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Been Gone May 1, 2011

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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I’ve been away from the blog lately. I’m still a heathen, but I’ve been busy on different forums doing the good work of the outspoken non-believers. One of my activities is somewhat of a private forum, where I was debating and discussing with people I see every day! That is weird, to say the least. But, we’re all good friends, and we really try hard not to get too abrasive. I will say, it is very difficult, and I can feel some pressure from both sides, which tells me we are edging closer to a fatal point where no useful dialog can actually occur.

After thinking about that last sentence a bit, I am inclined to ask myself why I debate with theists. It seems that there really is no point, when both sides are sure they are right, and seem unwilling to consider the other side. But that’s how it goes in our human world, I suppose. As an atheist, I would not accept the reality of a god without something tangible. And if that showed up, I like to think that I would simply accept that there is a real god. I can’t say what that would do for my specific approach to gods and religions, but I won’t deny that which is demonstrably true, through observation, evidence, and facts.

I am not certain at all what would cause a theist to abandon their beliefs. My instinct tells me that it would require a specific and thoughtful journey of research, rational thinking, and stepping outside of the faith. I have heard that some people are looking for a true support group to switch to, which is very difficult to find if you live amongst a highly religious group of neighbors, and work mates. The power of family, friends, and neighbors is strong, and difficult to escape from when matters of religion, and sometimes other world-views are prevalent. When enough guilt or shame is “in the air”, many people will elect to just go along, and stay quiet.

One thing that has surfaced for me recently, is the idea of writing a book. It seems daunting, and I am certainly not a professional writer, but it could be an interesting project. The focus, without giving away the full idea, would be on the differences between believers and non-believers. I’m still tossing the idea around in my head, so I won’t say any more right now.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the respect of ideas in the debate between belief and non-belief. I was thinking just today, that I have been called out, almost directly, but not quite, on what my goal is in “attacking” a belief system that I don’t even believe in myself. After some thought, I decided that it is certainly a fair question. And I have an answer. But what I would like to know, is why it is seemingly OK and/or socially acceptable to assume that believers are correct, and to give their ideas respect, just because. After all, this debate only has one answer; there is a god, or there is no god (yes, there could be multiple gods, but I’m going for simplicity).

In the end, atheists think they are right, and believers think they are right. So, technically, neither side deserves more respect than the other. But it seems apparent to me that the non-believer side is far less socially accepted. As I watched a clip from Christopher Hitchens recently, he was talking about believers who sent him messages asking if he was now ready to accept Jesus (he has been in the hospital in cancer therapy). And Hitchens basically said that it would be unbelievably rude for atheists to go running into hospital rooms to convince the dying patients that the whole religion thing was a scam. And that’s only one example where belief in a god is given special status as more socially acceptable than non-belief.

Anyway, I’m going to start writing some more – even though no one is listening! (Except for you three…)

Can You Live Without Certainty? December 28, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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I was reading a forum discussion here, and was struck by a message posted by forum member Deus ex Machina, regarding certainty and uncertainty. He was responding to another forum member about a link to this site, where the website author makes some interesting assertions.

This is an excerpt from the discussion that inspired me to quote part of it, and to write this particular blog, written by Deus ex Machina:

I understand that people would like there to be some sort of overarching purpose. That they’d like to have certainty, that they’d like to be able to say “look, we know that this is true/false/right/wrong and it’s all settled”. Some people crave certainty. But truth be told, the Universe doesn’t seem particularly keen on providing any such certainty, or evidence of deities, divine purpose or design, absolute truths, moral laws – or, for that matter, the true underlying nature of physical reality. Uncertainty is one of those things we have to live with; and much as it may be comforting to fill those uncertainties with notions of divine purpose, to believe that there’s really a Big Pictureâ„¢, believing in them doesn’t make them true – and latching onto a particular belief and then asserting that others must believe the same as you do (or they’re somehow less human, less deserving of life, doomed to suffer some terrible fate, etc. etc.) is positively dangerous.

Deus ex Machina put things in words that are hard to make better, or more clear. Why is it that some humans cling so tightly to certain beliefs? Why is uncertainty, a plain and simple fact of life, so frightening, or so unpalatable? Well, I’m a human, so dare me to take my own guesses!

As a human, I actually do crave some level of certainty. As I was growing up, that craving has been shed to some extent, and possibly turned in different directions, or towards things that replaced my childhood views. Most humans go from what we describe as “immature” to “mature” in their thinking. Obviously, maturity in thinking is very subjective, but for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to say that immature thinking is thinking that begins to be based not on evidence, but on beliefs, faith, or any other form of thinking that one must accept, apparently without much consideration. But I also know that uncertainty, while scary to think about at times, is far more certain!

We just do not know the future. We have no way of moving beyond a specific moment to see what will happen to us next. The known laws of the universe do not allow something to go beyond time, or to disconnect itself from time. This is where phrases like “life is precious” come from. We have no way of knowing that the engine from a 747 won’t fall from the sky and land on our car, killing us instantly. We can say with very high probability that it will never happen, but we can’t know for sure. So we live on, as though our lives will follow some path of certainty – which makes us happier, I think.

Of course, some humans get very unsettled thinking that there is any certainty at all – it seems they prefer to “live on the edge”, “take chances”, “just do it”, and so on. These people may introduce a little more uncertainty in their lives by doing things that are less predictable. And so it is, all humans go about their daily lives with a certain amount of certainty – none of which they can depend on 100%. But that works for most of us.

If humans put too much focus on uncertainty, there would be too much fear and anxiety for people to accomplish anything. What if we could not find a single human willing to man the rocket that landed on the moon? If ever there was uncertainty, that was it! But those men knew they would be successful, not from arrogance or wishful thinking, or pure bravery (some would call it stupidity!), but from the knowledge and confidence that all of the mechanics, engineering, math, and technology were carefully measured, tested and re-tested so that as much of the uncertainty of the flight plan was eliminated. And so it is with everything we humans do in order to mature and grow, as individuals and as groups.

However, if we put too much focus on certainty, how can we grow as individuals, or as societies? How do we get beyond some of the superstitions and beliefs that support bigotry and hatred towards other humans? If it is not clear by now, make no mistake, humans will NEVER come to an agreement on things such as gods, religions, or religious beliefs. We are more divided on that single issue than any other as far as I have seen. There is little reason to think that will change at all. I think the best hope is to put religions and their ideologies back into the churches and homes of those who feel they need it, and keep it out of societal laws and sciences that seek to learn using logic, reason, clear thinking, and proper methodologies that do not discriminate at all. Science will always correct itself – religion NEVER will.

So, live with a certain amount of certainty, but never make the mistake of thinking that you have some absolute truth or knowledge that is indisputable. No god, no scientist, no human can make such a claim – isn’t that quite certain!

Peace

I See No Reason To Believe November 23, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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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.

Religion is a Choice October 27, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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Religion should always be a choice. Given the current variety of religions in the world today, as well as the many religions that have come and gone throughout history, we know beyond a doubt, that even if one of those religions is the true belief system, it cannot force everyone to believe. People must decide for themselves at some point. Of course, there’s always an exception.

There are also cultures that teach their religious beliefs to their children from birth. Those cultures don’t tolerate non-believers, so in some sense, there really seems to be no choice at all. But history shows that even in the most strict religious cultures, there are infidels. Many of them are punished severely, even killed for their infidelity. So where does choice come in?

From the stories I have heard in my limited exposure and lifetime, religious decisions come at almost any age, and in every culture. Many modern humans are exposed to the myriad cultures, religions, ideologies, and beliefs due to so much immigration between countries around the world. This mixing is a veritable melting pot of views and beliefs that each person is exposed to in some way on almost a daily basis. In the United States, we are taught at an early age to be considerate of the beliefs and customs of different cultures. This has also resulted in what I call a cross-pollination of religions between people of different cultures. In other words, a Muslim can decide to become a Christian.

For many believers, the thought of no religion at all is not really an option. They seem to believe that any religion is better than none, even when that religion competes directly with their own. But one of the choices for many people is to become non-religious, and even atheist. Atheism is on a fast rise in the western world at the moment, and some people believe it is caused by the growing body of scientific knowledge and discovery that appears to replace what religion used to teach without question. Science, to be clear, is not a choice, it is knowledge. One can choose to understand, and even refute the knowledge gained by science, but it is not a belief system.

Many major religions today are competing for followers. They are engaging in nothing short of marketing campaigns, just like major companies who look for new customers! Is this a sign that religion, like businesses, are struggling a little to survive? Maybe it is. Either way, it seems apparent that people do choose their churches, and even the major religion that appeals to them. For some, there seems to be only one choice from the day they are born, for others, the choices of religions are indeed many. And for others still, the choice to follow no religion at all is just as valid, and deserving of the same tolerance afforded to believers of all gods and religions available.

After all, if one chooses not to decide, they still have made a choice! (borrowed from Neil Peart of Rush.)