Monday, March 31, 2008

Atheist Blogroll

Hi Everyone. I'm happy to say I am officially on the Atheist Blogroll. If you'll kindly look to the left, the Link is happily displayed for all to indulge in. Please do so, as there are so many deliciously sacreligious folk out there, whose words are so much more important to hear than those of the local Pester (oops, I mean Pastor) Thanks much.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Supernatural versus natural

I do not think it is appropriate to believe the supernatural to be the source of the natural. Every system we know of behaves naturalistically. Weather, Oceanic currents, Glacial formation, Planetary orbital pathways, Radioactive decay, Nuclear Fission, Procreation, Immunity to disease and infection, Nourishment; all conform to the laws of nature. Plants do not call anyone "lord". Mountains do not move according to the verbalized mantras of wishful thinkers. There is only one natural system, influential to humanity, that has ever been considered to be a part of the supernatural realm (to its own detriment) and that is the system of thought.
Human beings are aware we exist. We are aware that others like us exist. We know that we are capable of gaining and retaining knowledge. We understand our own ability to think. Our awareness is what sets us apart from most other living creatures today (aside from the great apes, some primates, dolphins, parrots and other assorted animals). It is from this awareness that, long ago, we conjured up the idea of an immortal soul for ourselves. It's easy to look back and see how we could've viewed ourselves in such a self-important way, when the surrounding animals and plants were decidedly less intelligent than we were (and still are). How could such an advanced species not be endowed with something so esoteric as a "soul". We could think, we were aware, for cripe's sake. Our intelligence simply had to be the result of some divine intervention. We must've been born with this invisible attribute of immortality. The problem is we kept dying, and no one liked(s) that scenario. Death is not conducive to immortality, the two are most definitely at odds. And so, the discomfort with the idea of our concurrent intelligence (awareness) and our inescapable physical mortality led us as a species to invent many stories; ones designed to subvert the inevitability of our physical (and soul's) death (albeit a subversion which is delayed until after we physically die). We have not always been as intelligent as we are now. We were once ignorant of what most today would deem as common-sense. The sun does not revolve around the earth, the earth is not flat nor is it held up on the back of a great turtle, cutting someone deeply in order to "bleed" out an infection is a bad surgical treatment, the use of anesthesia during surgery results in more successful surgeries than the disuse of it does. The awareness of ourselves that gave rise to the idea of our possessing a "soul", has been coupled with a more complete knowledge of the world around us, more so now than at any other time in our brief history of life. Neuroscience is uncovering more and more each day of the buried behemoth of the human brain, and by doing so they are displaying the inessentiality of the concept of a soul. This may sound a bit gloomy for those who have grown up believing we have a soul, but it doesn't need to. To me, the fact that we are all that make us up and nothing else, composed of the same basic elements as everything in the universe, and we can still create works of grandeur such as the Goldberg Variations of J.S Bach, Stonehenge, or the internet is the mother of all testaments as to how wonderful we all are. On the flip side, I see it as unnecessarily condescending, to ascribe our worth to a being who is somehow simultaneously the same as and better than us. I see my son as the most wonderful human being in the world, but that feeling is in no way due to the benevolence of "god; it is due to my son. I will take no credit away from him for being the wonderful person he is. There is not now nor has there ever been a need for god. We are human beings and we are worth our own attention and accolades.

Friday, March 7, 2008

On The Biblical Trees in the Garden of Eden

Everyone who has ever been to a christian church, and probably many who have not, has some level of understanding of the biblical story of a paradise called the Garden of Eden. In this place, the biblical god placed the first two humans ever to live. Along with all the food-bearing trees and plants known to us today, there were two "forbidden trees" planted; The Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil and the Tree of Immortality. This is recounted in the first few chapters of Genesis. The following are some questions about this story, questions that draw attention to some sensible inconsitencies.
First of all, the story in genesis recounts that, for Adam and all the generations to come, a route to immortality was definitely needed, as Adam was created as a mortal man. In Genesis 3:22 the "inerrant word of god" says "And the Lord god said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach outhis hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."" This verse clearly shows that the author of genesis understood Adam to have been created a mortal man, one who would die a natural death. Some Christians, however, believe that Adam was created as an immortal being and only lost his immortality when he and eve chose to sin by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This belief does not fit at all with what genesis 3:22 says, it's flatly contradictory. For my part, I just can't comprehend how these christians can assert the "truth" of the bible when their arguments for such claims simultaneously rely on and are in contrast with what the bible says, but I digress.
Who besides mankind would have wanted or needed a tree of life?
God, as he is described in the bible, would not have required it. Immortality is part and parcel of the christian's definition of god, and if it were not, then I suppose christianity couldn't exist as it does today.
Other possible recipients of the fruit of the tree of life were the animals. Since there are no animals that we know of that are 6,000 plus yaers old and still kicking, I think we can safely assume the animals did not benefit from the tree of life.
Tangentially speaking, I wonder if any of the tree of life's fruits ever dropped to the ground after ripening, and were eaten by the animals in the garden. If this did happen, there should be some really old cows out there somewhere. The bible doesn't mention this ever happening, but I think it's a reasonable thought to have. I mean every fruit bearing tree that lives today drops its fruits once they are ripe, in order to propagate itself. Animals eat this fruit all the time. If the tree of life did not behave in this same way, then I think christian's should have to explain this. I'm sure any apologetic would retort with some blather about god's miracles not needing to follow the rules of nature and all that, but we all know what kind of "explanation" that is. Evasion is a tactic apologetics have mastered.
So, since god did not need the tree of life and animals keep dying, that leaves only us as the benficiaries of the flora of paradise.
If god planted the tree of life for us, then why did he forbid us to eat its fruits? Again, I can hear the apologetic saying, god was using the tree to "test" the faith of Adam. This is just stupid, for any number of reasons. Here are a few.
1. God had no need to test Adam's faith because Adam had no reason to not have faith in god, having no one to compare god with, no one to influence him away from having faith in god.
2. God did not need to test Adam's faith in him because he walked in the garden in plain earshot of Adam, presumably physically (genesis 3:8). If, however, he was "walking" in a purely spiritual sense, he was still the only other "voice" there (excepting eve and the talking snake, I wonder if Eve was a parselmouth?), so Adam would have had no reason to "lose his faith", but as we shall see perhaps Adam's faith was rightfully tested to show the error of it.
Perhaps god was using the tree not to test Adam's faith, but his obedience. This is also stupid. Here is why.
God, as the bible describes him, is omniscient (all-knowing). As an all-knowing being, god would not have been in need of a tool (such as a tree of life) to test for an outcome of obedience level. An omniscient god would have already known exactly how obedient Adam was ever going to be. Either god was not omniscient, or the tree of life (or the other tree) was unecessary in this capacity, pick your poison.
But what about the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why did god plant that one there? Remember this is the tree in question at the trial all of us should hold within ourselves, of the truth of Christianity as narrated in the bible. Genesis 3:3-7 says:

"but god did say, "you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. For god knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like god, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves."

Let's examine this passage shall we? (I feel like a pastor in Bizarro world)
First, god tells eve that she mustn't eat from the tree or even touch it, upon pain of death. So there is a tree that will provide death to Adam and Eve if they touch it, but there is also a tree that will provide immortality to both of them if they eat of it. It seems like a good idea to have an antidote ready in case of an accident, I mean what if Adam and Eve were wrestling one evening and one of them just happened to roll up against the tree of "death"? Wouldn't it be prudent to have that tree of life handy as well? The problem arises when we acknowledge that the god of the bible prohibited BOTH trees. This is perfectly illustrative of how the authors of the bible probably weren't philosophers by trade.
Second, the serpent says she will not die, but only gain the knowledge of good and evil, thereby becoming as god himself. Well, she ate, in fact they both ate, and neither died an unnatural death, so who was right? God said they would die, the serpent said they would gain knowledge of good and evil. Let's look to the unreliable, inconsistent, yet inerrant word of god for our answer. Again to genesis 3:22 " And the lord god said "The man has now become as one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
Survey says..... The serpent wins. God was not just wrong, but pathetically so. The death for Adam, that is described in genesis 3:19 and attibuted to god, "by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" cannot be claimed as fulfillment of god's earlier threat to Adam and Eve, since the tree of life was the only path to immortality ever available to Adam, and neither he nor Eve ever ate from that tree (at least as the bible recounts).
As a last point, I'd like to say that the biblical narrative from above is a fairly benign example of humanity in the throes of pyschological ignorance, being creative, cognitive beings, attributes that clearly seperate us from our more primitively(?) evolved cousins in the great ape family, constructing elaborate but ultimately false stories, in order to explain and cause to discuss two of the most sought after ideas of humanity, namely wisdom and living forever. One we can certainly achieve, the other might be possible, but we are not there yet (keep at it scientists).

Remember, I am an Atheist, I only use the bible to point out its own fallacies as professed in the christian perspective of the biblical story of creation. I criticize from a psychological and logical point of view.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

On Hope and Faith

Keep the Faith.
Abandon Hope all ye who enter here.

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm tellin you why..... You're gonna go to hell, and cook for eternity in ovens of burning brimstone......

Heh, heh, heh, heh....

Christians would have us all believe that the principles of Faith and Hope are the greatest possible gifts we could ever have been awarded by their god-head.
Neither of these ideas are conducive to living a fulfilled life, they are only ideas born of unmerited, wholesale fear.
Consider the word Hope. It conjures mental pictures of pleasantness, freedom from unhappiness, bliss. It represents the wish of every single person. However, contained within it, is the implied sinisterly opposite despair.
You cannot have one without the other. No Hope, No Despair (the words hope and despair are easily interchangeable with the words good and evil).
To illustrate what I mean, ask yourself the following question:
"Without evil, how would a person be able to distinguish good?".
If everything were good all the time (as is the example of heaven), how would a person be able to retain the exuberance of eternal pleasure, without ever growing numb to it's effects?
In order to fully experience anything, good or bad, the opposite of what you're experiencing has to exist and be known to you, or you'll never be aware of what you're experiencing. A person could never live in unending bliss because of this paradox. Eternal bliss is impossible because without it's opposite (torture) being somewhere in the mix of eternity, we would not recognize it as being bliss.
In the same way we would not know what cold felt like without the corresponding hot, we would also be unable to distinguish hard from soft, tall from short, good from evil or hope from despair. There is a spectrum of experience which we all are subject to. Without it, we would be automatons with no gamut of feelings.

Now let's consider the word Despair.
What does this word conjure? Thoughts of helplessness, inherent "badness", imprisonment in unhappiness. Now ask yourself in what ritualistic, weekly excercise a person might hear these words spoken. Christians, especially those hell-fire and damnation evangelicals that so wisely want to turn our country into an 18th century theocracy, love to spout out these threats of condemnation to human comfort every weekend (and sometimes during the week if a revival is in town) to the flocks of folk who are all-too eager to "repent" of their evil (there's that word again) ways and be safely returned to the fold, only to stray away as soon as the service is over.
If heaven is the object of hope for christians, then hell has to be the object of despair. As I said before, we can't do without despair, so hell has to exist if heaven exists. But imagine if we took the despair of hell out of the equation. We would be left with Hope on one side and nothing on the other. How then could the Hope of Heaven possibly exist? Actually, I should ask why then would anyone even care about a possible heaven? If no one feared death, or financial difficulties, or disease, or any other malady humanity is subject to, then would anyone even consider afterlife? Of course not, because an afterlife is a form of Hope, and without the form of despair (fear of death), an afterlife becomes pointless and redundant.
If we eliminate the idea of hell, then we needn't bother with the idea of heaven.

Contrary to what christians profess to the media, especially moderate ones, my thought is that the idea of hell is radically more important to their dogma than the idea of heaven is.
I submit that despair is always the initial deciding factor in whether someone believes in something or not. A person will consider whether their possible belief in an idea will offer them hope, but only because they need hope to counter a preexisting despair they may or may not already be aware of (this is one of the sad realities of evangelical churches, that they more often than not, instigate the feelings within their own congregations which lead said congregations to
"be saved"). Said another way, A person will choose to believe something if it offers them the chance at hope for the future, because the past has overwhelmingly offered them despair. This being the case, the idea of hope is always secondary. It is what is utilized to counter despair. Again, without the despair, why the hope? Despair, or the Fear of it, is without a doubt the absolute foundation of all the abrahamic religions. Fear of what will happen to us after we die is an idea that has led many a person to the altar.
Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of god is eternal life through christ our lord”. This is a good example of how despair is offered first and then the promise of hope secondarily counters. I will concede that there have been people converted because of the hope offered by the salvation message; however, the hope would be meaningless if the converted-to-be didn't either already fear something, or didn't get led to believe they had something to fear. During altar calls (public admissions of guilt, to those of you who've never been to a protestant church service), people tend to attach themselves to the immediate benefit of their actions and at that time the benefits of converting usually outweigh the threat of not converting by a dramatic margin, which is, at best, a flimsy reason to convert. Indeed the very idea of death can terrify millions of people at any given moment, but it is also quite fleeting and easily forgotten in lue of what sounds good for dinner.

There is also the herd mentality which some might offer as a reason for prospective-converts to move out of their pew. If so many other people are doing it, they might either look bad in the eyes of someone in the church who knows them, or they might be simply hedging their bets, in the idea that if so many people are going down front maybe they should too. A superficial look at both of these reasonings will all-too-easily reveal their fundamental basis of fear. The herd mentality is itself a defense mechanism, designed to ward off attackers (representations of fears held by the herd). Christianity, Judaism and Islam were all founded on the principle of Fear. Look at the terms “Lord” and “God-fearing” for an easy illustration of this.
An example from the bible (the inerrant word of god mind you): Luke 12:5, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after killing the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Now. I’m not completely sure if the author is referring to god or “the devil” here ,but that is beside the point. It is this foundation of fear that supports the pillars of Christianity.
Having this foundation, Christianity offers a way around this fear; Do what Jesus said. Believe he was the ticket to heaven as the son of god sent from above to pay the debt of all mankind. If you do, you can subvert the eternal damnation in store for you after you die and instead receive eternal comfort. It provides hope to counter the fear. In organized monotheistic religions, hope comes after fear, not before. Christians who truly believe they are saved, obviously don’t live in fear for their lives or souls, for the simple reason that they have chosen the path of eternal comfort, hope in Jesus' not being a crazy, lying lunatic. In their eyes, sinners (all the rest of us) have chosen the path of fear and despair, by recognizing jesus as being just another dude (who most certainly no longer abides ). My personal hope does not lie in this fantasy realm of Christianity, Islam or Judaism, because I reject the notion that my life is in any way subject to manmade hopes and fears. I no more hope for anything fantastic than I fear for anything cataclysmic. I do not center my life's philosophy around the fear of death or the loss of loved ones as one might suppose. That might seem improbable to many,but what I mean is although I would miss them beyond comprehension, I do not now fear for their deaths, because I of course recognize that everyone will die. I certainly do not wish for anything cataclysmic to happen to any of my loved ones, but I also understand that this wish is only a wish. It has no bearing on whether anything will ever happen to them or myself. At the same time that I don’t fear for their death, I also don’t hope to see them after they or I die. I spend my life with them and myself each day, because this life is what I know we are in possesion of. I no longer waste the time I have with them.
I actually think the principles of Christianity belittle the preciousness of life, rather that preserve it, as the term “sanctity of life”, which is thrown around like a hot potato by evangelicals these days, would imply. The very idea that my life now is less important than an unprovable afterlife is an idea that I find not only preposterous but also wildly arrogant on the part of both christians and their fictitious god.
For example: I ask someone to play monopoly right now, and they say no because they want to play a better game of monopoly after they die. This doesn’t make any sense but it’s the same as saying “ I’m not going to live my life now, because I’m going to have a better life after I die” My hope lies indeed in myself and my family. I am a thinking person who did not need to be created in order for me to be worth placing my own trust in.

Faith is unnecessary. Having faith in something rather than trying to find a real natural-born answer, is simply taking the lazy way out. It is the same as saying, "I don't know what this is about, so I'll just make up something and tell everyone I believe that". In that respect, what most christians do is even lazier, in that, most christians that I can remember from my days growing up in evangelical churches in the south, don't even bother to waste time thinking up something on their own. They simply latch on to what everybody around them has already said. Faith is the belief in something without the evidence to back it up. This is absurdity. If there is no evidence to show that a crime has been committed, then how do we know one actually was committed? Of course we don't, this is precisely why the courts don't allow hearsay evidence to be admitted as evidence. Better yet, why would anyone claim that their bank was robbed, if no money was missing and no employees witnessed a robber coming into the bank and sticking it up? Should we just have faith that the person saying there was a bank robbery is telling the truth? Should a jury convict the person he says robbed the bank without any evidence to support his claim? Of course not. An even more absurd notion is that christians somehow think that having faith is virtuous or noble. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens,
“Christianity requires us to voluntarily relinquish our single greatest attribute, our ability to think critically.” Any institution that encourages us to not critically question the principles of its existence is not an institution worthy of subscription to. Blind faith is an excuse to gloss over the inconsistencies of outdated dogmas. To paraphrase another fellow rationalist, Sam Harris, “Religious moderates don’t ask the question of how they came to be moderate in the first place. At one point, all religions and religious people were fundamentalist. At what point did the fundamental side of religion give way to the moderate position and why did it do so? The answer is certainly not that the religions themselves evolved to be more “modern-thinking. It is that religious moderation is the result of centuries of rational freethinking individuals who have questioned the validity of fundamentally religious dogmas. Those dogmas simply could not stand up to the constant barrage of disbelief, and over time they melted into the sanguine christianity we see today". To now chastise religious fundamentalism, if you are a moderate, is to deny the very root of your own existence. Religious moderation provides a cover for fundamentalists who exact terrible events on the world by creating the ban associated with the questioning of religion. I speak of religion in the abrahamic sense, because hinduism, buddhism and other various eastern religions espouse the practice of not harming or causing suffering to other living beings, above all else . It is, by-and-large, off limits to question someone’s religious beliefs. Blind faith is, in the eyes of it's posessors not only virtuous but also impervious to disbelief. This should not be, and it is my hope to contribute in some way to the overturning of this menace of rationality. Life is worth living without faith in the preposterous, and we need not hope for anything outside of the ability to experience our life as long as we have it.