Six Confirmations & Evolution Confirmed - Again

(Via Jerry Brown)

"Six Confirmations"

Over the past several years I have become increasingly aware of the futility of promoting atheism as a worldview to the general public. This is, admittedly, an almost complete turnabout from my former position, but it has been necessitated by subsequent study, observation, and a desire not to be deceived.

In the past two weeks six events have strongly confirmed this opinion. Two were Skeptics meetings at Caltech, each attracting a full-house crowd (which paid a minimum of $5 per head.) One featured Richard Dawkins discussing his new book, An Ancestor's Tale, the other a talk on critical thinking and the graphic display of information. Last week at Santa Monica College there was an excellent talk on learning, early brain development, and how easy it is to be deceived. This one also to a packed house with people sitting in the aisles. That evening I went to a meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which featured a dynamic talk on creationism vs. evolution in the educational system. Many in this group are atheists, but their objective is the very important one of keeping religion and government separate.

The next night at the Glendale Library I heard an impassioned speech detailing dangers in the policies of the current Administration, with special emphasis on their theocratic, corporate globalism aspects. Although in some of these talks there were hints of the absurdity and danger of religious belief, the word "atheism", to the best of my recollection, was never mentioned.

Finally, last night at a local discussion group the subject of origins came up. I said that in my opinion the least troublesome explanation is that the universe has always existed, and always will, having no beginning and no end. Another member, no fundamentalist, but a "spiritual" type, disagreed, saying she joined a church because she believes there has to be a "first cause." Ok, I said, if everything needs a cause, then what caused that "first cause" (i.e. God)? Silence all around.

And therein lies my point. The vast majority of humans simply cannot accept what all the evidence shows - that this life is all there is, that there's nothing beyond it, and that the ultimate questions as to why, when, and how everything came to be may never be answered. These people need an answer, so they turn to religion, which gives them one. Probably a wrong one, but that doesn't matter. It's something they can hang onto. Like my aunt who finally discovered why her son had so much bad luck. He was born on Friday the 13th! In her mind, that explained it, and she was relieved.

With highly educated scientists, after hundreds of years of painstaking investigation by their profession steadily pushing "God" further and further into the background, still believing in some form of godism, the conclusion is inescapable: religion is not going to go away. The need for it is hardwired into most human brains. I'm finally having to acknowledge, albeit grudgingly, the truth of a statement I once read in a psychology textbook: Man needs religion, but some have paid a high price for it.

They have indeed, and they will continue to. It's in their genes. Don't get me wrong. I'm just as strong and proud an atheist as ever. But I cannot continue deluding myself by expecting vast numbers of people to join me in this view. I should instead support efforts to keep the superstition steamroller from crunching our Constitution into rubble. I would encourage all atheists to do likewise. This effort has never been more needed. It is essential that we win. To do that, we must close ranks and set our sights in the right direction.

"Evolution Confirmed - Again"

Every time I get out on the roads I am impressed (not favorably) by the drivers who roar around me so they can jam on their brakes to stop at the upcoming red light. That way, they force me to stop also, whereas otherwise none of us might have to. Not to mention unnecessary tire and brake wear.

And for what? They got one car length ahead of me, and they won their little game of one-upmanship. What is it that causes presumably intelligent people to behave so illogically? The other day while observing this ridiculous behavior once gain, it suddenly dawned on me that I was seeing the truth of Dobzhansky's observation that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Here was a manifestation of the primitive survival drive in action: Those who get there first have the best chance at food and mates. Never mind that in the "civilized" life that we have made for ourselves many of these ancient, automatic actions are no longer appropriate and may be dangerous. They are programmed into our brains, most of which have not evolved sufficiently to override primitive instincts. Most people (at this basic level at least) seem to be running mindlessly on their limbic systems, oblivious to the problems they are creating for their fellows. Me first, and to hell with you!

This same explanation can account for many other troublesome aspects of human society. Why do we hoard? Why do we overeat? Why the exploitive excesses of economic systems? Why can't socialism work? Why are people who are "different", those who have disabilities, or whose sexual, philosophical, or other preferences set them apart from the mainstream shunned, denied equal access, and considered outcasts from society? Why do we humans behave so much like other animals? Because we ARE animals, and at the genetic level are not as different from what we like to call the "lower" ones as we would like to think. In fact, we are remarkably similar, carrying in our genes much of the same information. The main thing setting humans apart is that we have a brain more complex than any other creature we know of. This enables us to think about ourselves and, in principle at least, avoid being slaves to the "selfish gene."

Can we do it? My guess is that, claims about "free will" notwithstanding, we cannot, at least in the foreseeable future. The pathway from the primitive to the more modern part of the brain is much easier than in the other direction. Hence nurture has a hard time prevailing over nature.

Lest this sound too pessimistic, I think we must not give up. We must keep searching, questioning, learning all we can about how this amazing blob of protoplasm really works. The first step on that road is acceptance of the FACT of evolution, and the rejection of the ancient myth of creation. It would also help to acknowledge that there is no inherent plan or purpose to any of it, and that whatever meaning we want in our lives we must make for ourselves.

An important part of that meaning, it seems to me, should be to learn all we can about what we are and where we came from, and to make this life (the only one for which we have any evidence) the best we can for all sentient beings.

Nature doesn't care. We can, and we should.

Here in the Heart of Dixie

(Via Ian)

When I was young, very, very young, I was a Christian. I grew up in a very hardcore Christian family, and so never really questioned in my earliest years anything about religion.

The process of becoming an atheist was unnoticed by me, meaning that I simply didn't care enough to think about it. I have always been a doubter of everything my family showed me and taught me, and a doubter of everything for that matter. That doesn't mean that the doubt was merely rebellious, in an irrational, anger, blind way, but rather curious, independent, and benevolent. I had to see and learn everything firsthand, and still do. So I basically just ignored everyone around me who was only talking about meaningless Jewish history or the prospect of being good solely "because God's watching".

The question of religion presented itself by way of me volunteering at the zoo in some teen program, where I could walk around the zoo with one of the small animals and let the people pet them, which was really fun. That was the first time I was ever introduced into an environment that was not overtly Christian, that was where I could finally talk about religion and the concept of God in a skeptical way, and that was when I finally, concretely thought to myself that I was an atheist.

I had no internal conflicts about my atheism, but many about whom to tell. Today I tell my family that the reason I kept that secret for so long was because I did not want to hurt them. That is true, but I wonder whether it was really because I was sort of afraid of the reactions. I often thought about what they would think, how they would react, and how deep they would get if they talked or argued about it, if at all.

To this day, I have told only ONE person: my mom. Now, my father, two kid sisters, and grandparents "somehow" also know. The only reason I told her was because she had been nagging at me for awhile and relentlessly about how I need to find "God's Will" for my life. Also, I let her know only because I thought she would still think I was going to Heaven somehow, and wouldn't have a heart attack or anything like that, since, to her, I had already once been "saved" at some point in my life.

"What would they think?" I was wrong to think that they would still believe in my "salvation" and passport to Heaven. Apparently I had never really been saved and am currently going to Hell. Even though I still find that funny, I really didn't want to put them through that kind of emotional state. Now, however, even though I love them, I do not feel any sympathy towards anguish which exists solely in their minds and on a fallacy. Obviously, I seriously miscalculated what they would think.

"How would they react?" Not well. They would cry. A lot. Then yell some, go talk with some counselor about the curse of having a wayward son, and cry some more for good measure. Again, I miscalculated the true level of their ignorance and insanity.

"How deep would they get if they talked or argued about it, if at all?" I love them, but they are indeed swimming in the kiddie's pool. The whole of the "arguments" I have heard so far consists of pure drama and popular bromides, with such phenomena as "So, do you just hate God, now?", "Does God know that you don't believe he exists?", and "There are no atheists in foxholes." This last was said by my dad the day I aced the D-LAB (the hardest test ever devised) and officially signed up for my U.S. Air Force job: airborne linguist. Out of all the things anyone has ever said to me that I would usually regard as stupid and therefore worthy to be ignored, this is the one that stung, badly. I almost considered making a scene and somehow banning him from coming to my basic graduation at Lackland.

As of the time I'm writing this, I'm living with my grandparents, a few miles away from Montgomery, where my parents live. I'm just doing odd jobs here and there until I ship out in exactly six weeks from today, and I have vigorously avoided any arguments with any of my family; I hate arguing. Every time I sit still and think about whether this issue with my family will ever die down, I always come to the conclusion that it will and soon. But I also concluded years ago that my family wouldn't react the way the have, so I am not making any predictions when it comes to illogical stuff like that.

Also, my family now hates Ayn Rand, as I'm sure many do. They have cursed her many, many times for "converting" me over to atheism and remind me time and time again that she is burning in Hell, which can apparently serve as both a scare tactic and an irrefutable argument. They overlook the fact that just because I knew who she was when they found out about my atheism doesn't mean that I knew her when I "converted".

Lastly, they do not know how lucky they are, and I, to a certain extent, that they only found out about me recently. But before I say anything please know that I am NOT speaking for all atheists here. One of my biggest problems as a child was my irrational, negative feelings toward Christianity. I am very proud of myself for getting over being overly angry at someone simply because they are a Christian. I used to think that if an adult reached a certain age of intellectual maturity, than there was absolutely no excuse for still following the Christian faith. (As a side note, I would like to mention that all of my arguments for atheism and against religion are in the field of morality, as I could care less about the origin of the universe and of man.) It has taken me time to realize that just because the Christian tenets are evil (again, NOT speaking for any other atheists out there), does not mean that all Christians are necessarily evil. I do admit to the fact that there may be, and probably are, benevolent AND religious people out there, even though I have yet to meet them. Today I still try to hold on to this thought when confronted with my family, and can only hope that the people here in Alabama will eventually grow a little more lax.

I don't believe in God.

(Via Doug Matthews)

I don't believe in God.

Not only am I an atheist; I'm also a free thinker, an independent, a philosopher, a truth seeker, and a pragmatic constituent of veracity. I don't need a magical space wizard to tell me how to conduct my life. I don't need the stress and worry of making sure that my every word, thought, or action is going to be added to an already huge list of moral discrepancies. I'm not referring to social discrepancies; I'm talking about the inconsistencies with my life and the life I would be following as a Christian in accordance to the all-powerful, ill-conceived, contradictory laws of the Bible.

For 22 years, I lived in fear. I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a pastor, his father was a pastor, his father was a pastor, and so on. I had big dreams to get into the “church business” and make a name for myself. Throughout my teen years, a lot of my freedom was stripped through religion and the forcefulness of my parents. I don't blame them; they were raised the same way I was. I do, however, wish that they had the same free thought and will power that I had and could see through the mud like I did. Sometimes I was in church as much as three times per week serving for the Lord; sealing my guarantee that I would enter an eternal paradise upon my uneventful death. I sponsored youth events, converted several people from atheism and agnosticism to Christianity, I prayed several times per day, I made sure that I erased any sin as soon as I committed it. I was living the true Christian life and subconsciously hated it.

I always had doubt though. I can still remember telling myself in my younger years that there was no God, and this was prior to all the knowledge I have now. It always felt more natural to me, more in my comfort zone than believing in the Christian non-sense. Sure, I can claim several times in my Christian walk where I thought God touched my life. I can cite supposed miracles, unexplainable things and feelings. However, I can also cite and convey a lot of negative, and unanswered prayers, more bad than good. Looking back, I now know that those “miracles” were simply general statistical phenomenon or coincidences, if you will. To be even more concise, I can probably explain all the ways that God touched my life using simple science and pure common sense.

Why won't God heal amputees? Why does God allow innocent children to be raped and murdered? Why doesn't God just abolish Satan now? Why won't God show his face or prove to mankind that he is real? Why are we supposed to live in harmony with ancient manuscripts, written by men who were obviously just trying to explain and justify their environment? Why don't modern day Christians stone homosexuals as they are told to do in Leviticus 20:13? I could go on…

As millions of other legitimate Christians all over the world deal with their subconscious tendencies to negate the Christian dogma, I am proud to say that I've faced my fear and stepped outside of the box. I'm an American Atheist, one of forty-eight million.