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There is No Such Thing as Biblical Authority November 29, 2009

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With so many Christian denominations, how can they all be right about what The Bible says? Logically speaking, there can only be one truth regarding the word of such an all-powerful god. Or is it possible that there are actually multiple truths regarding the words in The Bible? I contend that anyone who claims authoritative knowledge of The Bible is just another in a long line of those who make the exact same claim, and holds no more authority, or knowledge, than anyone else. So, is The Bible ambiguous?

This is where things break down from the very start. The Bible cannot settle anything regarding Christianity, world history, knowledge of our origins, or our universe. There are simply too many interpretations from too many “authorities” to take any single one, or even a collection of them seriously. Sure, we can all read the various Bible translations in our native languages, but we can never agree on the meaning. Some people will literally laugh when I attempt to understand a verse, or a passage. They laugh at my apparent inability to understand the full context, or that I have not really looked at the original meanings, perhaps in Hebrew, or Aramaic. They laugh because I do not believe, therefore, I cannot possibly understand. Is it ambiguous? Proof of this fact is in the sheer number of interpretations currently being followed.

And so it goes with Biblical knowledge, apparently. Must one believe before they can understand? Does that even make sense? Knowledge of a thing is not something one must believe in, but rather, they should attempt to understand it. So how exactly does a non-believer come to understand The Bible if they do no read it? And if they read it, but they don’t have the proper “authority” to interpret things for them, will they get it right? Exactly how does one choose the proper authority? Which denomination, or which group of Christians should one follow? Biblical authority is fleeting.

I have said before that there is literally no way to objectively understand The Bible. At some point, a believer must choose a denomination, or a non-denominational group to hang with. Either that, or they must read The Bible, make their conclusions on their own, and forget joining a group all together (this sounds most appealing to me if I were going to believe.) Why bother putting anyone elses knowledge in between you and your god? Is there something in The Bible that say’s you must (don’t answer that!)

Whatever path one chooses when deciding to adhere to a Christian belief, The Bible offers little in the way of objective knowledge. If a book so important gets to be interpreted in whatever way makes the reader the most satisfied, then it is not a book that needs to be taken as literally as many seem to. If there is something in The Bible that moves a person to be good, then good for them. If there are passages in The Bible that motivates a person, or a group to harm others, then we have a problem. It is this subjective authority within a book that many claim as the word of their actual god that can and does cause great pain in the world. This is precisely why I do not believe any gods are real. The Bible itself is one of the main reasons people stop believing – believe it or not!

There is no such thing as biblical authority.

Abuse in the Catholic Church November 28, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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Do you ever boycott companies because they support, even indirectly, something you do not agree with? I have heard many people proclaim, for example, that they will never buy Exxon gasoline because of the disaster oil spill of the Valdez. There is nothing wrong with using your wallet to send a message – it’s one of the best ways to show companies that they are responsible for their actions when it potentially harms other humans or other animals.

And so it is with this preface that I ask that Catholics who believe that child sex abuse is wrong, immediately boycott the Catholic church itself, for the willful cover-up and denial for so long of child sex abuse by their clergy. I’m not sure exactly what it takes to motivate a Catholic Christian to stop supporting such an organization, but sex abuse of children is probably at the top of the list. Some argue that the Catholic church holds enormous funds in cash, gold, and real estate world-wide. I don’t know what they hold, other than the lavish settings of the Vatican itself. But why give your hard earned money to such an organization?

Should the Catholic church suffer because of a few pedophile priests? I think it should, just as much as any other company found to be engaged in this type of activity, especially where children are sometimes left to the adult supervision of its representatives. The cover-up and denial from the Catholic church leadership is the main reason I have no sympathy at all. Not to mention their stance against homosexuality, and protected sex using condoms to prevent the spread of aids.

Think about it. There are far better ways to donate your hard earned money.

Why is Change So Scary? November 27, 2009

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I am an American citizen currently living in the United States of America. I am a working class, middle-income person with an average sized family. I have three boys from a previous marriage (all over 19 years old now), and a young boy from my current marriage of fourteen years with a woman who is simply amazing to be around. I’m lucky to have ever crossed paths with her, and now she gave me another wonderful young boy who I am so very proud of!

I tell you about my “place” in this country because it is important to know that we all have a current “place.” And as averages go, most of us change places over time. Perhaps the change is not always seen as positive, but it is change nonetheless. I embrace change, usually. I certainly recognize change when it happens, and I usually make the best of it. If I ever have trouble embracing the change that seems to be inevitable, I make change happen on purpose (I think that’s what we usually do anyway, even if we don’t recognize it happening.) So we have change at a personal level, but what about change at a much higher level?

This country has experienced tons of change over its short history. We have seen all sorts of social change that most people agree is for the best. We have abolished slavery, we have given women equal rights as humans, and we are getting much better at accepting that some humans are homosexual, and deserve the same human rights as everyone else. We have come a long way as well towards granting the handicapped a much easier way in life once we recognized that they are still human! What drove all of this change?

It is who we are. The people that wrote the constitution were trying their very best to understand and accept that we all don’t agree, we don’t think alike, we don’t believe the same things, but we are all humans. Isn’t that a basic summary of what they were trying to do when they wrote it? I’m not a scholar on the constitution, but I can read, and I can understand the spirit of the message. But when they wrote it, we had slaves. Even they didn’t completely understand that what they were doing was hypocritical if slaves were allowed to continue being sold, traded, and owned. We continued, as a nation, to proclaim our self-righteousness around our amazing constitution, while we owned and traded human beings – human beings!

So, we weren’t perfect, but we continue to change. We do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do. What choice do we have? Yet we still have a ways to go, don’t we? We still have citizens who want to impart their morals on others, as though they are right, and others are wrong. There are still millions of Americans who believe that being homosexual is wrong, and should be stopped. Imagine that – the cruelty and disgust aimed at a segment of humans who are homosexual is beyond comprehension by any truly caring individual.

There are still people who believe that this country is actually getting worse! Somehow, even though we are affording more humans the basic rights they deserve, we are going backwards. The reason for this type of belief can be summed up in one single word. Religion. Yes, religious beliefs are, in my opinion, the single strongest factor in supporting a belief that the changes we are making in this country are actually bad. What, exactly, are these people afraid of?

I will tell you what I have actually heard. I have heard that if same-sex couples were allowed to marry legally, they would then be able to adopt (something they can do in every state except Florida already), and then they will raise the children in an “unhealthy” way. I have heard that if we allow same-sex marriage, then we should allow a man to marry his dog – or allow a man to marry a twelve year old girl. I have heard that if we legalize marijuana, then we will have to legalize every other drug, no matter how toxic or dangerous, or benign it may actually be. Even though people don’t die from smoking marijuana, nor are they killed like the thousands by alcohol related accidents, it is illegal. We can’t make progress with this type of thinking.

We all need to embrace change when it is for the greater good. We cannot use religious beliefs as a guideline for morals, because it would be impossible to consider all of the religions and their moral tenets. We MUST embrace the morals that societies accept in general, as a group of humans who live and work cooperatively among each other. We all know that killing another human is usually wrong, but can we agree on when it is right? Is it ever right to kill, or murder? Would you kill another human to save your own life? Would you kill another human to save a loved one, or a friend, what about a stranger?

Religions don’t have the answers because they are exclusive, and they don’t consider that others who don’t believe in their god are not obligated to go along with a particular set of morals. It has never worked, and it will NEVER work to use a specific religion to drive societal morals. In fact, the more someone tries to impart the morals of their religion or their god upon others, the more those morals are rejected and dismissed – because they are not warranted in most cases.

Don’t waste your time trying to impress others with your self-righteous, personal beliefs on how everyone else “should” behave. Get over yourself. There are no perfect set of morals in our world, there are only sets that we all can live with as a group, which means compromise. Aren’t Christians compromising today when they allow the legal system to deal with adultery as opposed to stoning the adulterers to death, as The Bible declares? Yes, they are compromising, and they have been doing so for thousands of years, as we learn more and more about how to live together, and how to treat each other with respect.

Don’t be afraid of the changes that we are embracing, and the changes that are yet to come. We don’t change in order to make things worse. We change in order to make things better, and more fair to all humans and their basic rights. There is not a single argument on this planet that would ever convince me that same-sex couples don’t deserve the exact same legal rights as heterosexuals. Especially if the argument comes from some god based belief – those are the worst arguments. Embrace what makes this country better. Enjoy your religions in your homes and churches. No one is trying to remove that basic right.

Is it Just Faith For You? November 25, 2009

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Are you a Christian who believes that all you need is faith to believe God is real? Is such a “faith only” belief even possible? I mean, does faith mean that you simply don’t need any evidence because you “just know” that God is real? If so, how exactly do you know? What caused you to believe in the first place? What started your belief?

Can faith alone kick off a belief in something? I suppose if you take a fact on pure faith, without checking it out for yourself, then you could live out your entire life with faith in that fact. So yes, it is possible. Do we have faith in gravity? I don’t think so, because we all know very well that if we step off of a tall building, we will indeed fall. We don’t need faith to believe gravity is real, we can see the results clearly. There are no interpretations of falling off of a building either. Everyone falls at the same rate, perfectly. Gravity is a fact.

Belief in God is not so perfect. We are not on the same wavelength of belief when it comes to a specific god. There are almost as many interpretations of God as there are Christians. Many agree on the attributes, but I suspect that each might imagine God a little differently. And how many Christians know that God is real? How do they know, while so many others do not know? Why is there any ambiguity at all? Why is God not as obvious as gravity, to everyone? I suspect it is because there is literally no way to prove Gods existence. Gods existence must remain inside each individual, as there really is no way to “show” God. So faith steps in.

But here’s the rub. If one knows God is real, then what is the purpose of faith? Somehow, God is completely evident to certain people, they know He is real, they feel Him, speak to Him, hear Him, or in some way connect with God, which makes Him real. Faith should not matter in this case. So, either faith is necessary because people don’t have a way to prove God, or faith is not necessary at all because people have undeniable methods to know God is real. Too bad for the millions and millions who simply cannot see or know God.

Faith is a convenient way, in my opinion, of saying that God must be real, but since we cannot prove God is real, we hold on to faith. In this case, the only proof comes when we die. And sadly, it is too late to share this amazing discovery with anyone who is alive. If God created us, and loves us, and wants us to worship Him, then he would make Himself as obvious to each of us as gravity. He can still keep it ambiguous and impossible to explain to each other – because if we shared the obvious proof, it would certainly ruin God – or so I’m told.

Powerful, indeed.

Same-sex Marriage November 24, 2009

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Apparently, if two consenting adults of the same sex are in love, allowing them to legally marry is going to add to the destruction of the moral fabric of our society. In fact, our moral fabric has been in a steady decline in this country, according to some people, and allowing same-sex marriage will somehow make it worse. The only reasonable argument I have heard is that “homosexuality is not what God intended.” I say it’s a reasonable argument because if one believes God created humans, and that homosexuality is sinful and wrong, at least you’re sticking to your belief system, even if you can’t prove God exists. But I can’t just accept that things are getting worse just because someone say’s it is, or because of some religious beliefs.

Homosexuality has been documented as far back as 2400 BCE, according to this article. The same article states that “there is no relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and any measure of a child’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment.” Put simply, until there is evidence to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that same-sex parents are different than heterosexual when it comes to the well-being of the children. If your personal religious beliefs don’t allow you to accept this, then perhaps you should re-examine those beliefs.

As I discussed this issue with some friends over lunch, the conversation went towards the limits of what society will accept when it comes to things like who should be able to legally marry whom – or what. Yes, if we allow a consenting adult to legally marry another consenting adult of the same sex, then shouldn’t we allow a grown man to marry his dog? Of course we should! I am certain that many dogs would LOVE to say “I do” in a formal ceremony with their human male master. And I’m sure the dog would be more than willing to engage in sexual intercourse as well, because that’s what dogs want – isn’t it? Silly? No, ridiculous as a comparison. But what about multiple spouses, or what about an age limit for marriage? Shouldn’t we allow a forty year old male to marry a twelve year old girl?

Again, this is not a good comparison at all when we are talking about the legal rights of consenting adults who consciously love each other. If we allow a forty year old male to marry a twelve year old girl, how do we know that the girl consents? We have to use age as a measure of maturity in consenting to marriage – given that marriage is an adult activity in our society. The marriage of young adults, perhaps from age sixteen or so, is not something most people agree is a good idea, but it does happen. In my personal opinion, if eighteen is the legal adult age, it should be the earliest one can engage in legal marriage without parental consent.

There is certainly evidence that human females have been sexually active in different societies as soon as they reach puberty. If a female is physically capable of bearing a child, then there would be little reason to wait until a certain “acceptable” age to engage in sexual intercourse. Somewhere along the way though, societies applied their own rules and laws which were probably designed to protect young, immature females from being sexually abused by dominating males. It became unacceptable. Today, it is considered inappropriate and usually illegal for an adult male to engage in sexual intercourse with an underage female, even with consent.

I don’t think there is a good argument at all to prevent consenting adults of the same sex to legally marry. Six states in the U.S. already allow same-sex marriage, and more are considering allowing it. The barriers are falling apart because there is literally no “good” reason to prevent it. There is certainly no evidence that same-sex couples are harmful to others, nor are they any more or less harmful if they happen to have or raise children. Same-sex couples can legally adopt in every state except Florida, so what is the harm in allowing them to legally marry?

If anyone wants to comment on this issue, I’d appreciate a well thought out argument that shows where same-sex marriage is bad for society. Live and let live, I say.

I See No Reason To Believe November 23, 2009

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There are currently thousands and thousands of debates and discussions between atheists and theists regarding their various religions and god beliefs. You name it, and it’s been argued in one form or another – thanks to the internet! But so far, I have not seen or heard a single argument that makes me wonder about a particular god. I generally think about and discuss the Christian god, so I’m familiar with its attributes assigned by just about anyone who believes. God is all knowing. God is everywhere. God is all-powerful. God is all-loving. God is omni-everything. And so on and so on go the attributes from various sects of Christianity. None of it makes any sense to me.

I sometimes wonder if I’m actually just not smart enough to believe. I wonder if I was born without the ability to believe in a god. I mean, I see so many people holding all sorts of beliefs in this god or that god, yet I still see every single god as a man-made mythological character. I was taught about all kinds of ancient gods in school, and every one of them was relegated to ancient mythology, and ignorant humans obviously invented these gods as a way to explain things that science has long since figured out. I have no idea why any particular god has survived that relegation. Especially the Christian god.

My biggest problem is with The Bible. Basically, its a stack of writings all put together into chapters and verses, an old version, and a new one, which is used by every single Christian religion as proof that their god is the real thing. Forgive my arrogance, but since when is a book proof of anything? We use books to write things down, not to prove things. Books are a means of communicating information, facts, fiction, and entertainment to name a few. But by themselves, they are just paper with words on them. If I picked up a book about horses, the book is simply relaying what has been learned and discovered about horses, including pictures, and even more details in certain cases, regarding the various types of horses, and where they are found. Horses can be verified quite easily by anyone who doesn’t believe the book is correct. In fact, someone could refute the information in the horse book, and write their own book! Not so with The Bible however.

One cannot rewrite The Bible, but there are certainly as many interpretations of its stories and messages as there are people who actually read it. Where is the evidence that anything in The Bible is actually true? Sure, there may exist some corroborating documentation on cities or towns, and perhaps some of the characters described could be historically accurate, but what about all of the miracles, and claims that an almighty god created the universe? Where are those backed up by evidence? Too many people consider their belief to be true because they wish it to be true. They have no way to prove it – so they cling to anything that lends support to their beliefs. Confirmation bias hard at work.

The Bible is the main source of information regarding Christianity and God as it is known today, and sadly, that is just not enough to prove anything specific about its claims. They are just stories, interpreted in so many ways, and regurgitated in thousands and thousands of Churches each week to people who feel better when they have religion. I also look at nature.

What do I see when I look at nature? I see plants, rocks, water, clouds, trees, animals, space, stars, etc. It’s all right there in front of me. It has always been there – and people have always looked at it. Many of us see ultimate beauty in nature. Some of us see death and destruction. Some of see both, in varying amounts over time. Tornadoes and hurricanes don’t represent beauty to those whose lives are destroyed by them. But to a meteorologist, a hurricane captured on a satellite photo might be very beautiful. A one-thousand foot waterfall in a remote jungle might be awesome, and strike wonder in the minds of anyone who sees it. A rainbow is stunning after a daytime shower. A mud slide is devastatingly nasty, crushing everything in its path and destroying lives, homes and killing people. Think about an earthquake, or a meteor. Nature is unconcerned with humans, and has no plan. It just is.

Nature is certainly not proof of a god. Especially a loving god, as nature is as destructive as it is beautiful. Claiming that people who are killed or whose lives and homes are destroyed by nature is a part of a gods plan is not exactly comforting to the victims. If God created humans out of love, or to be a loving father, then why add the destructive part of nature to the mix at all? Why not make all of nature perfectly beautiful and nurturing to his “special” humans? None of it makes any sense at all.

I’ve heard all sorts of special pleading about the nature of God, and why things are the way they are, but none of it fits with what we see in the world around us. What I see is that nature, including humans, is a result of evolution and the continuous changing of our planet as it revolves around the sun. I see nature taking its course with no concern over who it kills. I see humans killing each other as though they have a special right to do so. I see animals eating each other because they are hungry. I see forest fires, floods, hurricanes, complete animal extinctions, and I see humans damaging the ecologic cycle with harmful chemicals. Maybe none of this is either bad or good. Maybe it just is what it is. I see no god.

Are you a Pretender? November 22, 2009

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Do you pretend to believe in God? I used to. When I stood in Church on Sunday mornings, after being dropped off by my parents, I could barely understand anything the priest was saying. I’m sure most of it was scripture from various sections of The Bible, but it was so difficult to understand, and impossible for me to remain interested as a young boy. I wonder how much more interested I would have been as a child if The Bible had been presented as ancient mythology? As I remember back to those times, I was definitely hiding my disbelief to some degree. What I can’t quite figure out though is, why was I doing that?

Why did I find it necessary to pretend to listen and care about God and Jesus and all of the other mythology I was being taught? None of it mattered to me, really. But there was something causing me to pretend, and not to speak out about it. I wonder if it is the same phenomenon that causes people who know that Santa is not real, to keep it a secret for those who still believed? Somehow, it feels the same, but there was definitely more mystery behind the God belief, as well as a Church full of adults who could have been blindly believing in something they had no way of knowing was real or not. Did these adults examine the idea at all, or did they just swallow it all without question? Why does religion have such a stranglehold on the human brain? I won’t claim to know the answer, as I am not qualified to speak authoritatively on such matters. But I am free to talk about the issue from a personal perspective. I was simply afraid to speak out.

There is a brief period in the lives of many children where they are afraid to talk openly about Santa Claus in front of their peers. I think it is based on the fear of ridicule. Most of us outgrow Santa, and we realize that what he is supposed to accomplish every year is physically impossible without magic. So we are reluctant to mention it at some point among our friends because we are afraid of being ridiculed, and even afraid of being the one who ridicules. If my best friend still believes in Santa an I was the one who broke the news to him, I might cause him embarrassment or shame. If that same friend already knew that Santa was a myth, then I would be the one embarrassed if I mentioned my belief. That period though, doesn’t last that long.

So it could be with religion as well. It is entirely possible, and very likely in my opinion, that many people inside the Churches every Sunday are simply pretending to believe. They are afraid to drop the pretense based on fear of ridicule. They are well aware of the social system of out-casting non-believers, and they are not about to risk such ridicule. So they pretend. What’s the harm in pretending anyway?

If God were real, you would never get away with pretending anyway. What a sad conundrum for people – force yourself to believe, because it’s impossible to trick God – to be in a state where they must suspend disbelief in order to please a non-existent, mythological character from an ancient book. After all, Hell awaits those who don’t believe. How much more powerful can the message be if it doesn’t hold your eternal happiness hostage? Just keep pretending.

I have told my kids to pretend to be happy. It wasn’t exactly original, but it came to me as an interesting experiment. I would tell them that they did not have to actually be happy, they could stay as angry as they wanted, but they had to “pretend” to be happy. This way they could be angry and no one would have to know that they were actually angry. When they were younger, it worked fairly well. It didn’t take them too long though to discover that I was tricking them. To pretend to be happy was satisfying enough to get them out of their funk. Maybe that’s all that religion really is.

If an adult can pretend to believe in God, then the only possible way this could harm them is if God were real, and He knew they were merely pretending. Family and friends would never know the difference, and when death finally arrives, there will be no witness to the final destination of the pretender. The person died a “good Christian”, and no one was the wiser. I wonder if it is worth it to spend your life pretending though?

With the experiment I used on my children, I ended up telling them that I was only trying to get them to realize that being angry was a state of mind, and one that they can turn off and on as needed. They could choose things that are worth getting angry over, and ultimately control their anger so that it doesn’t control them. I believe it is healthier to distinguish between pretending and reality, so that the two don’t remain ambiguous when it comes to who you actually are. When I “let go” of pretending God was real, I was finally free from hiding my feelings. I didn’t run around screaming about it, but I was definitely freed from the bonds of religion and its grip on skepticism. I no longer worry about what others think. I am getting more comfortable as time goes by.

It may not be easy to stop pretending to believe, but it is not impossible. You have to consider questions like: What would the universe and world look like of God were not real? If God were real, would he really allow such suffering as we see today? If God were real, and He held the title of all-loving creator of humans, would He allow innocent babies to be slaughtered for the gain of one group of “selected” humans? If God were real, would you even need to pretend? If God were real, wouldn’t you know without a doubt – wouldn’t everyone know without a doubt? If God were real, would atheists still exist?

Think about it – and stop pretending, you’ll feel better when you come out of the closet and free yourself from the mythological stories and beliefs of people who had no idea what the universe is, or that the earth was not flat, or that gods didn’t control lightning, love, nor require sacrifices from petty humans. Let go, now.

Do You Fear Atheists? November 21, 2009

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What does the term “atheist” mean to you? Does it conjure up a specific image, or definition? Have you ever investigated the term objectively? Since I have attached the term to myself, I have heard all sorts of definitions and descriptions, as well as hatred and fear of the term, and anyone who calls themselves atheist. This is a major problem.

My family, as well as some of my closest friends know very well that I do not believe in any gods, including God of The Bible – even though I was raised and indoctrinated into Roman Catholicism. I say indoctrinated simply because I had NO choice in the matter as a young boy. While growing up, I had enough doubt that I never took religion very seriously. Neither did my parents as far as I could tell. But today, I use the term atheist, and even within my own family, I can tell there are some serious misconceptions about what the term actually means. Brace yourself for this completely objective definition of the term: a disbelief in a god or gods.

Surprised? Many people, given this simple definition, are still concerned simply because society has granted religion and its gods a very special privilege over thousands of years. This privilege is not well warranted however, if you consider what has happened in the last 100 years. Even well before serious scientific discoveries, religion provided the “answers” to everything. It was granted immunity to any investigation into its claims. It stood alone as a sole authority on anything it wanted to claim absolute knowledge of, and anyone who disagreed was considered either immoral, or blasphemous.

A disbelief in a god or gods say’s almost nothing about the person who holds this view. If I were able to say that anyone who holds a Christian view is stupid, or immoral, then I would quickly be labeled as completely ignorant, a liar, and probably some form of hateful bigot. And that would be correct! So it goes that if someone has a disbelief in a god or gods, that person may be one of the kindest, most trustworthy people you ever meet. Even if it turns out that there is a real god out there, there will be people who don’t believe. That would only make them ignorant, or incapable of accepting a fact. It would not make them a bad person.

So why are atheists, people who don’t believe in a god or gods, considered to be one of the least admired “groups” in the world? Because the most popular religions have decreed, on their own, that those who do not believe are somehow bad, or destined to hell, or an infidel worthy of killing in extreme cases. Unfortunately, this consideration of non-believers is completely without any supporting facts.

There is absolutely no evidence anywhere that would support an assertion that non-belief in a god or gods makes someone bad. There is not even evidence that a believer is inherently better, simply because he believes. The dichotomy between belief in a god, and disbelief is simply a matter of what the person thinks is true or not. A person takes in the information provided regarding the Christian god, for example, and then decides on their own whether the god is real or not. Many people just cannot accept the evidence, or the writings, or any of the arguments in support of a god. When an atheist gets into a debate with a Christian, the only good outcome will be that they remain friendly with each other, and agree to disagree.

I am living proof that atheists are not bad people, and there are literally millions more just like me. There is NOTHING at all to fear about atheists. They are simply people; people who have no more power or influence over anyone else than any other group. We do not hate, we do not incite violence, we do not commit immoral acts, nor do we condone illegal behavior. We don’t “worship” science, or scientists. We do not all agree with each other on everything. We are not a cult. We don’t hate Christmas. We are not any more or less sinful than a Christian. We have no agenda outside of speaking out against any and all forms of religious based laws placed on us as citizens of the United States.

I have many friends and colleagues that I care about and respect. I have not shared my disbelief with all of them simply because there really is no reason to. I don’t have many friends and colleagues who tell me about their religious beliefs, so I offer the same level of respect by keeping my non-belief to myself. However, I have felt compelled to share my atheism with some of my closest friends because I feel like I would be lying about who I am. This is purely a matter of how close I am with someone though.

I believe that if my friends and colleagues were to write a few sentences about me as a person, there would be almost no evidence about my religious beliefs, or lack thereof (with the exception of a few who know exactly how I feel.) Those few might mention my disbelief, but I doubt they could make any claim that would show me as a bad person, or somehow less moral than a believer. I have close Christian friends who might go as far as to say that I am lost, and that I will eventually find my way back to God.

To be sure, atheists are in an uphill battle, much like blacks who used to be considered “less human” than whites, and much like gays, who are still considered to be immoral, bad, or confused about their sexuality (although gays have made awesome progress.) Atheists have to continue speaking out against religious bigotry (from extremists.) They have to continue to speak out against the idea that they are not good people, as well as speak out against religious oppression through laws that are not purely secular.

I can tolerate all sorts of cultural rituals and habits that society drags along through tradition. Most of it doesn’t bother me so much that I feel I need to act. But looking at the United States for example, we still have a very long way to go if we are to maintain the freedom of religion that our country was founded upon. Even if the majority of the people are religious, they do not hold a special right to impart that religion on the rest of us. No one has that right, and our founding fathers gave no such special status to any religion – no matter how popular.

Don’t be afraid if someone doesn’t believe. Just state your opinion, why you believe, and respect the opposite opinion from an atheist. Help spread the word that atheists are sitting in the next cubicle, they are sitting in the next foxhole, and they are walking past you in the streets, serving your meal at a restaurant, and depositing your paycheck into your bank account. They number in the multi-millions, and they do not seek to destroy everything you believe in. They simply want to be a part of the human society that allows freedom of thoughts, beliefs, and the freedom to disagree. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?

Miracles of God November 5, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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What is a miracle? Here’s a definition I found on the web:

1. an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. a wonder; marvel.
4. a wonderful or surpassing example of some quality: a miracle of modern acoustics.

For this conversation, we can use the first two definitions, mainly because God can be considered “supernatural” in my mind. In conversations with believers, I have heard that miracles are excellent proof of a divine being, God, existing. This is very difficult for a rational person to understand. A miracle, by definition, is beyond our natural laws; it is something that science cannot explain. In other words, it cannot happen, but it still does. Well, sort of.

If a man survives for three days inside the stomach of a fish, is that a miracle? Well, the first question for science would be this; is it possible for a grown male to survive for three days inside the stomach of a fish (some people claim it was a whale.) If you look at the anatomy of whales, is there enough room inside the stomach of the largest whale for a grown man? Apparently, the Sperm whale does have room. However, can it support a man who needs oxygen for three days? Not very likely.

This is why it is called a miracle. Because anyone who has ever considered the story, knows that there would be all sorts of problems involved with surviving in the belly of a whale for 72 hours. There would be little to no air to breathe, and there would also be stomach acids to deal with. So, it is called a miracle because the people who wrote the story know very well that it would take an actual miracle for the man to survive.

Can a human walk on water? Technically, no. But we’ve seen it in the movies, where a special body of water contains a clear platform just below the surface, making it appear as though one can walk on water. Can a god walk on water? Sure, why not? But, we have no proof that any gods are real, much less that they became human, and walked on water. Humans, when walking, do not have the buoyancy to walk on water. The moment a human steps onto the surface of a body of water, the foot penetrates the water. There is just not enough surface under the average foot of a human to suspend them on the surface of water. It’s a physical impossibility.

Can an egg, inside the ovary of a human female, become fertilized without the direct penetration of a male sperm into the egg? Well, of course not! Human eggs are basically sterile, and incapable of becoming an actual baby, without being fertilized. Of course there are numerous ways these days to fertilize an egg. But every one of those are the result of introducing male sperm into the environment so that the egg can be fertilized. The idea that a woman can become pregnant without the aid of another male humans sperm is completely “miraculous.”

In other words, sperm cannot be “magically” inserted into eggs. But that doesn’t phase those who believe the stories of a “virgin birth.” This is an amazing miracle, and adds credibility to the idea that Jesus was divine. But that doesn’t make the story true. Miracles are unexplainable by science, but they are easily explainable by people who are willing to suspend their disbelief on events that don’t happen in nature. Like, literally rising from the dead.

True, we have cases where dead people have been revived. But we have never seen a completely brain and heart dead person, come back to life after three days of being dead. Maybe Jesus was only in a coma? Either way, the miracle is described as evidence that Jesus was divine, and somehow managed to leave his tomb and talk to people. Wild.

As I read The Bible, I have difficulty understanding certain stories and passages. But I can work to understand those over time, and try to see what the meaning may have been. But miracles are different. No one is capable of explaining a miracle without resorting to magic, and the suspension of natural laws. This is where I can say with great certainty, that miracles from The Bible are more likely misunderstandings, or stories designed to inspire people to believe, in a time when no one was really capable of discerning the impossibilities of claims made. We also know that humans are notorious for “embellishing” stories in order to make them more exciting.

I think it is a miracle that so many people believe that real miracles, like the ones above, actually happened!

Peer Reviewed November 1, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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In the world of science, the concept of peer review refers to the method by which a scientific paper is evaluated by experts in the specific field of research. The goal, according to this Wikipedia entry, is to prevent “the dissemination of irrelevant findings, unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal views.” Admittedly, this process has it’s downsides. However, it is certainly better than allowing anyone in the world to publish anything they want into a published journal of science, with literally no standards applied whatsoever.

The internet has certainly created a vast field of articles and writings on scientific topics. Sadly though, far too many of those writings have never been peer reviewed, and are certainly not considered “scientific” by the experts. The main reason is due to the amount of work and the standards that must be met before being considered valuable research for publication. For the average reader though, the problem then becomes one of finding credible research and conclusions on a topic.

Using Google, one can find millions of articles on the current theory of evolution. Unfortunately, there are millions of articles that are completely misleading, and do not even begin to understand the basic theory, yet seem to be accepted by many people as credible. This is truly an unfortunate by-product of the information overload that the internet has become. How does one distinguish the good from the not so good? Here’s what I do.

I start with the major universities. I also consult the major scientific journals. I then look for objectivity in the articles themselves. I look for articles that share both the positive and negative results of a study, ones that describe their findings, and why they could be true, as well as describe where their findings could be faulty. To me, at least, this shows that the writing is not making a claim of absolute knowledge on a subject. It makes me feel a little better at the very least.

But what about the other millions of writings? Blogs, forums, books, the media, and other sources abound, tackle some of the toughest scientific questions at an alarming rate and scale. Thanks to the internet, anyone can claim to be an expert. To be honest, I think it is actually great to have this type of diversity. However, how do we protect ourselves from misinformation?

I think it comes down to knowing where to look, knowing how to detect dishonesty, and knowing when to say “I don’t know.” If one reads an article about a scientific discovery, one must ask, who is presenting this information, why are they presenting it, what conclusions are they espousing, and what are their credentials? These questions can help filter out the problems with bad information, or at the least, highly ignorant or uninformed opinions that have the power to look authoritative, when in fact, they are nothing but opinions and assertions.

If I take an interest in a topic I know nothing about, I think it is incumbent upon me to do the relevant research on the topic. I would most likely start in a library or book store because that’s where I spend a lot of time. If I start out with an internet search, it is indeed difficult to separate credible information because the search engines do not use “credibility” as a measure of importance. But book stores have their problems as well. It does take a lot more effort to get published, but as we all know, there are plenty of books published that do not follow any type of peer review, as it is not a requirement when publishing a book.

I’m sure you can find books that claim the earth is flat.