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May 17 2010

Why I do what I do, and where I get my moral code

James Carey, whom I know from university out there in meatspace, asked a few questions that were well off topic on the prayer post, and questions about prayer itself that will be, I hope, adequately answered in the course of the series proper. I decided to post my response as a full blog post of its own because I don’t really want to derail the point of the prayer threads.

James:

I had a bit of an ephinay the other day.

Every once in a while I find two silverfish in my bathtub. Silverfish are very inoffensive little critters so I just usually let them stay for a bit. Finally I go to take a shower and I look at them and think to myself, you guys aren’t going anywhere, you aren’t going to do anything productive. Gave you time to get going, now it’s too late. Turned the water on and sent them down the drain all the while thinking “I bet the apocalypse will be something like this…”

I have read several of your articles and I feel that there is an underlying venom that you try to camouflage with all of your facts, links, and introspectives. I am not particularily religious but even I realize that “prayer” is synonomous with “hope”. You say prayer is usless, it might be, but in my experience thinking good thoughts is never a waste. It goes further beyond trying to appeal to some diety, it is searching for some personal comfort to ease pain, fear, anxiety, etc. When you crap on prayer, you are crapping on hope.

“My father is dying of cancer, rather than praying to ease his suffering, I’ll go shop for hats.”

“My little girl has been kidnapped by a pedophilr, instead of everyone out of reach to offer any help praying for her safe return, you may as well squeeze in an extra game of solitaire”

“My husband is a firefighter, instead of praying for him to come home safely, I cry myself to sleep everynight thinking that tonight will be the night he doesn’t come home”

So I have a few questions for you. Why are you doing all of “This”? And more importantly, what is your moral compass? The Bible, the book of mormon have all been provided to you to tear apart and criticize but have you provided us with any sort of literature of what has helped form your own morals and core beliefs for us to inspect and criticize? If so, send me the link and I will be happy to read it and give it the same consideration you would on my beliefs.

And for anyone who wants to know what my moral compass is:

http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/taote-v3.html#37

Response below the fold.

When someone is absolutely certain of the answer to otherwise contentious questions, especially ones philosophers have grappled with for a very long time, it’s pretty easy to assume they are merely zealous, and to read “venom” into their words. PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are both supposed monsters with their excoriations of the religions they believe to be empirically harmful, when what they are in reality are a bearded teddy bear with a PhD in evolutionary biology, and a meek-sounding, overly polite science author, respectively. If you read any venom into my words, you’re reading my words wrong.

That is, unless I’ve intentionally amped up the tone in an explicit effort to offend some people who need offending. And in those cases, you can hopefully tell. Look back at that recent post on pictures of Muhammad and the attacks on Lars Vilks if you want to see venom. Or in the post about the oil spill if you want to see someone misconstruing a specific attack on people trying to meditate away the oil, with a broad-brush attack on Christians, or even people who pray. It was the genesis for the prayer posts, in fact. That row specifically spurred me to throw salt in the wound. I learned a long time ago about trying to advocate social change that, if you’re not striking nerves, you’re doing it wrong.

At one point, I was “merely” a science-booster — someone that looked at each new scientific discovery and each new elegant theory with wide-eyed wonder and awe at what humanity achieved — and further awe and wonder at what, if we kept discovering things, we COULD achieve as a species before we burn ourselves out. And then I started commenting on posts on the internet about science, and I was confronted, with disgusting regularity, with people that had absolutely no clue about reality and thought their particular faith was being affronted by some new tidbit that science had discovered. I was confronted with utter cluelessness, willful ignorance, and sometimes outright mendacity, repeatedly, until I said, “enough’s enough, these people need to be reined in!” So I, an English major turned computer geek, started absorbing philosophy and theology like a sponge, as is my wont. And once I got myself to a point where I understood their dogmas, their arguments, and their fallacies, and could effectively debate against them, I took it upon myself to start posting counterarguments. And I found myself “in my element”, so to speak. My element being, letting myself get trolled for the greater education of the internet-reading public.

Later, I got my own blog. I have made an effort to write about things other than those fights, but they’re never-ending, and they often take a good deal of my brain space. I post about atheism now, because I want “there’s probably no gods” to be an acceptable position for someone to take without being treated like outcasts. Prejudice against disbelief is heavy — especially so when the prevalent religion specifically codes against other beliefs. And most of them do. So I do this to help normalize my personal beliefs. I don’t do it to tear anyone down explicitly, but I’m more than happy to tear down BELIEFS that are nonsensical, illogical or self-defeating. Not the people — their beliefs. People deserve respect, not beliefs. In engaging in these arguments, the intent is mostly to make people question their most cherished beliefs about the nature of the universe, especially where those beliefs intersect with reality. I don’t particuarly like that religion has gained a “sacred cow” (pardon the pun) status, wherein one cannot discuss religion without being viewed as being vitriolic or venomous.

Now, I really, REALLY have to take issue with the conflation of hope and prayer. Atheists have hope. Hope is not prayer. Do not marry the two, because that’s false and disingenuous and implies that having hope or being hopeful is somehow implicitly theistic or antiscientific. Understanding that the universe is a long chain of cause and effect, absolutely does not preclude hoping for favorable outcomes where we can’t predict with any degree of confidence the outcomes. Having hope about the future — about futures that can’t be predicted because we don’t have powerful enough computers with accurate enough models to make these predictions — is human nature. Saying I’m crapping on hope because I’m crapping on prayer is just plain wrong. Slightly insulting to boot, though I’m not one to shy away from insults in arguments so I can’t bloody well expect anyone else to.

However, that example about cancer did strike a nerve. If I thought I could somehow affect the outcome of DanJ’s potential lymphoma, I’d do it, freely, and often. It doesn’t cost me anything to pray, right? It’s not going to help though. Not the least reason being because I’ve already insulted any deity that could possibly answer such a prayer, if any such deity actually existed. Scientific studies have actually shown that when people about to undergo surgery know they’re being prayed for, it ups their stress levels, having the exact inverse correlation to what they were hoping — there was a slight negative correlation with knowing you’re being prayed for, and healing from the surgery. I’m guessing it amounts to a combination of performance anxiety and the mistaken realization that, if all those people are praying for them, they might be worse off than they are. So, since I want Dan to get better, I’m not going to pray for him. Instead, I sent him some money, knowing that they’re in a bad financial situation and in the States, you gotta pay to play the health insurance game. That way, I’ve given him some material aid, instead of “good vibrations” or “karma” or whatever the hell prayer is supposed to do to help.

My moral code is a separate discussion. Suffice it to say it comes from my brain and my social upbringing, just like yours and every other human on the planet’s. That you found a philosophy in Taoism that you find fits what you’d like in a moral code is great for you — and you’ve probably, in liking aspects of the code that already fit with what you think and do, changed other aspects your behaviour to match. This is fine, for you, but cannot be exported to others. And others might have found moral teachings they found to be good, that you and I would find reprehensible. I find there are some moral teachings in many religions (e.g. the Golden Rule, which makes a part of just about every religion ever) that are good and noble and just, and if I absolutely have to pick and choose my morals from religious teachings, I’m sure I could cobble together a lot of specific rules that are great and even pluralistic.

But nowhere in any religious text (at least, none that I’VE read) is “thou shalt not have sex with the prepubescent”. Some religions even explicitly allow consummation of marriage with children — Muhammad supposedly had a nine-year-old wife. And yet we both agree that defiling an innocent in such a manner is reprehensible. One does not even need to have that passed down as a commandment to agree with this! You and I, however, probably wouldn’t agree on classifying willful ignorance as a moral failing, but if I had to have a set of commandments written down so you could peruse and judge me by them, that would probably be rule number three — right after “treat others like you want to be treated” and “do not defile the innocent children you sick perv”. Having it written down, though, is no sufficient condition for your code to be good. In fact, the surest way to convince someone not otherwise predisposed to hurt someone, is to tell them that their religion says they should. Otherwise, why would anyone care about, say, homosexuality? Or about what women are and are not allowed to wear? Or about whose lives you can and should save (e.g. the unborn — blastocysts are generally only considered “people” by the religious), and whose are forfeit (e.g. the mothers, or the soldiers sent to war, or the citizens of that foreign country who follow a different god)?

Everyone picks and chooses how to treat others. The fact that we have the ability to empathize with people (a trait that has evolved to facilitate social interactions and help us build societies) means that we already have some measure of hardwired altruism. We can even alter our ability to empathize using magnets, for FSM’s sake. So morals come from your brain. Period. They don’t come from a book — books that were just written by other people setting down the morals that came from THEIR brains, in concert with the societies they were brought up in.

Anything else you’d like to ask about? My favorite posts all come from rebutting specific arguments.

(Now that I’ve fully linked this post, mostly to older pieces of my own, I hope you’ll read them all. If you don’t, I can see why, but I’m sure if you did, you’d understand me, my positions, and why I do what I do much better.)

28 comments

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  1. 1
    George W.

    (Comment moved here to clean up the prayer thread)
    James,
    I know that your comments were directed at Jason but I feel compelled to answer at least a few of them. I generally find myself nodding in agreement with most of Jason’s posts so I assume what I have to say will not fall too afar from his point of view.

    I loved the first part of your post as I am a fan of parable and analogy. Where the parable seems to go astray is that you are reading something very different into it then I am. What if your silverfish, in a great lifelong quest for a moist place to call home found themselves in your bathtub fearing and distressful? What if your perceived “non-action” is them performing a prayer ritual to the Big Silverfish in The Sky?

    Even better, what if all your anthropomorphizing of the silverfishes intentions overlooks the fact that silverfish only want to find a moist place to rest their head and likely don’t worry themselves too much with anything short of preservation? In this case I verily agree with your assessment that this is what the “apocalypse” will be like. I don’t buy into an apocalypse in the religious sense though. I think our species is slow to change, and I don’t think any millennia old rituals aid that cause.

    I also think it is somewhat foolhardy to believe that one can have no hope without God. I for one consider myself both hopeful and atheistic. I can assure you that as my grandfather was on his deathbed, I did not “shop for hats”, I was right by his side to comfort him till the end, much to my haberdashers dismay….
    If someone I knew had their daughter taken by a pedophile I am sure that I could wish the family well without talking to an imaginary friend.
    I can assure you that atheist wives of firefighters do not cry themselves to sleep with any more frequency than wives of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or (insert religion here) firefighters. If you believe the tripe that you spew in those analogies than you are point-proven reasoning to write these atheist blogs.

    Religionists love to believe that they have a patent in good standing on morality, hope, empathy, charity, etc. What the facts lay bare, however, is that for many religionists these virtues are nothing more than things to pay lip service to while cultivating a culture of bigotry, misinformation, condescension, and hate. James, you claim to have a moral compass; perhaps YOU would like to tell us how it pointed you in the direction of assuming atheists are heartless, uncaring assholes?
    Perhaps that is why atheists need to be firm and pointed in their criticism of religiosity? Maybe that is why you smell a hint of anger at those who continually paint us as heathens and dogs? Is it possible that the “venom” you detect is an evolutionary defense mechanism to fight the lies and deception perpetrated in the name of your “Gods”?

    Reasonable people inform their morals from a plethora of sources. Morals, for me, are grounded in the comprehension of many principles, not just religious dogma. I do however, reserve the right to read and accept those parts of any of your fables I find logical and worthy of my attention; and anyone’s for that matter. I don’t need to accept that “Fags should all die” to accept the golden rule.

    So next time you want to find the root of atheist’s pointed and trite remarks, write another post, then read it as if you were the subject of that kind of intolerance and misinformation.

  2. 2
    Atheistclimber

    Hey there, great blog here and thanks for the linkback to my post on hope.

  3. 3
    James Carey

    I hardly know where to start here.

    I am not a defender of organized religion. I think someone should walk right up to the Pope and ask him “Please tell your priests to stop fucking their choirboys.”

    Organized religion is a mess. The New Testament was put together in Rome when Christianity began to grow as the popular religion. It was crafted in such a way that it told the story of Jesus that they wanted told, so I hold the whole thing with a great deal of skepticism. I don’t believe Jeus was the son of God but I believe he did exist as a man. Or a bug eyed alien, I haven’t discounted that possibility. As with anything Man touches, we ruined whatever it was supposed to be because Man craves power. That much is evident with the history of the Catholic Church.

    So, to attack that, I say “go right ahead”. There is alot about organized religion that nauseates me to the extreme. Religion should be promoting love, acceptance and tolerance. I know that is expecting alot of the world these days. Instead they preach fear and retribution.

    My offense is for the common person, and I may have come off backwards. Prayer is not Hope, you are right. But Hope can be offered in the form of a prayer, for someone who feels they have nowhere else to turn. To rob them of that one refuge, to maybe feel that they are doing something to help, or to seek solace, comfort, easing grief and to somehow seek closure if they need it. What do you have to gain by robbing them of this one last hope they may have?

    As for prayer having an adverse effect, I read your link. I am leary about any sort of statistics because they can be interpreted in a number of different ways. I tried to open the link to the original MSNBC article but my crappy computer could not open it.

    “The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren’t prayed for but were told it was a possibility.

    The researchers didn’t ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical. The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.”

    I’ll tell you why this study sucks. They couldn’t do a control and tell a group “There will definatly be no one praying for your speedy recovery”. It would have been interesting to see that percentage. And to go up to a complete stranger in a hospital and say you are going to pray for their recovery, I think even I would find that a bit unnerving, mostly because for the person to come up and say it seems completely self serving. If you are going to pray, it is a personal conversation between you and God. I don’t know why people believe they have to shout it from the rooftops. That’s half the worlds problems is people can’t keep their fool mouths shut.

    My arguement is for people who pray to themselves. And I believe that if placebo’s can work, a prayer can work. Not because I believe in God, but I think that hope and belief can heal. And I most certainly do not want to believe that when the time comes for me to take the great dirtnap, that my existence ends. I cease to be, save for food for worms after the embalmer rolls me for loose change. There is evidence of a grand design. The Golden Ratio (“Phi”) and the fact that our moon exactly covers the sun during a solar eclipse are two examples that do appear to be too much of a coincidence.

    As Athiests I understand it you are skeptics by nature and it is good to question things. But as you tear down this syetem of beliefs, what are you leaving in it’s place? Will it be any better than what we have now?

    We are destroying our planet.
    We have unlocked DNA. And now we are patenting it for profit.
    80% of the focus of Pharmacy Companies is on meds to help lose weight fast because it has the highest profit potential.
    Corporate greed led to the recession that caused my company to go bankrupt (Don’t be sad, they were all a bunch of bastards and I was never so glad to leave a place. But the timing could have been better.)

    And this is all happening, despite “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Do you think we would have been better or worse off without that piece of wisdom?

    How have we, as a human race, proven that we are even worthy of salvation if there is one. Is there any sign that we are ever going to be better than what we are today?

    if Jesus was the Son of God, he was a remarkable poor judge of character. I would have flushed everyone down the drain like so many silverfish, in his place.

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    The fact that we both agree that organized religion is ridiculous and damaging, is good. Organized religion is an emergent property of mankind’s need to organize (being a social animal), and true believers in a specific set of mythologies. Take these two necessary conditions and stir them in a pot, and presto, there you have it — organized religion will self-arrange. Remove religion and replace with dogmatic belief in a specific person or philosophy, and you have other damaging institutions, like fascist states or petty dictatorships. Or the Republican Tea Party Movement.

    So, yes, I agree, it’s a bad thing to simply remove the structure that religion provides, without replacing it with something else. But reality itself should be the guide, not the mythologies made up by a bronze-age people not yet capable of employing science to discover reality in the first place. So, teach science in the classroom unabashedly, but un-dogmatically. Teach children HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Show them the experiments and discoveries that led humans to the understanding that we have a common descent with every other living thing on this planet. Show them the experiments and discoveries that show the universe is expanding, and how scientists can extrapolate that expansion backward to figure out the moment of the big bang. Show them that the very ability to extrapolate backward from our present rate of speed proves the big bang. None of this, I learned in the classroom. It was all deemed “too controversial” for a pluralistic society where people with beliefs that intersect with reality are given more leeway than they should to dictate what’s opinion, and what’s fact.

    All of that is neither here nor there. Teaching future generations how to think, rather than what to think dogmatically and via rote memorization, is one hell of a task, but it would take us further toward true freedom than our societies have managed thus far.

    I’ll be covering the various experiments that have been carried out in an effort to prove that faith-healing works, in part 3 of my series on prayer. That this one is the *best* scientific experiment on the matter doesn’t mean it’s the be-all and end-all — yet this one cost a shit-ton of money to produce the results it did. The fact is, we keep throwing money at this failed hypothesis again and again because people really, really, desperately want it to be true, rather than because there’s even the merest scintilla of evidence that it is so. Because there is no such evidence. Just a lot of people wanting the comfort of knowing that when they pray, they might actually be helping.

    Your arguments FOR prayer, though, sound a lot like my discounting of meditative prayer as merely meditation.

    I absolutely agree that greed, especially of the un-golden-rule variety, is seriously hampering scientific and humanitarian progress. The patenting of DNA is ridiculous on its face. The damage we’ve done to the environment in pursuit of oil, and the greedy fucks that have stymied any attempt to get off our oil addiction by turning “climate change” into a socialist plot by Al Gore to make money for the Weather Network, counts as a huge strike against humanity. And medicine-for-profit, and patenting GM crops so that Monsanto can sue nearby small farms into the ground when their crops cross-germinate, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah, if there WAS a deity, humanity should be judged and smote PDQ.

    But in that respect, I hold out more hope for the inherent goodness of your average person, when that average person is benefited with an education and not suckled at the teat of Survivor and American Idol. Reality is so much more splendorous than reality-TV, or the unreality of religion, that I’m consistently amazed when people have to stick their heads in the sand in the face of what actually exists.

    (As for your specific “indications of design”, suffice it to say I disagree with all of them being anything but coincidence, or emergent properties of certain human-imposed constructs, or misconstrual of the reality of the situation — check out http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/ for a few examples.)

  5. 5
    Paul S.

    The main point of contention that I have with atheism and atheists is not that atheists are bad people or that atheism necessarily leads to a less moral life, or even a less hopeful life. My main quarrel is with the idea that believing in things that can’t be verified scientifically is somehow a defect, or something that needs to be fought against. I see it as both a way of addressing questions that science can’t really answer, and as a key part of some peoples’ identity and culture. I don’t think that people, whether theists or atheists, should be so offended that not everyone views “life, the universe, and everything” in the same way that they do.

    I see a lot of complaints from atheists that the religious are trying to force their beliefs on others, but in my personal experience it has usually been the other way around. The religious hold their own beliefs without much pressuring of others to share them, while the atheists are more likely to openly ridicule the beliefs of the religious in public and try to “convert” people to their way of thinking. I realize that this isn’t the case in many parts of the USA, let alone the world, but it is enough to make me view the claims of atheists to always be discriminated against with extreme suspicion.

  6. 6
    George W.

    James,
    I think the “acceptable benefit of prayer” line can be drawn squarely on the “prayer’s” side of the yard and not on the “prayee’s”. I think this is an important distinction.
    Jason has conceded that meditative type prayer can have a positive effect on the individual. I would caution that it still feeds a delusion and the effect may not be NET positive, but certainly some good can come of it.

    If the result of prayer is to commune with “God”, or seek supernatural guidance, or supernatural intervention; prayer is an epic failure.
    If one just wishes to organize their thoughts and “hope” for a better outcome, then yes, prayer is a somewhat positive endeavor. If religionists would admit that is the only point and benefit of prayer, we would not be having this discussion.

    If organizing your thoughts and hoping for a positive outcome IS prayer, then I should expect many atheists do “pray”. What I have noticed thus far is that Jason seems to be questioning the extra-personal benefit of prayer. Like praying god will smite an oil spill.

    As an aside, railing against “organized religion” and then spouting Eastern Mystical Gobbledygook seems a little perplexing. A delusion is a delusion, yours just hasn’t done much damage yet.

  7. 7
    George W.

    Paul,
    If it were true that religion never tried to force its beliefs on everyone, then I might agree that atheists are overreacting. Reality seems to show a very different pattern. If my children didn’t ever have to face the prospect of equal time to Intelligent Design in their science class, or if I didn’t have to explain why the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t really an appropriate way to start off my morning in PUBLIC school; then yes, your religious beliefs are perfectly fine by me. In fact, I would otherwise find religion folkishly charming.

    I have yet to meet an atheist who proselytized in public. If you find yourself on the interwebs too frequently, you may come to a different conclusion. On the web, yes, many atheists plead their case; in public this is far from the case. When was the last time you saw a news report on “yet another Christian billboard or bus ad daring to claim that life is good with God”?

    I have never seen an atheist try to “convert” people to atheism. If anything an atheist may implore for rational dialogue in matters of science; I couldn’t care less what you believe beyond the facts.

    I suspect that atheists on the internet are searching out and finding community. Community is one thing I think the traditional religions do well.

    Atheists may seem forceful in their beliefs because so much has been done to let them know that they need to “shut up and keep it to yourselves”. Without us defining ourselves and explaining ourselves, we allow others to define us and explain our beliefs. Christianity has had centuries of culture, literature, and power to define itself; I suspect that many Christians would prefer this luxury not be extended to atheism.

    So if you have enough pull with your Christian brothers to get them to tone down the rhetoric and keep their beliefs to themselves, then I suspect you will find a very different brand of atheism. The reality is sadly that the religionists love a good adversary, it helps feed the “us vs. them” paradigm of most religions. I imagine that the rise of the “New Atheism” has been nothing short of a windfall for churches and ministries.

  8. 8
    khan

    —The religious hold their own beliefs without much pressuring of others to share them—

    This is a flat out lie.

  9. 9
    A

    I’m posting before reading the comments, but I’ll go back and look at them.

    You make two comments that jump out at me, Jason. One I strongly disagree with and one I strongly agree with.

    Strongly disagree: “If you read any venom into my words, you’re reading my words wrong.”

    Readers only have the words on the page (or screen) to go by. Tone is difficult to control, but it’s the writer’s responsibility to convey the tone as best as possible and if the reader interprets the tone differently than intended, then the problem isn’t necessarily with the reader. Maybe I’ve been teaching business writing too long, but if readers misinterpret tone, then it may be a good idea to reconsider diction.

    The above quotation, for example, sounds somewhat condescending. I suspect you don’t mean it to be, but the “you”-orientation is ineffective in that scenario because it places the blame for any misunderstanding on the reader. If you’re trying to convince James that you don’t mean to have venom in the tone, blaming him for reading the words wrong isn’t going to persuade him. In persuasive arguments, a neutral tone can often be the most effective (advertising and stump speeches not included).

    Strongly agree: “My moral code is a separate discussion. Suffice it to say it comes from my brain and my social upbringing, just like yours and every other human on the planet’s.”

    I’ve been a part of or a lurker on many arguments about moral codes and how much connection there is between them and religious belief–most likely from different online social groups than yours. On many occasions, I’ve read comments by religious people who believe that someone without religion is unable to have a moral compass, that religion is what gives people their morals.

    As someone raised without religion, I find this argument offensive and hurtful. James and Jason, both of you know me, and I hope you know that I have a solid moral code and though I have definitely done bad things and hurt people (probably to both of you at one time or another), I never intend to do so. Few people can fit their ideal at all times, and I’m skeptical of those who pretend to do so. Here’s a shout out to the latest hypocrites to make the news: http://www.feministing.com/archives/021223.html

    Again, religion had no direct part in developing my morals, but I have them. (The Golden Rule that you cite, Jason, is probably the simplest explanation, but my stance is more complicated than that.) While I’m undeclared not an atheist, I know many atheists who also have moral compasses unrelated to religion. Some rejected their religious upbringing, some, like me, were never exposed to it in the first place.

    I know anecdotal evidence isn’t effective support, but it’s all I have at this point.

    On a lighter note, I caught a few minutes of “The Raccoons” this afternoon and it definitely had a huge impact on my ethics, particularly my environmental ones.

  10. 10
    A

    Ah, I’ve read the comments now. Jason, this quotation helps me understand a lot more about your motivation:

    “None of this, I learned in the classroom. It was all deemed ‘too controversial’ for a pluralistic society where people with beliefs that intersect with reality are given more leeway than they should to dictate what’s opinion, and what’s fact.”

    I didn’t realize that the science education in your high school was so poor, so no wonder you’re so passionate about educating others.

    I guess I was lucky in that we did study a lot of the things that you cited and we didn’t learn much at all about religion — aside from the one biology class when a religious student gave a presentation on the scientific evidence for Creation. While I object to the idea of that presentation happening during a science class, it was a strong case study for critical thinking. I had the opportunity to evaluate (and ultimately disagree with) his arguments, so it wasn’t all bad.

    Having to say the Lord’s prayer first thing every day in grade four, on the other hand, not so useful. Well, except that I feel like I belong if I ever have to go to a Church service.

    I do believe I’m on a tangent.

    I wish you could talk to my grandfather. He’s a hardcore Catholic (he converted to marry my grandmother), he would have earned a doctorate in Philosophy had he not fathered six kids (did I mention he was Catholic?), and he believes that a fundamental error of the 20th-Century is the belief that the scientific method is the only way of knowing. He’s a smart, religious man, and he’d be a fascinating debating partner, I’m sure.

    Um, but not even one of his 13 grandchildren knew how to do that communion thingy with the wafer at Grandma’s funeral, so he hasn’t been able to persuade any of us.

  11. 11
    Jason Thibeault

    You’re right that the writer has more to do with the perceived tone of the piece than the reader. But in these conversations about religion, I’ve found that the people complaining about tone are universally predisposed against accepting any argument whatsoever — that the mere act of making any kind of argument against their belief is galling enough. So, I can get a bit touchy about my perceived tone. The fact that James perceived an underlying “venom” that does not exist, where what IS there is mere passion about the arguments, still bothers me though.

    The Raccoons had a big part of my childhood too. Cartoon Canadiana at its finest. Cyril Sneer was the best big-pollution strawman ever.

  12. 12
    Jason Thibeault

    I remember a specific biology class wherein we were taught about different members of the same order (I believe of sharks, if memory serves), wondering how they were grouped together like they were. The best answer my teacher could come up with was that they seemed similar on a number of levels. Rather than actually explaining common descent, we got the pat just-so answer about that specific family. I was left with the impression that the taxonomy on the tree of life was built arbitrarily, rather than because of degrees of familial separation.

    I’ve never been unfortunate enough to have to sit through a science presentation on creationism, but what’s worse is, for the longest time I thought Charles Darwin was just some guy that worked with monkeys. I had heard his name kicked around derisively by some students, but had no idea what the hell they were talking about. I was a complete innocent when it came to the single biggest, most important idea in biology itself, the idea that made everything else actually make some amount of sense.

    I had a really good physics teacher though. He went out of his way to tie things into reality. He was a Star Trek nerd, and he encouraged those few students of his that showed any interest in science to watch it. In his free periods or on recess, he taught outside his curriculum to those that were interested, answering any and all questions to the best of his ability. He wasn’t always right about everything (in retrospect), but he tried. He made a concerted effort.

    He also taught occasionally wearing Mickey Mouse ears. And once he taught a class standing on his head. Well, the first part of the class anyway. It got the kids’ attention.

    I would probably enjoy a conversation with your grandfather, as long as there was an understanding between us that I am an irrevocably lost soul and no amount of preaching would convert me. I’d also hope for an understanding that, just because I’m young, doesn’t mean my ideas aren’t fully formed. Outside of those two requirements, I could spend hours debating with a genial theist.

  13. 13
    Paul S.

    Not in my experience, it isn’t.

    I already acknowledged that a lot of other people have had different experiences that almost certainly predispose them to look at theism and atheism in very different ways than my experiences predisposed me.

  14. 14
    Jason Thibeault

    That, coupled with the fact that atheists are FAR more vocal where the Internet provides them some small measure of anonymity, probably explains why your experiences are different. And being in the in-group, it’s difficult to see the prejudice unless you’re actively looking. I don’t often see anti-black behaviour, being a white person, or anti-woman sexist behaviour, being a man, though I am more sensitive to it than, say, my neighbor, because of my discussions online on the topic.

  15. 15
    George W.

    Paul,
    You are so right!
    Once you discount “many parts of the USA, let alone the world”; so, like more than half of the global population, then your argument is bulletproof!
    I tip my hat to you, sir.

  16. 16
    Erin

    Rather than responding to each post individually, I’ll lump all my thoughts together in one to save me from deciding specifically which ones to respond to.

    First a few stories: the first about developing moral compasses both with and without religion, the others about religions pushing people to convert.

    1) So the mention of grade 4 brings back a memory of an argument between two little girls. One of us had been raised Christian and the other had not. If I remember correctly, the point of contention was whether or not there was a God. I firmly believed there was and she insisted there wasn’t. Eventually (possibly a couple years later), we agreed to disagree. Fast forward a good 13 years or so and I had moved on to at least questioning the existence of God and she started going to church before she got married. Through years of observation I can almost certainly say that morally, we are similar or perhaps she is a little better than me but I could not say as I am living my life and she is living hers.

    2) Where I grew up, it was common to have people go around door-to-door trying to convert you to their religion. They did this so often that, in my house we got to the point that we stayed away from the windows and pretended we weren’t there. One of my mother’s employees is Wiccan and decided to invite one of the religious interlopers in for a discussion. She handled herself well but the other lady did not. The parting shot of this person was to tell my mother’s employee that she and her daughters were going to hell…this is after she was invited into the house and served coffee. So, yes, people do try to force their religions on people AND they can be impolite when they don’t succeed.

    3) I moved across the country and we still get people knocking on our doors…mostly charities but sometimes it Mormons trying to sell their version of the world. They’re pretty polite and actually offered to leave when they realized there was a draft coming in my open door and getting my (at the time less and a year old) baby cold. Before my baby was born though, I was walking back from the grocery store with cold meats etc. when a couple of young guys dressed in suits stopped me. They politely offered help (which I politely refused) and then tried to sell me on their religion. The only way I could get them to stop was to insist that I had to get home to cook dinner for my husband. They apologized and let me go on my way. Polite, possibly morally straightish, but still annoying as heck.

    I’ll be honest, my moral compass came partially from going to Church. I’ll be even more honest and say that I hated the Church that my parents took me to up until I was eight. We switched to one that was far more relaxed and more community based. I loved that Church and even participated in it, teaching Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes from when I was 12 until my second year of university. The straight up truth? It was the community that kept me there. I knew the minister by his first name, I babysat for some of the children, everyone there knew everyone else, the bake sales and teas were fun. That’s why I loved my Church and that’s why I still miss it and consider finding one here that is similar. That being said, I don’t believe in God any more than I believe in the Posiedon or Heaven any more that Valhalla. I do, however, believe in community and what being a part of one can do for you. Check out WAR’s Pink for Tink thread for an example of community: http://forums.warhammeronline.com/warhammer/board/message?board.id=server_bl&thread.id=63298

    Finally, the part where I poke at Jason a little: There IS a God. Unfortunately for a lot of people, humans created him and not the other way around. Time and again, humans have created deities to suit their needs and then rebuilt them as their needs have changed. It’s about time more people realized that.

    One more thing, I haven’t read your series yet so I’m not sure if you’re including this in it somewhere. A few years ago I came across an article in Reader’s Digest about the science behind prayer. The article was written about the book Why God Won’t Go Away by Andrew Newburg: http://www.andrewnewberg.com/why.asp He appears to have a few books out now, all on the same subject. You’ve probably already turned this up, but I figured I’d mention it in case you hadn’t yet.

  17. 17
    James Carey

    Erin managed to sum up what I have been spending days trying to put into words.

    I guess my big question to Jason is, what if you succeed? What if Oprah is browsing the web and finds your website and brings you on her show and the next thing, low and behold, all the news outlets and in the world are posting as front page news “THERE IS NO GOD!”

    Then what are you going to fill it with? I know the few obvious sciptures that get picked on the most will be rescinded…Black people are good, homosexuality is now okay. Not that any of these in my opinion were ever wrong in the firstplace, “Even the Devil himself may cite scripture to suit his own need” is my answer for anyone who falls back on the Bible to support their prejudice. But if you question one element of the Bible, then all of it must come into question. lets take a look at the Catholic Ten Commandments:

    1) “I am the Lord your God and you shall not have any Gods before me”- Just scratch out the word “God” and put “Government”. Scared yet?

    2) “Do Not Take the Lords Name in Vain”

    3) “Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy”-Nova Scotia was the last hold out province against Sunday shopping. Businesses were pushing for it, the citizens didn’t want it. The Government held a referendum and the people voted “No” to Sunday shopping. then the governemnet turned around and made it legal anyways. Our society is already leaning towards 2 income houselholds, kids are entering into the workforce earlier and family time is going down the drain. Even if you are not religious, what is the big deal about having one day off a week?

    4) “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother”-Why even bother bringing this up when kids these days seem to know everything anyways. pwned.

    5) “You Shall Not Commit Murder”- Well there are 6 Billion people on the planet, it’s not like we are an endangered species, am I right? the world could probably due with a bit of culling, all those homeless and such, the old an infirmed who are draining our healthcare coffers. In fact, to boost revenue for healthcare we can setup Kavorkian Clinics so rather than pay out pensions we can just trot them into one of these clinics like poor old Boxer from george orwell’s “Animal farm” and unlock all that retirement money to feed the economy as well. Make it illegal for young girls to get pregnant before the age of 21 and if they do then they are forced to have an abortion. That way the government doesn’t have to pay unneccessary welfare and child tax benefits. besides, it’s cheaper to just let babies be born, grow up and be educated in another country, then let them immigrate here. It’s expensive for a government to ween a kids along for 16 untaxable years. better to hand pick applicants who are ready to pay taxes right away.

    6) “You Shall Not Commit Adultry”- Alright. Now it’s a party. The whole notion of marriage was kinda silly in the first place when you look at the divorce rates. Think of the sigh of relief of all those politcians and their prostitues who’s book deals just went south. It isn’t cheating if you paid for sex, right?

    7) “Thou Shalt Not Steal”- At least we wouldn’t have to deal with the endless finger pointing when it comes to the government misappropriation of funds and expense funds. That would actually be a relief to hear a politician say “Yeah, we stole your tax money and took a trip to Aruba.”

    8) “You shall not bear flase witness against thy neighbor”- Which I am thinking means you shouldn’t lie. When it comes right down to it, we’ve all done it so why belabour it.

    9) “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors Wife”- Unless she’s up for grabs at a key party.
    10 “Thou Shalt not covet thy neighbors assets”- I guess I can keep that BBQ I borrowed last month.

    This was done TONGUE IN CHEEK so before you starting writing blazing epistles, i did it to illustrate some possible reprecussions of a sudden vaccum appearing where many peoples moral standards once existed, you are going to have a fucked up mess. It will hurt individuals, and the governments are going to run with it. They are going to look at the red ink of their budgets and look for ways to bring it back into the black, and if they can look at the peoples outrage and say “So what? There is no God.” What is to stop them? What do they have to turn to?

    Turning to Erin’s Experience with the Mormon Elder’s, I am an inactive member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Your experience is exactly why I stopped going to church. Young men are pressured to go out and spend 2 years of their lives out on a mission to go out and spread the word of God, and they would come home with pretty much their pick of any girl in the congregation to marry. I saw families ripped apart because one of their children would decide to join and the parents would tell them no because they have been a family of whatever religion for however many generations. It was unneccessary and I felt that it was done purely to expand the churches tithe base. (Mormans have an unpaid ministry, the only person who is paid is the custodian who cleans, mows the lawn and shovels the walkways.)

    But they other side of the coin that makes me sad, it is a very family oriented church and a very tight with each other on the basis of friendship. I miss alot of the people.

    To George W.-
    “As an aside, railing against “organized religion” and then spouting Eastern Mystical Gobbledygook seems a little perplexing. A delusion is a delusion, yours just hasn’t done much damage yet.”

    that “Eastern Mystical Gobbledygook” You can find in the business section of the bookstore. Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings”. It is not a religion, it is a way of life that I identify with. And it isn’t for everyone, I posted it for Jason, I asked him what his moral compass was, it was only fair to show him mine and make it subject to his criticisms as well.

    Spiritual/Non-spiritual beliefs are supposed to be personal. To create an open forum that trashes the belief of God and Prayer is as offensive to me as finding Billy Graham on all my television stations when i want to watch my saturday morning cartoons. And for religions to go out and aggressivly try to convert people I find reprehensible. (Though the last time the jehovah Witnesses came by they had some very pretty ladies. Call me a pig but I think the word of God is easier to listen to when it is coming from a nice set of C-Cups.) It should be explored by each individual as a personal journey unhindered by others. For me, I long ago decided that if there was a God, he was just going to simply have to judge me for the person I am and not the religion I decided to kiss ass to.

    And before I close this reply, I think I owe a mild apology to jason on my use of the word “venomous”. After reading your article about prayer being nonsense I viewed the whole piece like you were stealing a small childs teddy bear. I am not saying prayer works on a spiritual level, but alot of people turn to it for personal comfort and if it works, what is the harm? So what if they are talking to an imaginary friend? It’s a coping mechanism and if it works, let it be. Religion attracts alot of sheep type personalities. You take away their boundries and you are going to have one big mess.

    And if a doctor can perscribe placebo’s that cure a headache, then why can’t a prayer either. Both are tied to the belief that it is real and will cure them.

    Praying to God to win the $40 million from LottoMax so you can build the biggest gaming store the likes of this planet has never seen doesn’t do squat. I know that for a fact.

  18. 18
    Jason Thibeault

    Jeez. I thought you were supposed to be the firebrand, Erin, not the arbiter of good sense and reason! You’ve shaken my understanding of your character to its very core. And I am the better for it.

    I’ve seen articles on that book before, but where I haven’t read it myself yet, I can’t rightly talk about it. I’ll likely have to pick it up at some point. My initial impression is, “don’t call it God, and you might have something there” — e.g., what’s hard-wired is a desire to understand everything about the universe and the God framework is a really easy and all-encompassing one to throw into that spot to free up the brainshare that normally would go to processing that “how everything works” question. Thanks for bringing it up though! I might end up taking a day or two extra on part 3 for it, but so much the better.

  19. 19
    Jason Thibeault

    James, I still don’t think you quite get the point, and I strongly suspect you’ve not only misconstrued my intentions, but you misunderstand the actual problem. I’ll pull quotes on what I’m answering here.

    Erin managed to sum up what I have been spending days trying to put into words.

    Then why is there such an incongruity between what she said — that it’s possible to get morals from someplace other than religion and come out pretty much identical (or even better) — and what you said, that you need a framework like religion to develop and maintain a moral code? I agree that community is important to developing morals (in that morals come from your brain and your social upbringing), but religion isn’t the only kind of community out there! It’s just ONE KIND of community. And it’s founded on a delusion.

    I guess my big question to Jason is, what if you succeed?

    I can’t help but scream “Objection! Asked and answered!” in melodramatic Phoenix Wright style. If I succeed in my actual goals — which you’ve mistaken for the elimination of all religion — then people will have every right to go on believing whatever they want, but they will NOT be first deprived of knowing the scientific and empirical facts of reality. No longer will Hare Krishna go unchallenged in their assertion that the Moon Landing never happened because space travel is impossible, because the moon is 800,000 miles FURTHER from us than the Sun, all because of the words in their holy book, the Bhagavad-Gita. No longer will children in schools be deprived of being taught the merest existence of the theories of evolution or the Big Bang all because of a misplaced fear of upsetting creationists that teach, due to the Ussher Chronology reading of the Holy Bible, that the Earth is 6000 years old and God made all things in it exactly as they appear today.

    Basically, I’m sick of people thinking that being entitled to their own opinion, means being entitled to their own facts. I’m sick of people thinking that being entitled to their own opinion, means being entitled to sheltering themselves from dissenting opinions.

    If I had my way, religion would be something you discuss over tea. As Douglas Adams said:
    “Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard [Dawkins] creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.”

    This was done TONGUE IN CHEEK so before you starting writing blazing epistles, i did it to illustrate some possible reprecussions of a sudden vaccum appearing where many peoples moral standards once existed, you are going to have a fucked up mess. It will hurt individuals, and the governments are going to run with it. They are going to look at the red ink of their budgets and look for ways to bring it back into the black, and if they can look at the peoples outrage and say “So what? There is no God.” What is to stop them? What do they have to turn to?

    It doesn’t matter that it’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s a slippery slope argument, and a strawman one at that. Eliminating people’s dependence on religion wouldn’t leave a moral vacuum. I strongly feel that I, Abby and Erin have each in our way illustrated that point. If you absolutely must have a codified, dogmatic set of morals, try Secular Humanism, which is wholly compatible with the objective study of reality that is science.

    Or how ’bout my personal code? Which totally escaped me to mention that I have already written out? I’ve since decided that I don’t like the “necessity” of having it written out as much as I did then, but hey, whatever floats your boat, I won’t stop you from writing yours out. In fact, consider it a homework assignment. :)

    I am not saying prayer works on a spiritual level, but alot of people turn to it for personal comfort and if it works, what is the harm?

    Will be covered in Part 4. I promise. It’s actually the whole point of the series. While 5 is the climax wherein I systematically dismantle each type of prayer using the previous posts as my foundation, part 4 is why I feel it’s necessary to do so.

    (And it will be a hell of a lot of work, so I’d appreciate it if you read it.)

    So what if they are talking to an imaginary friend? It’s a coping mechanism and if it works, let it be. Religion attracts alot of sheep type personalities. You take away their boundries and you are going to have one big mess.

    Taking away their god-construct does not take away their moral boundaries. Except in some extreme cases where people say the ONLY reason they’re not out raping and pillaging and murdering is because they believe in God and divine retribution. For those people, leave the god-construct, if you can’t safely peel them away from that wretched set of personal morals. For the next generation, give them real reasons to avoid harming others. Like the fact that we value society, and society has laws otherwise it would fall to pieces.

    I’m advocating a focus on education and the near-sanctification of the scientific method itself. I’m advocating that children be taught to think critically about everything, including and especially pat answers like “God did it”. I’m advocating that children be taught HOW to think, not WHAT to think, and that the results of past scientific experiments not be taught dogmatically (e.g. this is HOW IT IS PERIOD), but rather that these understandings are the best results our best minds have come up with thus far. Open the door to these children to go back, duplicate the experiments, find ways to modify them and prove differently, tear down ideas and build them back up again from first principles, and do it to the specific end of refining our understanding of the universe further than we could ever dream today. This is my utopia. One of enlightenment and humanistic morals.

    Suffice it to say, Oprah would probably have no part of it unless it increases her media empire. And I doubt she’d ever read anything I said and take it seriously. Especially since I wrote this. And this.

  20. 20
    Erin

    I was iffy about it but the article and a quote I found somewhere inspired a story (that never got started) so I picked it up for a little research. I’d say that it falls mostly under meditative prayer though.

  21. 21
    James Carey

    What of Athieist physicist, Harold Marowitz, studies into intelligent design then?

    ————————-

    Could life evolve randomly from inorganic matter? Not according to mathematicians.

    In the last 30 years a number of prominent scientists have attempted to calculate the odds that a free-living, single-celled organism, such as a bacterium, might result by the chance combining of pre-existent building blocks. Harold Morowitz calculated the odds as one chance in 10100,000,000,000. Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the odds of only the proteins of an amoebae arising by chance as one chance in 1040,000.

    …the odds calculated by Morowitz and Hoyle are staggering. The odds led Fred Hoyle to state that the probability of spontaneous generation ‘is about the same as the probability that a tornado sweeping through a junk yard could assemble a Boeing 747 from the contents therein.’ Mathematicians tell us that any event with an improbability greater than one chance in 1050 is in the realm of metaphysics — i.e. a miracle.1
    Harold Marowitz, an atheist physicist, created mathematical models by imagining broths of living bacteria that were superheated until all the complex chemicals were broken down into basic building blocks. After cooling the mixtures, Marowitz used physics calculations to conclude that the odds of a single bacterium reassembling by chance is one in 10100,000,000,000. 2 Wow! How can I grasp such a large statistic? Well, it’s more likely that I would win the state lottery every week for a million years by purchasing just one ticket each week.

    In response to the probabilities calculated by Marowitz, Robert Shapiro, author of Origins – A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, wrote:

    The improbability involved in generating even one bacterium is so large that it reduces all considerations of time and space to nothingness. Given such odds, the time until the black holes evaporate and the space to the ends of the universe would make no difference at all. If we were to wait, we would truly be waiting for a miracle.3
    Sir Fred Hoyle compared the probability of life arising by chance to lining up 1050 (ten with fifty zeros after it) blind people, giving each one a scrambled Rubik’s Cube, and finding that they all solve the cube at the same moment.

    Regarding the origin of life, Francis Crick, winner of the Nobel Prize in biology for his work with the DNA molecule, stated in 1982:

    An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. 4
    —————-

    http://www.allaboutthejourney.org

  22. 22
    Jason Thibeault

    Sorry if I don’t write my own rebuttal, but you cut-and-pasted, so, I don’t feel so bad! From Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations:

    Every so often, someone comes up with the statement “the formation of any enzyme by chance is nearly impossible, therefore abiogenesis is impossible”. Often they cite an impressive looking calculation from the astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, or trot out something called “Borel’s Law” to prove that life is statistically impossible. These people, including Fred, have committed one or more of the following errors.

    Problems with the creationists’ “it’s so improbable” calculations

    1) They calculate the probability of the formation of a “modern” protein, or even a complete bacterium with all “modern” proteins, by random events. This is not the abiogenesis theory at all.

    2) They assume that there is a fixed number of proteins, with fixed sequences for each protein, that are required for life.

    3) They calculate the probability of sequential trials, rather than simultaneous trials.

    4) They misunderstand what is meant by a probability calculation.

    5) They seriously underestimate the number of functional enzymes/ribozymes present in a group of random sequences.

    I put the links in for a reason. Clicky!

    Also, from National Geographic, All Species Evolved from a Single Cell, Study Finds cites some equally impressive big numbers AGAINST the creationist trope that this article you cut-and-pasted from a creationist website.

    I especially love that, at the top of that website, the current trend of claiming to be a “practicing atheist turned Christian” is kept alive. So many newfound creationists don’t go half-assed into their acceptance of dogma!

  23. 23
    George W.

    James,
    If Harold Marowitz had discovered some fundamental proof for intelligent design then where was he at the Dover trial? Just because a handful of scientists are duped by intelligent design does not make it any more likely.
    I also am perplexed by your reference to “Athieist physicist” Harold Marowitz. If he believes in ID then how does he reconcile his “atheism”? Aliens?

    When someone gives me a link to an ID website the fist thing I look for is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. It didn’t take me long. Lo and behold under the title “theory of evolution*”: “Eventually, this “prebiotic rock soup” (water + rock) came alive…”
    So abiogenesis is the theory that “water + rock” = life. I had no idea! Oh, what a sad fool I have been all these years. I’m going to rush out and repent right now!!!
    As far as the odds of abiogenesis are concerned, I suppose it can rightfully be considered a miracle as, near as anyone knows, it has only happened once in billions of years. It only had to happen once. So I suppose an analogy for that might go something like:
    A lottery is held where lets just say a very large amount of numbers are drawn every second. You bought a ticket, let’s say the only ticket, and you are 4 billion years old. Are you saying that your numbers are not likely to come up if new numbers are drawn every second of every hour of every day of every year of every decade of….well I think you get the point?
    And it only needs to happen once. And it doesn’t necessarily have to happen the same way it did. So basically our friend in the analogy has as many sets of numbers as their are ways to make life. We may only be able to conceive of one blueprint with the science we have now, but maybe others exist.

    So, yes it is IMPROBABLE. But hardly impossible. Also, be careful using the words “life arising by chance” as it is not chance that certain chemicals bond in certain ways, and that is a fundamental difference.
    Religionists who cherry pick qoutes from scientists who rightfully stand in awe of the probability of things being “just so” are being dishonest and misleading. If you interviewed any one of those scientists you so joyfully quote about the origin of the universe, the origin of life or evolution, you would find their opinions to stand in stark contrast to your own. They would likely, to a one, disagree with your thesis and be insulted that you are using their words to bolster your argument.

  24. 24
    James Carey

    I didn’t really truly abandon this thread, life has just been pretty busy, with, well life and it has been good.

    First off let me clarify some things, when comments such as “disgusting’ are thrown at me and telling me to let it go, I am thinking that illuminate some things about myself.

    I am not sure where I read it, I thought it was in the tao but I couldn’t find it there but I try to follow a principle of “Take great issues with great levity and small issues with great seriousness”. Sex, Politics, and Religion are pretty much the big three and there are are already a great deal of hyper sensitive and high strung hardliners already that i would rather not contribute to that rabble. I try and use humour as much as possible in discussions such as these. I don’t think you are a humourless bunch, I think I am coming off as hostile which is easy enough to do On a blog, Messenger or even a txt message.

    I was not put out by the fact you trashed my belief structure. I was annoyed by the fact you wrote it off as a “Eastern Mystical Gobbledygook” and felt you hadn’t even looked at it before making that determination. It is an atheist belief but you still call it a religion. Religion is defined as “a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny”. The Tao doesn’t fit that any more than Jaime Funk’s accusation of you guys being a cult. The book talks about “Being one with the Tao” but that is all symbollic.

    I have been reading here for a while and it has been an illuminating experience with regards to myself. But what I have been trying to is point out that this blog is missing the big picture, it is not going deep enough.

    I am going to try and make my point here soundly. I know you are a fan of parable and analogy so I am going to ask you to bear with me here. Toss the away the Science Journal, the Bible and the Tao te Ching. The book we will be using here is is “The Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations for Industrial Establishments for the Province of Ontario”
    Most of this is based on personal experience. You should go grab a coffee, this might be a dry read.

    Imagine if you will a young farmer/worker goes to his priest/manager and tells him that the scripture/law requires the church/factory to build a guard rail on the choir loft/storage area because it is too high from the floor and there is a risk of falling. The manager/priest looks at the young farmer/worker and tells him pointedly that the scripture is open for interpretation and in fact that area does not need a guard rail.

    Workers 1:1 reads “There shall be a guardrail on a raised floor, mezzanine, balcony, gallery, landing, platform, walkway, stile, ramp, or other surface”
    The farmer/worker looks at the priest/manager and asks him if he was quite sure as the scripture/law seems to be quite clear to which the priest/manager gets visably upset and says he is quite sure no guardrail is needed and gives a vieled threat that if the topic is pursued the farmer/worker would be excommunicated/terminated with a bad reference.
    It was some time later but eventually our church/factory received a visit from the high priest/ministry of labour who made sure the church/factory got it’s guardrail. Among other things.

    —–

    The Bible is not a bad book, but, like all things done by the hand of men it is imperfect. People will twist and interpret the words and meanings to suit there own needs. OSHA has the same problems, being written by probably hundreds of people who never received any credit for their work. You make fun of the the different bibles having fluctuating numbers of commandments. As of april 2001 OSHA has had 22 revisions and one article revoked.

    And OSHA is not nearly perfect. 500 workers in Ontario still die every year. If you look into the act the definition of a critical injury is ” an injury of a serious nature that a) places life in jeopardy; b) produces unconsciousness; c) results in substantial loss of blood; d) involves the fracture of a leg or arm but not finger or toe; e) involves the amputation of a leg, arm, hand or foot but not a finger or toe”
    So it is possible to have a situation where someone loses their finger and while being attended to another worker walks by, sees the severed finger and having a weak constitution passes out. According to the law you would have to report the man fainting but not the guy who lost his finger.

    2000 years later and we are still writing dumb stuff. But OSHA is all we have as a standard and we still follow it. Say a worker is walking at his work station and trips over his shoe lace and his arm almost goes into a machine, saved by a guard that the employer installed because it was a standard set by OSHA. Those numbers are harder to measure, the lives saved and injuries prevented.

    The Act tries to inspire (albeit with threat of fines) a standard of a safe work environment so we cal all go home and enjoy our lives with our family. And I feel that is noble, despite the glaring errors, there is a difference between the spirit of intent and the letter of the law.

    But guarding equipment and training all cost money and in their own self interest companies will try to twist meaning and get away with trying to spend as little as possible. there is no money to be made from investing in safety provisions, only a marginal risk of loss.
    My view of this whole Bible/OSHA comparison is that your persective seems to be just look to at it, and say “This is dumb, lets get rid of it” but not propose to anything to fill that gap. And I feel that there should be something there in place of it and I have been so desperatly listening to hear what that is.
    The Bible, origins not withstanding, tries to instill a sense of charity, a sense of community, and urges good works, albeit with the threat of going to hell if you don’t but even a mule needs a carrot. We as a race are not a charitable bunch. Stephen Hawking had that right on the money, we are greedy and selfish. In my eyes, any belief that inspires good acts should be nurtured and accepted. Just as a quick illustration I did two Google searches for Charities, one for Christian, the other for Atheist and Christian scored about 3 times higher in hits and most of the Atheist hits are asking where the Athiest Charities are? This number doesn’t prove anything, it only mildly suggests that without that suggestion to do good works, they are not doing them. Not all of them, but more than some of them.

    You have quoted to me the bad things about the Bible, how it says homosexuality is a blasphomy and how having black skin is the curse of the lineage of the first murderer.. I would like to think that in this day and age we can recognize nonsense when we see it. This sort of mentality is not taught by the bible. It is taught by other people and they use it to support their prejudices. If it wasn’t written in the bible, do you honestly think that hate would just vanish?
    Science and technology is the bread butter of this website. I remember in high school we touched on Alvin Toffler’s book “The Third Wave”. Describing societies as waves, the first wave being an agricultural society and the second wave being industrialized, it proposed that society would pass into a third wave, which turns out to be the information and communication wave i would guess. And the single greatest achievement of the third wave, you are staring at right now. The internet.

    The next I say with a humourous intent. Jason called this blog site “Lousy Canuck” because he doesn’t watch enough hockey, drink enough beer, or eat enough bacon. I would challenge that he doesn’t read enough Maclean’s magazine either because in 2006 they did a very poignant article on why the internet sucks:

    http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20061030_135406_135406

    To draw a comparison, a favorite arguement on this website on why religion is bad is catholic priests sexually molesting choir boys and I agree, this is a terrible thing. But the internet is not completely blameless in the impact it has had on our children.

    http://www.sync-blog.com/sync/2010/06/internet-porn-stats-should-parents-be-concerned.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Sync-TheTechAndGadgetsBlog+%28sync%3A+the+tech+and+gadgets+blog%29

    The average age a child first views pornography online is 11. Average. Tell me that isn’t going to scar and have an impact on the next generation to come.
    So to come back full circle, when you point out religious wrongs, your focus is on the religion which distracts from the real problem. The people. It wasn’t God who molested those kids, nor does it say anywhere in the bible that this is accepted. The Bible says homosexuality is a blasphomy, you blame religion rather than just condemn the scripture saying it, which, again, was written by a MAN.

    Man wrote the Bible. Man created the Internet. We are doing this to ourselves.

    This blog, it seems, has such a narrow focus in it’s intent to just tear down entrenched and established beliefs without offering anything in return except sarcasm and condecension. The narrow focus of your arguments make it (as our understanding of the universe is presently) impossible to offer any real argument against you and seems only to serve your ego by going back to reread your posts so you can rejoice in how clever you were but for the rest of us it is like watching a blind kid get pistol whipped. It’s brutal and unnecessary in the spirit of debate. (Unless the kid’s name is Jamie Funk)
    We are one itty bitty little speck in this vast universe and to observe and claim we understand it completely is the height of arrogance. We can conclude, yes, with what we know at present, that there is no evidence of grand design. But evidence is still being gathered, theories proposed, proven disproven, etc. We cannot predict what tomorrows discoveries will bring.

    To finish up, I want to apologize to Mr. Stephen Hawking, in case he decides to Google his own name to see what comes up, for alluding that he was a manic depressive in a wheelchair. Looking back after posting that article I truly felt awful. I later thought of ways to make that argument without making such a inflammatory connection and wish I had taken time to hash out my thoughts before just madly poking away at the keyboard with the first argument that came to mind. I believe you are man of profounds gifts and intellect, but also a man of profound emotion. They have asked me to Google “Stephen Hawking believes in God” to see what your true beliefs are. I only need to go as far as my DVD shelf and watch Futurama’s “The Beast with a Billion Backs”. Even though I completely failed in that argument, I suspect you and I share one common belief.

    “Take great issues with great levity and small issues with great seriousness”.

  25. 25
    George W.

    James,
    First I would like you to point to the exact point where I called your “Eastern Mystical Gobbledygook” a religion.
    I didn’t. I called it a delusion, which is defined as “a fixed belief that is either false, fanciful, or derived from deception.”
    I did say in the other thread “Replacing organized religion with self-help eastern mysticism is still a “religion”, especially if you cannot allow criticism of it.” I hold to that statement, made after you accused me of calling your Tao a religion. I will regard it as equivalent to a religion if you will not allow it to suffer scrutiny, because any idea that cannot be challenged or questioned is dogmatic, God or no God.
    I never said it was a religion, I air-quoted religion in a response to your accusation that I called it such. Show me where I said it before that point, prove I am “the smartest fool”.
    To try and draw parallels between a Code and the Bible is a tricky comparison. First and foremost, a Code is a “living document”, one that is subject to revision and updating to remain relevant to its scope.
    If the Bible has a solid history of being revised or updated in the past 1000 or so years, I would appreciate examples of this.
    The other glaring problem with your comparison is that you assume there is nothing sitting in the void waiting to replace religion, as if we would be tossing out the baby with the bath water. Our civilization without a doubt has been shaped, both for the better and for the worse by world religions. We would no sooner discard our whole civilization along with religion as we would have discarded chemistry with alchemy or astronomy with astrology. Civilization and our Modern Western society are partly products of religion, but have in the last 400 or so years managed to take the good ideas and discard the bad. To claim that there exists nothing to fill the void is to assume that civilization depends on religion, and that would require some exceptional evidence.
    People do not need God to be compassionate, empathetic or charitable. We are all those things with or without God. It is the very nature of being an introspective species. The reason there are not a host of atheist charities is because many secular charities are not overtly atheist. Atheists, for better or for worse, have not taken the time to “brand” themselves, and many charities would be wise to avoid the word “Atheist” in their organizational title; as I doubt it would increase their donations. Atheists in general do not donate less to charities, they just don’t need eponymous ones to donate to. If the religious are statistically more charitable, prove it.

    I don’t know when you got to thinking that anyone on this blog is convinced that they know everything about the universe. I would argue that the majority of us have been more than willing to concede a point when shown to be wrong, and happy to admit when we don’t really have an easy answer to questions. If I am to believe something, I must be able to defend it against reasonable criticism, and if it cannot stand up to analysis, it must be replaced by something that can. The fact that we “pistol whip blind kids” implies to me that they are bringing insults to a gun fight. I can be swayed to change my mind, “expand my focus”, if you will; but only in light of evidence and reason, not because of rhetoric, obfuscation, and special pleading.

    James, you have repeatedly in this thread and others attempted to obfuscate the issue; make claims that are blatantly false, misleading, or irrelevant. If I am taking you to task on them, it is because I want you to understand the flaw of your logic. If you want back slapping and head nods, then post on a creationist blog. If you want to have a conversation, a truly challenging dialogue, then be prepared to stand behind your words.

  26. 26
    Jason Thibeault

    There is much to argue with in this post, James. Not just because I’m argumentative, but because you’re flat wrong on a number of things.

    For instance, your Google searches use the wrong word. Nobody’s going to start up a charity for the greater goal of glorification of their no-gods, now, are they? Well, rather, I suppose it HAS happened, with Atheists Helping the Homeless, but you’d be better off searching for “secular charities” instead. This is the top link on Google. It’s a list of charities that have no religious affiliation. The point of the majority of them was to provide charity work without God-branding everything, or making it contingent on accepting a particular worldview. Look at the Salvation Army, whose works are very often contingent on the recipients accepting Jesus Christ as their personal saviour.

    You could also, if you’re just looking for stats about numbers of atheists, note that the Kiva microloans group Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious is the highest ranked in number of loans and total amount loaned on the site.

    If you want to know why people think you’re hostile, I want you to read something you wrote in this comment.

    This blog, it seems, has such a narrow focus in it’s intent to just tear down entrenched and established beliefs without offering anything in return except sarcasm and condecension. The narrow focus of your arguments make it (as our understanding of the universe is presently) impossible to offer any real argument against you and seems only to serve your ego by going back to reread your posts so you can rejoice in how clever you were but for the rest of us it is like watching a blind kid get pistol whipped. It’s brutal and unnecessary in the spirit of debate. (Unless the kid’s name is Jamie Funk)

    Now reread it. Understand that whatever you think of me, this is character assassination. It’s shutting down spirited debate in painting me as some sort of blog dictator. And it is outright, patently false about my beliefs about this universe.

    Sure, I know science to be a better method to winnow out this universe than blind guessing, or adhering to thousands-of-years-old scriptures. That doesn’t mean I think we know everything, by a long shot, or I would not get excited and post about new scientific discoveries every time they come across my browser.

    Sure, I put a major focus on attacking those delusions that directly inform certain bigots’ and ignorant rubes’ fallacious worldviews and damaging prejudices. That doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer to replace these prejudices. In fact, I’ve talked at length about how society informs morals.

    But surely, linking myself like this must be merely a way to serve my ego.

    How about you try a little harder at arguing me, instead of complaining that my worldview is too, um… brutal, and too much written text, or something? Or better yet, pick your battles.

  27. 27
    Stephanie Z

    For that matter, James, try dealing with the ideas people put across instead of attacking the people as part of some big atheist conspiracy. It’ll help keep you from having to do things like apologize for labeling scientists as depressives or having me look at my inbox, where I have both your description of me as only interested in attacking divine creation and a note from a teacher whose class I talked to Tuesday, saying, “Thank you for a clear, stimulating and, in many ways, gentle introduction to hard agnosticism, religious skepticism and political atheism.”

    When the contrasts between your statements and reality are that stark, you’re not exactly creating any common ground yourself. Nor are you bolstering your credibility by indulging in prejudice.

  28. 28
    George W.

    I’m amazed that James has managed to stick to his guns about us exploiting Hawking while apologizing for defaming him. Especially when as near as I can tell, defaming him was his only point.
    Nice half-ass apology James.

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