Saturday, November 18, 2006


Quote of the day: "I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies." - Benjamen Franklin

Interesting quote from good old Ben. Is it true that all truly deep thinking humans ultimately come to the conclusion that faith and religion lead either to no where or at lest to no good? Certainly it has been the case that religion encourages one to stop thinking and give one's self over to faith. If true questioning is allowed to follow its natural course some very big unanswerable questions naturally arise. Religion then has to take the fall back position that some things are by their nature un-answerable . . . . which makes them holy. I contend that the existence of things being un-answerable by their nature is impossible and in any case how would that make them holy? What does holy even mean?


A good friend of mine, an admitted theist, and I tried to carry on a reasonable back and forth on atheism/theism. It was interesting and frustrating. The short version is that it turns out there is no arena in which to have such a discussion. No common ground. The discussion turned out to be simply arumentative. My friend continually took the tack that science doesn't really know anything either. Trying to drag skepticism down to the level of mysticism. I argued, of course, that my claims were repeatedly testable by independent investigators - something theists can never claim. After a bit we just let it go as the whole discussion became uninteresting.

Evolution Thoughts

You'd think that a well thought out and established pardigm like evolution wouldn't find a place in a blog about religion. Of course we all know better due to the tempest in a teapot created by a few fanatical 'Creationists'. Like giving your faith in magic a new name would put it on par with a skeptical, self correcting scientific theory. Some thoughts on the matter. . .

Darwin didn't start out thinking, "I'm gonna go find me some evidence for evolution". The idea of evolution itself evoloved from the preponderance of the evidence. You'd have to be a complete idiot to deny in what direction the evidence points. A 'Creationist' on the other hand pretends he is a scientist even though he only has one axe to grind and is blind to all else. This is not the healthy skepticism in which truth is ultimately discovered

No one actally working in the field of biology/anthropology/you name it...pays any attention to creationist thought. The paradigm of evolution and natural selection is the template for all study in these many fields...BECAUSE IT WORKS! The press can make it look like an even handed argument and a close contest. There is no contest at all in working science. Just another way to get people to watch your news show.

Actually, one of the more interesting arguments against natural selection is the existence of the eye. The argument goes somethingn like this: Since evolution makes ever better versions of things, how could an eye evolved from a less than perfect eye? What good would an eye be that couldn't see? Therefore the eye must have been created all at once by a superior intelligence.

There are at least 3 things wrong with this argument.

1. At every stage of evolution an organism is perfect. It is not a faulty working version of a later stage. It doesn't work that way. Improvements are made but not to correct bad design but only to improve already working design.

2. There is a nice sequence of designs from which the modern eye has evolved. The latest version which uses a lens to create images on a retina did not come from a version that made bad or out of focus images. It evolved from light sensing organs which are usefull to turn oneself toward the light. Here's a brief article about this. Also, November '06 National Geographic has a nice series of diagrams showing how the eye may have evolved from basic light gathering cells. It is interesting to note that starting with a cell that is a little sensitive to light evolves to putting that cell at the bottom of a tube. This gives you a little directionality. The tube then began to close up at the top creating a pin hole which, as all kids used to know, is a basic pin-hole camera. That is, it is a basic image former with no lens per se. Lens and iris are then improvements on this already functional design.

3. As with all things like this, to say that 'God made it' is no answer at all but only opens up a whole new line of inquiry. If God did it, HOW did he do it. If there is an effect there must be a cause. To say God did it is to say I don't understand. This should not be an end to thinking but a beginning.

That's it for now...have a reasonable day!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mohammed vs. Jesus smackdown!

I read a short piece on the history of Islam and the prophet Mohammed. It seems strange to me that, like judeo-Christian religions, the angle Gabriel picked out Mohammed to receive the message of the Koran directly from God. Mohammed was himself illiterate but by all accounts a really nice guy. He walked about the mid-east and did good deeds (like Johnny Appleseed) and slowly but surely the religion of Islam got started. Sound familiar? Isn't the bible alledgedly written by God through people who just acted as conduits? Wasn't Jesus also a pretty nice guy (as long as you weren't a money changer!)? I guess the big question is...who did God really talk to? Was it God's intention to start two huge religions on purpose? Do Christians and Muslims both believe in the same one true God but differ on who brought the message?

Interestingly, it seems that Mohammed was really, really a nice guy and wouldn't hurt a fly and preached that. So, what's with all the Jihad? The perfect example was recently when the Pope alluded to the fact that maybe somebody sometime in the ancient past referred to Muslims as violent or something of that nature the Muslim community responded by blowing up a couple of Christian churches. Call us violent will you. We'll show YOU!

It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. Is this not a perfect example of 'my invisible guy is better than your invisible guy'?

Imagine there's no heaven....

Friday, April 14, 2006

Happy Easter

The main event of all of Christianity is celebrated in the spring. I guess Jesus was crucified on a Friday but I’m not sure if it was in the spring time - a time of renewal. (Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox I think) Like Christmas, the early Christians took over pagan holidays that were already there. Christmas time originally celebrated the winter solstice and return of the warming rays of the sun. Sun worship was popular in pagan days so Christianity just jumped on this one and took it over. Lots of spring holidays pre existed and the story of the resurrection of Jesus probably took those over too. The vernal equinox is a measurable event and important for spring planting.

Anyway we have THE event that defines Christianity. God giving up his only son to die for our sins. Now I know I’m not supposed to ask reasonable questions but here we go again. If this is real stuff then it should be ok to ask reasonable questions about it.

  1. Why did God wait so long. If we are now saved from this selfless act from God/Jesus what about all the people that came before the year 36?
  2. What of the proto humans before homosapien?
  3. If God can do anything why did he have to sacrifice his son to forgive us for our sins? Why not just do it?
  4. How does is really work. What is the mechanism by which I am saved via the death of Jesus 2006 years ago?

OK, I could go on and on about the technical difficulties this presents but let’s get down to some tin tacks.

I just read the part of the bible where Jesus gets crucified (absolutely riveting!) and then appears to Mary Magdelan and then days later appears to some of the apostles. He even appears to Doubting Thomas (my favorite apostle) letting him touch his scared (sacred?) hands to confirm for himself that this was in fact the re-incarnation of Jesus. Throughout this part there is a lot of ‘searching of the heavens’, rising up into heaven, cloud references and so forth. Let’s think for a second what the world view was around this time.

Educated people knew the world was round. You can tell. The ancient Greeks even had a rough estimate of the earth’s circumference. What they had little concept of was how really big the universe is! It’s really big. The sun was not 93 million miles away but was a fiery object traveling in our own atmosphere. The clouds were as unreachable then as the center of the galaxy is now. What is different now is that although we would have a tough time reaching the center of the galaxy, we understand what is there. We get that all the stars in the sky are more or less like our sun. Other galaxies are more or less like our galaxy: a collection of stars bound by their mutual gravitational attraction. It was in fact a huge discovery (and a fairly recent one) that the periodic table on earth is the same periodic table everywhere. The laws of physics and chemistry are the same everywhere. No new elements no matter how far you travel.

So, what if Jesus had been ‘sent down’ in 1995 instead of 0? Sent down from where? Upon his electrocution, to where would he have risen up? The whole basis for religion like this is the basic underlying idea that there are unknowable and unapproachable places. In the year 0 that would have been up in the clouds. (The ‘gods live in the clouds’ is borrowed from various Greek and Roman myths.) I can see how you get a religion started when there is so much apparent mystery in the world. With so much lack of understanding many natural phenomena do seem like magic. What I don’t understand is how you keep a religion going in the face of all our understanding.

I notice that reanimated Jesus is not a ghostly apparition. Doubting Thomas is allowed to touch the wounded hands for himself. So, in Acts 1:9…After saying this, he was taken up to heaven as they watched him, and a cloud hid him from their sight…we’re talking a solid human rising up into the clouds. Is this still the view of modern Christians? Do they believe that God/Jesus lives up in the clouds? I doubt that they do but I could be wrong. Where then? If a solid Jesus went up into the sky, where did he go?

Moreover if modern Christians have to drop the idea of the clouds being the location of heaven what else must be dropped due to a modern view of our universe? You see you have a recurring problem of on one hand claiming that you have a book that is by definition ‘the truth’ while on the other hand picking and choosing which parts are REALLY true and which parts are metaphor. I don’t think you can have it both ways.

Another world view that presents problems is that of the place of humans on the earth. People around the year 0 certainly thought of themselves as separate from plants and animals. The last 100 years of research has shown that we are just as natural a part of the earth as a sparrow or a dinosaur. Our ‘special place’ is of our own making because we are so impressed by our own understanding of the phrase “I AM”. So at what point along the evolutionary trail did we become special and need saving from our sins? Was it when the first RNA molecules started to replicate? First cells? First multi-cellular organisms? First mammals? First trick of walking on our hind legs? Juggling?

Let’s say that everything Jesus is purported to have said in the bible he actually said and that the disciples actually believed and bought into the whole thing exactly as reported. I get that people around the time 0 could have this kind of experience based on their narrow world view. What I don’t understand is how a modern man or woman can pretend they are living in the year 0 and buy into the whole thing just like an ignorant Sheppard of 2000 years ago.

So happy Easter everyone. We should all remember to be nice to one another because if you think about it, that is the best for the most people.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sunday School

I was thinking the other day as to whether or not it is fair to send litle kids to sunday school. On one hand I get the idea that a religious family thinks of church as a family event and is anxious and happy to get the little toddlers involved as early as possible.

On the other hand this is a pretty impressionable age to be presenting little kids with promises of eternal life and so forth. Kids at this age are not yet able to discriminate between magic and reality. They are easily fooled with simple things because their cognitive delvelopment has not nearly reached the stage yet to handle the heady ideas in the bible.

Moreover, there can be (and usually is) a lot of guilt associated with the teachings of the bible. "You better be 'good' or your soul will go to hell". That sort of thing. Kind of sounds like the Santa Claus myth doesn't it? At any rate, it is pretty much agreed upon via the work done by Piaget and others that people don't develope the capability for critical thought until after the age of 12 or so. You cold argue 11 or 13 or you could argue the symantics of critical thought but the basic idea of being able to hypothesize and consider situations in THEORY doesn't arrive until the early teens.

So, what chance does an individual have to truly consider religion in a fair way when it is brought to them as undeneighable TRUTH starting at the age of 3 or 4? Of course a 'good' theist parent doesn't want their kid to even have this chance because to do so is to invite eternal damnation. By indoctrinating them to the teachings in the bible at an early age they think of themselves as good parents.

What if you held off though? What if as a theist you didn't allow your kid to go to church or learn the teachings of Jesus and the others until, say, high school? If they ask tell them they're not ready for such heady theoretical stuff as the immortal soul, father, son holy ghost, and so forth. Like booze, driving and voting. Not ready! These are in fact pretty complex philosophic ideas and maybe should not be taught to the little ones before they have the capabilities to consider such topics fairly.

Of course you know the answer. The answer is that a theist already 'knows' the right answer to how to live so why wait? The child in question doesn't need to consider anything else (but what if they wanted to ...or were just curious?) because the WAY is already as clear as the nose on their face.

And yet, like John Lennon, I just try to imagine how it would be if we didn't have to carry this big religion load around with us everywhere but could just deal with each other fairly day by day.