Why I am an atheist – m h

What keeps me an atheist is the fact that science explains the world so well and still allows me to question the world without having any boundaries. Even if there is a concept in science that is universally accepted as a truth, no one will threaten my life and my family would not distance themselves from me because I don’t accept it. What made me an atheist, however, is something completely different. I grew up in a war-torn country where questioning religion was a death sentence. As I was growing up, I was taught that religiosity is a virtue and, in the dangerous world that I was living in, religion will help me survive. I accepted it. Despite this, my parents had enough foresight to encourage me to study math and science despite it being essentially useless where I was growing up. The conflict between science and religion didn’t really hit me as a child, because every scientific fact I parroted to my parents was somehow in agreement with what God said.

What did bother me, though, was what I was seeing around me. It was a war. People were taking advantage of each other. I met terrible people who, through their exploitation of the religious beliefs of others, managed to steal and kill their way to the top. But, they weren’t seen as criminals. They were extolled for their knowledge of the holy books and their piety. They built places of worship. They promised eternal life in God’s kingdom. And, despite what everyone knew about them, that was enough to make them “good” people. The community would absorb their every word. People would volunteer to send themselves to their deaths for them. People would kiss their hands. This dissonance was hard to ignore for me. I had a hard time labeling a nice, giving neighbor who doesn’t pray as a “bad person” while war profiteers and murderers were labeled as “good people.” I stopped praying. I tuned out the sermons. I lost myself in science.

I learned about the birth of the Universe, the wonder of development, the amazing degree to which evolution explained differences in animals and the creation of mountains through plate tectonics. It made so much sense. It made my world a more beautiful place. The mountains that I grew up around were so much more of a wonder to me when I realize that there is a more amazing process in creating them than “God did it.” One day, looking at a photo of those mountains, I realized that I had stopped believing in God. It completely freed me. A rush of thoughts came to me. I suddenly realized that the best people are those who care for others, not because of a command of God, but because they just plain want the world to be a better place. I realized that so many people have wasted their lives and destroyed their environment for themselves and their children because they believed that “this world” doesn’t matter. So many lives lost, so much effort wasted, all because people wanted to be with God, rather than make the world the live in a better place. The wonder of the world around them was and continues to be completely lost to them.

m h
unknown

Sometimes Francis Collins does something right

He’s a delusional kook, but Collins is also a competent administrator, and I have to give him credit when he does the right thing.

The NIH, led by Dr. Collins, has recently accepted a recommendation from the National Institute of Medicine that future chimpanzee research funding shall be suspended, and that exceedingly strict guidelines are to be imposed.

They’re just too close to us, and should fall under the penumbra of the same ethical considerations we apply to humans. I’d say the same of gorillas and orangutans…but I don’t think there is any biomedical research being done on those animals, so the restriction would be unnecessary.

(Also on Sb)

Charles Teo has a lucrative racket

Teo is an Australian surgeon who has a brilliant scheme for anyone with a bit of surgical skill and a complete lack of conscience. He performs surgery on inoperable brain tumors in kids dying of cancer, and then ships them off to the Burzynski clinic in Texas to get injected with urine and die.

You’ve got to admit, marshaling the resources of a hospital, opening up a child’s skull, and diddling about with a knife inside without killing them is an amazing feat of impressive showmanship, sure to make devastated parents think something is being done worth $20-60,000 — even if there is no evidence at all that poking a glioblastoma with a pointy object offers any therapeutic benefit at all. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Teo is actually a very skilled surgeon. The problem is that brain surgery is not a panacea, and sometimes it is a totally inappropriate approach to deal with some cancers.

That he then sends his dying kids off to bankrupt their parents in a futile gesture at the Burzynski clinic suggests that this is a guy who knows how to crack skulls but actually knows nothing at all about cancer.

(Also on Sb)

Feminist nerd rage

Oh, this was good for a laugh. In fantasy role playing games, there are certain standard roles that have to be filled: the tank, the big heavily armored brute who can take lots of damage; the damage dealers, who may be more fragile, but can pew-pew lots of hurt at the bad guys; and the healers, who can keep everyone healthy and alive during the battles. There are also different kinds of games: ones where you fight monsters set up by the creators of the game, or PvP, player-vs-player, where you fight each other. As you might guess, there are gender-stereotypes associated with each role as well — so lots of people assume that the tanks are all guys and the healers are mostly women (what few women who play these games, anyway), and that women all shy away from PvP.

So I was sent this thread where a woman questions the stereotypes in World of Warcraft. One clueless fellow early on suggests that “women are better at supportive roles and males are (sometimes) better at leading the troops” uses pseudo-evolutionary rationalizations to defend himself…and then the ladies all drop-kick his punk ass. It’s hilarious. I especially liked the woman who talked about playing the tank while breast-feeding.

Also, check out the three year old who spots the patriarchy in a toy store.

Why I am an Atheist – Anurag

I can remember back to when I was around 7 years old, and I was sitting in Hindi class (in Jaipur, India). We were learning antonyms in Hindi. The word ‘Aastik’ came up – a person who believes in God, the antonym to which is ‘Nastik’. That was my first realization that it was even possible to be a non-believer.

I had always assumed that God was omnipresent – watching me at all times and making sure I didn’t do anything bad. Back then, I was even scared of having any bad thoughts, as I believed God could read my mind.

On my way back home after that day in school, I distinctly remember asking my dad, how someone can be a non-believer, how is it possible that they don’t acknowledge the existence of God? I don’t remember what he replied.

The home I grew up in wasn’t too religious. However, God did creep unknowingly into every sphere of my daily life. Every evening after sunset, we weren’t allowed to turn on any lights in the house before a short prayer to God. We had to respect books, pens, pencils or anything that we use in school as they helped us get knowledge, which was equivalent to God. So dropping a book or a pencil was as good as disrespecting God, and if you ever did – you had to quickly pick it up and touch it to your forehead and then kiss it, or you risked getting shunned by the knowledge God. My parents weren’t strict about it, but we were expected to pray to God before we ate, before we slept and after shower in the morning. I don’t even remember what my beliefs were at that point. It wasn’t so much about religion, or Hinduism, or any particular God, it was just that I accepted the existence of God.

A few years later we moved to Kuwait. I had developed a keen interest in Astronomy, and so on my birthday, our family friends gifted me Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I remember the first thing I turned to when I started reading the book – the few colored pages in the middle of the book with photos. Photos of nebulas, galaxies, planets and the one that has been etched in my brain from the first time I saw it – two human footprints side by side, one is from Tanzania 3.6 million years ago and the other from the Moon. I remember being mesmerized by the book and just lost in the thoughts about the Universe, its size, its age… From that point, it wasn’t too long before my belief in God was gone.

My parents weren’t too hard on me, as I continued most of the practices I had developed since I was a child and they believed I was just going through a phase. That was right around the time we got our first computer and access to the internet. I remember spending hours surfing Astronomy websites, reading freely available lectures on Black-holes, Einstein, Physics…creating backup of my favorite astronomy photos on floppy drives… I still have my collection J

I remember when the Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars in ’97, for some odd reason, I felt, here it is, the concrete proof God doesn’t exist. I’m still not sure why. But from then on, my reasons for being an Atheist just grew. I took a lot of pleasure every-time I learned that a famous scientist was also an Atheist and debated religion every chance I got with an attitude of almost pity towards others who were still prisoners of religion.

Not until my university years did I become less militant and actually developed an interest in studying world religions. I also became a politics junkie. The more I read; I realized that by being so confident that only my views were right, I wasn’t much different from anyone else who is religious and confident they are the ones who are right. So I’m slightly more tolerant of other’s religion now.

I realize now that the skepticism that grew out of reading Cosmos has shaped my life since then, as repeatedly it has pushed me towards accepting the authority of a scientist or a scientific book/journal, more than that of my parents, my priest or any religious text.

Anurag
Canada

The Schwyzer betrayal

I’ve been rather appalled at the Hugo Schwyzer story that has been unfolding unpleasantly lately, but since Ms. Daisy Cutter brought it up and Comrade Physioprof has a good post on it, I thought I’d throw in a few words to the pigpile.

Schwyzer is a professor who lectures on feminism…he’s also a professor who had sex with his students and who tried to murder an ex-girlfriend. We could stop right there; just those acts alone make him contemptible. But for some unfathomable reason, he now makes money lecturing women on feminist ethics and patriarchal culture; would you believe that the title of one of his lectures is “Holding Men Accountable”? And now many people are arguing that he should be recognized as a useful ally for women, that we should forgive and move on, and recognize him as a changed and better person.

EG at Feministe sums up what I think about that.

The ideas that forgiveness and redemption are things we should be granting, that we have the power to grant, that all they require is confession and repentance, that they are things we have a duty to grant each other–those all seem to me to come out of a system of cultural values deeply invested in Christianity, with its emphasis on redemption and repentance. There is, of course, some good to be said of those ideas, but they are also ideas that should be interrogated, because they can be used as an excuse to celebrate abusers and silencing their victims. There are people whom I feel no need to forgive, both personally and in a political sense. Many people felt no need to forgive Christopher Hitchens. Nobody has a right to forgiveness from anybody, and forgiveness in and of itself is not necessarily a virtue.

(I’ve always found the whole Christian emphasis on forgiveness really strange, given their other emphasis on ETERNAL TORTURE FOREVER in the pit of hell for sinners; the ancient Egyptians just annihilated you if you were found morally wanting after death, which seems far more merciful to me.)

I do not forgive Schwyzer, nor do I feel any obligation to try to forgive. He screwed up unconscionably, he violated trusts once, and right now his work on feminism reeks of continuing exploitation. His confession does not reassure me.

My behavior with students from 1996-98 was unacceptable for a male feminist and, for that matter, an ethical person. The question is whether the penalty for that ought to be a lifetime ban from teaching gender studies, or writing about the subjects I write about. Some feminists feel yes, it should be. I disagree, but only because so many wonderful feminist mentors of mine have encouraged me to stay in this work.

At the time that he was exploiting his students for sex, he also knew that his academic mentors regarded that as an extreme violation of ethics — it’s one of those behaviors that can warrant stripping tenure from a faculty member, and we all know that we have a great deal of power over student careers, power that it would be unjust to take advantage of, yet he went ahead and screwed his students anyway. So now he listens to what his mentors say when they tell him what he wants to hear?

I don’t understand why he still holds a job in academia. I especially don’t understand why he’s permitted to teach in a field in which he’s surrounded every day by women students. If he were looking for real redemption, if he really wanted to atone for the abuse of his position, he ought to remove himself from the profession he violated and try to earn respect elsewhere. Maybe he should be the best plumber he can be, or the very best surfer, or a most excellent construction worker, all respectable professions. But he’s already burned all of his bridges as an academic.