Sunday, March 20, 2016

Evolution and the Ever Fucking After

   
In short, mutations happen. When there are forces at work that select for one trait or another changes happen. Traits are passed on.  New species emerge.

It can be easily proved. Ask any farmer who selects for a particular strain of corn or a particular flavor of pig. With a selection process - change happens. Nature provides an array of selection processes.

Things are the way they are because they got that way.

Now then. Assume that there is an afterlife. How does this fit in to this process? When life first emerged from the primordial ooze did the ever fucking after come with? Are there one celled creatures in heaven? And, what end would an afterlife serve?

All of this depends on the idea that the afterlife is ‘not of this world’. Some other existence. Some other dimension. But, again how would this fit in with the process of change, mutation, new life, change, mutation , new life . . . Where in all this would there be a reason, a need, an explanation for living beyond death?

Maybe it is just a human thing. Maybe we are special and we get an after life. Neanderthals too? China man? Australopithecus? At what point did we grow a soul that lives on? What evidence for this? To what end?

A religion that hangs its hat on life after death cannot embrace evolution. Evolution - the most unifying, simplifying, ‘explanifying’ idea in the history of science. You have to deny all of that. All of it to believe that you’re not really going to die. That you’re special. So you live in a stuck place where an old idea (evolution: 150 years or so) scares you and doesn’t fit in our world view. So you put on your blinders. Deny ALL evidence that doesn’t fit that world view and live in that stuck place.

And just bore the hell out of me.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa and Jesus Myths

Santa Claus           

Watching my grand kids indulge in the Santa myth is truly a fun and amazing thing to see. Last year we redesigned the basement turning it into an art studio. The parents and I led them to go down the stairs and Rocky, the youngest, said, “What if he’s still down there?” A frightening thought indeed! He turned to his older sister and said, “Let’s listen for a ‘ho ho ho . . .’. Precious.

This year Lucy being 6 is a little more excited and organized by things. She went to great lengths to write Santa a thank you note for last year’s presents. Santa of course left a note in return telling her what a great kid she was. Santa also ate most, but not all, of the cookies the kids left for him (and the reindeer ate the carrots). What more proof could you ask for?

The Santa myth is a great example of how programmed by evolution young children are to believe what the elders tell them. Their brains are wired for belief of authority. You can see how survival might depend on that early on. ‘Get in the cave NOW or you WILL be eaten by a saber tooth tiger! No time for arguing on that one and similar.

So we can indulge in the Santa myth for the kids’ and our own enjoyment. The preciousness of seeing someone truly believe that this rough old world houses a kind old gentleman who gives you presents and asks nothing in return. Yeah you’re supposed to be ‘good’ to get that but all kids know that Santa keeps the bar pretty darn low.

Is it a little sad when they grow up and get the idea from other kids or all on their own that the Santa myth just won’t hold water any longer? Really the whole world? One night? Every kid? Of course when you’re young and Santa is magical (and you certainly want him to come to YOUR house) you easily suspend disbelief and even invent ways for it to work. This year Lucy told me that if you should happen to see Santa at work he will lose all his magic and that’s why no one ever sees him as proved by the fact that everyone continues to get presents. Usually the sadness is short lived as its now fun to be in on the ruse and embellish for the enjoyment of younger siblings and friends. And so the myth happily marches on.

It is because youngsters are so wired to believe the adults that it is important to start taking them to church and telling them the Jesus myth at the same age you start telling them the Santa myth. So why does the Santa myth vaporize while the Jesus myth takes off and becomes a life directing idea for many people?

There is the same amount of evidence for the existence of both guys. Probably more for Santa! I mean the cookies are EATEN! While getting around the world in a day via sleigh and flying reindeer challenges our credulity at some point why doesn’t rising from the dead, walking on water, turning water into wine, dying for our sins, and being born to a virgin also challenge our credulity? And look, you actually GET something by believing in Santa - presents. You get nothing by believing in the Jesus myth except promises that can only be collected after death.

Faith

Somehow belief in an unprovable idea as been equated with being good. Being a good person. “He’s a man of faith”. A phrase we hear often. If it were spoken, “He is a believer in an invisible magic person”, it doesn’t sound so hot. Well, at least not to me.

So very many of us are locked in to a fear of un-belief. Fear of death. Fear of hell and damnation. Worst case, Santa skips you one year. Worst case for Christians, you burn in hell for eternity!

And big organizations like the catholic church have a vested interest in people NOT questioning. The whole thing collapses in a heartbeat if you see that you are believing in something as childish (but not quite as harmless)  as Santa Claus.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. - 1 Corinthians 13:11


But we don’t when it comes to the Jesus myth itself.

I’ll never understand this.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Capturing Miracles

Recent post from Friendly Athiest...

I think this article really cuts to the heart of the difference between healthy skepticism and blind belief. The World Religion News assumes that miracles MUST be happening so just go out there and use social media to capture them. What would this even look like? How do you show/capture that something happened miraculously?

Miracles you hear about:

Face of Jesus or Mary (sorry Joseph) appearing in toast, tree roots, pizza, etc.

One time in Chicago a stain appeared on the side of an underpass on the Kennedy Expressway that looked like the Virgin Mary. It was a fucking stain! Sure enough people started bringing candles, building a makeshift shrine,  and praying to the stain.

This is a well known phenomena: Pareidolia. We are wired to look for people. We naturally see faces where there are none. I always find it interesting that the images of these holy people are recognized even though no one actually knows or had recorded what they looked like. How sad if the real image of Jesus was popping up on toast the taco shells all over the world but no one recognized the short bald Jewish guy!

Someone recovers from a serious illness. It was a miracle. 

The theist attributes an unexplained event as miraculous. The skeptic says, not explained yet. The lack of an instant logical explanation does not then automatically point to the divine. Sometimes people do just get better. However as  Hemant points out, no one has yet grown back a limb or had a tumor magically disappear.

Escape from a disaster

This one should really piss more people off. A tornado goes ripping through a town leveling houses and killing numerous people. But not all. A survivor staggers out of his crawl space with neighbors houses flattened all around him. He looks around and says, "Well I guess God was just watching over us". Asshole. What about your dead neighbor? Are you so pathetic that you have to look at your survival as evidence that somehow you are more special than your dead neighbor?

Why is it so hard to understand that the highly random violence of a tornado is going to kill some and leave some alive. Period. No miracle is needed to explain what you are seeing.

An expert does what they are trained to do and it is called a miracle.

"Miracle on the Hudson".  Sullenberger actually trained hours for just such a landing on water. He knew the key was keeping the wing tips out of the water and did just that. I think the fact that some would call this expert performance a miracle because they are not expert at anything. They can't understand what it means to dig in and really master something. When you keep explaining the world by saying a miracle happened you just show your lazy thinking. This turns another way. Feeling so inept and then covering that with a blanket of theism forces a whole group of people to even deny that a really clever thing happened. Namely, the moon landings. The fact that people got together to be THAT clever is upsetting to the uneducated believer so deny, deny, deny.(1)

The whole thing about looking for miracles, ghosts, Big Foot,  or the Bermuda fucking Triangle is that they all represent a-priori thinking. That is, one assumes that there are (ghosts, miracles, etc) up front and then sets out to find them and find them you will because you already assume that they exist. A track in the mud - could be Big Foot. A bump in the night - could be a ghost. This is the opposite of skeptical thinking where you have no reason to assume that a thing exists until evidence presents itself. A bump in the night - Let me list all the things it could be... If it turns out that a phenomena can have several logical explanations and one miraculous one then there is no reason to jump to the miracle.

I used to live on a sailboat which means repairing the damn thing on a daily basis. When the water pump wouldn't pump water to the galley sink here was the process:

Is the pump running? If so will it pump water out of a bucket. Yes? then why won't it pump water out of the water tank? Tank empty? NO? OK, is the pump trying to pump water up too high? Lower the pump nearer the water source? Work now? Yes! Install pump in this position.

Notice that it would have done me no good to posit, "Maybe there is an invisible gremlin living in the pump that magically forces it to not work". What would I do about it anyway? Magical thinking is a dead end. It can make one feel smug and secure as if they had actually figured something out. It's lazy thinking and it is encouraged and taught by the church.

Another tack - Let's assume that a miracle had occurred. Let's say that Jesus actually brought Lazurus back from the dead. If it happened there was a WAY that it happened. What is the process by which the Lord performs miracles? How did he rearrange the atoms in Lazurus to get them going again. How were dead cells reactivated? Does he emit some sort of ray? Could this curing ray be detected independently? Could we then build a deivice to duplicate this process and bring everyone (ick) back from the dead? Moreover what extra organ does Jesus possess that he activates to perform the miracles? Is Jesus' body different from ours? If you say, no, he just channels the power of God, then you get to ask how THAT works. What is that process.? Is there a communication? Can we detect it independently and so on.

The whole idea of a miracle though is that it doesn't have a process. It just happens. We skip over any step by step and just blink (like I dream of Jeanie) or wiggle your nose (like Bewitched) and reality itself is just changed. That would be a miracle! 


(1) I don't know that the moon landing hoaxers are also theists. I'm speaking more to the idea of being intimidated but someone being more clever than you so you deny that they even did it.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Death and Dying



The Christian faithful believe in heaven. They, and all of us, miss people and are sad when they die. I certainly still miss my mom and expect I will until I too leave this mortal coil.

But then if you go to heaven do you also miss the living? You can’t talk with them. No, really, you can’t. You can’t comfort them when they’re sad or hurt. We can watch them they say. The dead ‘look down from above’. Does that mean the dead get to watch the bus coming around the corner that the live loved one does not see and then not be able warn them? Hmm….maybe that’s hell and I need to start over!

I guess I don’t see the bonus of being out of touch with a loved one and being alive or being out of touch and being the dead one.

Of course when both are dead everything is hunky dory. . . for eternity. . .

Do days pass?
Do we together watch (watch real light rays?) friends and family die.
Eternity? Really? Everyone would get annoying eventually! But even if you got a break from them. . . it’s ETERNITY!  Eternity - (we were on a break!) = Eternity!

I don’t think any form of heaven could work if it included the sense of time. Only an eternal bliss state, frozen in time, would do it. Is that so great? Can you even be in any ‘state’ if time doesn’t pass for you to reflect upon the very state you are in and reflection requires time to pass while you reflect?

Wow this is g r e a t!
It’s still great!
wow
how long is this ride?
it is great though. . . really great.
can I get off now?

And then there’s the problem of eternity itself. Does time itself go on forever. It started (probably) with the big bang. Does it have an end too? The big crunch? OK, heaven ride is over (finally) everyone off. Watch your step.

If time passes in heaven the greatest thing in the world would become boring and passé. Except, well, you know, or maybe playing the drums. And if it’s the drums will my dad be telling me to give it a FUCKING REST!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Unknowable



One of the things that makes magical thinking, such as any religion,work is that the realm itself from which the magic comes is unreachable. It is by its very nature ‘supernatural’. The faithful walk a fine line here. The magical world is real for them and yet we cannot fully fathom it. On the other hand the magical world does intercede on occasion and we can request that the magical world enter our world to help us or give us comfort which as we all know may or may not actually work. This is all very convenient. When something good happens FOR YOU you might happily ascribe that goodness to a higher being who cares for you even though it might also be explained as what happened in the natural course of events. And, when something bad happens you get to say that exactly how the magical world works is unknown and unknowable so it only seems really bad without seeing or being able to see the entire picture or that you are being punished by a harsh (yet all loving) being. I guess similar to the really big picture into which the holocaust fits in nicely. This is all very similar to the gods who lived on Mount Olympus who only occasionally decided to interact with mortals for good or evil or the occasional impregnation of a virgin.

Surprisingly there is a seemingly similar motif in physics.

As we venture downward to the microscopic to the atomic level and beyond we reach a state where the actual ‘view’ is by its nature unattainable. It’s not that our machines are not clever enough it is that seeing itself does not work with the ultra small. The simplistic version is that to see something you have to bounce light (photons) off of it but that very process disturbs or ruins that which you were attempting to see. That’s the uncertainty principle (I think). In even simpler terms think about trying to detect something with waves. Water waves come to mind. At a beach you could detect the changes in depth using the behavior of the water waves. You could detect the location of boats and wharfs by the reflection of water waves. Maybe even a swimmer. But could you detect the existence of a 1” diameter pole (like the ones that hold up Martin houses) sticking out of the water by the behavior of the waves? Probably not. The pole is too small compared to the size of the waves (wavelength). With smaller waves you might though and so it is with light and seeing. The smaller the thing you’re trying to see the shorter wavelength light you need to see it. But, darn it, when I try to use smaller and smaller wavelength light I am automatically using photons of higher energy which disturb the object I’m trying to see even more.

So, by its very nature, the sub-atomic world is un-seeable. You might be tempted to think this is just like a magical world then where there is a built in stop-gap to prevent you from knowing all.

But no. The difference is between un-seeable and un-knowable. I venture to say that at this time we know just about everything there is to know about the atom and the nucleus and we’re never going to ‘see’ it. Knowing means to be able to predict the behavior of a system given initial conditions. We have no holes in our knowledge about the atom and nucleus at this time. We have models of behavior and at times it helps to actually draw those models such as the classic atom with a nucleus and electrons orbiting. We’ve never actually seen that and we’re not going to! But the atom behaves like that and when I use that image (mathematically) to make predictions I get verifiable results that agree with my model.

And so it goes adding bells and whistles to the model as more and more hypotheses and experiments come in and our KNOWLEDGE of this un-seeable world increases.

There is nothing you can do to increase your knowledge of a magical world by its very nature - a nature that has been made up in the minds of humans. It must be unfathomable or it wouldn’t be magical.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Does God Exist?

It doesn’t really matter. For one thing, you can never prove the existence of a magical entity nor can you disprove the existence. (You can’t disprove the non-existence either!) What’s more important than questions of existence or non-existence is the fact that God does exist in the minds of about 98% of the world’s population in one of her many manifestations. To argue the case is pointless. The believers will never be convinced that their god does not really exist nor can the believers ever supply the needed evidence that the few rational people among us require to accept a rather provocative world view.

What is needed, I think, is just an acceptance. I don’t care that someone chooses to believe in magical people. I’m surprised that they make up a giant majority but such are the times in which I live. They in turn shouldn’t care that I don’t share their belief. Certainly their world view does not hinge on little old me. Or, at least it shouldn’t or how strong is that belief?

In America we have freedom of religion. We really do! You can damn well worship just about any way you want and I’m with that. The much bigger question then to the faithful is, why isn’t that enough? Why?

Why must you push for religion in school?
Why must you push for the 10 commandments to be posted on the court house?
Why must you jam a ‘creation museum’ down our throats?
Why must you invade peoples bedrooms because due to some vague references in a 5000 year old document?
Why must you single out YOUR magical belief as the ONLY proper magical belief.
Why must you equate belief in magic with high moral standing?

Why isn’t what you already have enough?

When an Atheist says, I’m not comfortable with your bringing religion into the (courthouse, classroom, board room. . .) they are not attacking your faith. Frankly they don’t care about your faith at all. They’re just asking you to keep things in there proper place. No one is asking you to NOT believe and I’m FOR that!

As an Atheist I do fear for the lose of reason that the over doing of religion represents. The only thing that stands between us and chaos is reason. Prayer and faith may give an individual solace in hard times but it’s no way to run a country. You can’t pray new roads. You can’t pray your way to the moon or Mars. You can’t learn chemistry or physics by hoping for it. You can’t pray the climate change away. It takes measured reason and real discourse to solve real problems.

So keep your faith (baby). Pray away because you have the freedom to do so. But please don’t take that extra step in thinking that your way is the high way and reason be damned.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Being Insulted

A group of Sufi Muslims took to Chicago’s streets Sunday to say an emblem used by Italian perfume-maker Roberto Cavalli smacks of insensitivity and is an affront to their faith.

Oh really. So you have some sort of higher ground because of your 'faith'. Your belief in magical people the the power of prayer gives you a right to be affronted.

How about this. . .

I'm affronted by your dragging 5000 year old behaviors and thinking into the 21st century. I'm saddened by the constant grumbling of one religion or another thinking that people using science and reason are attacking their magical position. Look, if your world view can be shattered by logic, observation, and reason maybe don't be so insulted...just drop the religion! It's taking us nowhere. 

Look, whether or not the perfume maker uses some symbol or not, your day to day life does. not. change. If you believe in magical people or not . . . nothing in our reality actually changes.

Could we please just enjoy freedom of religion and work on some real problems - together?