' should use a correct and unambiguous word like 'racist' instead. Because I'd like to be able to use the term 'anti-racial' for what it really means without having to stop and explain myself like I did here.
**** - about whom I didn't even speak hatefully... only critically, and I did so within the framework of stand-up comedy (which is ALL ABOUT exaggeration), which wasn't even that funny. OK, fine, you want to drag it out of me? I HATE ANN COULTER BECAUSE SHE IS A HATEWORTHY PERSON, WHO LIVES QUITE WELL OFF PROFITS THAT COME DIRECTLY FROM THE PROPAGATION OF HATE SPEECH. YOU LISTENING, BLOGRUSH? READ ONE OF ANN COULTER'S BOOKS, TAKE NOTES, AND THEN COME BACK TO ME AND TELL ME THAT MY BLOG CONTAINS HATE SPEECH. I fucking dare you.
***** - See footnote #4
Monday, October 15, 2007
What if we were all secular humanists?
Imagine a world where every human being understood that there is no afterlife. Every single one of the six-billion-plus of us realized that this life is the only one we get. And moreso, we also realize that there are people suffering. There are the unfortunate who are still lacking the comforts and givens of the developed world.
Assuming a comparable* number of good-willed and proactive people populating this imaginary world, they would all be involved in a universal and dedicated effort to improve the quality of life for as many of the world's neediest people as possible; there would be no nobler cause to support. We would all work as hard as we could to help. Imagine how much we could accomplish if after taking care of our personal needs, we all labored cooperatively toward creating a greater world for humanity.
There is no need to fear the old-fashioned bogeyman of communism, in which I know many will detect a similarity to my scenario. Notice I said 'after taking care of our personal needs'. By 'personal needs' I mean every last thing that we choose to make important, whether it be feeding and clothing ourselves and our dependents, or if it's planning an expensive vacation to Hawaii. We can still be as capitalist and self-serving as we want to be. But many of us will have resources leftover after taking care of our personal interests.
So all I'm saying is: with the time and resources that the fortunate have leftover, what if they all applied them toward providing basic needs to the most needy of our global family? Eventually clean water, adequate shelter and sufficient food would be provided to everyone on the planet who lacked it before.
And then a remarkable thing happens: the most needy people on the planet will no longer be defined in terms of the hardships of starvation and general poverty; instead they will be defined by a lesser need. Perhaps lack of educational infrastructure. So, what if the fortunate peoples of the world didn't stop giving? Eventually everyone in the world would have a reliable education at their fingertips.
As the progression continues, the needs of the neediest will one by one be eliminated according to their severity, until those remaining needs slowly come to resemble the desires of the average. Allow the trend to continue long enough, and we approach the goal that more and more of our needs are accommodated for, and more and more of us can spend more time striving toward experiencing the luxuries of life. As more people ascend to lifestyles that allow them to yield their own surplus, the resource-base for charity expands exponentially. Needs eventually become extinct and the worldwide population comes as close we ever have to experiencing heaven on earth. A real paradise the human family can experience together.
Now, imagine that one-tenth of the people in this scenario had an additional drain on their resources. Something that took a significant portion of their time and money, and wasted it on an empty promise of a better life than could ever be experienced on this world.
This has a twofold effect: 10% of the population automatically has less time and money available to contribute to bettering the world, and that same 10% come to develop a complacency toward wanting to better the world. "Why bother working on this one when the REAL prize is in the world to come?" Those 10% are no longer working as hard as they can toward bettering the world. Now, all of the sudden it takes 10% longer to achieve paradise on the planet.
In our world, it is not one-tenth of the population afflicted by this misconception. In our world, most of us... in fact enough to be able to say almost all of us... behave like the 10% in my scenario above. Most of the people on the planet are complacent about suffering on earth... to some degree their own suffering, and to a much greater degree that of others far removed from them. Most people don't give a damn and don't give a dime to make the world better because they're not too worried about it; there's heaven to prepare for.
So in our world, how long will it take, how many lifetimes when it's only 10 percent fighting the unrelenting tide of majority? How many generations will continue to suffer while the dismal minority are the only ones left trying our hardest to move toward heaven on earth?
And on a totally unrelated note - It bothers the hell out of me that 'sub-par' and 'under par' have opposite meanings.
* - to this world
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Found on the Blogroll*:
Matt McCormick, author of Atheism: Proving the Negative, has written some really nice articles addressing, among other things, some of the difficulties of atheism we don't often think about, what with all the 'disproving Christianity' that keeps us busy.
This particular article of his caught my attention. It stopped me dead in my tracks, since at the time, the idea he presented had never once crossed my mind.
The idea came from recent studies that suggested religious people were generally happier and healthier than their nonreligious counterparts, and really amounts to "Okay, we know religion is not true... but if it turns out that being religious really is good for us, then what do we atheists DO with that information?"
After some vigorous pondering, here's what I came up with:
The first thing we have to do is analyze the merits of the statement above. As Mr. McCormick noted, most atheists would jump to the conclusion that the studies were not properly constructed or were otherwise compromised so as to provide some degree of bias in their results. Off the cuff, I think that's true.
But I'd like to frame my response without having to invoke a flaw in these studies themselves**, and instead appeal to general knowledge about studies of this nature, and what we can infer when we think critically about them:
Studies like this often fall victim to 'tunnel vision' wherein the item they're focusing on (in this case, religiosity) is inadvertently credited for all deviations and contrasts between the subjects of the study, when other influential factors are undoubtedly present. Religiosity is often accompanied by complimentary*** behaviors and/or belief structures that may be nonreligious in and of themselves, and which may influence the subject just as strongly.
An example of this phenomenon is that Muslims are less likely than Christians to be killed in automobile accidents****. When worded this way, it implies that Islam makes one a better driver than does Christianity. But it's much more likely that since Muslims generally don't drink, Muslims drive drunk far less frequently than Christians do, resulting in fewer enough drunk-driving fatalities to skew the results.
As it pertains to the studies above, I'd be shocked not to discover the same kind of effect taking place.
But... that's not the only mitigating factor in my assessment. If we disregard my argument above and assume that the studies were constructed to eliminate those external factors, and that they accurately measured a difference in wellbeing based solely on religiosity, there is this to consider:
These studies are essentially positing religion as a giant placebo. This is actually a great explanation of religion - A placebo is an inert substance/operation that has a positive physical effect on the subject; it literally 'hacks' the brain into generating relief because the subject believes he has received a genuine***** treatment. As you might expect, placebo can be effective... but genuine medicine is usually much more effective. Similarly, there are probably many other things in life that can be more beneficial than religion. Real things. It is naïve to think that religion's placebo effect is singular among all we can experience. Remove religion from a population and replace it with something rational and real (like higher education, for example) and what benefits were lost in removing religiosity may be replaced or restored.
Of course, there is probably a cumulative effect of these benefits, and it's fair to say, in following my example, "Well, if we have higher education and religion, then we'll be even happier!" I admit I do not have an argument against this. I will say though, that there are probably dozens if not hundreds of distinct rational alternatives that many of us to not yet employ in our lives****** that hold similar potential benefit without all the negatives that inherently accompany religion*******. All we have to do is pick one. That shouldn't be too hard.
But wait!! There's more!
Finally, there's the dilemma of disbelief itself. Again, we'll disregard my arguments above, and now assume that the studies are definitely correct. Religious people are better off than nonreligious people. Okay. But we still run into an issue.
Like the placebo I mentioned before, religion only has its assuaging powers when people believe in them. Atheists cannot will themselves to benefit from religion when they are aware that it is not true. Thus, you can only cross the line from belief into disbelief. Atheism is a one-way ticket; once we know better, we are no longer capable of experiencing the benefits of religiosity.
With this in mind, the question at hand no longer applies to atheists. Now it applies exclusively to atheists' behavior toward believers.
And the question is not whether we should keep dragging people across the line from belief into disbelief... it's whether we are obligated to keeping others from crossing on their own.
Thinking rationally about such a dilemma, it becomes a matter of Ignorance versus Bliss. I believe the conclusion we'd inevitably come to is that the benefit of removing that bit of ignorance would not outweigh the benefit of leaving said ignorance intact. Would we ever have a reason to tell a patient that the medicine we gave him shouldn't have worked??
The least course of action that would be morally acceptable would be to swear one's self to secrecy. To actively promote the greater good, atheists would actually have to shoulder the burden of maintaining belief in the masses.
Think about that. We would literally become the shepherds to the flock. Ergo, atheists would be destined to become the new clergy.
How wild is that?********
* - (Atheist)
** - especially since I'm not privy to the details of how the studies were done. No unsubstantiated allegations coming from this mouth.
*** - as in, 'complementing each other,' not 'free of charge.' Because the latter wouldn't make any sense.
**** - This is a fabricated assertion. I have no idea whether it's true or not, but it is a great model for what I'm trying to explain.
***** - In this sense, I mean 'genuine' to indicate an active medicine rather than an inert one. Many doctors will attest that placebo are a genuine treatment, since they do provide a measurable benefit when properly implemented.
****** - Yoga comes to mind for some reason. I offer no explanation.
******* - I guess I do have an argument against it, then, don't I?
******** - This post definitely holds my personal record for most footnotes.
Monday, October 01, 2007
This one goes out to all the good Christian people out there who mistakenly believe atheism is nihilism.
It's not just a rhetorical question I'm about to ask you, it's an entire rhetorical quiz*.
The Rhetorical Quiz
1. What is the first word that would come to mind if you were asked to describe someone who believes in the following?
Helping others in need
Treating others as he would wish to be treated
Making personal sacrifices for the benefit of others
Honoring and respecting elders
Believing in the 'good' in people
Championing against the immoral and oppressive
I know that you're expecting to be tricked, but honestly pretending that you weren't... would you have been compelled to say 'Christian'?
Well, the fact is, I left one item off the bottom of that list. If that last item was "Believing that the character of Jesus Christ was the son of God and died for our sins," then and only then would you be correct in describing him as Christian.
Well, the fact of the matter is, I was describing myself. The last item that I left off the list was "Does not believe in the existence of the supernatural."
Lo and behold, I do not believe in the existence of any gods, and I still try my best to be a good person.
I brought this all up for two reasons: first, to disambiguate the term 'atheist' (or at least differentiate it from the word 'nihilist'), and second, to address the concept of 'Christian virtues.'
Every time I hear someone refer to certain qualities as Christian virtues, it gets my dander up. If you don't understand why, I suggest you find a rock n' roll aficionado and tell them that 'All Along the Watchtower' was the best song Jimi Hendrix ever wrote. Watch their reaction.
You see, 'Christian virtues' is a misnomer. Christianity did not author those concepts. They are not Christian virtues... they are virtues. Every moral** instruction espoused by Christianity preexisted in prebiblical culture. Not only that; people of all backgrounds can accept them. Even people that don't believe in any gods.
The items on that list are all things I believe in. And yet if I add to the bottom of that list "Does not believe in the existence of the supernatural," all I'm viewed as is "atheist!" It's a perfect example of the prejudice that this society is laced with that it bothers you to hear the idea that 'atheist' and 'virtuous person of high moral character' are not mutually exclusive.
* - Okay, so it was still just one question, but didn't it feel big enough to constitute being called a quiz?
** - I don't mean every instruction that's identified as moral... I mean every instruction that actually IS moral. There aren't that many.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Andrew Sullivan (one of the more intelligent and sensible believers I've stumbled upon during my daily internet-scouring) had some interesting things to say during his online debate with my junior-hero*, Sam Harris. The full text of their back-and-forth has been posted all over the atheist corner of the internet, and I highly recommend you take the time to read it. Here it is:
Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan Debate
As I was making my way through the piece, all doe-eyed with my man-crush on Sam Harris and his elegant prose, I got caught up in a game of "how would I respond to some of these things?" What follows is one example.
"Is this sense of an after-life an illusion? We cannot know for sure. But death isn't an illusion. And when death is nearest, faith emerges most strongly. You can either see this as a reason to pity people of faith - they're too weak to look mortality in the face and deal with it. Or you can see this as part of the wisdom of people of faith: we know what we are, and we have reached a way of dealing with it as humans, full humans, not just arguments without minds and bodies. Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.
But I believe this position misses the point. He seems to think atheism only comes into play at the moment before death**. It implies that his understanding amounts to, "atheists think believers aren't brave enough to admit that when you die, you cease."
But... no! That's not what we're saying!
We're not saying, "if you're a brave and smart atheist like me, you can deal with death being the end." In point of fact, we're saying, "It looks very likely that death is the end, so RIGHT NOW and the remainder of our lives until death are the most cherishable, and the most perishable things we have. They ought not be wasted. All opportunity costs must be considered. Spending even an ounce of effort on plans for yourself after death takes at least an equal (and likely larger) amount away from the only life you are guaranteed to have.
That is why it's such an important goal to fight the desire of the eternal***.
* - I know what you're thinking... and the answer of course is Dawkins.
** - maybe because that's the moment that the majority of the believer's life is spent looking forward to?
*** - At least, we should try to fight it on the spiritual plane. I'm all for promoting the desire of the eternal through technological innovation.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
It's time to start 'playing God'.
Any sufficiently radical scientific study engenders passionate outcries from the religious: "We must stop playing God before it's too late!" 'Playing God' to them is inherently bad; my guess is because of its violation of some deadly sin or another. Pride, vanity, hubris. Whatever it is... we can't puff ourselves up and presume to know what we're doing. We can't take God's place. We're violating natural order.
Nevermind that all technology 'violates natural order' once we separate 'the advent of technology' from 'that which occurs naturally'*. By this rationale, every time a monkey picks up a stick to scratch his back, he's playing god. If you don't subscribe to the aforementioned line of reasoning, perhaps you might consider that advancing our technology is simply a byproduct of our intelligent nature?
It wasn't until our technology began yielding godlike capabilities that the religious got squeamish about it all. The displacement between humanity and deity has been reduced to a stone's throw. In some aspects, we've exceeded him. God needed 40 days of rain to wipe out the population of the earth. We could do it in a drastically more populated world with a few 40 megaton blasts... in a few minutes, no less. I'm not proud of that fact, but it's a relevant point to make.
Removing all religious stigma from the term, scientists 'playing god' is no less benign than children 'playing house'. Nobody accuses the child of tempting wrath and parental retribution. If anything, it shows a desire on the child's part to want to grow up, to be as mature as his parents; it is a better endeavor than playing 'bank robbers'.
'Playing God' should be an aspiration of ours, not a warning to us. We, like the children playing house, are practicing and preparing ourselves for a future when we will be in charge. With godlike capabilities, we can practice benevolence on a global scale. We can take responsibility for those who need our care. We can make the world a better place.
We've finally reached the level of scientific maturity that we can start doing something about it.
We're finally ready to start playing god.
* - And my whole point here is that the advent of technology should be thought of as something that occurs naturally.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Two separate concepts popped into my head the other day. New ways to articulate how I feel about a couple key topics in the faith vs. reason debate.
Number 1 -
Faith and Blind Faith (or, faith and Faith, truth and Truth, what have you).
Most of the argumentative types I come across could really benefit from a lesson in linguistic precision. I love the English language for being so flexible and organic, but I hate when those attributes are exploited to supplement the argument being presented. "It takes just as much faith to be an atheist/believe in evolution/fill-in-the-blank." You know what? I'll admit it. That's all true.
That's true because it takes some measure of faith to do or believe anything. It takes faith to believe your calculus teacher; otherwise, you'd be left to reinvent calculus for yourself. It takes faith in spades to fly in a commercial jetliner; there are hundreds of engineers who better have been correct in their calculations when they designed the airplane... and thousands of their predecessors who developed the aviation industry based on the works of Glenn H. Curtiss and the Wright brothers, all of whom had to place a lot of faith into a lot of things to accomplish their achievements.
Faith is not a bad thing, so long as we understand how we're using the work. 'Faith' is another way of saying 'trust'. Trust is based on evidence. Faith in this sense is functionally useful; in fact, it is a sleight to faith to leave it at that... faith is crucial to survival. Faith gives us a means to use all the tools we have not invented ourselves. Scientific advancement would not have gotten us to where we are so quickly if scientists couldn't rely on information outside of their own experience. It is what enables us to stand on the shoulders of giants. Faith is not a bad thing.
Blind faith, however, is a terrible thing. Blind faith removes the verification process something has to endure before you can have faith in it. This is the kind of faith the religious have; the problem is that they mistakenly believe that their faith is the unblind kind. They have been misled into thinking that their faith is supported by evidence when, for example, they see prayer 'work' for the people around them. That is why they cannot distinguish between the faith it takes to be religious and the faith it takes to be rational. That is why they so easily say "it takes just as much faith to be an atheist." The truth is, it takes no blind faith to be an atheist, and the faithful can't tell the difference.
Number 2 -
'Supernatural' is still a useless word.
I figured out another analogy to make my concept of the supernatural more palatable to mystical types. The concept of the supernatural is like thinking of a color called superblack*. It is conceivable to think of a shade of black that's blacker than any shade you've ever seen before. You can imagine what it would be like to see something superblack. But the problem is, true black is defined as the absence of light. To go further than that is by definition immeasurable. Black is simply as black as you can get**. You can think of superblack, but it won't get you anywhere that black can't.
Here's another one. Temperature. The coldest temperature theoretically achievable is absolute zero, which is -273 degrees celsius. It is at this temperature that all molecular activity ceases***. Heat is simply a way to measure the kinetic activity of particles. Absolute zero is literally the absence of heat. But it'd be very easy to imagine extending the temperature scale to -274 degrees. It doesn't matter that in this universe nobody is ever going to measure absolute -1... we can still think of it. But again, it won't get us anywhere.
* - Not to be confused with the glorious summer comedy 'Superbad'.
** - Okay, this is not true in the world of NTSC television, but that doesn't count anyway.
*** - Back off, buddy. I'm not going to discuss zero-point energy if I don't have to.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
"I am atheist."
"I am an atheist."
As I've posted previously, I prefer the former. But why exactly?
Used the first way, 'atheist' is an adjective. Used the second way, it becomes a noun. Grammar is a subtlely powerful device, and that small change makes all the difference in the world. For example:
"A fat, happy, playful dog." Adjective, Adjective, Adjective, Noun. The first three are its component attributes, the fourth is simply 'it'.
When identifying ourselves , Most of us put 'atheist' in that last place, and it overshadows all the good adjectives that might come before it. All the adjectives characterize the atheist, instead of 'atheist' being among words characterizing the person. I think this is a misstep, especially in a time where the term 'atheist' is so widely misrepresented.
For one thing, to anyone outside the category it de-personifies us. For another, it defines us in purely adversarial terms against anyone who might be described as religious. And we don't always want to be that... or at least, not always so blatantly so.
We've been labeled that way by the religious for so long that we've gotten used to it. It's probably our own fault that we haven't done so much to correct the misinterpretations of what it means to be atheist. This is my point from above: Most people who hear the word think that 'atheist' is all we are, or all that matters when it comes to judging our character. Collectively, we do tend to say "I'm an atheist," the way we'd say "I'm a realtor." That makes it an all-encompassing descriptor; it's what you spend the majority of your time doing. But if you just say "I'm atheist", it's like saying "I'm superstitious". It describes an aspect of you, not YOU. Nobody says they're superstitionists.
When somebody finds out I'm atheist and reacts in shock with a phrase like, "But you're such a good person!", I use a little analogy to help them understand that their notion of 'atheist' is dramatically exaggerated. It goes like this:
"Do you eat hamburgers*? Yes? So you're a hamburgerist? Should I assume that all you ever eat is hamburgers, all you ever think of are hamburgers, and that you believe hamburgers are better than the food other people eat?"
Yes, it's designed to be a little preposterous, but it drives the point home. I should mention that I don't just reply with this canned phrase. That would be too rude and condescending for all but the most infuriating debators. I introduce it as an analogy first.
Anyway, I thought these thoughts were pretty good and worth worth sharing...
...not that I'm proclaiming myself an intelligentist, or anything.
* - I originally wanted to use 'vegetables' in place of 'hamburgers', but there really is such a thing as a vegetarian... and 'hamburgerist' is too funny a word to pass up.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
My responses to the FriendlyAtheist short-answer project:
- Why do you not believe in God?
- Where do your morals come from?
- What is the meaning of life?
- Is atheism a religion?
- If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?
- Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?
- Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?
- How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?
- Why does the universe exist?
- How did life originate?
- Is all religion harmful?
- What’s so bad about religious moderates?
- Is there anything redeeming about religion?
- What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?
- Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?
- Are atheists smarter than theists?
- How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?
- Would the world be better off without any religion?
- What happens when we die?
Friday, August 10, 2007
Atheist Stand-Up Comedy.
Two critical aspects of stand-up are the delivery and the physical component of the presentation... but it's still funny to read the punchlines, so here's a little joke that I thought up on the way home from work. I need lots more material to add to this, but it's a start:
I wanted to do a caricature of Ann Coulter, but I realized it would be impossible because she already is one...
...You just can't exaggerate Ann Coulter's rage! I tried! In the real world, that woman hasn't changed her tampon in years.
Creationists want us to produce fossil evidence of transitional species? Fine. BURY ANN COULTER. We'll dig her up in a year and say, "She walked upright, but completely lacked higher brain function. Also note the pronounced claws."*
Yeah, so, don't worry, I didn't quit my day job. But I will try to come up with some more to add later.
* - If you didn't find this passage funny, it's not because I'm not funny. It's just because you missed my delivery and physical presentation.
Most internet-savvy atheists know about the Rational Response Squad. If you don't, feel free to check in on them at their site linked above, and at the Blasphemy Challenge, which is what I want to talk about today.
If you're unfamiliar with what the Blasphemy Challenge is, take a moment to familiarize yourself, then read on with abandon :) The link is above.
I'm planning on making a contribution to The Blasphemy Challenge, but I don't have convenient
access to a camera that will take more than 15 seconds of footage at a time... so, being the verbose motherfucker that I am, things are not so much with the "filmed" part yet.
But I have scripted my statement, and I might as well publish it here. Hope you like what I've come up with. And if you have any critiques, feel free to leave me a comment.
Okay, enough introduction.
Hello, Rational Responders!
I'd like to help out by contributing to the Blasphemy Challenge...
But I'm not sure I can deny the holy spirit... since in my mind, actively denying something implies that it is a thing that exists that you're interacting with. It calls to mind dealing with an unruly youngster... like, "No! Bad holy spirit! You cannot have the cookie!"; this particular cookie being, of course, my soul (which, by the way, I also cannot even relinquish, since I don't think I have one of those either). In short, not only can I not deny something due to its nonexistence, I can't do so because I have nothing to withhold from it. It's like trying to bluff during a hand of poker when you're not playing with real money: you have chips on the table and you've assigned arbitrary values to them, but no matter how many chips you're betting, whether it be none, one, or many... it's all the exact same real value: zero. In the end nobody has won or lost anything. I don't think we even have cards.
And in case there was any misunderstanding about the context of Mark 3:29, let me unambiguously state that the acts performed by Christians to spread Christianity represents the absolute worst of human nature. If any of our human behaviors deserve to be called demonic, it's the fear-mongering critical to successful religious indoctrination.
Pretend for a minute that this supernatural contest for souls between God and the devil is actually going on. If I were the devil, I tell you what I'd do. I'd prey on the weakest minds I could find. Minds that would believe anything. And I'd do my best to convince them that I was God. I'd even present the idea of an evil devil for them all to rally against. I'd make them as afraid as possible of abandoning me, and I'd sweeten the deal by promising them eternal rewards for choosing what would appear to be the only right choice. In other words, I'd make it sound too good to be true, and then watch the volunteers pour in.
It's not a devil you should be afraid of. It's a silver-tongued Satan pretending to be God.
Okay, there you go. And just in case all that didn't do the trick, Let me make clear that I intend to commit an unpardonable sin. I'm hoping this follows along the same line as "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Even if I haven't performed all this correctly due to a technicality, I've already committed the unpardonable sin in my heart.
In conclusion, I will pledge this with my full name as a baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic: I am Kevin James Christopher Savino-Riker, and I completely and wholly deny the holy spirit.
I'll post the video here once I make it. Meanwhile, more text-based creative compositions to follow.
It's Friday, so say a prayer to Freyja!
Thursday, August 09, 2007
And the hits just keep on comin'!
Prose Justice has just been added to the Atheist Blogroll. This is a big step for me, since, well... other people will be visiting this page. That hasn't happened for a long time.
In preparation for the potential influx of readers, I've done a little upkeep here to make the site more manageable for people that are here to read what interests them. This site will still be my personal journal, and my archives consist of the better part of a hundred posts that have nothing to do with atheism, and due to my inconvenient post-titling scheme it'd be tough to discern which of my posts have anything interesting to say at all... so if you want the good stuff about my new favorite A-word, click the link at the top of the page.
That's all for now. I'll finish with a link to post-previous, the one that represents the bulk of my creative outpourings of the last eight months, and the post that got me on the blogroll in the first place.
Okay, really finishing this time. Thanks to Mojoey for creating the blogroll. You're putting your money where your mouth is. Thanks for setting the example and providing a platform for the rest of us to follow suit!
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Started 11/3/06, completed 8/8/07
I read an interesting theory about life, in which it is hypothetically supposed that humans are not so much a lifeform, but a byproduct of a lifeform... that DNA itself is the real animal, the defined living being. The means by which it found the solution to its survival is clumping together in a massive swarm that spends a period of time advancing through stages which ultimately allow it to combine with another swarm of DNA which will allow the new generation to propagate...
Life itself is, when conceptually condensed for the sake of the argument, simply the persistence of information: the significant pattern arranged in a (relatively or even arbitrarily) meaningful way. In the case of humans, it is their DNA and all its associated emergent attributes.
When viewing a homologous sample population of a particular sect of any organized religion, the same type of pattern is identifiable in the higher-order philosophical arguments and belief systems... to that end, some have called religion a 'virus of the mind'.
In recent years, I found myself coming to that realization on my own. Seeing religion itself as a 3rd order sociological lifeform: Self-sustaining, reproducing, and adaptive; whereas humans are constructed in a tangible medium of molecules... religion is a swarm entity literally made of the intangible stuff of mob mentality, cemented together by vestigial fight-or-flight instincts. Fear. Anger. What's especially interesting to me is that this 3rd order lifeform exhibits evolutionary footprints itself. It conforms to the broad definition of life, and even follows rules out of the same playbook we do. A virus of the mind. There is a pointedness to that description... not many viruses are known to benefit their hosts.
A Roman Catholic born and raised, I believed in what I was taught from the beginning. I didn't always have the presence of mind, however, to be aware that I never felt the presence of God. Eventually, I grew more self-aware, and noticed at least in the background, that I never felt this thing I believed in. But time passes, and experience hones the ability to process data like these. Inevitably my Catholicism fell by the wayside. If you asked me about religion, I'd likely reply, "I'm not into organized religion, but I'm one of the most spiritual people you'll ever meet." And yet, I wasn't done with organized religion. I was compelled to study it. Not just Christianity, either. I had developed a ravenous appetite for theological materials. I would study it and get into deep conversations about it. Something in me wouldn't let me leave religion alone.
For a long time, I studied it. For a long time, I exhausted myself trying to define my place along the spectrum of faith. For a long time I firmly planted myself within the boundary of agnosticism, but something still wasn't right. Agnostic. It really worked well publicly, but it didn't describe me. There was something truer than that, but it was a scary word indeed. It was another A-word. Luckily, a matter of semantics reconcile an inadequacy of a definition...
The religious and the agnostics draw a circle, within which is the natural and explainable, outside of which lies the supernatural. The religious populate this external region with God. The agnostics don't populate it with anything, but they make sure the space is reserved in case anything does occupy it. The problem with this is that they've fixed the proportions. I draw my circle, and if something comes into my experience that falls outside that circle, I have the liberty of drawing a larger circle to accommodate it. The religious drew their circle and it has a fixed area. More accurately, someone drew the circle for them, in a time when there was not much known about the universe. The circle was very small indeed. They managed to cram most of our modern knowledge into that fixed space, which only makes it easier for them to imagine the 'rest of it/the undiscovered' in the supernatural space outside the circle. The circle to them is a point-of-no-further-investigation. But I can just keep drawing my circle bigger and bigger. There is no limit to the canvas of a scientific mind.
Something new became apparent to me here. Not only am I not religious, I am not agnostic. The larger and larger my circle gets, the more magnificent the entire universe becomes to me. The larger circle has no stigma attached, no dogma applied, no means to induce fear or doubt. The larger circle is that of an atheist. My current assessment then, is that the term 'atheism' accounts for this sense of wonderment quite adequately.
More concisely: if something is proven/explained that was previously regarded in terms of the supernatural, then by the fact of its discovery it is obviously a part of this universe, and is therefore part of nature. This is consistent through all of recorded history. Thus, something as of yet unexplained is likely to be a part of nature that we haven't yet mastered... but a part of nature nonetheless.
I'd take this perspective so far as to say if the anthropomorphic God of ethical monotheism walked out of a cloud and announced his existence irrefutably to the world, then the only logical conclusion I could make is that there is this 'god aspect' of nature heretofore undiscovered, with its own fundamental properties. There'd be a whole new category of physics to learn about: God physics. How he reads minds and can be everywhere at once and how he exists on his (or apart from all) timescales. Those would be exciting times for scientists!
Going back to my 'circle' analogy, it seems rather arbitrary and unnecessary to draw the circle once we realize that there are things yet to be discovered in the natural universe. Why then do we feel that we need to draw a line that separates the unknown of the natural universe and the 'supernatural'? What value is a border if the things on either side of it are identical? That's all we're doing: going into the already unknown (which is obviously the worst place to start concocting firm assertations) and draw a line, saying, "...and past this line is the more unknown." If it's even more unknown than the unknown, how can we possibly know enough about it to conclude that it is definitely unknowable? In truth, the only responsible position is to avail oneself to the idea that time is a powerful tool and say, "it is not yet understood." No deadlines, no goals. Just the humility to admit that we cannot understand it, but someday, somebody better might come along.
It's a paradox, or perhaps is ironic, to consider that the hardiest argument for god is the "incalculable complexity" of the world we live in. They look at what science has presented and call it too cumbersome to be taken seriously. They say that it's foolish to try to explain it with intricate theories. They say the simplest answer is usually the correct answer. In that statement, I agree with them completely. To shake a leaf out of their own tree for a moment: You know what's the most complex thing in the universe? God. Their 'simple answer', by their own definition, is in fact something so complex as to be considered unknowable.
Whereas evolution is about simple beginnings that lead to more developed ends, looking back from the religious perspective means you end up looking at something more complicated than what you're struggling to justify here and now. What makes more logical sense: tracing back from today's complexity to ever simpler iterations the further back you go, or tracing back to something that gets more complicated the further back you look, all the way to the conceptual limits of an infinitely complex god who's been around an infinitely long time? And let's say that the latter strikes you, for some reason, as the more logical of the two. Then I shall ask a better question. Which of those two scenarios does a better job of addressing the actual question: how do I explain the complexity around us now? If your answer is "it was more complex in the past", then you've shot yourself in the foot with a rather large bullet. Because if it was worth it to you to ask about the universe's complexity, wouldn't it be more worth it to ask about God's greater complexity? That's only a rhetorical question because the religious would never dare to ask that. In the meantime, Remember that simple beginnings are easy to explain. Unfathomable complexity, on the other hand, should have no part in any sentence with the word 'answer' in it. The complexity of the world around us was slightly simpler yesterday. It was simpler still the day before. And you know what? There are enough yesterdays to follow that progression back to the very beginning. And a trillion or so to spare.
But the faithful want to save me. They say, "All you have to do is obey God's rules and you will be rewarded with entrance into heaven." So, you want me to take part in an experiment that will occupy me for the REST OF MY LIFE, and it turns out that I'm right, I won't know until I'm dead, which is another way of saying I'll never get to know. Those are awfully high stakes to play with. Awfully high stakes for a pretty peculiar reward: my sincere difficulty with this is that their intentions are based upon the notion that there is the magnificent gift of heaven ahead of us all. But that argument would only seem to hold water if there wasn't this massively rewarding life I'm living right here and now. Even to tally up all the joy I've experienced in my relatively short 26 years of life is a tremendous amount of evidence for this life being rewarding enough - that they fail to notice this is what astounds me. Their tunnel vision is incomparable; it's something akin to using a microscope to view the room you're sitting in.
This also brings about stunning implications: I spoke of the apparent invalidity of the heavenly-reward concept as evidenced by how rewarding life on earth was. That sentence may have sounded to you as subjective and terribly shortsighted. I could have worded my statement more precisely, instead saying that there were examples of how rewarding life on earth could be. I admit that I have had a fortunate life, and I therefore represent a painfully small fraction of the human population. There are hundreds of millions (and I sadly suspect more than a billion) of people alive today who will not be alive for long. Their short lives will have consisted of only hardship, suffering, and despair. While I was, in a way, 'for' the end of religion as we know it, I had previously decided that I would not be militantly so. I understood that there are people out there (like those I described above), a great many, in fact, for whom religious belief is a wholly positive influence on their lives; a refuge from a life of physical and emotional starvation. But it's simply not good enough to let them have their faith at the cost of letting them die tragic deaths for lack of intervention. As such I now realize that I am militantly 'for' the end of organized religion. I say so without remorse because I acknowledge a very real problem that invalidates the "But what about all the good things the Church does for people?" argument. No church spends all their money for good works. They may spend a large portion, but there is ALWAYS a portion that is spent on sustaining itself and on gaining new members. That money spent harvesting believers represents a significant opportunity cost. With equal funding, a nonreligious organization will always have the capacity to care for and to improve the lives of more people than the religious one whose true intent is to make people religious before making them well. If we reach the understanding that this life is indeed the only one we are privileged enough to experience, and we also see that not all of us (and in fact most of us) desperately need more help than even the most dedicated and capable can provide, then there is only one conclusion: it is in our hands; we must decide to make this Earth into our collective heaven or let it be hell for them. We have to stop wasting money on organizations that cannibalize our good will.
Consider that. The pyramids were, with the obvious exception of their geometry, pointless. How many hours, how much raw material, how many lives were consumed in the building of these religious monuments? They serve well as a poignant example of the resource-sapping by the religious that occurs even today, though to a thankfully less drastic extent.
For the record, I used the term 'militantly' tongue-in-cheek. I don't want to firebomb a church or support the violent overthrow of any religious organization. I could never advocate sacrificing them for the benefit of the rest of mankind, even if there would be a morbid symmetry to the whole thing. I suppose the more accurate term would be 'vigorously'. That's it.
I am vigorously advocating the end of organized religion as we know it.
So that leaves me with few options. The best one I can fathom is to be a part of the grassroots effort to show a public and unafraid face to the world. There are more atheists out there than have been counted, and the best thing for them to see is that it's getting easier to admit it. The only way to topple the tower is to weaken the foundation, and that means that we have to spread the word bottom-up. Don't think that I don't realize that I'm describing a Mission. It pains me that we have to play that same game with the same people. Spiritual ping pong. But it's the only tool we have and if we're serious about wanting to change the world for the better, it's a tool we must use.
Why am I so confident that theism is incorrect? Because I can satisfactorily explain why 95% of the world's population can be wrong about their belief.
Yahweh, for example, was a small and petty tribal god. In his ten commandments (of which there are more like 20-30, most of which are grotesque, unethical, or just plain obtuse), he identifies himself as 'the one true god', which is not to say that he is the only supernatural being in the universe. Rather, it serves to validate the idea that other gods did exist, but Yahweh's own people would get into some serious trouble if they were to take any time to worship them. He says, 'do not honor other gods than me'... now why would he say that unless there were other gods vying for their reverence? He should've said 'there are no other gods than me'.
...but I digress.
So what was the value in a tribe believing in their tribal god? Survival value. Small tribes get into wars with other small tribes. Survival then was a luxury, not a right as it is becoming in present times. You'd better believe there was a value to a tribal warrior about to go into battle, knowing that there was a power greater than his own who was going into battle with him. Who is the more effective warrior, the one who knows only of his own muscle and agility, or the one who has a divine protection? Which one is more aggressive? Which one, statistically speaking, is more likely to deal a crippling blow to an adversary? Which of the two, at the end of the day, is more likely not just to have survived, but to have survived as a member of the victorious tribe, the one to whom all the land is now bestowed? Those who found a resourcefulness in supernatural belief survived and populated the planet.
One thing I want to address: I've been reading some books lately by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and have been scouring countless atheist web pages... but nobody "taught" me atheism. It was a conclusion I came to along the way while growing up. But that is not to say that there was a defining moment in which a switch was flipped and I said, "okay, I'm atheist now." It's a description that I gradually came closer and closer to resembling as I matured and resolved my ideologies with greater and greater precision. The closest I could come to pointing out the defining moment was the reconciled definition I spoke of earlier in this essay. Not a single thing about who I was or what I believed changed in the slightest. Only the language I used to describe it was eschewed in lieu of something more accurate, and if I may go so far as to say, more 'confident'.
People claim to use the god concept to answer fundamental questions. But there is a difference between answers and excuses. Especially considering that it's always only one excuse. "This thing we don't understand? Well, it's because of God." Pardon me for preferring answers. I don't need to know everything right now. Is that the only reason we need a be-all-end-all answer? Because we're not comfy unless we can account for everything? Is that why people need God so much? To be a shortcut to the comfort of having everything accounted for? I promise that I will get to know much, much more, by pacing myself... by accepting that I don't need to have an answer for everything right now... the answers will come as soon as we become 'enough' to be capable of understanding them. Meanwhile, I'm not sweating. I'm just busy learning more. And I could not be more fulfilled.
This essay is my public affirmation of rationality. I am atheist. Society isn't content to let that go by so quietly the way they would if I were to say "I am left-handed". They want it to be my title, like it defines me as opposed to defining one of my attributes. They label me an atheist.
Fine. If you give me a badge, then I'm going to wear it. I am an atheist. I'm joining the ranks of those who will speak out in defense of those who are misunderstood and persecuted for their lack of religious beliefs. I am just about finished with the word 'supernatural'.
For me, from now on, the word supernatural will only have one purpose. It will define an empty-set. It is a reminder to me that, according to my rules, nothing shall ever occupy that space. It's a rather dualistic thing in itself, really. It is the hard-line boundary I have set to the universe, and it is by being so, the thing that enables the borders of the 'natural' to expand indefinitely so long as we find new things to put there. It reminds me that there is not a single shred of evidence uncovered in the collective history of mankind that would suggest that we cannot eventually understand a mysterious thing we've encountered. There is no reason to think any less of ourselves.
Thanks for bearing with me on that; I know that was a long read.
And, thus begins the new incarnation of Prose Justice. While there will still appear the occasional 'personal journal' entry, the primary purpose of this blog will be to share my thoughts on the atheists' uphill battle to carve out a safe space to exist in the United States and on the internet. My dream is to help make that place a place from which we may concert our efforts toward making the world a safer and better place for all humankind. There is a lot more to come.
This essay was, believe it or not, much longer at one point. A byproduct of the fact that I spent eight months writing it was that the piece jumped around from topic to topic. Before publishing it, I pruned it down until it focused mainly on my deconversion and my justification of atheism. The rest of the chunks have been kept as individually-packaged snippets, and will be published here at a rate of one every couple days or so. At present there are about thirty of these posts waiting in the wings. I am continuing to write new ones on a pretty regular basis as well. So, this blog will become much more active than it has ever been.
I will also point out, tongue in cheek, that I made good on my promise to stop using a one-word post-titling scheme in order to make it easier for readers to find articles of interest to them. I am now using (for all atheism-related posts) a two-word titling scheme, the first word always being 'BLASPHEMY'.
I crack myself up.