Friday, December 10, 2010

Parents Need to Relax

Parents can breath a collective sigh of relief, or may decide to pout, as they take a less intimidating role in the significance they have in developing the personalities of their children. Primarily genes, and to a lesser degree, culture, peer groups and plain ole’ chance seem to influence a child’s personality more than any method of parenting. Identical twins are just as similar regardless of being raised together or independently; adopted siblings are no more similar if they are raised together or apart. Identical twins can be so alike that they may choose to wear a rubber band around the same wrist, find sneezing in elevators to see the reaction of others equally appealing or score very similarly on a battery of psychological testing even when they weren’t raised in the same house. This may sound odd but identical twins being raised in the same household are no more similar than ones being raised apart. Adopted siblings generally grow up being nothing alike whatsoever regardless of having exactly the same upbringing.

Far from being a blank slate that is highly malleable, we come prepackaged with genetic information that contributes to our personality in ways that parenting never could. So, we can stop ruminating about all the times we didn't put Mozart music up to the fetuses ear or how we didn't spend enough time reading to our children in hopes that they might be the next great intellectual of our time. Children's intelligence has much more to do with their genetic predisposition than how stimulating you may have been as a parent. So, what about the importance of having a father in the home or the importance of having two parents of the opposite sex in the household? Does this not make a significant difference in the child's personality, intelligence and success? Nope, it sure doesn't so we can put another point up on the scoreboard for reality and our religious conservative friends that continually harp on the necessity of a father figure and sanctity of marriage are still desperately trying to score their first point.

All of these findings are well-researched scientifically. This doesn’t give parents a license to mistreat their children either. Children remember the way their parents treated them and may be less inclined to help their parents when the script is flipped and the parents need care from the children. Obviously, gross negligence and abuse can leave lasting scars on a person’s life that will affect their interactions with others later in life. This TED video gives a good summary of Pinker's argument. It's based on his 2002 book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Danger of a Soul


As I’ve iterated in the past, I used to long for the return of Christ when things got particularly bleak. While nuclear war should have been the last thing I would ever wish for, I almost saw it as a passage to a better life; a life where there was no more anxiety, insomnia or depression. This was a misguided fantasy of an ultimate, eternal state of utopia. I seemed to be okay with the fact that billions of people would suffer in the process, many of them children. But, I always thought that any present suffering upon the innocent would be insignificant in light of an eternity in paradise. It’s embarrassing to say that I would take any news like Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami that devastated Indonesia in 2004 as signs that Jesus’ return was drawing nigh. Instead of feeling compassion for those who lost their lives, I felt a sense of hope for the future.

Through the church, I was taught that every human is endowed with a soul, this immaterial component of humanity which survives death and reunites us with our maker in heaven. The soul is unique to humans only. Therefore, it was easy to rationalize that even if my life was a mess on earth, it would be righted in the world to come. Sometimes, I just didn’t want to wait any longer.

There are clear dangers in living with this mentality. On one extreme, we may rationalize the act of murdering our own children so that they may inherit heaven all the sooner. Indeed, Susan Smith believed that she was doing a benevolent service for her two children when she sent them to the bottom of a lake. Andrea Yates had similar motives when she systematically drowned all five of her children in 2001. As Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker pointed out in his 2002 book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature: “Allusions to a happy afterlife are typical in the final letters of parents who take their children’s lives before taking their own.” We also had the strong displeasure of witnessing Kamikaze hijackers fly into New York’s Twin Towers in 2001. If people did not believe in a soul which survived death, I strongly doubt that people would have the gall to participate in such heinous acts. On the other end of the spectrum, you would find people like me who had a dangerously skewed perception of reality. The fact that a massive natural disaster just occurred is not cause for rejoicing!

Can Hell be a deterrent against committing violent acts? This is possible but it’s dishonest and cheap in comparison to not doing violent acts just because you want to do what’s right and beneficial for others. Furthermore, the promise of heaven can induce people into doing all sorts of horrible things such as the events of 9/11.

Many Christians start to devalue the life we have here on earth in subtle or not so subtle ways. Indeed, they are taught not to love the world but to speak against it and its evil ruler, Satan. As an atheist, I have already made some changes in my life as I move forward; you may call them New Year’s Resolutions. Most of them consist of increasing my focus and attention upon exercise, nutrition and meaningful relationships. As Pinker points out when pondering the idea that life might lose its purpose if we cease to exist upon death, “On the contrary, nothing invests life with more meaning than the realization that every moment of sentience is a precious gift.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Second Look at The Moral Landscape


Alright, I told you guys I’d be back with some more summarization of the book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris and that’s just what I’m going to do. I want to pick out various sections of the book that interested me and discuss them for awhile. There are definitely some cool topics that Harris gets into ranging from psychopathology to evolution's significance regarding the study of morality. Psychopaths have always intrigued me and Harris devotes a reasonable portion of the book to the topic—though I wish he would have expanded on this fascinating area more.

I guess the most suitable place for me to start is with the “hypothetical space” which Harris refers to as The Moral Landscape. This space consists of peaks that correspond with the heights of potential well-being and valleys that correspond with the deepest depths of suffering. Harris isn’t suggesting that there is a single best way to live; he is suggesting that there are a multitude of peaks across the landscape that have definite answers, though sometimes very difficult to assess, which science is best suited to uncover. Unfortunately, science has allowed religious dogma and bigotry to ’rule the roost’ when it comes to questions pertaining to the topic of morality. Science has bought into a moral relativism which Harris believes is problematic. Harris argues that we spend far too much time on inconsequential issues like gay marriage because of religion’s monopoly on morality when we should be investing energy on far more pressing matters, like nuclear proliferation and failing schools.

Science has shied away from saying anything on the concept of “is” and “ought”. In other words, the common misconception is that science may be able to say a great deal about what something is but very little about how something ought to be. Harris insists that science has valuable things to say about what ought to happen when we talk in terms of well-being. We can speak about the process of genital mutilation of young girls in an objective manner but we can also speak about how the process serves their well-being, obviously not too well.

Harris is optimistic about the future of morality and makes salient points about the subject of racism. Only about a century ago, whites were torturing blacks and, then, hanging them in trees. People of all persuasions would be observed in photos from the early 19th century, posing in front of the charred bodies of dead African-Americans. Everyone, from preachers to senators, would partake in the events; some would even cut parts off the body (genitalia, ears, knee caps) and take them home as souvenirs—some even had them prominently displayed at their place of business. Most of us are appalled and deeply embarrassed by these past nefarious acts and there’s little doubt that future societies will be embarrassed by our current morality too. This is the ongoing saga of moral progress and it can be pushed along faster with human inquiry and science, as Harris believes. Conversely, it can continue to cling to ideologies of the past and Bronze Age perceptions of morality; this would just continue to stale progress and our possible unification into a ‘global civilization’, as Harris puts it.

Harris talks about psychopaths and their inability to feel empathy for others. Also, according to research, psychopaths have a difficult time recognizing fear and anxiety through facial expressions. So, what about those psychopaths who think they are experiencing a profound state of well-being--as twisted as that thought may be? Harris believes that they would be mistaken to believe that they are experiencing the highest possible form of human flourishing. It should also be noted that psychopaths do not perceive their lives as being fulfilled. They are often confused about why they have this insatiable appetite for torture and murder. Furthermore, they are certainly not increasing the well-being of their victims and that’s part of the problem since we are a social species. Harris would argue that you’re not truly at your best when you don’t feel a profound desire to help others. He stated in the book that he knows that he would experience a greater sense of well-being if he actually wanted to help others more. For example, he himself stated that not wanting to help starving children more than indulging in personal passions was actually inhibiting him from achieving a greater level of well-being. So, simply put, the psychopath just doesn’t know what’s good for them. They have deficiencies that prevent them from experiencing the ‘good life’, as Harris puts it.

Harris gives examples of people on totally two different ends of the spectrum. One person has experienced the hells of living in a war infested, smothering jungle with those closest to them dying in front of their face. The other person has led a highly successful life, consisting of a fulfilling job and many deeply meaningful relationships. Harris states that we can make valid assessments of these two cases and clearly conclude that the "good life" manifests greater well-being than does the "bad life". Undoubtedly, there are people living on the planet at this very moment at both ends of the spectrum. Many others are caught somewhere in the middle. Science ought to have a say in which way of living is superior to the other. It’s not a matter merely relative to the culture or a religion; it’s a matter based on the person’s well-being.

On the subject of evolution, Harris paraphrases the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker: “If conforming to the dictates of evolution were the foundation of subjective well-being, most men would discover no higher calling in life than to make daily contributions to their local sperm bank.” Harris encourages us to look beyond our evolutionary yearnings and to find better ways to maximize our long-term well-being. Furthermore, Harris looks to Daniel Dennett who has explained that not everything in human life has been selected for at all. Some things just may “simply be” and are forced naturally from the regularities of the world.

Of course, there is much to say about Harris’ criticism of religion and that may take an entire new post of its own. Suffice it to say, Harris sees attachment to religion as the ultimate deterrent to being able to think like a scientist. He butchers Francis Collins for failing to use any of his own skills as a scientist when it comes to religion. This seems to be the one area where all sense of reason and logic is abandoned so that the f word (FAITH) can be heralded and exalted as some higher principle to live by than logic and reason could ever be.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Moral Landscape


I’ve recently read The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris and found it to be an intriguing read; I’m in the process of rereading it as I write this post. My impression thus far is that it’s not a book that lays everything out for the humanist but it does get the discussion going in the right direction. The most salient point of the book is probably the notion of well-being and how science ought to have a say in how our sense of well-being might be optimized. Far from applauding moral relativism, Harris promotes a more objective view of morality. For instance, we ought to know that mutilating the sex organ of a young Somali girl is not promoting her well-being and science should not shy away from saying so. This abhorrent act isn’t morally justifiable just because the cultural context differs or the personal opinions of what is morally just differ. Harris also promotes this notion of a global civilization or nation-state where “wars can be a distant memory.” This is sure to get some Christians riled up since this ideology oozes with eschatological sentiments. I can just hear it now, “see he is the anti-Christ; he wants a new world order where all of humanity is subject to a single diabolical ruler.”

Harris is just stepping over the threshold of a virgin territory in the untapped potential scientific arena of morality. So, many of the scientific concepts he appeals to are still in their infancy or are just concepts which he would like to see come to fruition. For instance, he talks about lie-detecting technology that would enable the legal system to convict the right person and be able to tell when someone is lying without fail. This would undoubtedly increase the well-being of the innocent who find themselves on death row because a jury could not accurately tell if they were being truthful or not.

One point of warning, I was reading a question and answer interview between Harris and Katherine Don of the Salon website. Don asks Harris a straightforward question about how science can answer a specific moral dilemma and Harris seems to appeal to his own sense of morality.
Don: What's a concrete example of how science can answer a moral dilemma?
Harris: Many of the basic facts we understand about human well-being don’t even require scientific data at this point. Given that we know that there must be better and worse ways for humans to flourish, we also know that all cultural strategies and personal opinions aren’t on the same plain. We don’t need to run any scientific experiments to know that life in Congo right now is not perfectly tuned to maximize human well-being. You’ve got people being raped by the tens of thousands and hunted with machetes.

So, please be aware that some of the science is just not flushed out yet in Harris’ explanations of how science could directly determine how good or bad something is in regards to a person’s well-being. This may be a bit frustrating for some since the book is supposed to be How Science can Determine Human Values but Harris, when asked to give a single concrete example, just appeals to his own sense of right and wrong. As stated previously, the science of morality is just in its infancy so Harris is simply cheering the scientific community on in this book to begin an aggressive approach toward the study of morality.

The book does not disappoint for those who enjoy Harris’ insightful analysis of religion—like me. He devotes an entire chapter to the cause and refers to religion off and on throughout the book; I don’t think Harris can help himself when it comes to criticizing the Bible! He goes into an in-depth critique of Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God and thoroughly discredits and debunks Collins’ rationality for believing in the Judeo-Christian god.

I would be most unsurprised if Harris comes out with a sequel to this fascinating read but it remains to be seen if science will take the baton and run with this idea. Harris’ holds no punches when he argues that the scientific community is reluctant to step on the religious enterprise because they might lose valuable funding. They have also willingly, perhaps grudgingly, bought into the idea that science and religion can embrace each other and not be at odds. As Steven J. Gould once suggested, science and religion answer two different kinds of questions and have a “nonoverlapping magisteria.” As Harris puts it, religion is supposedly best equipped to answer questions regarding meaning, morality and values while science can answer questions regarding the workings of the physical universe. Harris rebukes this sentiment and insists that “Meaning, values, morality and the good life must relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures—and, in our case, must lawfully depend upon events in the world and upon states of the human brain.”

I may be back to write a fuller review of this book in a future post!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Funny as Sin Ted Haggard Interview

I'm going to leave two videos on here for your viewing pleasure. The first one shows the actual video between Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins and Ted plus some funny Jon Stewart commentary. The second video is a hysterical amateur spoof on the actual interview between Richard and Ted.

Video 1:

Video 2:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some Life Lessons I've Learned

I remember how much I used to think about how life was difficult but it was nothing in comparison to eternity; I could still look forward to an afterlife in paradise later without so much trepidation. This little trick used to alleviate my pain related to OCD back in the day, albeit in small measure, and served as a bit of a "security blanket". Now, I understand that each day could be my last and there’s no happily ever after. I think this holds a lot of weight for many Christians. They feel like they can handle the monotonous and perilous struggles of life because they believe there is a proverbial pot of gold waiting for them. For example, the slaves of the antebellum period undoubtedly drew strength from Biblical stories, like Moses and the Exodus. They truly believed that god would rescue them similarly and this certainly gave them a sense of hope and purpose.

We’ve all heard the stories of beautiful mansions, streets paved with gold and arch enemies of the animal kingdom nuzzling each other. It’s a beautiful construction of humankind’s passions, imagination and desires. There’s no more crying, no more killing and certainly no more humans being sinful in heaven. If only you follow Jesus, you too can possess a mansion on a thousand hills. We are told that sex will no longer be practiced but something far greater lies in store.

I used to tell myself that the present miseries pale in comparison to an eternity in bliss. But, what does an atheist tell themselves when melancholy comes knocking? It’s made me work harder, smarter and try to resolve my problems with greater determination. I can’t afford to hold out for eternity when this is all there is. I’ve got to be a better person now, a better parent, husband and more productive citizen. I’ve got to overcome my problems and stop holding out in a state of idleness and frivolous prayer. In short, I can’t depend on Jesus; I’ve got to depend on me.

Things are different these days. I have a keener sense of my own mortality and how every day could be my last. This can be a bit depressing at times and I find myself asking, “is this all there is to this?” We’re born, we go to school, we get married and have children, we work, we retire and we eventually die. At least, this seems to be the standard mode of operation. I know that a lot of apologists use this as a reason for believing in god. We have this sense of dread about death and the solution is found in believing in an afterlife.

As an atheist, I’m learning to stop taking things for granted and to stop sweating the small stuff. I’ve learned to let things go because I don’t have time to hold on to things. I’ve learned to not take things for granted and to examine things critically. I’ve learned to stop leaning on a crutch, namely Jesus, to get through another day. I’m becoming less dependent on others and more self-reliant. Atheism has allowed more of the real me to come out. My psychological problems have lessened and I have a clearer picture of the person I want to be. My family has undoubtedly noticed a difference in my behaviors. My wife and I get along better now. Is this a result of atheism? I don’t know but I do know that I’m more passionate about learning and I don’t want OCD to get in my way so I’m vigilant about getting better. What sparked my newfound interest in learning? The answer is atheism. Atheism, science, skepticism and using logic have been appealing enough that I don’t want anything to distract me. It’s been a positive adventure; although, I don’t know how much more I can give to this blog.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Alcohol and Brain Damage


While driving home late at night from work, I find myself listening to a program called Hope in the night with host June Hunt. Mainly, I listen to her because I can’t seem to find anything else on the radio. Also, I like to listen to Christian’s because they are always good for a laugh. In the case of June, she probably spouts out about five words a minute which is funny in itself. But, her musical “talents” are what really makes the show shine—picture a singing dog that is gargling Listerine to get the picture. Last night, she stated that even occasional to moderate drinking causes holes in the brain and I just had to call bullshit. She told the caller, a struggling alcoholic, that any alcohol at all would put holes in your brain. She stated that if he saw the pictures that she did, he would stop immediately. I’m not for sure, but she’s probably been listening to Dr. Daniel Amen too much—the quack extraordinaire.

My common sense radar went off and I thought about all the countries that allow alcohol use in the still developing brains of teens. Surely, there should be evidence of brain deterioration in some of these populations, such as Italy or France. But, there turns out to be no evidence of such relationship. Conversely, some substantial evidence shows that moderate alcohol consumption has many beneficial qualities—research indicates that moderate drinking helps maintain a well-functioning brain into old age. For example, I found this from a quick google search at the Brain Development and Drinking website:
• A study of about 6,000 Americans age 65 and older in communities across the country found that moderate drinkers had a 54% lower chance of developing dementia than abstainers. 1
• A study of 15,807 Italians age 65 and older found that moderate consumption of alcohol greatly reduced the risk of developing cognitive (thinking) impairment. Abstainers were 53% more likely to suffer mental impairment than were drinkers. 2
• A study of 7,983 people age 55 and older in the Netherlands found that those who consumed one to drinks of alcohol per day had a significantly lower risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s) than did abstainers. 3
• A study of over 6,000 Britons over a period of 35 years found beneficial mental effects when a person drinks up to about 30 drinks per week, and increases with consumption. The researchers did not test the effects of higher levels of alcohol consumption. Abstainers were twice as likely to receive the lowest tests of mental functioning than were moderate drinkers. 4
• A study of more than 400 people age 75 and older in the Netherlands, who were tracked for a period of six years, found that drinkers were only half as likely to develop dementia as similarly- aged abstainers from alcohol. 5
• A study of 3,777 elderly French men and women over three years found that moderate alcohol consumption (two to four drinks per day, most often wine) reduced the risk of developing dementia by 80%. 6
• A study of over 1,000 Britons aged 65-79 who were monitored for an average of 23 years found that “drinking no alcohol, or too much, increases risk of cognitive impairment,” in the words of the editor of the British Medical Journal, where the research was published. 7 In other words, moderate drinking reduces the risk of cognitive impairment.
• A Harvard study of over 9,000 women aged 70 to 79 over a 14 year period found that women who drank in moderation performed significantly better on tests of cognitive functioning. 8
• An 18-year study of Japanese American men found that moderate drinking in middle age was associated with superior cognitive performance later in life. Moderate drinkers scored significantly higher on the Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument (CASI), which includes tests of attention, concentration, orientation, memory, and language. Both abstainers and heavy drinkers had the poorest CASI scores. 9
• A 20-year Harvard study of 12,480 women age 70 and older found that moderate drinkers were much less likely than abstainers to experience poor memory and decreased thinking abilities. 10
• A University of Texas study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that older women who drank in moderation (up to two drinks per day) performed better than abstainers on tests of memory, attention, concentration, verbal-association capacities and oral fluency. 11

So, I think we can safely conclude that moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t cause holes in the brain but listening to this imbecile might.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Christian must Believe #6


in things like the transfiguration or a man running faster than a chariot but dismiss evidence regarding alien abduction. Why don’t Christians unanimously believe in alien abduction when: there is ample eye witness testimony; there are plenty of books written to affirm these experiences; and there are even pictures of these UFOs? Eye witness testimony is trumpeted by apologists as an excellent way to gage the authenticity of scriptures. In the case of alien abductees, the sketches of the aliens are often very similar and the experiences of the abductees have many of the same features. So, we have collaborating eye witness testimony, books which support the experiences as being veracious, and pictures, which the Bible lacks, to actually show the vessels that these aliens travel upon. Many of the abductees give the same anthropomorphic attributes to these aliens. They are generally shaped much like a human but with larger eyes, stretched out fingers and long, anemic appearing limbs.

Of course, science has taught us that we can cause all sorts of interesting phenomena to occur by manipulating various regions of the brain. We can simulate experiences of abduction, demonic possession and spiritual encounters—not unlike the experiences that Schizophrenics frequently have. Psychologists will tell you there are several more parsimonious explanations for what the one abducted by aliens is experiencing: a sleep-related hallucination, a misinterpretation of a shadow or faulty memory—just to name a few. When confronted with alternate explanations, the Christian and recently abducted will rely on an endless array of ad hoc rationalizations to ward off any doubts when a thorough examination of their claims is given by a critical thinker.

A group of people believing in the same thing proves nothing. One thousand people seeing the Virgin Mary in the window of a building proves nothing. Perfectly sane and intelligent individuals can believe their distortions and delusions with very convincing enthusiasm. Jesus appearing to the disciples, even with the contradictions in the number of disciples not considered, shortly after resurrecting proves nothing either.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Are Humans Really Evil?


My particular brand of Christianity always taught me that people were evil from the very first breath of air they took. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed god, every human was under a curse and were slaves to their sin. I’ve talked to some Liberal Christians since that time who say the whole ‘original sin’ thing is incorrect but that’s definitely not what I was taught, and I certainly don’t see that perspective in the Bible. Since turning into a heathen, my position has changed and I no longer concur with this dehumanizing stance. Humanities nature is too complex to label it as solely diabolical.

I’ve been reading books by Desmond Morris and Frans de Wall, both Zoologists, who study the behaviors of some of our nearest relatives. Frans de Wall, in particular, makes comparisons between Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and Homo sapiens. Chimpanzees are known for their aggressive tendencies and male dominated societies. Bonobos are better known for their high sexual promiscuity, relatively low aggressive nature and high ranking, dominant females. We seem to carry a mixed bag of behaviors that these two different groups of apes demonstrate.

What’s Fair is Fair

I argue that humanity is not evil by nature; the situation is grayer than that. There are some truly despicable humans out there and history has showcased some of them throughout the modern era—I don’t think I need to mention any names. But, for the most part, humanity lives in a give and take state of affairs. Through mutual reciprocity, humanity tends to cooperate with each other on a routine basis. On an aside, the media also seems to ignore the trivial, admirable things people do on a daily basis and focuses exclusively on the heinous acts committed by a very small percentage. We live in a culture of fear as sociologist Barry Glassner taught us. The media feasts on shocking stories that get people to watch the evening news. We also tend to resent those who have an “unfair” share of resources. For instance, we may idolize celebrities but, at the same time, we may feel a certain sense of justice when something bad happens to one of them.

Some theorize that societies become violent and disorderly when resources are not fairly distributed and a disproportionate amount of wealth is avariciously withheld from one group for the sake of another. Societies like America encourage entrepreneurship and capitalistic pursuits but also see a disproportionate distribution of wealth. Certainly, early America saw violence en masse among the poor working class who struggled to make ends meet. They were being unfairly treated, provided inadequate pay and it caused serious tension. For example, railroad workers went on strike in the latter part of the 19th century. They tore apart the railroad and disassembled box cars; the military was eventually called in and violence ensued. Many workers were wounded and some were killed; the egalitarian in all of us was showing through. In the cases of humans, as well as apes, there have also been studies where one is rewarded with more than another for the same positive behavior. The person who is given less refuses to take anything at all. Indeed, most employers don’t want employees sharing their salary information with each other for that very reason. In ape society, you better be someone willing to share or you will quickly be ostracized from the group; this seems to be an innate characteristic of the ape species.

In contrast, societies known for far less violence like Denmark stress egalitarianism and the values of participation. On an aside, in Denmark, it is not uncommon to see babies left by themselves outside of restaurants while their mothers enjoy a meal without the slightest bit of apprehension. The mother believes that the fresh air is good for them and abduction is almost unheard of.

Can You Feel that, Buddy?

Empathy is another trait that Frans de Waal has witnessed time and time again from Chimps and Bonobos. An individual ape has the ability to look at things from another ape’s perspective and, in a sense, to feel what they are feeling. They take care of each other when one gets sick and rescue those in danger. They usually make sure those who are weak get a fair share of food as well. There have also been experiments which demonstrate how apes will forgo food if it avoids hurting another ape. Apes are also capable of self-recognition which is a key component to more sophisticated levels of empathy.

Chimps, in particular, can be quite violent as well. The males struggle for leadership and will wait for the current dominant male to fall from grace. They may team up with other males in a strategic alliance to knock the current dominant male off his pedestal. Some humans, filled with an aggressive nature, will do whatever it takes to get to the top. This aggressive nature is not ubiquitously observed across our species. Some humans, including females, are content to make an honest living and work their way to the top—without resorting to underhanded scheming. On the other hand, Bonobos are generally lovers not fighters. They have make up sex and lots of it. Orgies, male on male, and female on female sex are common occurrences among the Bonobos.

Some people I know say that humans are evil by nature; I think this sort of view comes prominently from the Bible. We are born bad and the only cure is to ask forgiveness for being human. Let's not forget that god puts us here in the predicament we find ourselves in the first place. He knows, with foresight, those who will continue to do very evil deeds but creates them nonetheless. If we were truly born bad, I believe that our morality would not have improved over time but gotten more deleterious instead. However, in the case of our morality, the exact opposite appears to be true. Our 21st century morality is head and shoulders above that of Biblical times or medieval times. In Biblical times, it was apparently commonplace to witness a stoning or mass execution; genocide and infanticide were not entirely uncommon either. This was the ‘just’ penalty for disobedience. In today’s time, these practices are looked at with the utmost abhorrence in America and much of Europe. As far as I know, Europe no longer has witch burnings either. The most problematic thing I see today in Europe is the Catholic Church continuing to get away with pedophilia. Even in the case of capital punishment, we do it in the most humane ways possible, at least in America and other civilized countries.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Western Religions Insatiable Appetite for Death


Killing in the Name of...

Religion is replete with examples of pernicious atrocities perpetrated by those who claim to be doing the will of its god(s); many adherents believe that god is with them every step of the way as they unabashedly commit one vile act after another. Religion has strong divisive effects as well; it endorses an "us versus them" mentality. In modern history, it has given those in power the hatred and bigotry necessary to terminate untold numbers of innocents who did not share their beliefs. It's incomprehensible that so many people died based on a spurious faith; slavery, genocide, systematic execution and so much more can be directly attributed to the teachings in the Bible. Jesus never condemned his own actions of the OT, nor did he address acts of slavery or genocide. Other Western religions do not generally fair much better.

Christopher Columbus

The king and queen of Spain, during the period of Columbus, were endorsed by the Catholic Church because they exemplified the ideals of the Catholic Church. These are the same monarchs who started the Spanish Inquisition and were granted permission by the Catholic Church. The Spanish inquisition was designed to weed out Jews and nonbelievers via exile or even execution when acts of heresy were committed. It was a religiously and politically motivated process. Ferdinand and Isabelle had decided that Spain was a Catholic nation and everyone was forced to convert, through coercion if necessary.

In 1492, Columbus did sail the ocean blue, courtesy of Ferdinand and Isabelle, but it wasn't to spread Christianity in Asia. He was in hot pursuit of gold and, to a lesser extent, fine commodities like spices and silk, as Marco Polo brought back from China. Gold was scarce in the Caribbean Islands but "Indians", as Columbus and his crew called them, were not. The Arawak people were plentiful on the island of the Bahamas, which was the first island Columbus graced with his presence. The Arawaks were an agricultural and egalitarian people by design. The women were given all the same privileges and respect as the men. Interestingly enough, they had no religion to speak of but were still a generous society that expected mutual reciprocity among its members. Columbus himself stated, “When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…” This naive people went out to greet Columbus and his crew, only to be ultimately rewarded with torture, enslavement and mass execution. Driven by greed and his god given rights, Columbus forced the Indians to search for the gold themselves. When they failed, it had deadly consequences.

Columbus continued to deliver slaves to Spain, since the "fields of gold" he dreamed of were far from ubiquitous. Columbus was brutal to the Indians and full of religious zeal as he reported his dealings with the Indians. “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His ways over apparent impossibilities,” said Columbus when speaking to the King and Queen of Spain. The Arawaks were not cowards; they managed to put together an army of resistance that was swiftly eradicated by the Spaniards superior weaponry. When prisoners were found, they were either hanged or burned alive. Of the 250,000 Indians living on Haiti, only about half of that remained after Columbus got done brutalizing them. Some resorted to suicide, and they even killed their own infants to spare them from the Spaniards.

Bartolome de las Casas, a young priest and vehement critic of cruelty toward the Indians, transcribed Columbus’ journal and told of some of the nefarious actions of the Spaniards. Las Casas stated that the Spaniards, “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades”. Las Casas recalls one particular event where, “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”

Puritans and Pilgrims

The so called Puritans appealed to the Bible to justify the forceful taking of Indian land. They quoted verses like Psalms 2:8 and Romans 13:2. Romans 13:2 states, “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” The holier-than-thou Pilgrims, far from sitting down and having a peaceable fellowship with Indians, were mostly concerned about taking Indian land. The ever amicable Indians, masters of the land, were more than happy to share their agricultural methods with the ungrateful pilgrims. There, indeed, was a sort of dependence which the English had on Indians to supply them with their abundance of corn and other crops. For the sake of survival, relations between the Indians and English remained friendly for a time. But, the ultimate goal of the English remained fixated on the acquisition of more land, at any means necessary.

The English raid of the Pequot village was case in point. They set fire to their wigwams while families burned alive from the inside. William Bradford, a contemporaneous historian, stated that after securing an easy victory “they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.” Again, an “us versus them” mentality that reeks of a false sense of superiority based solely on the ‘good’ book.

Obviously, Christianity isn’t the only religion responsible for the death of untold numbers, other examples abound. The Aztec civilization routinely sacrificed thousands of people to the gods (think Apocalypto). Then, there was Hernando Cortes who was obsessed with the acquisition of gold and was blessed by the deputies of God. He slaughtered Aztecs by the thousands.

In Conclusion

We could also discuss the 50 million people that Africa lost as a direct result of slavery, but that may be another post altogether. You know…the act that was customary in Biblical times and never denounced by Christ. I wonder what effect it would have had if Jesus would have simply stated, “enslaving others, despite their physical or ethnic differences, is never right.” Surely, one person who could have been rescued from slaveries injustices would have been worth the additional ink. Africans were packed in like sardines upon ships for up to sixteen weeks at a time. Pregnant women, in the process of giving birth, were often cast out to sea; they were often too weak to deliver the baby, so they were discarded instead. Where was god when all of this was happening? God has the omniscience and omnipotence to stop such atrocities but fails to do so. He could have denounced slavery before it ever got started. Sure, he said to "love your neighbor as yourself", but were slaves really even considered neighbors? On the contrary, a piss poor job of communication leaves the Bible open for all kinds of deleterious interpretations.

God could have done any number of things to stop the genocidal intentions of the Spanish and English but failed to do so. God laid out the perfect example of how to deal with superfluous neighbors in the O.T., kill them all; you ruthlessly take everything from the society, including the women, for yourself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Christian must Believe #5

that love is a very different concept to god, whom we are created in the same image. Most of us guys would love it if someone like Jessica Alba or Gwyneth Paltrow loved us and wanted our commitment. But, none of us desire any ill harm to come to them solely because they don’t care about us. Most of us work with attractive females and, hopefully, most of us don’t desire anything harmful to come their way when they reject us. There are also child and parent relationships that are less than ideal, but I doubt that many of the members in these relationships demand love or eternal damnation. This sort of compulsory love is not really love at all but some kind of egotistical desire to control.

We are meant to love something that we can’t touch, hear or see. When we reject the god hypothesis based on spurious evidence, we are subject to NEVERENDING punishment in hell. This is something we did and deserve for not loving a “being” who doesn’t even talk back. We are told that we are bad from the very first breath we take, in very dehumanizing fashion. The only cure is derived from a faith and obedience to this covert “being”. Our finest active examples on how a person should live are supposed to be coming from the Christian leaders and devout followers of our time. Curiously, the statistics of divorce, abortion, pornography and much more are nearly identical among Christians and secularists. This same group generally rejects science when it contradicts the teachings of scripture. We can also look back in history toward the church and Christian leaders of the past; the picture is not so rosy. We continue to see people who reject scientific advancement for the sake of Biblical inerrancy. Indeed, medical science was probably set back by as much as a thousand years because the church would not allow people to examine cadavers. We have seen some of the most nefarious acts committed by the church because of the unparalleled power given to them, such as witch burning and Constantine’s crusades; let us be thankful that America’s founding fathers saw the importance of the Separation of Church and State. Indeed, Christianity gained notoriety via the sword, not reason.

The Christian faith tries to convince people that they are wicked and need salvation. The salvation comes from a "omnibenevolent" being who will place you in hell for not believing and following him. I have to wonder who the wicked one is; the one who knew, with foresight, that certain people he was creating would fail to acknowledge him and spend eternity in hell, yet he created them anyway. Or, the one who rejects the whole enterprise based on a lack of convincing evidence and sound logic. How am I more sinful than god himself? I would never cast anybody into an eternal lake of fire FOREVER. Especially, if that person was someone who I loved so much that I gave my own child to save in the first place; to say that god doesn't send anyone to hell is a bogus assertion. God created hell, lucifer and allowed for the appropriate conditions which ultimately place a person in hell. God is omnipotent so all of these factors could have been deleted or altered in favor of a more humane eternal destination. As stated before, he knew that the very being he was creating would ulitmately land in eternal damnation but disregarded his omniscience.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't Touch That!!!


Growing up in the Bible belt, you can be sure that two things are going to be shoved down your throat: 1) masturbation is wrong and 2) premarital sex is wrong. So, what’s that teenage boy, who produces millions of sperm per day, to do? The Bible doesn’t speak on masturbation but there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that it’s very anti-sex, unless you’re married. Even then, Paul doesn’t always encourage marriage in the ‘good’ book. He preferred that everyone was like him and masturbated while denying that he did so. If it was really such a big deal, you would think that it would have directly been addressed at least one time in the massive volume we call the Bible. Maybe, it would be better if we cut it off like Jesus suggests if it causes sin. I’ve heard all sorts of suggestions on how to avoid ‘shaking hands with the unemployed’. The one time pastor of my church, and president of my high school I attended, suggested running as an effective means to curb those lustful intentions. That’s right; he set all of us teenage boys down for a talk about sex and how you’re just S.O.L. until you get married. I wonder if the good pastor knew how hypocritical his words were. Over half of evangelical pastors admit to having viewed pornography in a given year.

It’s really a shame that prior Christians like me had to grow up with so much guilt as it relates to acts like masturbation. The same Christian leaders that are telling you that it’s wrong are the same ones having adulterous affairs with other women, or men; their the same ones viewing pornography on a daily basis, probably using the churches internet. Masturbation is a perfectly natural act across the mammalian kingdom. Indeed, even dolphins enjoy getting a ‘massage’ from a nearby jet spray. Ask most any cognitive-behavioral psychologist if masturbation is okay and they will most likely give you an unequivocal “yes”. But, most Christian leaders would tell you that it’s sinful. God really is concerned about what you do with your Adam Acorn; you can wash it but just don’t enjoy it, okay. Give me a friggin’ break.

And, then, there’s this whole ridiculous notion that waiting until marriage is the way to go. You’ll just enjoy it so much more if you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing; it will be so much more special that way. I say that having a bit of experience and understanding of how to pleasure the opposite sex is actually a good thing. I’m not saying that learning together for the first time can’t be fun, but it’s going to take longer to really get proficient at love making if you have no idea of what you’re doing. People can tell you how it’s done and you can even watch videos but, like riding a bike, you’re not going to be very skillful without prior practice. This whole line that, “if you have already had sex before marriage, there will be nothing to look forward to when you get married” is a crock of shit. Sex doesn’t become stale and boring if you’ve had sex with your partner before you marry them; you just didn’t end up delaying the gratification as long. Sex is a lifelong adventure and there are plenty of books exploring different methods of foreplay and positions of intercourse; not to mention,there is plenty of sperm to go around. It’s an odious assertion to tell two people to wait until marriage simply because there won’t be anything to look forward to otherwise. I don’t know about you, but I would like to know ahead of time if I’m going to enjoy having sex with this person that I intend on spending the rest of my life with.

In other related news, Christine O’donnell just beat out establishment favorite Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware’s GOP senate primary, with help from the Tea Party. For those who don’t know, O’donnell is the president and founder of an anti-masturbation youth ministry called SALT (The Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth). Also, she believes that people who get AIDS deserve what they get and shouldn’t be shown any sympathy. For a hearty laugh, please watch the following video and bask in its novel levels of idiocy.



Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Prospect of Death



As World Suicide Prevention Day just passed us by, I find myself having to continually readjust my thoughts on the issue of suicide and the unavoidable event of dying we will all experience one day. As a Christian, I simply believed that suicide was wrong because my church said so; dying wasn’t so bad because an eternity in heaven was waiting for me. Indeed, the church makes dying seem like the best thing that could ever happen to a person. This is probably one of the reasons the elderly find the church so appealing; it gives them false hopes of a new life in paradise. Needless to say, my perspective has been forcibly changed since becoming an atheist.

Suicide seems even more asinine to me since it took around 3.5 billion years of evolution for me to get here in the first place. I’m only here for what might be described as a ‘blink of an eye’ and even that is probably an exaggeration. In the case of suicide, a person is given this amazing gift of life and then throws it all away. You won’t be back for a second chance and the ‘movie’ keeps rolling on without you. Until evidence proves otherwise, there’s not going to be a heaven where you worship god forever, while some of your buddies spend their days roasting in an inferno. We aren’t going to be reincarnated or ever experience the profound state of consciousness again either.

At the same time, I realize that we are a very emotional species that don’t always think rationally, by any stretch. We rely on ill-advised habits like smoking to get us through a stressful day, not putting much thought into the deleterious effect it has on the body. We ingest heavy amounts of sugar that can likely result in the early onset of diabetes. In short, many of us prefer immediate pleasures over longevity of life. Some slightly less sane individuals, like Evel Knievel, embark on dubious ventures such as jumping over canyons on nothing more than a crotch rocket or cascading over a seemingly impossible number of cars. These daredevils care more about the thrill of life than life itself.

There have undoubtedly been times in my life when I wished for death. I remember earnestly waiting for Jesus’ return since things seemed so bad. Having OCD and a multitude of other possible psychiatric diagnoses, I’ve had more than my fair share of hopeless feelings about life. Instead of being upset when catastrophic world events occurred, I would be hopeful that the end was coming soon. It’s this line of reasoning that makes certain Christians so dangerous; they don’t care about the world around them, or the prolongation of the species, because they see the end of the world as a time for better things to come. Who needs science to help keep the world intact when Jesus is coming to save the righteous, and judge the wicked? This is why some Christians can be viewed as a hindrance, or even an enemy, to science and reason. Now that I recognize how precarious life is, I prefer to see how long I can ‘keep this ball rolling’. I’ve found a new passion for life, study and science as I have alluded to in the past.

As I was lying in bed this morning, some pretty disturbing thoughts came to my mind about my own demise. I newly recognized that after only a few generations, my memory would most likely be blotted out forever. Furthermore, any of my surviving off spring or extended family who thought that they would see me again one day will unfortunately never likely do so. After enough time, no one would know that I ever existed or even necessarily care. This is an admitted struggle for someone who realizes that there probably isn’t a life after death. It’s a blessing and curse of being able to examine the meaning of life as us Homo sapiens can. We are also capable of pondering upon our own death which makes religious belief more understandable. People wanted, and still want, to believe that there was/is something lying outside of their present existence, waiting for them when the time comes. I want to believe that someone will remember me when I’m gone but it’s not going to happen—and probably won’t bother me when I’m dead anyway. It certainly didn’t bother me when I wasn’t around for the first 13.5 billion years of the universe as we know it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Sequel to A Vacuous Faith


Yet another aspect of the Christian faith that used to cause me to ponder is the aspect of saving the lost from the fiery grips of hell. If the Christian really believes in the concept of eternal torment in hell, why are the vast majority of them so nonchalant about taking every opportunity to warn and plead with the ‘heathen’ to turn from their wickedness?

For example, we all have close relatives that we would never want to see in any form of danger. The Christian should be losing sleep over the possibility that a loved one may experience hell for all eternity. If the Christian really believes in hell, they should be pleading with the nonbeliever—both day and night— to consider Jesus. Yet oddly enough, years can go by without a single word about Jesus.

Death, where is thy Sting?

A person could die at any given moment and the Christian, well aware of this, does nothing to convince them to repent from their evil ways. This would be analogous to a family member knowing that there was a serial killer lurking in your neighborhood but saying nothing to you about it. Most of us wouldn’t wish an eternal punishment on our worst enemies, yet most Christians seem so indifferent when it comes to their loved ones eternal consequences. They either don’t care enough to bother with pestering their unsaved family members or they, in what I think is more probable, don’t really believe it themselves.

They cannot fathom the notion that a god, whom they admire, could possibly send someone to eternal torment. It goes against their innate sense of decency and justice. When I was a Christian, I often wondered why I wasn’t more of a crusader when it came to sharing the gospel so nobody had to go to hell. I wondered why most of the people I knew, who were professing Christians, weren’t unrelentingly knocking on doors and pleading with everyone they came in contact with to repent. It seemed bizarre that most of us would bend over backwards to warn someone if they were about to go into a burning building, but we didn’t have any sense of urgency as it applies to keeping others out of hell. I think it’s because most Christians can’t believe that such a fate is possible for the good people in their lives. Many other Christians just disassociate from the whole prospect and believe that someone else will probably tell their family member instead. I doubt that anyone seriously believes that the Christian would act the same way if they knew that a loved one was about to walk into a ‘real world’ death trap, unaware of the stark circumstances about to unravel.

Holy Casper to the Rescue

I began to study on the Holy Spirit, that ultra-mystical thingy, to see if that was the motivational trigger I needed to become the ‘gun toting’ adventurous Christian that I thought I should be. This Holy Ghost part of the trinity was supposed to enter me at the time of salvation, or—if you believe in speaking in tongues—at the time of a ‘Pentecost type’ moment. I was never much for babbling nonsense so I thought that I must have already had the Holy Spirit but failed to utilize its powers. In the end, I noticed that even the best Christians around me were dissonant in their attitude about people going to hell. A Christian, who really believes in hell, should sacrifice every waking moment on proselytizing and have a voracious desire to keep others from doom. I don’t see such a stance anywhere.

What I see is a Christianity that is unconvinced of hell and/or is disassociated from it. People are too embarrassed of their faith to warn anybody of anything aside from preachers who have a financial interest in the matter. Most Christians don’t want to suggest that you’re going to hell simply for not believing. After all, people don’t believe in a lot of things when the evidence is lacking. No sane person believes in Big Foot, fairies or the Loch Ness Monster. There’s not a shred of archaeological evidence supporting slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the empire of David, Solomon’s Temple, or the Walls of Jericho, so, if there is a god, shouldn’t he be a little bit merciful in light of the sheer lack of evidence for the Bible, which is his ‘divine’ revelation to us? Do we really deserve to burn in hell forever when the evidence is just not convincing? God supposedly gave us brains to reason with and to sort truth from fiction. How about the poor science observed in the Bible? It’s not a science book but it still is a book that is supposed to be true, isn’t it? For example, it says that unicorns and dragons exist so we should be able to find some. It says that the earth is flat so there’s no reason that god should have communicated otherwise. It wasn’t because the Israelites wouldn’t have understood the difference between flat and a sphere. It also plainly states that the earth was made before the rest of the universe when the opposite is true. I don’t know about you but I would prefer a book that is inspired by a god who has some good facts that hold up over the course of time and under sciences empirical validation. But I digress.

Concluding Comments

In the end, I have to challenge Christians on this matter. Why do you guys act so much like the rest of us; would you not warn your family if they were about to go into a building full of C-4? I think you would and I think you realize that your mom, dad or brother could die at any moment, yet you don’t act with the same fervor that you would in almost any other 'real world' situation. You’re either too embarrassed about your faith or don’t believe what the Bible says--or, you're simply passing the responsibility on to someone else who cares less about your loved ones.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Christian must Believe #4

that even though the Law of the Conservation of Mass-Energy states that neither can ever be created nor destroyed, god still created all things in the heavens and earth.

A Christian must Believe #3

that god speaks to them through the Bible and dreams. When he speaks 'audibly', it's not their own brain tricking them. During dreams, it's not just a coincedence that some of them turn out true in the end despite the fact that we have many that don't. This is not a case of confirmation bias. Furthermore, God speaks to them through stories of infanticide and stoning just as much as he does in more palatable stories.

A Vacuous Faith


There were two other, not necessarily related, pertinacious concerns I had even back when I was a hapless Christian that I have yet to discuss: why do Christians, who firmly believe that god has 24/7 surveillance on their every move, continue to do things that seem in direct opposition to that a priori assertion, and why are Christians, particularly non-Charismatic, not concerned when Jesus said that those going on after him will do greater things than what he did (John 14:12)? Yet, there continue to be scarcely any miracles which science and reason don’t continually falsify.

Constant Surveillance

Let me expound on the first problem that I was already dealing with in my Christian walk. I think a simple analogy would suffice in making this scenario more lucid. Most of us have a boss that we must answer to when we get caught with ‘our hand in the cookie jar’. But, most of us do not have bosses that micromanage us to the point of watching our every move, including bowel movements; they do not listen to every derogatory comment we make to our co-workers, even the ones that are undecipherable to the human ear due to muttering; they are also incapable of ‘hearing’ every thought that we make. Yet, the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent god of the Christian faith is supposedly fully capable of being privy of everything you do and say, including ‘thought crimes’.

Therefore, it seems rather ridiculous that the vast majority of Christians would never do anything in front of their bosses that could potentially get them fired, but Christians tend to ignore the whole concept of being watched at all times by god. Why are Christians more concerned about a man than the creator of the universe if they really believe in his ever watchful eye?

For example, I know a guy at work that is a Christian. He prays before each meal in a very conspicuous manner; he wears Christian apparel as well; he is really a nice guy to be around etcetera. We also have a policy against using the cell phone, but this guy will violate this rule quite often. You may notice him looking around to make sure no one is watching before he pulls his phone out. This just doesn’t make sense to me, nor did it when I was a Christian. I would have conversations with my mom about it quite often. I would tell her that we should be acting like god is in the room watching our every move, just like the Bible infers. I would ask her why she doesn’t act more carefully. She drinks, cusses and gossips about others but certainly wouldn’t do any of that around certain people. She would usually just say—something along the lines of— that she knows she should do better and we all have to work on that. Would any Christian use the same excuse if they absolutely knew that their boss was monitoring everything they did? I don’t think so.

Most Christians would make certain to cover their ass in a superfluous fashion. They would be on their best behavior at all times. Why then, do Christians make a massive cognitive blunder when it comes to god who can even read their very thoughts?

Where are these Promised Powers?

“I tell you the truth. The person that believes in me will do the same things I have done. Yes! He will do even greater things than I have done. Why? Because I am going to the Father. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you. Then the Father's glory will be shown through the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.” –(John 14:12)

You know, I must say that I have never even been able to mimic a single supernatural thing that Jesus did in his earthly sojourn. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that we should be able to do what he did and accomplish even more impressive feats. Likewise, I have never seen anybody else do anything that could not be explained in a more parsimonious fashion. Why are Christians not more perplexed about the inconsistency here?

It seems like many denominations that have more liberal leanings tend to avoid this verse all together. Charismatic’s, on the other hand, continue to be the charlatans that they are infamously already well known for. There has not been a single documented case of a miraculous occurrence that hasn’t been disproven by science or simple common sense. Where are Christians who can raise people from the dead and run, instead of walk, across water? Was Jesus lying or does nobody have the faith that miracles like this demand? Or, is all of this a bunch of bullshit? I’m going with bullshit until we can get some convincing evidence.

On an aside, Jesus did many ‘miracles’ among thousands of people but nobody bothered to document any of these miracles who were contemporaneous to the event. I don’t know about you, but I think that it would have been worth noting if I saw a man literally transform five loaves of bread into five thousand, or if I saw a whole squadron of deceased bodies walking about the town post resurrection. The practice of writing was invented some 4000 years before Jesus rolled into town so that shouldn’t have been a problem. Today, people claim that amazing miracles are happening all around us. When one person survives a airplane crash, we call it a miracle despite the fact that 150 others died. Indeed, miracles are easy to find these days because the word no longer even has the same meaning. All it would take is for one scientifically documented case of a person regenerating legs after praying to Yahweh, and it would give evidence that we need to confirm that something truly amazing is working behind the scenes.

Instead, we get stuff like this which I obtained from a guy I went to high school with. He always impressed me as the most authentic Christian in school and this is an excerpt from his blog: “Last week, I started giving words of knowlegde for healing for people. The first time I did it was on a television program. That night, I preached in a church in Blanchard where someone's back and something else was healed. (I'm forgetting already).

Then saturday I started the day by giving a word of knowledge to someone on facebook and his right foot was healed after I called him and prayed for him. That night in Ponca City, God healed a woman's wrist and leg.

Sunday morning in Ada, Ok was AWESOME!! A couple people with back problems were healed. When I said that someone with a injured right ankle/foot would be healed...a woman stood up and said that it was impossible for here to be healed because she had a metal rod and pins in her ankle. All pain left after we prayed for her. A woman with carpal tunnel syndrome was healed. I prayed for a man with head aches for healings...and then later that night there were more healings at Oil Center where again, wrists, knees, bones spurs, shoulders and other things were healed. Mostly they were immediately healed after I prayed for them, but somethimes it would take 2 or 3 times of prayer.

Last wednesday, 3 or 4 people with a deaf ear were healed. Amazingly, someone who was not present but who we prayed for was healed. His mother sms'ed a message 5 minutes after we prayed for him and said that he was at the doctor's office and that suddenly his hearing was perfect. They did not know that we had just prayed for him.

This morning it was the same. I spoke at a youth rally in OKC of hispanic kids and a couple kid's knees were healed, a man's hand was healed and a guys elbow was healed of pain. Then this evening in claremore, I prayed for shoulders. 3 or 4 men were instantly healed. There was one guy who seemed to still have some pain. The cool thing is that I have a friend of mine coming with me and he is now starting to pray for the sick and believing that he too can hear God's voice. Tommorrow we go to a couple of other churches and we expect to see more people touched through God's healing hand. God healed me as a child of cerebral palsey, and now I am excited to see God use my life to bring his healing power into other people's lives. I humbly thank God that I get to see this taking place.”


Notice that the vast majority of these healings are concentrated around aches and pains. Some of them refer to deaf people regaining their hearing. I would bet you a hundred bucks that those cases are either fraudulent or unreliable. If we visited those deaf people today, we would find that they are still just as deaf as before, or they were never completely deaf to begin with—if they were ever deaf at all. There’s always a catch to every one of these so called healings. People fall into the emotion and the hyper suggestibility involved in these ‘healing’ services; they start off feeling better for a while and then the emotions wear down and the ailment returns. One wonders why god will heal minor aches but can’t seem to restore an amputee’s legs.

Benny Hinn once gave the Christian Research Institute a medical report of some of the best healings he performed. They turned out to be fraudulent. He supposedly heals millions of infirmities on any given Sunday but even the ‘cream of the crop’ comes up short. We should be observing godly people literally moving mountains, raising the dead by the thousands and leaving doctors without a job if Jesus’ words were legit. Instead, we see just what we should expect if the world is devoid of anyone with miracle working powers.

In Conclusion

Anyhow, these were a few issues that I had to suppress while living as a Christian. They were uncomfortable reminders that I was living under a nebulous and contradictory philosophy of life. We should see Christians acting like god is watching their every move if they believe in his omnipresence and we should be seeing miracles that go beyond Jesus’ best. But, we don’t so it’s just another reason to discard the Christian faith and recognize it for the spurious work that it is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Charismania


My mom told me about her latest visit to her favorite pastor’s church over the weekend. This is the same dunce who told the entire congregation that NASA had confirmed the Mayan prediction pertaining to the end of the world being in 2012. NASA had adamantly denied such nonsense before the pastor ever spoke about it in the first place. But, the pastor supposedly has a direct line of communication to god so they naturally are going to believe him over any misinformed scientist. There must be some kind of bizarre conspiracy or cover up going on that only the pastor is privy of.

Anyway, the pastor approached her before the service began and stated that he had a “word from the lord” to share about her after the service was over. My mom was most distressed about what he was going to say so she was less than attentive throughout the rest of the service. One wonders why god doesn’t just tell you what he wants you to know. Why does he have to go through a middle man? Finally, the moment she was waiting for came and he prompted her onto the stage. In front of many eager and curious onlookers, he told her that she was going to have a “five-fold blessing” everywhere she went from here on out as long as she followed the Lord. She would be in high favor regardless of where she travelled or whom she encountered. He stated that her husband, who is suffering with Parkinson’s, would be healed and that his business would not fold. Basically, he, like so many psychics, told her everything she wanted to hear and increased her devotion to the church in the process. You’re not going to hear any bad news from a prophetic word these days unless it’s accompanied with a recipe for correcting the situation. And, the member is already in a convenient place to get the problem dealt with. The correction almost always involves repentance of sin and a renewed commitment to the church and generous tithing. This seems to be the method to the Charismatic churches madness. Either way, the pastor and his family benefit because prophetic words almost always increase faithful attendance and, naturally, faithful tithing. After all, you can’t be blessed without faithful tithing according to the pastor who hammers this home every single Sunday before the offering.

The prophetic word is usually very positive or it’s an appeal to bring the wandering sheep back into the fold. The pastor may give a stern warning that the wayward church member needs to do x, y and z so that a, b and/or c doesn’t happen. This has the positive side effect of increasing the interrelatedness, unquestioning devotion and group cohesion of its members. I’m sure there is a positive correlation between prophetic words and increased tithes on behalf of the member receiving the message. Also, there seems to be a deeper commitment made on the church member’s part. It makes the member more eager to attend, and tithe, each Sunday so they can get another encouraging word from god. This is important to the church since tithing keeps the lights on.

A message from the tribal leader, the pastor in this case, carries the most weight. The fact that the church member believes that the pastor is getting a word directly from god makes it even more appealing. Although I don’t have the statistics to back this up, prophetic words undoubtedly have a direct impact on increased tithes and increased book, CD, DVD and other related material sales. Who doesn’t want to hear a favorable word from a higher power? The fact that the members think the pastor has direct access to god makes him all the more marketable. First and foremost, the modern church is a business and it has many competitors—especially here in the Bible belt. The charismatic denomination is second in its number of members, just behind the Catholic Church. A good reason for this is because it appeals to our wants and desires. A great proportion of Charismatic Pastors tell us that we are not meant to be poor and we can obtain heaven here on earth. Who wouldn’t want a little piece of heaven now? Unfortunately, the only one getting wealthier is the pastor and his inner circle of mob-like devotees. Anyway, just thought I would briefly share my mom’s latest experience in the wacky and crazy world of Charismania.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Christian Must Believe #2

That humanity is more proactive about helping those who are suffering and in pain than a god who asserts that he loves them infinitely more.  Furthermore, that our love and affection for those whom we hold dear, which helps motivate and fuel the desire to want to help, are not strong enough to move god toward a similar action that would be instrumental in alleviating the unnecessary pain of the sufferer.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Desmond Morris' Thoughts on Homosexuality


So, I’ve been reading a couple of books by Desmond Morris recently. The first book I read was entitled The Naked Ape and the second was The Human Zoo. Morris is a provocative and relatively easy read. I didn't find myself in an often befuddled state as I do while reading Stephen Hawking, for example. I was particularly interested in finding out what his thoughts were about how homosexuality manifests itself. Morris, being a zoologist, focuses on areas like the behavior of a given species and often draws comparisons in behaviors between two often closely related species.

According to Morris, homosexuality generally occurs in one of four ways. It can occur when a person, being male or female, lives a fairly isolated and sheltered life. They also lack any significant sexual experiences before engaging in their first encounter. When the first encounter involves a member of the same sex, a mal-imprinting can occur where the person forever finds themselves attracted to a member of the same sex. A fixation on that particular sex, in the case of two boys, becomes powerfully imprinted in the young man’s mind. The case works in much the same way when the conditions are altered and two females are involved in a sexual encounter. This is a process referred to as exposure learning and it is very influential and generally irreversible. One Christian philosopher I talked to recently would like us to assume that, with a heavy dosage of counseling, homosexuals can lose their desire for the same sex. This is important to some Christians because Yahweh thought homosexuals deserved death and Jesus thinks they deserve ever-lasting torment. The Christian philosopher assured me that purgatory was available for the person incapable of resisting his urges and hell is not really so bad after all. But I digress.

Other instances of homosexuality may emerge when the child has an overbearing, domineering mother and a passive, weak father according to Morris. The child may get the roles of his parents confused and reversed thus seeking out the wrong sex as a pair-bond partner later in life. Furthermore, homosexuality may occur when one gender sees the opposite sex as less than appealing because of some form of abuse perpetrated by the opposite sex. They may begin to resent the opposite sex and seek intimate relationships with their own. Lastly and most simply, it may occur as a result of not having convenient access to the opposite sex like in the case of being confined in a prison.

Morris describes mal-imprinting as something which “occurs widely in the world of man/animal relationships”. During the initial sensitive period of life, humans and other animals are particularly impressionable to exposures regarding such things as who their mother is and what sort of pair-bonds they may acquire later in life. For example, animals which are reared by another species from birth may not find their own species attractive and thus make advances toward their caregiver—whoever that may be. Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of being dry humped on the leg by a dog. Morris tells the story of a giant panda he once encountered in Moscow. She wanted nothing to do with the male giant panda or his eager sexual advances, but she was very responsive to Morris when he merely patted her on the back. She responded by “raising her tail and directing a full sexual invitation posture”. The difference between the two pandas is that the female was isolated much earlier on in life than the male panda.

Fetishes are often born out of experiencing a first time orgasm while playing with an inanimate object such as a velvet piece of cloth. This mal-imprinting may be so powerful that the person has a hard time achieving orgasm for the rest of his or her life without the accompanying object being present. Morris tells the story of a male who had his first orgasm while an older female was wearing high-heels. She put her foot over his crouch, he ejaculated and the powerful experience has forever left a mal-imprint. He has since convinced more than one hundred females to repeat the experience. The reason fetishes are important to mention here is because they can act in much the same way as homosexual tendencies do.

Morris recognizes that many heterosexual men and women have homosexual experiences early on in their life, but the majority of them don’t end up as homosexuals. The difference comes down to how properly socialized the person may have been previously to the encounter and how blank their “sexual canvas” is at the time of the encounter. Morris says “Most boys have, as it were, a sexual blackboard on which things are lightly sketched, rubbed out and re-drawn. But the inward-living boy keeps his sexual canvas virginally white. When finally something does get drawn on it, it will have a much more dramatic impact and he will probably keep the picture for life”.

Since the publishing of The Human Zoo, science has found some genetic relationships to homosexuality. A host of studies throughout the 1990s observed that, in the case of identical twins, there is over a 50% chance that the second twin is homosexual if the first one reports in the affirmative. Researchers have found a gene related to homosexuality to be passed down from the mother. There is a higher likelihood among homosexual brothers of inheriting the same genetic sequence on the region of the X chromosome called Xq28. Clearly, there are some genetic factors that must be further explored but this isn’t the main point of my posting. As of yet, there is no such thing as a “gay gene”.

All in all, I am satisfied with the theory that various genetic and environmental factors converge and contribute to a person having homosexual leanings. I am also satisfied with the idea of allowing them to live happily and unhampered lives without any infringement on their rights whatsoever. They are doing no harm to anyone else and if they are fine living without the prospect of birthing children than so am I. They can always adopt at some point if the laws will give them credence. It’s very sad that so many homosexuals feel strongly pressured to change for the petty sake of religious intolerance. They are often ostracized, demoralized and ridiculed in one form or another just for their sexual preferences. Bigotry such as this should 'go with the wind' like so many other forms of hatred ranging from racism, sexism, social status intolerance or physical attractiveness.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Some Questions about Kenneth Miller's Arguments


I’ve been reading Kenneth Miller’s books and definitely respect many of his scientific insights, but have questions about some of the conclusions he makes regarding faith. He states that we will never be able to predetermine the movement and positions of certain particles, like photons, according to Quantum Physics. Likewise, he states that we will never be able to predetermine the outcome of an evolutionary process, like the outcome of a given mutation. There seems to be enough unpredictability in each of these given fields of science that we may be able to understand gods nature based on their erratic behaviors. But, isn’t it important that we “never say never” as a honest part of the scientific process? And, are we not just moving the goal post further back and allowing god a place in areas of science that are just now emerging? It seems like this is the dubious outcome of such assertions to me. This has some appeal to Miller because it ascribes to the notion that the unpredictability of life may point to a god who provides us with free will and not predeterminism. Furthermore, we don’t have to support the absolute materialism espoused by the likes of a Dennett or Dawkins. We can leave areas like culture, religion and language as undetermined and not based on the same meaningless mechanisms which drive biological evolution. Stephen Jay Gould might conclude that they are by-products of having a larger brain but not the direct result of natural selection--the whole spandrel effect. Otherwise, every sort of human behavior could be explained by the means of strict biochemical evolutionary processes and Miller detests that notion.

Miller also discounts creationism, in part, because it makes god out to be a magician that magically “poofs” things into existence—as if to say— the virgin birth, the feeding of five thousand, and walking on water are not examples of magic tricks. As a Christian, he accepts those events as fact but discounts the Adam and Eve story based on science. Where is the scientific merit for the aforementioned events? Evidently, we have to be able to tell the difference between what is to be taken literally and what is metaphorical. I’m still waiting for god’s copy of CliffsNotes for the Bible because I’m finding it very difficult to ascertain what is literal and what isn’t literal.

He also points to the anthropic principle and the big bang as possible indications that a deity is working mightily behind the scenes. He states that the Multiverse theory and the Big-Bang/Big-Crunch cycle theory are no more plausible than the theory of god being the great initiator. He quotes scientific juggernauts like Stephen Hawking as fellow proponents of the religious relevance of the Big-Bang. ‘“The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications,’” says Hawking.

I’m no scientist by any stretch, but aren’t good theories those consistent with what is most parsimonious? Is a theory based on a natural explanation not always better than one based on the supernatural one? It would seem that the highly speculative Multiverse theory and Big-Bang/Big Crunch cycle theory are both more plausible than a supernatural explanation. It seems like another god of the gaps fallacy to me. Furthermore, doesn’t this throw the problem just one step further back in an infinite regress? After all, everything seems to have a cause, so who made god in the first place?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Beauty of Evolution

“The story evolutionary science can tell is grander and more sweeping than any just-so narrative concocted by the pretenders of intelligent design. Evolution tells us that we have a history on this planet, a history we share with every living organism. Our ancestors survived the great extinctions that nearly stuffed out life on planet Earth. They found a body plan that could produce limbs adapted for walking, running, climbing, swimming, and even flying. These adaptations explain why even today the genes that produce our forelimbs are the same ones that control the development of fins. They explain why the same DNA sequences that tell human cells to become photoreceptors will produce eyes in a fly, and why the same proteins that control cell division in yeasts will work in humans. We not only know where we came from, but increasingly we know how we got here, too.” -Kenneth R. Miller, emphasis added.

Dr. Miller, perhaps, captures the beauty of evolution like no other and there are many inspirational paragraphs in his book Only a Theory but this one seemed to leap out at me for whatever reason. I feel a special kinship with fellow animals present and extinct that shared this planet at one time or another. It's truly amazing that the meteorite explosion most likely responsible for the destruction of the dinosaurs didn't kill all the smaller mammals that inhabited the earth at the time. They rose in prominence and became powerful testaments of the beauty of evolution on land and in sea. There is little doubt that the species of this planet would be different today from what we see if we played the story over. But as Dr. Miller suggests, there is little doubt that a species would eventually emerge that could ponder its own existence and place in this vast universe. It's truly a blessing that also infuses a great deal of responsibility. We have a larger capacity to invent than do other species, but we also have the intellect to destroy through inventions such as nuclear bombs. Scientists can assess the consequences of our current actions on mother earth and we have the responsibility to protect her for our own sake and the sake of other species around us. Most species only survive for a period of several million years before new ones emerge. In fact, 99% of all the species to ever exist are now extinct.

Homo sapiens are a privileged few who can make our time on this rock a beneficial one to ourselves and the other animals we share it with. We are most fortunate to have made it this far and our ancestors all had to be "winners" in this game of life, so that we might have the "luck" of experiencing it for ourselves. This is really an amazing feat to ponder and evolution has never looked so beautiful to me. Our relationship with other animals is written in our DNA and in the many similarities that we share. Intelligent Design (ID) attempts to strip us of this interrelatedness and common history. I hope that science and objectivity will reign supreme in the end while ID, which seeks to redefine science, is thrown into the waste bin.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recent Struggles


After debating vigorously with a so-called Christian philosopher, I must admit that I was moderately enticed by the way he put some of the central issues which concerned me in regards to Christianity. I also took the liberty of reading Kenneth Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God. There was a part of me that still wanted everything to be real. I think it may take some time before I completely rid myself of all emotional attachment to Christianity, or the allure of its mystic. There’s still this longing for the afterlife, and a time where I might revisit lost loved ones and, perhaps, talk to some famous people along the way. It’s the fantasy of it all that seems most attractive and the possibility for immortality. The fear of death is a plague of the human mind, and the sometimes misfortunate result of being able to ponder one’s existence and eventual demise, which can easily make implausible outcomes more appealing.

My adversary continued to hammer home the notion of Progressive Revelation, and I was certainly enticed by it at times. My number one, and original, detraction against Christianity was the brutality of the Old Testament’s Yahweh. Progressive Revelation seemed to place the blame on the Israelite’s “backwardness” while placing Yahweh in the only apparent position he could be in—as a god who had no choice but to discipline a stubborn people who were incapable of living in a more civilized manner. This was meant to be a step up from other neighboring civilizations and their religious practices.

The laws put forth by god were “the best he could do” considering the immorality of the people he was dealing with. Stoning, although horrendous, was something that the Israelites brought upon themselves because of a rebellious and sinful nature which was far too deep-seated to be drowned out in one fell swoop. Of course, the ultimate and, perhaps, final revelation would come in the form of Jesus Christ. His teachings would unveil god’s full revelation to humanity and the way we all should treat each other. He fulfilled the law and, thus, the old law should be discarded as Jesus’ final draft emerged. This is why, according to the Christian philosopher, Christians are no longer obligated to practice the O.T. laws.

I pointed out some comments that a friend made in response to Progressive Revelation which were not too far removed from what I had already discussed. The Christian philosopher stated, during our discussion, that these people could not understand an advanced system of morality. But, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that people are incapable of living principled lives if they are brought up in an environment conducive to higher ethical standards. From an evolutionary perspective, people haven't changed much in the last 40,000 years. They certainly haven't changed much in the last 10,000 years. They were, at best, victims of the culture in which they were raised and suffered unspeakable consequences for their evil ways that they couldn’t help and god, presumably, couldn’t change. My opponent stated that I had to prove that god could have done it in a better way that didn’t result in the brutality of the Old Testament. Otherwise, my argument failed to hold any weight. I stated that god could have avoided this whole debacle in the first place by not creating these people since he already knew what their future consisted of. I also stated that god, who is supposed to be infinitely wiser than myself, should be able to think of something besides brutalizing an ignorant people. He just continued to emphasis that it was their own doing and god did all that he could do for them. He suggested that I was making an argument from ignorance since I couldn’t think of a better way for god to deal with his people.

We also argued incessantly about who was responsible for the burden of proof. I stated that Atheism was a lack of belief in god(s), but he insisted that a negative claim can still be proven. I’m assuming that the person making the positive claim, that there is a god, has some substantial evidence to back that up. Instead, he wanted to assure me that I was in the same boat and had to have some kind of evidence against a god. He stated that an agnostic position—a neutral position claiming that you don’t know— is the only one that doesn’t have to come up with some form of proof.

I read Kenneth Miller’s book and wanted to concur with the assessment, at times, that science and religion need not be at war with each other. You could accept all the naturalistic explanations about our origins and the universe while still embracing god—in fact, god was able to exert the notion of free will most effectively by remaining mysterious and just beyond our reach. Miller seems to argue that we would lose our free will if god was constantly intervening in unnatural ways that would coerce our belief. He also speaks about Quantum Theory and how that points to a creator because, regardless of how good science gets, we can’t make accurate predictions on the smallest molecular level. I sort of liked the idea that a believer could stop trying to disprove science while still holding confidence in god. There are many Christian’s who end up disproving themselves when they argue against scientific claims like evolution. Science mocks and laughs at them because they already know that evolution is a fact and that science, therefore, disproves the Christian position— who try to fight a losing battle with rhetoric and political clout. Instead, the Christian could go along with science and religion in a harmonious fashion.

Kenneth argues against the idea that the Biblical text is meant to make any scientific claims. He says that stories like Genesis are not meant to be taken in their “extreme literal sense”. I have to wonder who sets the standard for how these stories are to be taken then. Are we going to have to keep changing what—some think— is to be taken literally as more and more Biblical text is contradicted by science? Kenneth also fails to mention the variety of religions across cultures that all make “factual” claims about their god and his influences on the world. I made that point to the Christian philosopher I was debating, he said that it just shows that people know that there is a higher power out there and these various religions are expressions of this knowledge.

There was a part of me that wanted to give god the benefit of the doubt and make a bunch of concessions on his behalf. I could call everything in the Bible that didn’t agree with my moral sensibilities as allegorical, hyperbole or just a condition that the people were responsible for. According to my opponent, the genocides of neighboring countries could be explained away with hyperbole or any other seemingly viable explanation. But, how do I know that I’m making the right judgment on a given scripture or story? Is the story of the flood any less likely than the story of the crucifixion? As far as that goes, are the stories of genocide and infanticide any less probable than the crucifixion? You could make a very reasonable argument that killing babies is far more probable than someone coming back from the dead after rotting in a tomb for three days. The ultimate point I’m trying to make is who makes the judgment about what is true and what was just a convenient exaggeration? The flood account is just as heinous, if not more heinous, than the accounts of infanticide but my opponent considered the flood story to be apparently accurate.

Obviously, theologians have wrestled with these difficult issues over the centuries and have come to a variety of conclusions, often opposing conclusions. Why would a god create a work, that was meant to be his message to humanity, replete with confusing and contradictory information? The only reasonable explanation is that it wasn’t written with any divine inspiration, but by the hands of a many different ordinary undivinely inspired people. There work has been copied and recopied so many times that it probably doesn’t even say what It originally intended to. God seems to be the “author” of confusion. Much like Jesus of the N.T. who would speak in parables so certain people couldn’t understand, god seems to do the same on a grandeur scale throughout the Biblical text. My opponent seemed to think that the Noah account was true but the infanticide accounts were exaggerations. I guess I need more education on how you are supposed to decipher what is real and what is fictional. By the way, there’s no geological evidence that the flood ever occurred anyway. There’s no archaeological evidence that the Israelite’s ever made a voyage through the Sinai Desert or that they were enslaved in Egypt either. But I digress.

This dissonance brewed in my mind for about a day, but I woke up the next morning as the same Atheist I was before this whole debate occurred. I let go of the fantasy, the special pleading and the wishful thinking to embrace reality once more. I’m an atheist because there is insufficient evidence to convince me of there being reason to believe in a god or gods. The burden lies on the person making the claim that there is positive evidence for a god to provide the necessary evidence. In reality, there’s much more evidence against a god than there is for one.