Monday, October 27, 2014

"I will not forget one line of this."

I finally have the words for what I've been trying to say.

I need to get my life together, and I can't do that here. There's too much of what I was, too many memories.

I've done this before, stopped writing here, but this will be the last time. And this time, it's not out of frustration, anger, or sadness.

The me that was a follower of Christ, that grew up in that subculture and made that his identity, is gone. I can't keep going on pretending like my future has anything to do with it any longer. There is no more processing in writing necessary, it's done. I could write an entire paragraph blaming others for the pain I've experienced, or explaining how everything I say about this is now useless, but that would also be pointless. It's time that I stopped living in the lies I was told growing up by so many beautiful, well-meaning, and loving people, and accept that it's all been a nice story. It's time that bitterness became something that was, and it's time I accept what I've known for way too long. The philosopher is dead, and will make cognitive dissonance no longer. There need not be cognitive dissonance any longer in my mind when there is truth, and when freedom has replaced what once was magnificent and delusional purpose.

I plan to continue writing one day, but not here, and not in the way I have. It's useless, because the more I bare my soul here, the more people will take it for granted, the more I'll be tied to what I used to be, and the more bitter I will become at humanity and their endless waiting to speak, their inability to listen when they can cleverly disregard others and smugly think they know it all. As it stands, I can barely take myself or anything I think seriously, and anyone that disagrees with me runs me over, while I help them do it. That's no way to live.

So I'm done with this blog and what it stands for. This is merely a symbol of what I have to do next. Living in the past is done, because there is so much more to see. Observing does not necessitate pontificating, and experiencing does not necessitate explaining. I'll no longer be a know-it-all or the egotist I once was. I'm a fool, and the fool's place is to be quiet and to help others in any small way he can. In addition, I choose to live well and learn all I can.

Should I choose to write more, there will be one more post here linking you, my readers, to where you can read it. It will be different, but it will still be me. But this is the last time I'll tell you what's really on my mind here.

There is still the pain, and it is a lot of pain even still. But there is an infinity of possibility ahead of me, making that pain unimportant. Sometimes the best way to heal is to move on, and this blog is the last vestige of the pain I've been dragging around for way too long. It's done.

Readers: live well!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Something to Believe In

I've found that words don't come easy for me lately, when it comes to talking about the important things in life. I used to be asked, seemingly out of the blue, what it is that I believe. It's a hard question to answer because it's not just asking what you believe, but what is important to you. I think I have an answer.

A few years ago, my answer would have been something along the lines of "Love," with a dual meaning of god. Unconditional love, the perfect way that I longed to be real. But something felt wrong with that answer, and I couldn't figure out what it was. However, I felt it in what was around me. I saw it when people would gloss over other people with their eyes, continually wait for their turn to speak, brazenly show their apathy about other peoples' difficulties that were supposed to be their friends. I watched as people that touted love as the supreme virtue disregarded and minimized the opinions of those not like themselves, and I began to wonder if I did the same thing.

I've missed the accusations that used to get flung at me within Christian culture. For me, it was a confirmation that I was being compassionate, that I was listening to all sides of a story, that I was at least trying to be objective. It is that intuitive knowledge that began to disturb me most of all, that largely, if you ask questions and are unafraid of answers, if you seek to be kind and compassionate in what you do, and if you listen to the people you're told not to, you will end up with people praying for your salvation at best, and attacking you and calling you sub-Christian or heretical at worst. It becomes a badge of honor to be attacked, a sign that you were doing the right thing.

The problem is, this only happens if you still claim the name "Christian" and believe in god. Atheism is treated with detached disdain and condescending dismissal by some of the religious "intellectuals," and with confusion and by being ignored by others of the faithful. Truly, it's scary to some people when someone thinks differently than they do. Some have to find convenient ways of disregarding or defeating the evil atheists. I sometimes will seek out these people, the ones that will become angry with me and try to defeat me, because it demonstrates some level of caring from an institution/movement that labeled me unacceptable and invisible long ago.

This is not a cry for help. This is not me being depressed or sad because no one's paying attention to me. This is an observation that I find sad. Those who profess and worship unconditional love fail to show even a basic ability to listen to anyone that isn't within their group, and then disdain those unlike them for attempting to form some kind of community, by calling it a "religion,"  or "church." It's unfortunate, and I am sad to see that otherwise reasonable, kind people can be so hostile and cold to those not like them. Ignorance just makes it worse.

The reason I know this is not merely observation, but because I've done it. I understand how freaked out you can get when you talk to an atheist. You think they've got all of these philosophical arguments that they've designed just to trick you, or they treat science as a religion, or they're going to get angry and yell in your face if you say you believe in god or are religious. Furthermore, it's easy to dismiss people who don't think like you do instead of ask questions and listen, especially if they're scary or easy to write off. This is a human trait that religion happens to exacerbate with its' tribal nature, but it's by no means confined to the religious.

People want to be known and heard and accepted. It floods every piece of media we consume. We watch how even the most despicable characters are listened to, how they all have some redeeming characteristic, even if they're a "high functioning sociopath" or something of that nature, or perhaps they're just interesting. The problem is, many people think that they're the interesting one, and that everyone else should be interested in them.

The truth is, none of us know what the hell is going on in this life. We may think we know, or we may have some pretty good ideas, but there's always something that needs to be rationalized, always something to get around so that we can keep going until we either can't anymore, or we stop listening to hold onto what is important to us.

It's hard to continue to be enraged by the injustice you see when you realize this. You instead want to correct it in order to make things better. You want to shake the person who seems to have a soul that's asleep, drifting through life without caring. You want to argue down the angry fundamentalist just so he'll realize how destructive he's being. You want to tear down the false compassion you see when people don't understand those who are different and are condescending and ignorant in their attempt to be kind. You want to scream down the people that are going on and on about how terrible another group that they don't understand is, like atheists, often claiming to be a former one themselves who's "recovered" in order to fabricate an understanding they do not possess, and display their ignorance of every time they open their mouth. And most of all, when you see these in yourself, you want to correct it immediately, no matter the cost, just so you won't hurt anyone else. The past has shown you how hurtful you can be, and you want to do some good, to make people happy and to be happy yourself in life.

I believe in happiness. Not simply my happiness, but in happiness for everyone. I think it's a goal worth striving for. In a world full of people claiming confidence in their absolute morality and smug armchair philosophers who think people can be easily dismissed if they don't think the same way, happiness is an ideal that flies in the face of it all. There's power in the simplicity of it, and it moves a person forward like nothing else.

I'm still angry with those who've rejected me, and I don't know if that will change. It always hurts more when good people who were your friends either decide to or have to think of you as unacceptable, or when people you trust to help you decide to not care, or to work against your ability to move forward in life. However, I think if one thing can heal a person who's been wounded, it is long term happiness with their life, and in sharing that with those close to them. This is what I believe in, and I believe it because I choose to.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Appeal of Mysticism

I wish to talk for a little while about my journey. Having not written here for a while, it seemed appropriate to put this down for others to see.

Nearly two years ago, I publicly announced that I was leaving my faith on this blog. What's happened since then has been both harder and more inspiring than I thought possible. It's changed me in ways I never thought would change, and I've moved on from many things I've written here, while embracing others.

You see, when I first asked the questions that lead me away from the faith of what I've come to think of as my "past life," I was just doing business as usual. Stuff came up, information about the scientific method, history, comparative religion, theology, and more than anything, the epistemology of mystical experiences. It was a messy time with a lot of messy questions, and I've come to believe that I should not have said things how I did at the time. However, had I not done so, I never would have come to understand the way people struggle.

You see, I was a member of the majority where I live. Sure, I was a Christian with some weird ideas and beliefs, but I was still a Christian. I thought it was persecution when arrogant Christian academics would call me a heretic or say I wasn't really a Christian, but there was always a network of people to fall back on, and you can always make new connections through the network that is the "church," as vague of a term as that is. I had never really learned what it meant to take people as they are, despite valuing it so highly, because everything had to fit into a framework where God exists and controls everything and if people don't believe in God, they can safely be disregarded.

I had never thought about what it was like to be disregarded until I found myself in this undeniable position of agnostic atheism through my studies, and through my experiences. I can talk to you about evolution, church history, the holes in theological systems and the ways people try to account for them, and even get into more advanced stuff like abiogenesis, metaphysics, and cosmology. These are all things I've looked at and studied, and there are those who have studied them so much they make me look like I know literally nothing. That's the trap of academia, you never have read enough. Your opinion, if it differs with that of another academic, is uninformed, uneducated, able to be disregarded. Yes, this applies to more than just religious academics.

I've realized one thing of late: I am no academic, at least not in the sense that some people I've met are. I do not wish to disregard others any longer, and I find compassion and acceptance much more valuable than rational certitude. Even writing this is hard for me because of how many times I have been told over the years that I don't care about the truth, because I differ from others in beliefs. I have committed the cardinal sin in the eyes of some: I have changed my mind based on new data, and correction has come to be an exciting experience, in most cases, unless it is one of the many condescending "corrections" that I've had to learn to deal with since my deconversion.

It is with all of this in mind that I have taken a long, hard look at mystical experiences. You see, god always exists in what we don't know, or perhaps she exists in the realm of the laws that allow our universe to function. Perhaps she exists within our minds, a byproduct of psychological complexity, consciousness manifesting and mirroring itself onto our thoughts in such a way that we transcend ourselves. That is beautiful, and I doubt I will ever stop thinking so, but why call this, the emergence of our consciousness into higher levels of self-awareness, "god"? Perhaps it fits for some, but for others, it carries way too much baggage.

One day, a long time ago, I was put in spontaneous tears a few hours after seeing the beauty in two of my friends deciding to spend their lives together. It's the only time I really remember crying in public, and it was a beautiful moment that was quickly interrupted by a man trying to help me, but assuming I was crying in shame and praying with me about sin in my life.

I have never forgotten this happening. It was probably the biggest turning point in my religious journey, and I've come to see what it represented as the biggest reason I have made my exit from religion. You see, this man had no idea what I was going through, what I was thinking, or what was happening inside me, but he took it on himself to bring correction to me, to make it okay. It disturbed and embarrassed me, brought me out of that place where I was appreciating something great, where I was feeling how far I had fallen short of that dream (I had just ended a relationship that was very serious weeks before), where I was seeing two people embrace something truly greater than either of them individually, and it had become a prayer session. A prayer session about shame and sin and correcting oneself.

In retrospect, I was disturbing others with my outburst, and he used a good method to bring that disturbance in line with the expected environment at the time, and probably just wanted for me not to suffer, as though it were a bad thing.

This is not an odd story in a religious setting. It's actually quite common. There are stories about people that can "sense" sin on others, and they use the social or religious power they have to try to correct it. I am certain that the man trying to help me in that instance had the best of intentions, but he lacked respect for another person's experience, he made it about his perceptions, and he imposed those on me in a vulnerable state.

When people ask me why I left religion, I often give academic answers. I've come to see this as an approach that should rarely be taken, as religion is not about that. I've often challenged religious people and have read multiple expositions on why someone believes in the face of our science, our history, and the lack of good evidence in each of these for a god. The answer always comes down to faith, or subjective mystical experience that somehow convinces a person that an institution that's endured for two millennia has power over every aspect of their lives, and they choose to live that way, falling in line with the authority.

To put it another way, a subjective question requires a subjective answer, because subjective experience is, in fact, of enormous value. However, religion attempts to move subjective experience toward an objective system, and we've seen the results.

My subjective experience with the church is one of abuse, disrespect, assumptions, and, probably the most damning of all, people being wrong. Being wrong is not a problem, it is an opportunity to learn, but when someone insists on their wrong subjective conclusions in the face of correction by people who would know (like the person they are concluding things about), there is a problem. When people are wrong about dogmas that cause significant suffering and rejection in the lives of others, that makes me mad.

I have nothing but respect for those who have had experiences that convince them of the existence of a god. I'll discuss Jesus, church history, theology, science, mystical experiences, or whatever with a person, but the moment it becomes about their experiences, that is not my territory to judge, and it never will be my place to say anything about it unless they want an opinion. 99% of the time people don't want an opinion, they want to be listened to, and to have another person accept them at face value.

My journey through atheism has lead me to value mystical experiences and peoples' religious convictions in their lives, but it has lead me to violently reject any and all authoritarian religion. In retrospect, this began a long time ago, and it's probably some of the cause of people calling me heretical or sub-Christian or whatever other word they wish to use. The Christianity I've experienced is about authoritarian submission, and that's a force I've learned to be extremely wary of. The only "type" of Christianity I've ever encountered that is not subject to this has nearly nothing to do with historic Christianity, and I find that to be interesting. The early church, the formation of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, the Protestant Reformation...they all smack of rejecting previous authority and then imposing their own, and there's been enough blood shed over that nonsense, though I'm sure there will be plenty more. By stark contrast, there are those who wish to share the joy in what they've experienced, who do not have an agenda, who do not wish to force people to believe anything or disregard those that make them uncomfortable, and they freely help those less fortunate, often with no recognition whatsoever. I aspire to be one of those people, though I doubt I'll ever call anything good in someone's life a "god" or "jesus" thing.

There is nothing wrong with my experiences leading me to where I am now. I have not "only encountered hypocrites," I have encountered a lot of nice, generous and good religious people as well as those attempting to impose authoritarianism on everyone they can, and I will continue to encounter all of the above. My experiences are not "less" than another person's for any reason, though there are many more to have, many more things to change my mind about, and much more adventuring to do.

If there's one thing I have become convinced of by all of this, it is that I cannot make an objective conclusion from subjective data. So sure, god exists, but she exists in the minds of those who believe in her. Hence, I am an agnostic about the existence of god due to insufficient objective evidence, and that is the best description I can come up with for where I've arrived. It should be interesting to see where this goes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Credibility, Ad Hominem, and Ghosts

If there is one thing that continuously confuses me, it is people that are hung up on talking about the credibility of an individual rather than the facts of an argument. I see it all over the place, and to a certain point I understand it.

If I were to make a claim, for example, that I see ghosts on October 31st every year in some location that no one ever is, and no one has ever witnessed it, then what I am doing is making a statement tied to my credibility. However, if someone tells me that they think I am a gullible sod that believes inane superstitions, then they are questioning my credibility. This is understandable and warranted, because I have no evidence for what I believe. This is an anecdotal experience, and someone has to believe me in order to believe it.

However, if I were to see a lot of ghosts on October 31st, and myself and a lot of other people correlate those experiences, we're starting to have a better case to consider. We now have to ask what would delude a large group of people into believing something, or if that thing is actually happening. We also have to define what was seen, and whether it actually was a ghost. In this case, though my credibility is not necessarily the only thing in question, it is reinforced by other anecdotal experiences, so that it need be considered moreso than some insane person seeing something on one else does and trying to convince people of that. The person may no longer have an agenda if a ton of other people agree with them.

Unless, of course, that witness is paying those other people a large sum of money to lie about it. That throws a wrench in the whole thing.

Why am I talking about this? Because the way to settle the question of whether ghosts appear on October 31st is to get some evidence that it is happening. This doesn't mean, necessarily, to establish what the ghosts are or why/how it is happening, just that there's evidence that it is happening. The easiest way is probably to get a video recording that can be confirmed to be legitimate without tampering (a difficult task). This is evidence, and it makes the question of my credibility irrelevant.

So, if I am the only one that sees ghosts on October 31st, and I make a video of it and there are forensic tests done on the video to confirm its' legitimacy, then it doesn't matter what I stand to gain from it, whether I'm paying people to agree with me, whether I am a terrible person or a blight on society. I am still correct about this one thing, and we can deduce from there to find out more.

This is why I do not understand the question of credibility. To be sure, there are cases where it is important. However, even if there is a large group of people that all think the same thing and they have high levels of it in the form of qualifications, ethical standards, attractiveness, reliability, etc., they can still be totally incorrect. The human capacity for self-delusion alone makes this so, and large groups have, historically, all agreed on things that are, in retrospect, insane when we find evidence to the contrary. We've not only agreed on it, we have killed others who disagree, we have ostracized and hurt people that disagree, and we have created entire groups devoted to telling ourselves that we're right.

To make matters worse, this level of groupthink makes a fallacy called Ad Hominem very effective. Ad Hominem is rejecting a proposition on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. So say someone claims something for which there is evidence, such as say, the heliocentricity of the solar system (sun at the center, planets and other bodies orbiting), and they show the evidence. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that this person has no qualifications that others do who have a vested interest in that area, and the people with the credibility simply cite that that person doesn't know what they're talking about, and explain how little they are qualified to state such things. Their qualifications, by contrast, show that they know what they are talking about, and they believe that the solar system's center is Earth. Clearly, the sun goes across the sky and comes up every day, and sets every night, as do other bodies that have been identified as planets.

In this case, the geocentrists' claim is supported by a fallacy of perspective. We appear to, intuitively, be at the center of all we see. So clearly, we are, and what business has the man with no qualifications to say otherwise?

Well, he has evidence. The question of where we are in the solar system is not a matter of qualifications or credibility, it is a matter of evidence. Observations and deduction from those observations lead to a conclusion that anyone can see.

Of course, we end up in deeper intellectual water when we discuss philosophy, and deep questions like the existence of god and the implications of scientific discoveries. As familiar as the example of heliocentrism should be the theory of evolution, which is railed against constantly by those with a vested interest in it being untrue, and which I have written about previously. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and it is still denied with no counter-evidence, accompanied by irrelevant details about credibility, oftentimes attacking the credibility of the scientific community itself.

So why the irrelevant details being thrown around? Evolution is a threat to people with an interest in the things it addresses, just as heliocentrism was. In its' time, heliocentrism was a threat to the authority of the church, just as evolution has been today. This is slowly becoming not the case as the evidence is slowly becoming undeniable to all but certain sects, but what should be obvious to the observer is that credibility is a matter of authority in cases like these, whereas evidence can ignore that entirely. I have no scientific qualifications, but if I prove something and the scientific community all tries to disprove it and fails/ends up proving it, I have made a discovery, regardless of whether I have the credibility to back it up.

I want to come back around to the example of the ghost. You see, there's no totally reliable evidence that ghosts actually exist, but some people tend to think they do. People that are otherwise reasonable and rational people, people interested in evidence, think that ghosts exist. Ghosts are usually witnessed visually, and sometimes audibly, but they are typically believed to be the spirits of the dead, something beyond measuring in all other ways than by sight or sound, and no evidence has been conclusively proven using these criteria.

They may exist, but to choose to think they exist is a belief, a type of faith. You either have your own experience, or you believe the anecdotes of others. There may even be circumstantial evidence of their existence, like things that could only be caused by ghosts (objects falling over, doors closing). However, those things do not constitute evidence, as they can be caused by any number of things. Again, all of what one feels about ghosts could be correct. But it is a belief, not evidence.

Why does this matter? Because if you recall, we have discussed that evidence preempts this whole question of credibility. So I could simply say that that belief is incorrect, and I could be just as correct about the issue as the other person is. We could agree to disagree, or the believer could become angry that I don't believe. He could say that it should be relevant to my life, because ghosts are going to end the world. He could even say that they're a superior form of life and deserve veneration in some respects, and because they deserve it, I should bow down. Perhaps a ghost is the source of our world or our universe or all of reality, and that all scientific inquiry should bow down to ghost theorists' views, because their views are all encompassing.

Perhaps the head ghost got so angry that we were killing each other or venerating not-ghosty things or masturbating that he destroyed us all, and saved a few people, in his ghost-like mercy. Perhaps he has eternal torment by his ghost pals in store for those who don't agree, or perhaps we'll simply be missing out on his ghost-like love if we do not agree with the head ghost that all ghostists know, and we'll be left to our own personal torment by not being in the know, embracing his possibly existent...ghost appendages. Perhaps this analogy is getting creepy, and is as thinly veiled as the ghosts I'm talking about, and you are starting to see the problem.

You see, we've gone in a few paragraphs from something that is a belief that we can agree to disagree on, to something that people can easily intellectually bully others into believing, with threats, with credibility attacks, with any number of tactics, and we've even usurped and changed what evidence is.

If people have always believed in something and seen patterns of them throughout history, all we need to do is research it, all we need to do is become an expert, and we gain the authority to call everyone else an idiot if they don't agree, or to bully others into submission, or to terrify them into believing like they do to avoid wrath.

The problem is not that people disagree, it's that people are far too easy to bully and manipulate with a little sleight of hand, and so we have to ask a question when someone is really into getting us to believe something that lacks evidence. What are they selling? Why are they adamant about this? What do they get? What do words like evidence and love and good mean to them? Why are they attacking those who do not believe how they do and why do their arguments totally ignore the topic, and instead focus on attacking the credibility of the people that say such things?

I think that at some point, a person can become so used to needing authoritative sources for things that they lose sight of how easily they can be kicked out from under them. They become so entrenched that they stop thinking beyond certain bounds, and those not like them begin to terrify them. When you have everything to lose from changing your mind, you simply do not change it, and defining something, like a ghost, in such a way that it cannot be disproven by anything meaningful makes this even more possible. One's faith becomes unassailable, and the people that don't have it just end up beyond their understanding. They may even begin to shove those people into categories that they already have, and make claims regarding their lack of faith being a type of faith itself. Perhaps, people that are used to having this sort of faith will even create a rudimentarily tribal system that functions in much the same way, building off of authority and credibility, and end up confirming these suspicions.

How messed up would this all be? I'm just making it up, I must be a madman.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Religion and Science: Dissonance

I originally made this blog to talk about cognitive dissonance, and in transitioning from writing in a deeply religious to a more critical of religion tone, there has been an interesting change that I've noticed. For those unfamiliar, cognitive dissonance is descriptive of a process whereby someone holds contradictory beliefs simultaneously, and usually is talking about the mental stress that comes from doing so. One has a few choices when they encounter cognitive dissonance. Embrace it, and not back down from any of the conflicting beliefs, citing things such as paradox and mystery, choose one belief over the other, hopefully because of some kind of epistemic priority (such as growing up being taught that Earth is the center of the universe and then changing one's mind due to the evidence that it is not), or throwing up one's hands and walking away from the entire question.

I think a healthy individual probably does all of these things. If something is unimportant or distant enough from my ability to change, I readily will choose the third option, and simply walk away from the question. However, the thing I've noticed when I read back over this blog is that my writing has gone from the first option to the second. The best example I can think of for this, and what I wish to write about, is the huge question that's come up lately regarding science and religion.

Traditionally, people will pit the scientist vs the religious advocate, and basically look to see who wins, such as in the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. While this approach is crude and lacks nuance, I think there is a very good reason that we do this.

The huge reaction I've seen from the moderate religious community is that both sides of this debate are wrong, and that science and religion coexist. This is a point worth engaging, because it has huge implications and because it's just way too smug of a point not to engage, in my opinion. Indeed, this is a point I would have made a few years ago, and it falls solidly within the first choice when dealing with cognitive dissonance. So, what is the dissonance we are encountering here, and what are the full implications of this point?

The religion usually being referred to here is typically Christianity, and it's my go-to example. So, the academic moderate form of Christian sources that tend to make this kind of point usually stand within the Christian spectrum as close to the middle as possible, with the hyper-conservative young-earth creationist on one end, and the liberal "it's all a metaphor" spiritualist on the other. To the moderate, the Bible is all about genre, intent, and where literalism and symbolism both have their places. A good example of this is one who embraces theistic evolution. The bible teaches that god created everything and all life, and the theistic evolutionist states that we are learning how he did this by learning about evolution. Imagine this approach to every possible theological topic and enough information being given when anything is brought up, and you have an academic moderate Christian. While they usually balk at terming things "mystery," they will call things such as a trinitarian god (three persons in one god) a paradox rather than a mystery or rather than trying to explain with some analogy like an egg or water being 3 states/parts/modes. I am grateful for this, as if I hear one more analogy of this type, I might start pelting them with whatever item they are trying and failing to make this analogy with until they stop.

Moving on.

When we speak of science, we are talking about a process of investigating the universe and coming to conclusions based on repeatable and peer-reviewed data. So a scientific claim starts out, usually, as an educated guess, and then that guess gets put through the wringer until it is proven wrong or until it becomes what is called a theory, or a factual explanation of how something works. Some good examples of this are the germ theory of disease, relativity, gravity, biological evolution, and magnetism. Theories are our understanding of how things work, and are subject to proof, in the form of other repeatable and falsifiable hypotheses that contradict the previous theory.

So we have a method of thinking here that is based in curiosity, understanding, and adaptability. What's wrong with it coexisting, as the moderate would say, with something like christianity?

Let's go back to theistic evolution. Evolution, by nature, operates off of a mechanism called natural selection. What this means is that things that cannot survive die, and things that are best suited for the environment survive, as life randomly grows and mutates and changes and becomes something else. The adaptation that has enabled our survival is probably consciousness, along with a lot of random chance. We are not stronger than a lot of animals, but our ancestors began developing high intelligence, and ended up outsmarting and innovating its' way to being the dominate species on this planet. However, well before this happened and while it was happening, a lot of death happened. Indeed, 99% of the life on this planet has already died, most of which happened well before homo-sapiens proper came into existence and began trying to figure out what powers govern their lives and why tons of beings die and what they can do to control it.

Why can god not be involved with this? He could, but which god are we talking about? Is it the christian god? If so, why use such a wasteful, random, and cruel process to do so? Does that not contradict the loving or at least "on man's side" god that we're supposed to be talking about?

Of course, this is a difficult question to ask, because the christian god is a reference to literally thousands of different gods from denominations, not counting personal differences among people that splinter it even further. So, let's make it simpler. Let's avoid the malevolent god of calvinism altogether and go with the deistic god, the one that created the universe and set it all in motion, and has not interfered since (perhaps even incapable of doing so), allowing evolution to run its' course.

Alright, so I suppose that is possible. However, if god so obviously created the universe, then why has all scientific investigation thus far not turned up one shred of evidence of this god, and tons of evidence about all of these mechanisms? Perhaps god, in fact, is not a scientific claim at all, and is merely a belief or matter of faith.

This is fine, but where are we with the eternal insistence that faith and science coexist, then? We not only have had to throw out the christian god to get here entirely, moving to a creator that does not influence what happens after that point, but we've closed this supposedly all powerful and knowable god into merely what we cannot explain. This is the dissonance with theistic evolution, and indeed, with the point that is science and faith in harmony. The god purported by advocates of such things cannot be guiding and influencing evolution and still be all powerful and all loving.

Perhaps god's ways are higher than my ways. Perhaps my knowledge is limited, and I am merely a tiny human shaking his fist at a god that is smugly existing, asking only that I have faith on bad evidence to "see" him.

In this area, I must fall into the second response to cognitive dissonance, as it seems the most defensible and reasonable course, and be solidly agnostic regarding the existence of the undefined and irrelevant god that may or may not have created the universe and then had nothing to do with it afterwards, and atheistic toward other gods.

There is a fairly common counter-point to this, in the form of a rebuttal phrased something like this:

"You are simply interpreting the evidence in favor of atheism, why are you angry at the god you know exists?"

One need look no further than the preview for the upcoming film "God is not Dead" for proof that this is indeed a point that is made by people.

Perhaps I am angry at a god, but it is not one that I know exists. The only god that I know exists is the one that people fervently believe in, and there is no direct evidence that he exists outside of those persons' minds. In this case, I am angry about something else, not about a god.

Perhaps I am interpreting the evidence, so interpret it another way and then explain the DNA and fossil evidence that is there in a different way that supports another theory, one that does not include natural selection.

While we're at it, allow me to retort and say that it's certainly possible that evolution in its' purest form makes us feel not so special, just another animal that's developed conscious intelligence, with no spiritual or transcendent significance as the christian religion teaches.

This is the real problem I have with the moderate christian position. Sure, maybe god exists. Sure, maybe we're missing some evidence or interpreting it wrong or some other such thing. However, hidden under that is often the centrality of the doctrine of hell and eternal torment outside of the kingdom of god, explained dozens of different ways. Or perhaps it is a concern that one cannot live a full life without being a theist, and one cannot be spiritual.

Now you've finally found my anger. We are literally the universe exploring itself, made up of matter that constantly changes and yet we remain uniquely us, and our complexity makes all of us a universe to be explored. Why does one need a god to be spiritual, when there is so much to be in awe of otherwise? Why do I need to stop appreciating scientific exploration and discovery at the point it makes me uncomfortable? Isn't that a more shallow sort of spirituality, polluted by fear and afraid of what we might discover if we explore further?

I get it, I've had the panic attacks about hellfire and torture and I know about Pascal's wager. For those unfamiliar, it goes something like this: god might exist, so hedge your bets, even if you don't think he's there, just believe so he doesn't punish you! Just have faith!

There are days I am terrified and I talk to the god that I don't think is there, asking her to prove she exists, challenging him to do anything to demonstrate his existence, calling it out of its' sleep, and being what I was taught not to be by religion: inquisitive of god's ways, and damned hostile about it.

There is no doubt that I am just as irrational as any human, but that does not change the fact that we can be more, we can be spiritual without needing to wager or be afraid or stop asking questions when our findings begin walking all over what we were taught is sacred.

Perhaps I am wrong, and the paradox is the correct response, and we don't have the evidence yet. One might hope that if the paradox is correct and god exists, he might be a little more understanding than simply throwing tons of people into hell because they didn't make the right conclusion or believe in him the right way. But hey, maybe he is the calvinistic god, and he wants most of us to be tortured forever for his glory. Gotta make a contrast or good loses its' meaning, right?

I think, perhaps, we just need to redefine words like sacred and spiritual, and even the word god, to better understand what we are discovering, and perhaps there is no such thing as too much awareness of when we're being sold something, manipulated into something, or scared into something for the sake of keeping people in power or luxury. There is no doubt, however, that science and religion cannot coexist well because they exist in two different universes, and have two entirely different approaches, even if someone can be a christian or believe in some other religious mythology and also accept evolution in the cognitive dissonance that that requires.

There is a very good reason for our cognitive dissonance regarding science and religion, and I think we should, at the very least, pay attention to it and make our own conclusions and be willing to change our minds and be convinced otherwise.

Friday, February 28, 2014


It is a very easy, a very simple thing to have an opinion, in my experience. It is even easier to take offense to other peoples' opinions, to the point that it happens every day. We call them different things, syllogisms, facts, statistics, absolute truth. However, when we get down to what's really happening, we are relying on our senses to tell us how the world is, and we are relying on our feelings and our ability to think logically and perceive adequately to tell us correctly about reality.

Sometimes, we are confronted with facts that contradict what we think are the facts. We can then choose how we want to respond. Elementary, but necessary to point out, when the natural reaction may seem to be the only choice, whether it be oppositional defiance, discerning debate, passive acceptance, or any number of other things.

Regardless, we end up in dissonance, and that's a beautiful thing. It should not be sacrificed to maintain some level of peace or discretion or to, above all things (apparently), avoid bothering others. They may not act offended, they may simply approach you with smug self-assuredness coming from any number of factors, or they may simply dismiss you using clever words, so that any response ends up sounding trite or desperate. Ostracization, attacks on credibility, ad hominem, the infamous gish gallop, condescension, and any number of other things are extremely effective at getting a mob on your side.

It's extremely fashionable to be intelligently revolutionary, and I think in our many words we have forgotten the value of silence. I have felt it quite often when I would express what I think or feel about a topic, and receive no feedback whatsoever. It was so nonexistent, in fact, that I was left to speculate why this was even the case. Silence, in this case, said more than any number of words could have. Sometimes, you let it speak for you, whether you intend for it to or not. Sometimes, you don't know what to say, or you don't want to say something so that you don't hurt another person, so you hold your tongue, and that very act says everything about how you feel and what you think, especially if it contrasts with what you do say. The contrast says it all, makes what you don't say deafeningly, violently loud.

I took a long break from writing here, and was bothered by my own silence. I had become used to making a post when I felt strongly about a topic, and when I found myself in need of a break, it drove me crazy for a time. Then, at a certain point, something in me broke, and I found that the silence was therapeutic, even with that desire to write and be heard there, now free of the pretentious wants that I ended up with. Because sometimes, in our many words, in our cursory examination of philosophies and logic and science and religion and politics and art and our ability to express ourselves to anyone and everyone, we forget that we also have the ability to hold our tongue, the ability to let the facts speak for themselves, the ability to not start the adversarial process so familiar to human nature by putting forward our opinion and demanding that people agree or be mocked, to the point where it becomes trite and meaningless to discuss anything at all.

Sometimes, the best dissonance comes from holding out tongue, observing, gaining understanding, and not attempting to exert our power over others. The power is in the silence, the dissonance happens without our attempt to explain it all, fix it all, revolutionize it all.

I do wonder, however, if the destiny of humanity is to end up with everything having been said, so we all stand around a road traveled so many times in silence, with nothing else to do, nothing else to say. However, that day is certainly not today, and we may yet end our own existence or end up discovering boundless new knowledge and gaining new abilities we cannot yet dream of. After all, in the grand scheme of things, are we even the most interesting life in the universe? I have no idea, but it does make me wonder why we get so upset over the smallest things, like who tweeted what about who, or whether this celebrity is being rude, or whatever other random things happen to get us all fired up, as if we enjoy being offended, like being angry, get off on being united against the evil of the moment, to feel as if we have some contrived spiritual purpose. If we'd slow down, stop multitasking 5 things at once constantly, exist and enjoy the one life we get a little, and be excellent at what we do, we could be so much more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Entrenched Dogma vs the Philosophy of Science, Thoughts

It's been a while friends. Can't promise that I'll consistently post here again just yet, but let's see what happens.

I've been giving a lot of thought to the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, and have seen a pretty common question pop up. To put it succinctly, people have been wondering if the debate was even worth the time. I have a few thoughts I want to share.

For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about, you can check it out here if you want to. The debate was between a young earth/6 day creationist view of the origins of life and the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, with Ham and Nye respectively representing their viewpoints in opposition to each other.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few things in this debate. Firstly, and most importantly, I cannot emphasize enough how right on Bill Nye was about how a lot of people, many of them religious, disagree with Ham's view of origins. Almost everyone I know disagrees, and a lot of them are deeply religious.

Ken Ham's Creation Museum and his arguments present a very interestingly disturbing view of the world. To break it down as succinctly as I can, he draws a distinction between observational science and historical science, and says that we cannot make any conclusions in historical science, because it is in the past. This point struck me as quite interesting and difficult to square with his very definite view of what happened in the past. On Mr Ham's view, we are meant to take his word for what happened in the past from the authority of a religious text and his literal method of interpreting it, because science cannot tell us anything accurately about the past. An interesting side-debate here might've been how he defines the past, since I presume science could tell us things about the recent past, otherwise crime scene investigation and things of that nature would be a complete dead-end. Regardless, Mr Ham backed up this criticism by drawing on numerous examples of how scientific conclusion aren't "quite right," criticizing everything from dating methods to the scientific method itself, whenever it treads on what Mr Ham calls "historical science." His view, of course, hinges on a view of the Bible as an inerrant and scientifically/historically accurate record of the past preserved by God, and his point was that any other source for the historic past is futile and incorrect.

We can debate the specifics of religious belief and authoritarian claims from religious texts until we're blue in the face. What really interested me is that Bill Nye did no such thing, he merely pointed out where Mr Ham was coming from repeatedly, and how those with similar religious beliefs to his do not agree, nor do they draw the same distinctions he does between "historical" and "observational" science, in contrast to the examples that Mr Ham started his presentation with. Mr Nye spent the rest of the time educating, which is one of my favorite things anyone can do in a debate setting where it's so easy to get caught up in points and counterpoints that the topic becomes obscured. Mr Nye explained multiple topics, especially the details of radiometric dating, in broad strokes and why they lead to the conclusions they do.

So on one side we have a person who references several people that agree with him and who brings forward criticisms of scientific concepts that are a threat to a view that he admits is an entrenched one, based in an authoritarian view of the universe (I believe God has said this, hence we must be wrong if we say differently), and on the other side we have someone who is educating, bringing forward data, pointing out the ways in which things do not add up and the ways in which other things do, and is honest about what they are disturbed by in the opposing view and what would change their mind (evidence). In addition, the invitation to Mr Ham to write a scientific paper disproving evolution by natural selection is extremely consistent with the scientific method, and I think made it obvious exactly what type of thought process difference we were seeing here.

I must answer the question of whether this debate was worth the time with a definite yes. Normally I dislike debates, but this one was a very interesting clash, and demonstrated the profound differences in thought processes between the two debaters, and perhaps the differences in schools of thought that they represent. I do not believe this was a debate between religion and science per se, especially since I know a lot of religious people who disagree with Mr Ham's view, I believe it was a debate between entrenched dogmatism and the philosophy of science. This is important, because it is very easy to criticize, very easy to bring forward one's dogma and make strong arguments, but it is far more difficult and worthwhile to take a step back from one's dearly held views and allow them to be destroyed or changed if there is evidence that can do that. The deeply religious can do this as well as anyone else, though it may end up changing them in unexpected ways that I could not begin to imagine.