Wednesday, April 30, 2008
It seems very clear that the human mind has evolved to give us the capacity for spirituality and I argue that this is the source of all our creativity and progress. Humans could never accomplish the things we have without having a sense that there is something 'more' than what our senses reveal to us. For example, we cannot detect microscopic organisms with our sense organs, but they are there. It was our idea of wondering "what is the smallest thing in the world?" that leads us to build better and better machines to compensate for our limitations.
I do not mean to suggest that there is a supernatural world filled with wonder. But, the same thinking that leads us to find hidden realities can also make us believe in fantasical realities too. The problem as I see it, is to find ways of coping with what could be real with what could not.
Nearly everyone becomes depressed or despondent at some point in their lives. It is at this time where we begin to search desperately for something, anything, to pull us back to feelings of happiness or, possibly more accurately, satisfaction. Feeling happy, satisfied or having a sense of purpose seems to cure us but it's only a temporary state of mind.
Humans do remarkable things to push away the realities of life. In fact, virtually everything we do is an attempt to deal with reality. Having a job, making love, committing murder are only three ways that we can get back to being happy and satisfied. Therefore, what we do is not our real problem: it's the solution! The person who works too much does not have the 'problem' of being a workaholic - they have a deeper problem that they solve by working more and more. The person who has sex often with many different partners also does not have the 'problem' of being a sexaholic (or whore, nymphomanic, etc) nor does the psychotic murderer have a 'problem' of killing too many people. Each of these people is getting the happiness and satisfaction that they crave using methods that society disapproves of. And for good reason.
Therefore, the important part of treating people of these anti-social behaviours is not to treat their behaviour as the problem but to look at the underlying issues they are really trying to solve. Can the psychopath get the same feeling of happiness and satisfaction by doing another activity that doesn't involve murder? Is there a reason that murder brings them the 'high' they experience?
Psychiatrists have traditionally tried a variety of treatments to 'cure' people of their own behaviours. Oddly, nearly every treatment has worked to a significant degree. The conclusion that I draw is that there is a treatment for everyone but doctors need to first determine what treatment is the most likely to work for a specific patient and not rely on treatments that seem to work 'most of the time'.
For example, let's say a patient believes in demons that can posess bodies. The gateway to treating them will be to offer an exorcism or some other sort of demon-slaying. Proposterous! Psychiatrists conducting an exorcism?? Yes, of course the psychiatrist could outsource it to someone else if they wish. The point is, the patient believes in demons and is likely to believe that a demon ritual will cure them. The practioner does not have to believe in demons and can also believe that the cleansing is hogwash but they do need to believe that the patient believes in it. It is the process of using the patients' own beliefs to cure them that will have the greatest effect.
Religion has been the cure for people for thousands of years. For matters of the mind, religion has evolved to be the ultimate psychiatric treatment. Look at how happy the religious are when they are basking in the glow of their beliefs! Thinking about Jesus gives them happiness, satisfaction and the greatest sense of purpose of all. But it doesn't last! Reality still invades and they must retreat to their religion like a starving animal. Is going to church really having a different effect on people than those who take another drink? Or pop another pill? Inject a needle? Flirt with a co-worker?'
These behaviours are not problems, they are solutions. Socially acceptable? The best way to regain happiness? Not in today's society. However, we will never rid the world of these behaviours until we start to see them as solutions and then educating people on alternative solutions that doesn't bring harm to those around us.
Monday, April 28, 2008
It's said that getting atheists to find a cause to rally around is like herding cats. Ben Stein did just that! The internet exploded with atheists rallying around not just evolution but also to protect the sanctity of the scientific method. The NCSE was able to quickly gather resources and develop a website. Science educators were given tremendous help to respond to creationists and strengthen their teaching. Maybe the ID back has been broken and science classrooms can get back to science.
Thank you Ben! Thank you for arming me with strong arguments to oppose ID everywhere I find it. God* bless you!
* please insert your god of choice here.
Look, Christians. It's not a miracle from god unless the people were found to be floating above the collapsed floor and then gently moved to a safe place. I can't emphasize this enough people - miracles have to be miraculous!
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Here's the link if you want to read the comments:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEApril 23, 2008
The fair use doctrine is a well established copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism.
We are disappointed therefore that Yoko Ono and others have decided to challenge our free speech right to comment on the song Imagine in our documentary film. Based on the fair use doctrine, news commentators and film documentarians regularly use material in the same way we do in EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed.
Premise Media acknowledges that Ms. Yoko Ono did not license the song for use in the Film. Instead, a very small portion of the song was used under the fair use doctrine.
Unbiased viewers of the film will see that the Imagine clip was used as part of a social commentary in the exercise of free speech and freedom of inquiry. Unbiased viewers of the film will also understand that the Imagine clip was used to contrast the messages in the Documentary and that the clip was not used as an endorsement within Expelled.
Erhardt (ext.136 ) or Mary Beth Hutchins (ext.105 ) at
Hopefully the movie will be pulled from theatres soon and die. I can only 'imagine' John Lennon's reaction to his song being in this movie were he alive today...
Thursday, April 24, 2008
D'Souza is a refreshing lecturer on the theist side. He actually puts a lot of thought into his points. However, you'll notice that he likes to avoid directly answering questions. As well, his logical arguments sound good except he forgets that he must first prove his assertion of god and christianity before he has anything of substance.
One of his best arguments is that Christianity is the first religion to bring us new morality. Not being an expert in cultural evolution, I wonder if the teachings of 'Jesus' were new morality or whether they were based on older ideas. Of course, answering this doesn't prove the divinity of Jesus.
While watching this debate, I got the idea that D'Souza is trying to state something like A = B = C therefore C = A! Mathematically, this is perfectly valid. A is God, B is Christianity and C is People. God brings Christianity which is adopted by people therefore people must believe in god. The obvious failure is that he does not prove god first.
Instead, we're left with the new formula D = B = C therefore C = D. In this case, D is moral thought, B is Christianity and C is the people. So, mathematically, we've proven that people developed morality and Christianity is derived from it.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Oh, and don't be afraid to viciously comment on any positive reviews with a link to http://expelledexposed.com/.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Let's say I choose to believe in a personal god of 'Nothing'. This god did not create the world and will not destroy it. This god will not create any life forms, interfere with them nor will it offer any afterlife. The god of 'Nothing' doesn't do anything. There is no benefit to believing in 'Nothing' and no punishment for disbelief. Obviously it would be pointless to believe in 'Nothing' but, nonetheless, completely harmless if you do.
Of course, few (if any) people would do this. To believe in a god demands that you also believe this god (1) did something in the past, (2) is active in the present or (3) will do something in the future. Of course god could do all three options but it's best to analyze each option individually first.
God of the Past
This personal god acted in the past. You would be obligated to acknowledge this otherwise, why even know about god's past actions? I propose that the first two rules of this god would be to believe they exist and to recognize what they did. However, this god only acts in the past so failing to do this could not possibly result in any harm. Therefore, believing in this god seems to have no purpose.
God of the Present
This personal god did not do anything before your birth and will not interfere with you after death. This god will, however, interfere in some way in your life. If this god acts indiscriminately, attempting to communicate with them will have no effect: god will do whatever they want whenever they want. Believing in this god won't make any difference. We could call this god nature, random chance or chaos.
However, what if this god does act based on your actions? This god can bring pain or pleasure, feast or famine, hope or despair, etc. This god needs to have a reason to provide each option thus there would be at least one rule to follow. I suspect the first rule for this god would be to believe in them. If you do believe and yet something undesirable happens then there must be more rules. Everytime something negative happens you are forced to wonder if you broke a known rule or if there is another rule that you did not know about. On the other hand, how do you reconcile good things happening to non-believers? Unfortunately, believing in this god leads a person to constantly update and revise their rulebook. As more data gets collected it would begin to appear that non-believers seem to have positive experiences at the same rate as believers. Eventually this leads to discovering that the world seems to operate by random chance. The God of the Present isn't worth believing in.
God of the Future
This personal god will only act at a future date. By definition, this god cannot act in the present so their actions can only take place after you die. Only after death can we conceive of an existence where time is meaningless (and is thus no longer 'the present'). Therefore, this god must have a rule that you must do something in the present in order to get something after death. I can't imagine what the first rule for this god would be since there is no way to know what happens after death. There's also no way to know if believing in them will lead to a positive or negative afterlife. For example, it could be possible that god does not provide any evidence of their existence so that reasonable people would live as an unbeliever and be rewarded for their logic whereas believers would be punished for wishful thinking. I'm left to flip a coin to decide whether I should believe or not. It appears that what will happen in the future is also left to random chance and thus, a belief in this god won't change the odds.
God of all Time
So, what if god acts in the past, present and future? The present moves into the future and leaves the past behind. Recognizing the god's past deeds gets more onerous over time as the past gets larger and larger. It's impossible to recognize all the past deeds of this god. As for the present, no one can demonstrate a single, repeatable way to live a life that will always result in good things happening. Those who have lived the happiest and most fulfilling lives have all done so in a unique manner. Finally, I don't fear the god of the future. I know that I'm using my mental faculties properly and am quite prepared to say, like Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens, "I lived my life honestly by demanding evidence from the claims of other people and was this not the proper way to use the mind you apparently created? I was not dishonest by claiming to believe 'just in case'!"
Monday, April 14, 2008
Theist - a person who believes in a supernatural force (usually one or more 'gods') that created and/or is involved in the progress of the natural world.
Atheist - a person who has not been convinced to believe what a theist believes.
Antitheist - a person who does not want to believe what theists believe.
God - an unknowable force or unknowable being responsible for the unknown.
Cosmology - the study of science that seeks to understand the nature and origin of the universe.
Creationism - an ideology that states 'god did it' (see 'God').
Intelligent Design - an ideology that states intelligence creates intelligence without explaining what creates intelligence.
Evolution (scientific explanation) - changes in a population over time.
Evolution (theistic explanation) - a conspiracy by scientists to show that god didn't really do anything.
Religion - a group of theists who believe the same theology (see 'Cult')
Cult - a group of theists who believe the same theology (see 'Religion').
Theology - a set of rules or statements that define a specific supernatural force and the rituals this force demands for reasons only the supernatural force knows.
Supernatural Force - a force that cannot be detected in the natural world by any natural means but yet is believed to act on nature even when natural forces are shown to be the forces acting on nature (?).
Theory - a scientific explanation of observed facts that also predicts new facts.
Dogma - a theistic explanation that does not have any facts and discourages looking for any new facts yet wants to be a theory.
Delusion - see 'Theists'.
Science - a tool for explaining how natural processes work.
Religious Leader - a tool that makes up ideas on how things work and threatens the listener to believe it too.
Encyclopedia - a book that publishes facts discovered on a variety of topics.
Holy Book - a book with lots of missing facts ('holes') in the stories (Editors note: the correct spelling of 'Bible' was recently discovered to be 'Buybull' and Koran is spelled 'Bullshit')
Belief - an assertion based on available facts and evidence (example: I believe in evolution because of the evidence from fossils).
Faith - an assertion based on no or despite contradictory facts and evidence (example: I believe that god is a green, hairy, tiara-wearing lizard that rides pink unicorns, or, I believe god is an antitheist).
Friday, April 11, 2008
I wasn't born into a religious home. My parents are probably best described as 'cautious agnostics'. They never discussed religion and I think it was because they were honestly afraid to lose friends if they spoke out. Unfortunately, they passed this fear to me.
I do remember going to Sunday school. A church bus used to come around the neighbourhood and pick up children. All were welcome and I ended up going with my best friend who was catholic (I'm not sure if the church was catholic but it was a christian denomination). I remember being excited to go but only because once you got on the bus you were allowed to put your hand into a jar and keep a handful of whatever was in it. Sometimes candy or pennies. Of course, the neck was narrow and a full fist wasn't possible! I really don't remember anything about the 'school' at all.
Religion plays almost no role in my earliest memories but it did seem to me that many of my friends went to church and that I was an exception. I'd heard a lot about the christian religion from friends and through media (anyone else remember watching the claymation episodes of 'Davey and Goliath'?). I'm sure I believed in god and hell and the rest of the common stories but there was always a nagging doubt.
I'm not sure why but I have always had an self-obsessive interest in morality. I remember thinking of myself as a sacred temple: a person who no one had ever seen naked or been polluted by alcohol or drugs. I actually thought it possible that even those who changed my diapers could have never seen my nakedness. I think how bizarre this self-importance was but I wonder what my life would have been like had I also had a charismatic personality (I've always been insecure): a megamaniacal cult leader?
Through high school I felt I was in limbo. My 'self-purity' kept me away from those who took up smoking, drinking and drugs so I gravitated towards 'good' kids, many of whom were religious. But I really wasn't one of them either since I didn't have a religion and doubted the existence of god. I would play the part of devil's advocate when discussing religion but my arguments were too weak and the religious friends always seemed to have better answers than my questions.
Two events in my life should have made me a believer. First, there was a lottery to determine who could go on an eighth-grade trip. My name was either the last or next-to-last drawn. Therefore, a number of students had to drop out of the trip before I'd be given a chance to say yes or no. I was distraught. I really wanted to go so what could I do? I then made a covenant with god. I promised to read a couple pages of the bible every night if he would intervene and make sure I could go. For two weeks I read and names began dropping off the list. Finally, enough dropped out that I was able to go! I stopped my daily bible reading shortly thereafter: scoundrel!
The second event was even more bizarre. As an adult, I owned a business and I had a competitor that was especially challenging to me. Worse, a good friend of my wife's worked there. One night I had a dream that this friend was hinting to me to make sales calls to some of their best customers. The next morning, I found out that this competitor was going out of business! Surely this wasn't coincidence? In actuality this competitor was difficult precisely because they were struggling and lowering prices over and over again to stay afloat. The writing was on the wall but the timing of the dream was, nonetheless, mystical.
It wasn't until my mid-20's when I saw a documentary on TV about humanism. It was a tremendous turning point in my life! For the first time I realized that others who thought like I did actually existed and, just as important, they were good people! Somehow I'd grown up thinking that atheists were wicked so I kept my skepticism muted but in one short program my mind was liberated.
Since that time I became a humanist and felt like I finally found a place where I 'belonged'. I was no longer in limbo. I've heard this sentiment said by many humanists, some who were in their 70's before they found it. I am thankful (though, to who?) that I was able to 'find myself' in this sea of personalities. Humanism, I believe, has given me both vindication (no, I am not 'bad' for being an atheist) and community (I am not crazy because I don't believe in god).
Today, I still spend too much time obsessing with religion/non-religion. I've read Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett and watch every video related to skepticism and atheism that I can. I couldn't imagine living at a better time than today! My grandmother recently asked my why I'm so obsessed with it but I couldn't give her a satisfactory answer. Maybe it's because I am under-employed (too much time on my hands) and feeling a bit hopeless about finding meaningful work. I've heard it said that one should feel passionate about something and then find a way to make a living out of it. If only atheists had churches, I know I'd be a great atheist minister (oh, the irony!).
I don't want my children to live their lives in limbo. I've taught them that goodness doesn't have to start with god. I want them to know that its 'ok' to have no supernatural beliefs: it's normal. If they are told to believe in something they need only ask, "what's your evidence?" I will teach them that science is the tool that tells us how to evaluate evidence and to determine who is lying.
So, there it is. If you have a story to tell put a link in the comments.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
However, I am bothered that Dawkins seems to support the belief that Jesus was a real person. For a man of science who, repeatedly, demands evidence for the existence of anything I fail to understand why he believes Jesus was a real person. In doing this he is lending support and credence to the Christians and Muslims that Jesus is someone important who needs to be revered.
There is certainly convincing evidence that Jesus did NOT exist. The documentary, 'The God Who Wasn't There' by a former Christian fundamentalist certainly highlights some large problems with the life of Jesus. However, I also point to 'The Pagan Christ' a book and documentary written by a Christian writer (and Anglican Priest!) who despite concluding that Jesus did not exist, remains true to the Christian faith. It seems that both believers and non-believers have come to the same conclusion. Is Dawkins just too busy to look at the evidence?
Below, the six parts of Dawkins on 'The Big Questions' and the five parts of 'The Pagan Christ':
Part 1 - Dawkins on The Big Questions
Part 2 - Dawkins on The Big Questions
Part 3 - Dawkins on The Big Questions
Part 4 - Dawkins on The Big Questions
Part 5 - Dawkins on The Big Questions
Part 6 - Dawkins on The Big Questions
Part 1 - The Pagan Christ
Part 2 - The Pagan Christ
Part 3 - The Pagan Christ
Part 4 - The Pagan Christ
Part 5 - The Pagan Christ
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The situation, I believe, is not restricted to teachers. All pensions are under pressure to meet their pension obligations due to smaller returns and contributions. Retirees are drawing out more money than is being put in. In fact, many retired teachers today will collect a pension for more years than they actually worked!
Pensions were not designed for this. I'm no expert but I think the original pension plans were designed to pay out for 10 to 15 years but now it's common for 25 to 30 year payouts. Add to this an increasing number of retirees and fewer contributors (read "Boom, Bust and Echo" by David Foot) and pensions will have serious problems in the future. Already today's workers are being asked to pay a higher percentage of their paycheck into the pension plan with the understanding that they'll get lower benefits than current pensioners. This is outrageous! (Not to mention that today's new teachers have significantly higher debt loads and worse job prospects than their pensioners did.) Worse, pensioners frequently take jobs after they retire and, in the case of teachers, actually interfere with new teachers' ability to get a job in the field!
One proposal is once a pensioner reaches a certain age (say 60) they will get a portion of their pensions clawed back if they decide to take a job. In other words, there is a disincentive to work after retirement. This will provide more paying jobs for the young who contribute to pension plans. Pensioners who are willing and able to work would be encouraged to take volunteer positions - working for fulfillment instead of money.