Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Most damaging effect of the past 8 years

Quite a few articles have been written about the damage done to the US over the past eight years. From our international prestige/respect, drains on our military, our incredible level of national debt etc. But, all of these problems are relatively fixable. Granted, the solutions will be complex and take a lot of time but I think they are certainly within our reach. However, the most damaging aspect of the past eight years I think is the way that the leaders of the political right have convinced their followers to distrust any intellectual. The experts have been successfully branded as elites; unworthy of your trust and incapable of understanding your issues. It is appalling because, unlike the problems listed above, this issue is an intangible one that will take a lot to undo. It's as though 50% of the people in the US have been convinced that they should not trust any media except FOX news and that they should be paranoid of everyone else. It feeds into the tendency of some of us to be insular and xenophobic. How do you mobilize a society when half of its inhabitants don't trust their sources of information. How do we form complex solutions to abstract and long term problems when half of us do not trust the experts? This type of thinking reached its culmination I think in sarah palin. An anti-intellectual, 'everywoman' sort of politician who doesn't know anything about the world and doesn't need to know because that would only make her less like the average american. It's sad actually that in the US, where we have the best universities and attract the best minds, that we now live in an age where being smart and intelligent is a bad thing. Hopefully with Obama's election we start to see a change in this attitude, but I dont think it'll be that easy. Afterall, John McCain's campaign was centered around this xenophobic, paranoid, fear-mongering style of politics and he got 46% of the vote.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Evolution in Action

I've been out of the country recently, so my posts have dried up a bit. But in an attempt to get it going again here is an interesting article in National geographic about a new type of earthworm. Apparently, these worms belong to a new species and evolved in old used mines. They can tolerate very high concentrations of heavy metals and may be useful in cleaning up areas with high concentrations of heavy metals. One more example of evolution in action...or maybe God just got bored and dreamt these guys up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

John McCain and Sarah Palin are fucking retarded

Wow, if you have not seen Sarah Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson please watch it. It is a perfect demonstration of what happens when someone is nominated for office with not only very little experience...but very little knowledge. It was painfully clear how she was regurgitating answers from an advisor. It was also obvious that she was coached on how to give an interview. She kept sitting forward and using her hands for emphasis and referred to Charlie Gibson as 'Charlie' repeatedly which helps to make you look like your interviewer's equal. One republican advisor actually said she liked the interview because she felt like Sarah doesn't let 'facts and figures' get in the way. WHAT?!?!?! Facts and figures keep you from invading Iraq for no fucking reason. Facts and figures keep you from drilling for oil in a nature reserve despite the fact that it wouldn't offer any significant help with our current oil/gas situation. OMG, if McCain wins the white house I am going to move to Germany.

Even Matt Damon is pissed.

As a bonus, John McCain was on The View the other day and there were some spectacularly awkward moments. Whoopi asked him if she should be worried about being put back in slavery. Classic. I love Whoopi!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Honor Killings

Nothing sickens me more than when someone does something horrific and it is defended in the name of preserving old traditions. These girls were buried alive, but the town leaders defend the actions saying they reflect 'centuries old traditions'. If everyone kept that mantra we'd still be burning people at the stake and torturing others for being suspected witches.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Pew Study--what can it tell us about the rarity of the black atheist?

The Pew Forum on Religion and the public life has a very interesting website full of data they collected on americans and their religious beliefs and practices. They studied catholics, jews, protestants, muslims, evangelicals and those who attend african american churches. The study was interesting to me because it highlighted some interesting aspects of the african american religious experience in america. Although I think that defining myself as a black atheist is somewhat arbitrary (I could just as easily have named it the gay atheist, but I didn't want to incite the wrath of god) I thought it was important to self-identify myself given the paucity of other black atheists in america today.

Being a black atheist can be an isolating experience at times. Of all the african americans I know myself and my partner are the only two atheists. The pew study on religion showed that 90% of people in historically black churches are absolutely certain that god exists (compared to 71% of the population at large). Additionally, 7% were 'pretty certain' that god exists while 0% classified themselves as atheists. Although the 0% is obviously not true it hints at just how rare black atheists are. Why are there so few of us out there?

The pew study has a very useful tool that allows for comparison of different religious groups and, somewhat unsurprisingly, african american church-goers rate very high with regards to regularity of church attendance (60% go at least once a week vs. 39% for the US at large). Additionally 85% (!) of african american church goers say religion is 'very important' in their lives compared to 56% of the population at large. It is easy to imagine that it is difficult to develop the independent thinking skills necessary for becoming an atheist with such a high level of consistant exposure. I've met many people in my life that are capable of asking the right questions and display a healthy level of skepticism but these flickers of skepticism never have a chance to grow into the seeds of atheism because the church life is the only one they know. I know that when I left home for college and gradually went to church less frequently I was able to separate myself from that particular lifestyle which was very important in my own personal journey. Many african americans are never in that position, even if they move away from home.

Daniel Dennet hit the nail on the head when he talked about 'belief in belief'. Basically, the idea is that people may not believe everything they say they believe with regards to their theological beliefs but that they believe in believing. I had a friend tell me recently that she was going to an ethics class where they were discussing the accuracy of the bible and she said 'well its just not in me to question it; it is what it is'. From her tone I gathered that, despite her skepticism in the bible, she was just not capable of challenging it. In my experience these types of attitudes are prevalent in the african american community and, considering the level of religious exposure african americans encounter, its easy to understand why.

Is it possible to toss off the shackles of religion when you are constantly exposed to it?

Article in Nature

This is the article that was published in Nature last week. I should of posted the letter in its entirety at first, I forget that I get free access to these things because I am a graduate student.

We were perplexed by your Editorial on the work of the Templeton Foundation ('Templeton's legacy' Nature 454, 253-254; 2008). Surely science is about finding material explanations of the world -- explanations that can inspire those spooky feelings of awe, wonder and reverence in the hyper-evolved human brain.
Religion, on the other hand, is about humans thinking that awe, wonder and reverence are the clue to understanding a God-built Universe. (The same is true of religion's poor cousin, 'spirituality', which you slip into your Editorial rather as a creationist uses 'intelligent design'.) There is a fundamental conflict here, one that can never be reconciled until all religions cease making claims about the nature of reality.
The scientific study of religion is indeed full of big questions that need to be addressed, such as why belief in religion is negatively correlated with an acceptance of evolution. One could consider psychological studies of why humans are superstitious and believe impossible things, and comparative sociological studies of religion using materialist explanations of the rise and fall of the world's belief systems.
Perhaps the Templeton Foundation is thinking of funding such research. The outcome of such work, we predict, will not bring science and religion (or 'spirituality') any closer to one another. You suggest that science may bring about "advances in theological thinking". In reality, the only contribution that science can make to the ideas of religion is atheism.

Matthew Cobb and Jerry Coyne

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fabulous article in Nature

"Atheism could be science's contribution to religion"
    Matthew Cobb and Jerry Coyne

Read it when you can, it's an amazing article. I'm actually proud that one of the worlds top three scientific journals would publish such an article. Woo hoo!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What is the root of the problem in modern religion?

I've been incredibly busy and hectic the last few weeks, which is why I have not posted anything new. Trust me though, I've been thinking about a lot of things. A few weeks ago I went to a wedding at a church that was remarkably cult-like, and solidified my conviction that I'm done with churches but for weddings/funerals, but more on that in another post. One thing I've been thinking about recently -- what is at the root of the problem with supernatural beliefs? What is the fundamental problem with belief systems that have a basis in the supernatural?

Personally, I think the biggest issue is that in supernatural belief systems the truth is relative. The truth can be whatever you believe it to be. In this way, I think some belief systems rob the truth of its inherent meaning. This idea, for me anyway, defines the inherent problem with believing in the supernatural.

There is no real evidence in favor of gods, angels, djinns, fairies, etc. so people are free to invent whatever evidence they feel like. Someone could study really really hard for the LSAT and do everything to put themselves in a position to do well--and then when they do actually do well they then say its obvious god was the one responsible for it. Whatever they want to believe--they can mold their life experiences around their pre-existing beliefs and call it 'evidence'.

For example, if you want to believe that someone named Noah built an ark and put every animal on the planet in pairs on the boat to save them from a catastrophic flood then its perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. This is all despite the fact that this supposedly happened in the middle east somewhere although there is not a single shred of credible evidence to support it. Strange, considering how the middle east is among the most heavily archaeologically excavated areas in the world--so you'd think we would have found some piece of evidence in favor of it.

This example is fairly benign, but you can see how this type of logic would cause problems. How do people separate what they want to believe from what is actually true. What about when parents believe that vaccines are dangerous and cause autism, despite the evidence to the contrary, and don't get their kids vaccinated and start a measles outbreak in their community? What about when policymakers block funding for stem cell research simply because they believe that zygotes have souls...despite the complete lack of evidence that souls even exist.

I think truth should be objective. Although there are some things that will always be subjective (do I look good in red? am i attractive?), there are some things that are facts. The earth is billions of years old. Our species is one of many on this planet that evolved through gradual steps. I only wish it wasn't ok for people to believe whatever they want to believe just because they have been told so. At the very least, those beliefs should be kept out of the public sphere.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Interesting Topic--Evolution of Snake Fangs

I've been SUPER busy lately...hence the lack of posts. One of the things I'd like to do with this blog is talk about interesting topics related to science and, along those lines, here is something I read that was really cool. It is from the Pharyngula blog, written by prof. PZ myers on the evolution of snake fangs. It shows how fairly robust alterations in an organisms phenotype (whether or not the snakes have fangs in the front of the mouth, back or both) can result from fairly simply changes at the developmental and genetic level.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Do scientists have faith?

I was having a friendly debate with a Christian last weekend and during the debate he bought up the idea that he believes that scientists have faith in our theories (i.e. evolution) the same way that Christians have faith in the fundamental tenets of their religion (i.e. that Jesus was the son of God). It struck a nerve with me because, while it was fairly predictable, it revealed an utter lack of understanding of the scientific process.

In order to address this issue I think it is important to first define what is meant by faith. An appropriate definition of faith is ‘belief in the absence of evidence’. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says ‘we walk by faith and not by sight.’ Even in the bible itself faith is defined as the opposite of ‘sight’, or evidence. In contrast, our entire scientific understanding of the world is based on interpretations of experimental evidence. Our theories are frameworks which allow us to give context to the evidence we find. From this definition of faith it is painfully clear that scientists lack faith.

However, some choose to define faith as merely a belief in an idea. In this context, scientists do have faith. But even with this superficial definition, there would be clear differences between scientific and religious faith. Ask yourself—“Why do you believe what you believe?” The Christian answer is simple—they would say I believe because I have faith. In other words, their belief rests on unprovable propositions and not evidence.
The scientists answer is also simple—they would say I believe because I have seen the evidence and it is compelling, significant and repeatable. The two approaches are fundamentally different. Religious faith rests on belief that is spared the requirements of evidence. Scientific knowledge is entirely and utterly dependant on evidence. Without adequate evidence scientific theories fail.

In conversations with religious people it is apparent that one condition of their faith is that, no matter what the evidence to the contrary, they will not change their beliefs. No matter how much evidence we have that proves evolution, a creationist they will never change their mind that god created the earth and all its creatures. Again, we can draw a contrast with the scientific approach, which is reliant on new evidence. Without new evidence, we would still believe the earth was the center of the universe and that diseases were caused by evil spirits trying to inflict harm on us. In fact, if there were new and compelling evidence that completely dismantled the theory of evolution, most scientists would accept the data and amend (or discard) the theory.

Faith could be defined as belief without evidence or simply belief itself but, regardless of the definition, scientists do not have faith. The whole scientific enterprise is dependant on evidence and reason while religious doctrine would collapse under such rigorous requirements.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The best idea anyone has every had about anything ever.

Just kidding, but this an excerpt from a post of the month in 2007 on talkorigins:

In a religious context, 'faith' and 'truth' are almost synonyms. And faith is automatically good. If an idea is considered truth in your religion, and you don't have faith in it, that's a reflection on your failure as a faith-holder rather than the idea's failure to be true. If you don't have enough faith on a given subject, you should work harder at it.

In the sciences, that kind of faith is not a virtue; it's a personal failing. Imagine a bridge engineer being invited to "have more faith" that a design has enough steel in it to keep his bridge from collapsing. His faith has nothing to do with it; either the bridge stays up, or it falls down. Faith in the sense of 'letting yourself be persuaded without adequate evidence' is morally wrong in that context. If the bridge engineer does so, and people die in the collapse, he's murdered them.

Scientists, or the good ones, feel the same way about their theories that good engineers feel about their bridges. It's their job to make them right, not to convince themselves for their own emotional comfort that they're already right, pretty much, close enough.

If a scientist says "I have faith this theory is true," he doesn't or shouldn't mean it in the religious sense of "I commit myself to this no matter what the evidence may say, forever. Don't try to change my mind, here I stand."

Instead, he means or ought to mean "I've tested this theory, and I've seen the results of other people's tests, and I'm as sure as I can possibly get on the available evidence that this theory is as close to right as we can get. Unless something else really radical turns up. Keep me posted."

I think it is absolutely phenomenal. One of my favorite posts on any forum I've read online.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Why are religious dogmas so utterly.... vague??

I am in the process of reading Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought" and I came across something that I thought was rather interesting. He was discussing the nature of religious beliefs and said basically that for people involved in religious rituals they are not really concerned about the details of how their deity of choice operates...but they are certain that he does. 

This critique of religious concepts is interesting from a historical perspective. If you think about it every single aspect of human knowledge and inquiry has advanced light years in the past 2000 years. The various fields of science have allowed us to see and know things we never knew possible. Business and law and even ethics have all shown dramatic leaps forward. Contrast this to religion...where people still rely on the same texts, the same stories, the same messages and the same 'evidence'. There have been no new revelations. The messiah has not returned. 

You could ask someone if God answers prayers or if he miraculously intervened to save their lives somehow and they might say yes. However, if you ask them how exactly he did this, they are unlikely to give you much (if any) detail. 

"God works in mysterious ways". It's as if religious people are content with knowing the 'what' and 'where' but never the 'how'. How exactly is jesus christ going to return to earth? Will he come flying through the sky in a blaze of glory like superman? Or will he be reincarnated in the body of some illiterate, poor catholic man in some remote south american country somewhere?

I think this was one of the reasons I was always (in my pseudo-christian past) so incredibly unfulfilled and underwhelmed with religion in general. For someone with half a brain it really provides very little substance. It is absolutely remarkable that such a system is still taken seriously after 2,000 years. Especially considering that in modern society we depend so much on the details. From science to medicine to law to business we rely on highly complex and intricate details. Yet somehow this does not carry over into our religious beliefs. It is as though we willfully suspend our curiosity the moment we step into a church or open up a bible. It really is a pity. 

Notes on Stupidity

I came across this today, and I have to share it.

There is a pastor in Cedar Rapids Iowa that thinks that the floods ravaging the midwest right now are a 'symptom of the curse initiated by the fall of man in Genesis 3."  He goes on to say that "Our source of hope is not FEMA....It is not flood walls. Our source of hope is that we have a King Jesus who can subdue the earth and have dominion over it." 

I thought this was interesting because it is a relevant example to what I posted last week about the dangers of religious thought. This man goes on to urge people to let the floods be a reminder that Cedar Rapids is not " our hometown." Apparently their hometown is the 'New Jerusalem' and they are waiting to be taken home. This is incredibly inappropriate in a time when mother nature is damaging lives and destroying livelihoods. These people should be out there helping to build levees and reinforce flood walls but instead they are content to pray for the return of king jesus. And of course, they are going to thank god for being so merciful and sparing their souls despite the fact that 1) he obviously just destroyed many peoples lives and 2) it will be modern technology that will provide them with relief. What do you guys think?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Is religion dangerous?

This is a provocative, but important, question to ask. I often hear people say that, even if there is no God, religion does not hurt anybody…therefore, atheists’ objections to religious dogma are pointless. My usual reply to this is to list atrocities that have been committed in the name of religions, and their respective Gods, throughout the millennia.

I think that recognizing the horrendous acts that the “godly” have committed over the years based on the tenets of their respective dogmas is important—especially when discussing the dangers of faith. However, because very few people today have experienced those atrocities firsthand, I think the point often gets lost.

Here are several tangible examples of the dangers of religion on both an individual and social level:

1. Faith and Federal Policy: Several recent polls show that 40-60% of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return at sometime within the next fifty years. This figure is absolutely astonishing. What this means is that there are 200 million of our neighbors and fellow citizens who think that the apocalypse will occur at some point within the next fifty years. This statistic should alarm any person who is even remotely aware of the potential harm this mindset can cause as we, as a nation, are confronted with very complicated modern problems.

How do we tackle problems like global warming that require long-term solutions when half of us do not even believe there will be anything to save? We simply cannot create efficient and durable environmental policies when most of us are expecting the world to end. Perhaps the problem with this way of thinking is best illustrated by Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James G. Watt, who said “We don’t have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.”

This type of thinking also pervades our foreign policy. It is virtually impossible to craft effective long-term foreign policies with countries in the Middle East and Asia when those people are considered, by any biblical definition, to be heretics, non-believers and blasphemers. Religious dogma is clearly incompatible and incredibly dangerous in a global society where we must learn to put aside our differences and work diplomatically toward solutions.

2.Seeking Counsel in Clergyman: In my experience, this is especially prevalent within the African-American Christian community. Black churches across America teach their parishioners that when they experience an incredibly tragic event, don’t go to a therapist, but seek refuse in God—which usually means talking to the clergymen. The problem with this is that most church leaders are ill-equipped to counsel someone through complex emotional and personal issues. It is undeniable that attempting to help someone through an issue from the perspective of first century superstition and scripture is incredibly limited and potentially dangerous. I know someone who found several family members brutally murdered in their home, yet instead of hiring licensed therapist, this person pushed more deeply into church. They would often say, “God will get me through this.” Well it has been four years and they are still waiting on God.

Even in less extreme situations that confront most people like divorce or financial woes, there seems to be an ardent refusal among conservative Christians in our community to utilize the resources that exist outside the church for appropriately managing these situations.

3.Faith Fixes Everything: The fundamental problem with a belief in a supreme, omnipotent, omnipresent being is that this mindset completely undermines the responsibility that we , as individuals, have to take care of ourselves by making responsible decisions. How is one supposed to take full personal responsibility in a situation when they believe that God has already figured out exactly what’s going to happen?

People who honestly believe that ‘God will make a way can make potentially disastrous decisions without considering the full consequences—because they believe ‘the power of prayer’ will intercede to create the outcome that they desire. Applying this mindset to life’s important decisions is like jumping off a cliff and thinking that God will put out a safety net ‘just in time.’

In closing, it has become increasingly obvious to me that there are modern issues we are dealing with that will require enormous cooperation and foresight, and religious dogma is clearly an impediment to these goals. In addition to affecting our federal policies, religious dogma is destructive at the personal level because it offers people false hope in dealing with personal issues and it encourages them that they can do whatever they want to because God will ‘make a way’. I can only hope we realize how dangerous religious dogma is before it is too late.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Does a belief God give us morality?

Two of the most common arguments in favor of the existence of God—or against atheism— are: 1. God gives us morality, 2. without religion people would be immoral. These arguments, which are essentially one in the same, are illogical and ill-informed on several counts. Nonetheless, this type of thinking permeates so much of our culture. We can approach, and subsequently debunk, this argument somewhat scientifically:

1)One popular assumption is that the “godless” are less moral than those who believe in God. If we use propensity to commit crime as a measure of moral health, you would expect that there would be a high ratio of atheists in prison. But studies have shown that at least 80% of people in US prisons define themselves as religious: 50% as Baptist or Catholic, and roughly 30% claim to have a religious preference but do not specify a specific religion or denomination. Additionally, if morality was a byproduct of a belief in God, than states with a high number of believers would conceivably have lower rates of crime than those that are comparably more secular. But this is also entirely untrue. SC ,Tenn, Tex, Louisiana and Georgia all rank among the top 10 in terms of crime rates, and these states are the heart of the Bible Belt...but if there are so many believers then why do these places have the highest rates of crime? The point is if we use crime rates as a metric, a high degree of religiosity does not correlate with morality, which is exactly what you would expect if religion or a belief in God were the bedrock of our sense of morality.

2) What about Hitler? Theists just love to point out that the mass murderers of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin, etc) were all atheists, which proves atheists are evil and cannot be trusted in positions of power. Again, this view is not based in the facts. Hitler's ideology contained both pro- and anti-religious doctrines and dogmas so at the very least his religiosity is inconclusive. On one hand, he speaks about carrying out 'His' (God’s) will in exterminating the Jews and the importance of prayer. On the other hand, he speaks of maintaining the superiority of the state over the church. Beyond that, anyone who has ever read the Bible knows it provides ample anti-Semitic ideology. Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism in Germany was biblically based and these ideas were prevalent in German society well before Hitler ever came to power. My point is that, despite Hitler's religious ambiguity, anti-Semitism would never have been tolerated if not for its biblical roots.

Stalin was a self-affirming atheist but he does not support the conclusion that atheism leads to moral decay since he never killed anyone because of his atheism. Compare that to murderers that are clearly motivated by their religion—Timothy McVeigh, the September 11th martyrs, abortion clinic bombers, etc. Who could dispute that, but for a belief in the afterlife and the ideas of martyrdom, Islamic terrorists would lose most of their destructive motivation? Who could deny that religious ideology has been the root cause of innumerable conflicts in modern times?

3) More recently, scientists have begun studying what underlies morality. They’ve found that regardless of social class, religious upbringing, or country of origin, people have similar basic principals regarding morality. Additionally, specific areas of the brain are activated in response to moral questions. Collectively, these studies suggest that our sense of morality is innate and, therefore, independent of religious background. If our morality is not dependant on religion then where does it come from? Although the jury is still out, there is evidence of morality in animals. One study demonstrated that a chimpanzee will starve itself in order to prevent harm to another chimp and studies from behavioral biology clearly demonstrate that social primate societies are intolerant of rape or theft. This is obvious evidence of morality among creatures that completely lack the capacity to believe in God.

From the examples above, it is clear that being religious and believing in God does not correlate in any way with social health or general morality. Furthermore, scientists are beginning to understand where our morality comes from and it is clear from the work done thus far that our sense of right and wrong has roots in our evolutionary past--not a system of beliefs and ideologies invented merely 2000 years ago.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How did I get here?

My family is southern baptist. In fact, most of my home town area is southern baptist. I grew up in a town that is about 80% black, with a very high rate of poverty and unemployment. Not surprisingly, there are probably more churches per capita than most towns of similar size. Driving up and down the windy, dusty roads you see the unmistakable white steeples of a traditional southern black baptist church about every two miles or so. 

My family, though not really the bible-thumpin' fire-and-brimstone type, went to church at least 2-3 times per month. That doesn't include the bible studies, choir rehearsals and other assorted meetings of the holy that my parents frequented but (thankfully) didn't force us to go to. It's kind of odd that with all the indoctrination I was surrounded with, it just didn't 'take'. I can remember being a kid and staring out the window during church services bored out of my mind. 

When I got old enough to understand more of what was going on I became really confused. I didn't understand the things people would say-- "I want to thank god for getting me safely up and down the dangerous highways" or "I want to thank god for waking me up this morning". It was confusing because those things tend to happen about 99.9% of the time anyway so why was there a need to thank god? It's as if these people just expected to die every time they went to sleep or set foot in a vehicle and had to express gratitude every time it didn't happen. Beyond that, if there was a glorious heaven as everyone proposed then what was the harm in dying? Why thank god for keeping you in this 'earthly struggle' and delaying you from 'winning the battle' and taking your 'place among the righteous' in heaven?

My first reaction to these questions was to distance myself from fundamentalism. By fundamentalist, I mean an individual who believes that god directly intervenes in people's day to day lives. I became more moderate, and I thought there was a god but he doesn't really interfere in our day to day lives at all. I also started thinking of god as an internal sort of happiness or peace (nirvana?) that everyone should work toward. Moderation is where I stayed throughout my teenage years. I would pray, but my prayers become more of a recital of things I wanted to happen/change/reflect on as opposed to asking god to do things for me. I actually think a lot of people fall into this category, which is weird considering that 100 years ago today's moderation would have constituted atheism, but that's another post. 

It wasn't until about a year or two ago that I seriously considered that I might be an atheist. It wasn't a traumatic realization, probably because I was never really religious to begin with but there are those who struggle mightily with that very same realization. There are questions I had that I was finally able to fully articulate to myself. (Why is christianity any different from any other discarded religion? If god exists, then why do people suffer so much? Why is it that there's nothing about nature that suggests humans are special?) At the urging of a friend I bought a book on atheism and haven't looked back since. 

So there you go. From disinterested in religion to confused to religous moderation to full fledged atheist. And it only took about 20 years! I actually just realized how long of a process this was. I can't imagine how difficult it would have been if I had been really engaged in the church. It kinda makes you sympathize with people who hold on to religion despite the mountains of doubt they sometimes feel. It is difficult to let go of something when you grew up within it. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What is an atheist?

Atheist- one who does not believe in a deity.

A lot of people hear the word atheist and have a negative knee-jerk reaction. They think of god-less and soul-less heathens with no morals. I can almost hear the negative tone: How can you even imagine that god does not exist? How do you know what is right and wrong? How did we get here? If there is no god, then what is our purpose in life?

It always confuses me because, for one, I consider myself a good person. I dont steal. I dont cheat. I work hard. I am very well-educated and well-read. I love the people around me and work hard to become a better person. The atheists I know all generally fall into the same category.

My personal definition of an atheist is a person who rejects the supernatural. That includes god(s), angels, demons, 'hellhounds', djinns and ghosts. (and leprechauns, santa claus, the easter bunny, etc.) Atheists also tend to be rationalists, which means they seek a rational, logical explanation for basing their particular worldview.

Atheism itself is NOT a dogma. It is NOT a religion. There are no rules to follow to be a proper atheist. That does not mean atheists have no moral code. If there were a universal atheistic moral code I suppose it would be something along the lines of "I shall seek to cause no harm to fellow humans, accept responsibilty if/when I do cause harm and attempt to diminish human suffering." Atheism is something of a secular philosophy of life that does not invoke or require supernatural agents.

I am not writing this blog to try to convert anyone to atheism, I am writing this blog for several reasons: to express my opinions about the various intersections between religion, society, politics, science and morality and to start conversations about issues concerning those subjects. The other motivation for writing this blog is that, despite the 'new atheist' movement of the 21st century, the opinions of the minority atheist community are conspicuously absent. This blog is my attempt to contribute something to this movement which, if recent polls are any indication, is only growing.