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.