Thursday, July 25, 2013

Questions of origins - religion vs science

Ahh, I've been slacking off on writing. Well, less slacking than wanting to find good topics and not doing so on time. Still, one came up (and another, and a third which may or may not see the light of day.)

I was watching an interview with Richard Dawkins on Al-jazeera (on Youtube) - I do recommend looking it up, it's quite interesting. Prof. Dawkins expressed incredulity when the interviewer assured him that yes, he did believe Mohammed flew up to heaven on a winged horse, and didn't quite understand why he felt that was so hard to believe.

Later in the interview, near the end, things like the big bang and multiverse theory were brought up - also as "things you can't prove to me." A very common tactic was used - to try to portray the two as equivalent.

This, of course, is a false equivalency, often tied to saying atheism is a religion as well. But, of course, there are problems with this.

In various holy books, extraordinary claims are made. There is no evidence outside said holy writing for these tales - So and so split the moon, walked on water, turned water into wine, parted the red sea, went to heaven on a staircase or on a winged horse. When asked for proof, two responses are typically given - "I don't need it, I have faith" and "Why don't you disprove it?"

These, of course, are nonanswers. "I have faith" has no bearing on reality - I can have faith that if I spin really fast, I can take off like a helicopter, but it doesn't bear fruit. (And, of course, the rejoinder there is "If it didn't work, your faith must not have been strong enough!" An unmeetable burden.) And of course, you cannot disprove things like those 100%, just provide a great enough degree of uncertainty to make it not rational to believe in. I cannot, for instance, disprove a T. Rex didn't walk past my apartment complex five minutes ago. I can point out the lack of any signs (footprints, witnesses, video footage, droppings, noise,) and that T. Rex has been extinct for millions of years... enough to give 99.99999% certainty that one did not. But, sure, I'll grant there's always that very miniscule chance that one did and happened not to leave any signs.

With the winged horse (taken from the interview,) no, we can't prove Mohammed didn't fly to heaven on it. But we can ask questions. Where are these winged horses? Why have there been no other incidents of winged horses? Where are their remains? How big were the wings? How was their biology arranged to allow it to be a four-footed herd animal with the strength to lift both itself and a rider - horses are certainly not *light* creatures. Where is "heaven," and how did the horse reach it? Would the trip be survivable? The more you ask, the more uncertainty has to come in for this claim (or just "taking it on faith," which, again, is no answer.)

Religion starts with an "answer." It provides further "answers" that don't need to be consistent or coherent - just taken on faith.

Science, by comparison, goes by evidence. Someone may come up with a hypothesis. That is then tested and proven or disproven. Those results are then tested by others and verified. These tests, combined with observations and fact, are brought together as laws and theories. Science actively works to disprove things. Things that prove hard to disprove (heh) or have certain conditions (Humans can breathe normally while on land on Earth, but not underwater without assistance) are used to build further hypotheses and ask other questions.

So when science says the universe came from "nothing" (and there's actually varying definitions of that, much like "theory") it does so after observing how the universe is NOW, testing how things are NOW, and working backwards, testing and proving or disproving observations and hypotheses. It can prove and demonstrate each step back to show why it came to this conclusion.

In other words, if we compare the two and question, we'd get these sorts of results:
Religion - "God spoke, and the world came into being."
Skeptic - "How do you know this?"
Religion - "My book and my faith tell me."
Skeptic - "Where is your proof?"
Religion - "My book and my faith..." (ad infinitum.)
Skeptic - "Could you be wrong?"
Religion - "No!" 

There is no proof, it just sort of "poofed."

Science: "The world coalesced from a cloud of gas and dust as the sun was forming."
Skeptic: "How do you know this?"
Science: (provides chemical models, scientific models, observational evidence.)
Skeptic: "Where did that come from?"
Science: (provides evidence, math, etc. rewinding the universe, showing proof for conditions met.)
Skeptic: "OK, but you dont' have an answer for this point...."
Science: "We have theories we're currently testing. These theories were disproven, here's why. These still seem to explain things well, and are still being tested."
Skeptic: "Could you be wrong?"
Science: "Sure. In which case we'll take the results of testing and build theories from those, and test it some more."

Result: "It may have 'poofed' from our point of view, but these are strong candidates with the evidence you yourself can verify and test as to how and why."

The two are just not equivalent - but it won't prevent the theist from trying to make them look the same.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What does religion hurt? - Christian guilt

I know I skipped last Thursday. I had something I was writing up, but it just wasn't jelling the way I wanted to, and I didn't manage to get something else up in time. Mea culpa.

But the apology does lead into another subject, part of a series of things I was thinking of looking at. Namely, "What does religion hurt?"

Now, I don't mean wars and the like - though it needs to be held accountable for that, and it's very much a problem when people kill each other over ancient stories. I mean everyday life. What does it hurt?

One thing that's a staple of Christianity is guilt. One of the foundations of Christian belief is that you're born a sinner, thanks to Adam and Eve. You deserve punishment. You deserve the bad that comes your way. And you're not good enough, no matter what you do, to deserve heaven. (Whether heaven's an actual reward is another subject all together.)

This message is reinforced every sunday. Christ died for YOUR sins. YOU deserve to go to hell. YOU are unworthy. YOU are born a sinner. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me."

Watch TV, watch a football game, and what happens? The winners - or even after a good play - point up at the sky, saying "I have no ability to do this on my own, it's God!" (Which, really... how does one not feel worthy of taking credit for their abilities, yet have such an ego that the supposed creator of the universe is that invested in your touchdown?)

This, too, is one of the hardest thing for one of the deconverted to shed, as well. At least, in my experience it is. From childhood, your self worth is beaten down and stripped away - because you, of course, are *unworthy!* And someone gave up their life for you! (Never mind that they're immortal... kind of. Or at least came back from the dead, which kind of cheapens it.... or that they didn't have to in the first place.)

How does this affect your worldview? When you're told, over and over again, that you're not good enough, that you have to carry your guilt over everything - including *perfectly natural, human reactions,* as the Bible does basically legislate thought crime! - until you fall to your knees (or see a priest) and confess it all?

It's like a drug dealer's dream. You get the little high of being "clean" again... but, being human, within the day you've fucked it up. You wanted something that wasn't yours. You had an "impure thought." And so it builds up until you have to go get your confession fix again.

We have whole nations, generations upon generations of people, with this drilled into them. Take only the blame, assign credit and praise to God. How utterly sick is this?

And that's without people taking it to extremes. Fasting to "cleanse" themselves. Or the flagellants of the middle ages. Have you not heard of these people? They went from town to town *whipping themselves.* I've seen images of this from some Islamic countries today, as well (I don't recall what the event was.)

When you're raised on self-loathing and guilt... it's also very easy to turn it outside. Is it any real wonder that so much racial, religious and other hatred (and need for control) is from the religious? That they can't see the worth of each human being (other than someone to be converted or condemned) for what they are, but that all are unworthy?

And, of course, that can feed on itself very nicely, too. "I'm unworthy. They're sinners and unworthy, they don't deserve the good. They deserve that tornado! Oh, I feel guilty for saying that, I'm unworthy..." And on and on the cycle goes, and is passed on from generation to generation.

What does Religion hurt? This kind of guilt is perennial psychological - and, at times, physical - abuse. It's far from healthy to be told you're guilty and unworthy over and over, to be told not to take credit for your accomplishments (pride goeth before a fall!) but assign it to god because you couldn't do it on your own....

It's just sick.

Of course, this also helps keep religion in such strong positions in our society. And discourages people from doing what they need to do, what they should do in every aspect of their life - their finances, government policy, everywhere. Namely, question. I compared it to a drug dealer before. But unlike a drug dealer, what higher power is going to come and arrest it?

Well, that higher power is reason. And reason is discouraged - after all, you need to just "take it on faith!" when it comes to religion. What a racket.

You're not good enough. You're guilty. So you need god. You need to confess, and talk to the priest. While you're there, give money. Since you're not good enough, you obviously can't understand this god's plan for you or anyone else, no matter how good you are, how much you pray or give, something shitty is still going to happen to you. Of course, if it's good - thank god and give some more! But since you can't understand the mind of God (the religious would say because it's vast and unknowable, the skeptic because it's contradictory, insane, schizophrenic thanks to all the authors,) you shouldn't question and should feel guilty if you do... which loops right back to the beginning.

It's a sick, sick racket. And when people do it to other people outside of religion, we call it dysfunctional. Even criminal.

Add a church, and it's religion, and untouchable.

What does religion hurt? Self esteem. Reason. Self worth, and the ability to see the worth in others as fellow human beings.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Religion and bias

So, for those of you in the US - how was your july fourth? Good?

I saw the parade in my hometown, something I haven't seen in decades. I came away with several things. First, a sunburn - I realized I forgot my hat a few minutes into my walk to the parade route. Oops.. Second, jealousy of the marching band. They got to wear shorts - back when I was in high school, we had these hideous (and hot!) uniforms. But as far as jealousy goes... I'm glad someone had sense enough to change those!

Third was a moment of... I don't know if I should call it sadness or disappointment. A moment that caused thought, definitely. Early in the parade was a small group - Muslems for Loyalty.

Yeah, you read that right.

I did have mixed feelings. On the one hand, last time I went (again, decades...) there was nothing even mentioning anyone non-white, non-Christian there, so it's good they're being visible. And they were cheered heratily, which was also great.

On the other hand, they shouldn't have to call themselves "for loyalty" any more than the catholic, baptist, or lutheran churches that followed a way back should. And it makes me rather depressed they feel they DO have to.

Why do they have to?

Religion. And religious bias.

Really... religion doesn't hurt anything?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy July Fourth!

Yeah, nothing much going on here. Just one 'merkin going out to watch a parade, eat some burgers, and hang out with the family.

Enjoy the day, those of you in the US.

And those of you who aren't, enjoy the day anyway. Even if you don't get a parade. :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Conversation - no, not the one declaring atheism.

So, this has been popping up on my facebook feed recently.

Me: God, can I ask You a question?
God: Sure

Me: Promise You won't get mad

God: I promise

Me: Why did You let so much stuff happen to me today?

God: What do u mean?

Me: Well, I woke up late

God: Yes

Me: My car took forever to start

God: Okay

Me: at lunch they made my sandwich wrong & I had to wait

God: Huummm

Me: On the way home, my phone went DEAD, just as I picked up a call

God: All right

Me: And on top of it all off, when I got home ~I just want to soak my feet in my new foot massager & relax. BUT it wouldn't work!!! Nothing went right today! Why did You do that?

God: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning & I had to send one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that

Me (humbled): OH

GOD: I didn't let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.

Me: (ashamed)

God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn't want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn't afford to miss work.

Me (embarrassed):Okay

God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn't even let you talk to them so you would be covered.

Me (softly): I see God

God: Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn't think you wanted to be in the dark.

Me: I'm Sorry God

God: Don't be sorry, just learn to Trust Me.... in All things , the Good & the bad.

Me: I will trust You.

God: And don't doubt that My plan for your day is Always Better than your plan.

Me: I won't God. And let me just tell you God, Thank You for Everything today.

God: You're welcome child. It was just another day being your God and I Love looking after My Children...

 Awww. Sooo cute, just trust god! 

Well, wait. We have a few problems here.  Let's edit this with what my actual responses would be:

God: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning & I had to send one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that. 

Me:  Your invisible buddy's invisible buddies held off an invisible bad guy? An anthrpomorphicizing of a physical process? And death isn't evil in the first place. Why did they have to fight "him?" If it weren't for dying, there'd be no end to suffering, and we'd be hideously overpopulated with no end in sight... and buried under insects, animals, etc. that also didn't die.

Plus, God, you supposedly control the angel of death. I mean, you told him to not kill the Jews that had lamb's blood on their doors - or was he just allergic? - in Egypt, when you went to take out Pharoh's kid - and everyone else's - because he didn't agree with you. (By the way, that's very mob-boss like of you.) And he didn't agree because YOU "hardened his heart," and I don't think in context that means you upped his cholesterol levels. So if he was there to kill ME, it's because YOU wanted him to. But you had to send angels to fight him and make him not to? What's the deal with that? Is he taking your orders, or did you give him free will - which can only lead to you not actually having the power to enforce your plan, but we've been over that before. All this, of course, assumes death is a person - a very busy one. 

So, yeah. I just can't buy that one. Still, there were some other things. What was next?

 GOD: I didn't let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.

 Me: Gee. Thanks. What about the hundreds of other people on the road? Do they not deserve the same consideration? Why didn't you stop the *drunk driver's* car? Wouldn't that make more sense? And if he's supposed to kill someone, why not have your angels haul Mr. Death there over to whoever this OTHER person is and have them pass peacefully instead of terrified and possibly in lingering pain from a wreck? What could they possibly have done to deserve it?

While we're at it, how about a little trust in the senses you supposedly gave me - that I'd be able to stop. Or press the gas pedal. How about trust in your other people who designed and built the car, the seat belts, the air bags - are they all utterly incompetent?

Sorry, G, you're not really convincing me here. Still, more happened. There's that sandwich, after all.

 God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn't want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn't afford to miss work.

Me: OK. You stopped me from possibly getting a cold. Thanks for helping me avoid some minor discomfort, I guess. I'll keep the Nyquil for later. But wouldn't that have helped my immune system the next time I faced that? And what about the millions of others who are dying of starvation right this moment, dying of sickness, of parasites, in pain? Not to mention those stuck in the middle of wars - Syria comes to mind right now - or falsely imprisoned, tortured, raped and the like? Why is my losing a day of work - for which I have sick time, by the way - more important? Isn't that fairly piddly compared to all the other stuff?

 Let me guess, you busted my phone, too.

God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn't even let you talk to them so you would be covered.

Me: And what if the person they'd lie to wouldn't believe them? Or would pick their story apart? Or, I don't know, ask ME about what they were told? Even if it impacted me, why not go after the NSA and not let them tap into EVERYONE's phone? Or better yet, those nations with regimes who spy on them and haul people off to prison - or just make them "disappear" - for saying the wrong thing? Isn't that more important than someone lying about me?

God: Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn't think you wanted to be in the dark.

Me: God, we have these things called circuit breakers. Sure, it might trip the circuit. I have a flashlight, and it's not that hard to find, look to see which is tripped, and reset it. I could then go to the store and buy a new one, if I had to. What about the people with no power at all, who can't refrigerate food and keep it unspoiled for longer? Or the people with no safe drinking water? Wouldn't that be a bigger issue than me being without electronic luxuries for a little while?

Now, I'm fairly sure he'd be pissed at me and not doing the "oh, just trust me" crap. But let's look at the last line:

God: You're welcome child. It was just another day being your God and I Love looking after My Children.

Me: Except, God, you're not. Look at all the examples I've given in this conversation. All the needless suffering, the poor decisions. You stopped the wrong car. Maybe you let someone who would have died die painfully instead of peacefully. You've contradicted yourself. You've let my luxury overrule the survival of millions. This sort of "looking after," dude, is why I think, if you exist, you're incompetent and/or sadistic. Of course, I don't believe you exist, either, as everything that happens - what you take credit for and what you ignore - make no sense with a 'loving' god, but perfect sense if there is no god. 

At which point, the guy comes into the room with the walkie-talkie, takes the other one from behind the pillow, and tells me I'm no fun.