Tag Archives: religion vs. science

“Make it So”

I wrote a while back about the way that science fiction provides examples to us of what a world without religion looks like.   It’s an important point to think on since there’s quite a lot of hullaballoo surrounding the thought that atheists or agnostics can’t be nice or get along and are particularly evil so a future filled with such people is certainly vile, discordant, and unlivable.

Not so.  Many science fiction movies and television shows exemplify that humankind can actually thrive where religion is absent and reason prevails in it’s stead.  Is there evil?  Yep.  We can’t escape it because it is part of ourselves, but we do see in each instance that love or relationships or family overcome and save the day, and tellingly, no supreme being is needed.  (By the way, we really don’t know how else to write the story except that good always defeats evil – such an optimistic species).

With the release of the newest Star Trek movie, a fellow writer picked up on this theme and discusses it in this Atlantic article.   It is hopeful in this time of turbulence – especially as an American watching the current election cycle – to see a standard held for us all to claim:  we can rely on each other, as well as our own reasoning, to create a decent society.

May we ‘make it so.’

Yours,

Frankie

 

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The Misinterpretation of Hate and Anger: Instead, Passion

I’m always impressed by the enlightening I can get from the comments section of news stories.  I mean, I never knew that as an atheist I am afraid,angry, and offended; observations made regularly and accompanying some story about us contending over a coach praying at a high school football game or the ten commandments being removed from a courtroom or a cross going up somewhere on public land.

The answer is that we atheists aren’t afraid and neither are we offended. But we are passionate.  We are fervent.  We are dedicated to having a nation free from religious manacles of any kind, whether they be christian, muslim, hindu, or pastafarian, and to that end we will tirelessly address any line-crossing behavior.   We stand on the assurance that our constitution mandates a separation of church and state and passionately invoke it for the sake of our democracy.  I would ask my brothers and sisters not to confuse such passion with offense or fear, and consider that the resistance you meet from us is only as strong as your desire to cross the constitutional boundaries.   We would quietly sit in our homes and binge on Parks and Recreation if given the choice.

Angry, yes, we are angry.   I will strongly contend that our anger is justified however, and even by christian standards, righteous anger is permissible.   It’s okay to be angry when you pass a law against one religion yet you push and shove your own religion onto the national stage.  It’s okay to be angry when you promote asinine propaganda that is meant to instill fear. It’s okay to be angry when you slow down our progress as a nation by insisting on antiquated, edited, fallible texts as a foundation from which to work. It’s okay to be angry when preachers ask for a six million dollar jet while the homeless children population is steadily increasing in our own nation.  It’s okay to be angry when pedophiles are allowed back into ‘the fold’ or when abuse is systematically covered up.   You are correct about our anger, but misinterpret the direction and source of it.   We aren’t angry at a god whose probability for existing decreases with each new scientific discovery.  We are angry at your invocation of that omnipotent being in the face of greed, lies, selfishness, and ignorance; and the overall negative affect that has on our society.

We atheists will be passionate about maintaining the clearly drawn lines between personal belief and public interactions.  But do not mistake that for fear or offense.  I’ll agree that we are angry, but do not mistake its origins; righteous anger is permissible when injustice is blatant.

Now you have my comments on the comments section, here’s to enlightenment for us all.   😉

In peace, as always,

Frankie

 


No Religion: What’s to Believe In?

As we continue to progress as a species, more of us human beings are stepping from the dark archaic belief systems of religion to the bright confidence of knowledge afforded us by science.   But the shift from religion to non begs some questions:  What do we do with ourselves?  Where do we put our energy?  What’s to believe in? What becomes our focus?

From my humble perspective, it kind of seems that a default focus would be nationalism; belief in one’s nation and attention to its politics and social/economic issues.  From my humble perspective, we could use a boost in national attention to politics and social/economic issues.   But there lies a danger of jingoism, unabashed love for one’s country without regard for other nations, fervent almost blind belief that ‘my country is the best’.  In a time when we face global challenges such as health epidemics and climate change, we can’t really allow ourselves the pleasure of arrogance.  We must be able to cooperate, to admit that maybe another nation is doing something right and we might consider adjusting our own perceptions.  We are bound together by this planet and its natural laws, we have to work with one another in order to keep our species viable.  While some of our new found energy can and should be focused on national issues, it is necessary to strike a balance with how much energy we invest in our country – there are bigger ideas to focus on as well.

I heartily contend that the biggest idea should be humanism – a focus on mankind and our path of past, present, and future, our connection with one another as dictated by nature’s laws.  If we think about it, we only, always, have each other; and though cultures vary we cannot deny our bloodline and the truth that we are all brothers and sisters.  I believe we owe a certain amount of attention to our race based on this sole premise, with the spirit that we are inherently obligated as human beings to look out for our siblings. As mentioned above, our modern age forces us to examine physical global issues and international cooperation is paramount to finding solutions to these issues.   A humanist focus allows us to set aside cultural prejudices and adopt cooperative attitudes based upon the assumption that we’re all in this together.

Science appears to be the common ground for us all and I’ll assert that the growth of humanism will include many elements of the discipline.   Two plus two will always equal four and no matter where we go in the world we can speak that language to anyone. I am not claiming that science has all the answers although I’m close to agreeing with many modern thinkers who believe it does.  It certainly answers our questions best and provides a universal language with which we can speak to one another, culture set aside.   Besides providing a common language science provides a foundation for finding common solutions to the challenges we face together.  The discipline is a perfect fit with the tenants of humanism.

I’ll even go out on a limb and demonstrate that we already have a vision for the melding of science and humanism and how they work together by invoking the genre of science fiction film and writings.  There are several examples where science fiction has remarkably portended the future as far as gadgets and inventions are concerned.   Even George Orwell was prescient enough to understand that an entirely new language would evolve under political pressures.   Using science fiction as a barometer for the way humanistic tendencies might emerge, one finds an astonishing body of work that illustrates how political and even personal decisions are made based upon available evidence and facts instead of mystical, archaic texts. Pay attention next time you tune into Star Trek, or Dr. Who, or The Fifth Element.

We’ve come a long ways since the days when science and religion walked the same path of curiosity together, searching for answers to the same questions.   At some point their paths split and one has gone on to answer those questions with solid evidence.   As we continue to progress as a species and more of us also leave the anachronistic beliefs behind, we are faced with the necessity of filling the void.   Humanism does so with a neat and comfortable fit.  Here’s to our future and the place that Humanism has within it.

Yours,

Frankie


Religious Liberty and the Flying Spaghetti Monster: Mandatory Pasta Wednesday Everyone!

There seems to be some confusion over what religious liberty means.

Religious liberty means that I have the ability to believe whatever I want to believe in the privacy of my own home.   I can buy whatever books support my religion, I can watch whatever TV shows support my religion, and I can go to any place of worship without fear of being arrested, harassed, or any repercussions.  It’s my faith.  Since faith is a private issue and I am a public servant, I can do whatever I want in my home but I am not allowed to impose my faith upon those I work with – or for.  I am guaranteed religious liberty by our constitution and if I invoke the document to protect my private faith practices, then I must absolutely invoke it equally to all citizens of this nation and allow them their private faith practices.  As a public servant, I do not get to choose which clientele to help based upon my beliefs, the constitution guarantees all citizens equal treatment in public circumstances.

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Touched by His Noodly Appendage, featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was originally created in August 2005 by the Swedish designer Niklas Jansson as a parody of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Courtesy JewishJournal.com

I’m an unofficial member of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). For reasons I’ll forego here, I’ve chosen this particular faith as my one true religion.   I say the daily Pastafarian Prayer and faithfully eat only pasta for dinner on Wednesday nights as decreed in The Holy Book of Colander, received from His Noodly Appendage and set forth verbatim by Chef La La Foutaise, Chapter 12, verse 3, I think.  I’ve even managed a few times to ‘fast’ according to the Holy Book of Colander, which involves a strict diet of only Manchurin noodles and red wine – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   According to tradition, Chef La La Foutaise set the standard fast at the typical hero duration of forty days, I managed to last two on the rare occasion I was reaching for spiritual enlightenment. “But fasting is certainly not a requirement in order for His Noodly Appendage to appease one’s requests. Our Breaded Entity doth heareth thy pleadings for more Olive Garden restaurants anyhow.” Chef Foutaise, probably.

Because of the guaranty of the constitution, I can do whatever I damn well please with regards to my relationship to His Noodly Appendage – within the four walls of my home and/or local meeting place of fellow church members, uh, Olive Garden.  What I don’t get to do is insist that everyone else eat pasta on Wednesday nights because I am convinced that my religion is the one true religion and Our Breaded Entity the one true god.   What I don’t get to do is refuse to do my job as a public servant because you refuse my religion in the private realm.   I can’t refuse your marriage license, wedding cake, ability to adopt children, right to buy flowers, or right to live according to your faith simply because pesto and breadsticks do not make up at least thirty percent of your diet (as suggested by His Noodly Appendage for robust health – and for the prevention of zombie attacks).

Religious liberty is a private matter.  When we enter the public sphere where we’ve all accepted the premise of democracy through the exercise of equal rights and equal opportunities, we are bound by the constitution to a certain degree to leave our private matters at home.  With religion this idea must be especially true since beliefs and faiths vary across a wide spectrum. Thanks to the constitution we have the ability and permission to believe whatever we wish to believe within the four walls of our home and cranium.  So have at it.  Have fun!   But when we meet at the coffee shop or bakery or courthouse, I expect us to serve each other to the best of our abilities.  And I won’t hold it against you if you don’t eat pasta on Wednesdays.

Yours with a serious snark…

Frankie


Questions, and Answers

Two inquisitive minds set out with similar questions which obliged each to begin from the same point, and on equal footing. It wasn’t a race or competition they anticipated, mind you, but a quest instead.  A search for answers to curiosities springing from a well that would not be stopped.

Their shared questions:  What this?  Why that?  How come?   When?  Why here?  gave them a momentary sense of camaraderie.  As they floated along in the same stream they traded suspicions and congratulated each other on specific observations.  For a while, then, the two could amicably and happily content themselves in their common search.

By and by, they arrived at a fork in the stream and there was great discussion about which direction to take. One stream was slightly wider and its current more brisk as a consequence, the other retained the same width and flow as the original. One inquisitor felt that answers were probably best obtained in the wider stream, the other felt more comfortable with the status quot.  Imminently, there was no reconciliation, the two parted ways and stayed the course they thought would best answer their questions.   They never saw each other again.

For a time, the streams continued on without change, answers refused to be found, but the curious contented themselves in their individual decision and pondered what it might mean, if anything, that they chose differently.

After, say, a fortnight, one of our seekers discovered a profound answer, a vigorous stream itself feeding into the original waterway, fortifying it with the new information – its banks were widened, its flow increased, its current quickened. Steadily, almost consistently, creeks and other streams, in the form of answers, found their way to the questioner.  Before long a wide river of knowledge stretched out on either side and ahead.   There was life with this river.  Green trees stood solid and sure on each side. Birds and bugs filled the air.  Fish and algae dominated the water.   Vibrant; enviable; this river would continually be fed with new streams, leading the seeker to countless, continuous, and beautiful discoveries.

I wish I could report that the other seeker shared a similar fate in success at finding aswers.  It seems the stream of this questioner had no other resources to keep it flowing.  Sure, seasonal creeks would donate their runoff, but the crucial steady supply of new water was absent.  The queried mind worried somewhat about this lack of new energy and it was left to contemplate only the answers it had so far acquired.  Those would be recycled continuously for want of fresh information and as a result the stream eventually dried up.   This curious seeker then, wandered a desert-land bereft of life and the dawnings of new days.

It is an easily observed case from my perspective.   I stand on the mountaintop of time and history.  I can see precisely where the two parted ways.   My eyes savor the beauty of the wide silver gleam that morphed into a behemoth river and they track stream upon stream of answers flowing into its arms.   I scan the valley to find the other seeker.  Ah, just there. Only recognizable by its origin, where it diverged from its companion.  If I trace its route I can see the gradual shrinking and final ending in a small pool of a lake whose only source is the one stream.  There is scant evidence of life and when the lake fills with sediment and dries, as all lakes with only a single feed are wont to do, that life will dissipate, allowing desert to arrive.

Observing these two is an exercise in the profound contrast of outcomes.

Science and Religion set out with similar questions which obliged each to begin from the same point, and on equal footing. Their shared questions:  What this?  Why that?  How come?   When?  Why here?  all attempted to define man’s place in the universe.  From the mountaintop of time and history, we witness the destiny of each.  This is a story about Questions, and Answers – an exercise in the profound contrast of outcomes.


Time For an Adjustment: Social Constructs, the Duggars, and a Pew Study

I’ll not forget the struggle I had reading modern philosopher Michel Foucault in graduate school, but I am thankful for the enlightenment it brought to me, especially with regard to an element he termed “social constructs.”

Social constructs are the framework within which a culture decides to build and operate a society.  They emerge from a myriad of sources, (religious texts, scientific discoveries, philosophy – to name a few) and are informally adopted by a society’s members over the course of generations. For example, the US has a unique construct with the marriage of capitalism and christianity which emphasizes an individualistic doctrine.  The Chinese are uniting their elements of communism and an emerging middle-class to produce a more cooperative environment (see John Perkins “Hoodwinked”). Overall, social constructs provide guidelines for citizens of a particular society to follow.

The thing that impresses me most about the idea of social constructs is that they can be changed. They aren’t set in stone. They are subject to new information and therefore malleable, adjustable.

I assert that Americans are learning that some of our current social constructs are in need of adjustment.

While we’re probably all up-to-here with the story of the Duggars, there is one theme that stands out from all the noise surrounding the issue:  willful ignorance and keeping something so wildly instinctual as our sex drive confined to unnaturally narrow definitions necessarily provokes problems. The abuse that’s occurred within the catholic church and the jehovah’s witness sect is a manifestation of the same premise. We can’t ignore our instinctive sexual hunger any more than we can ignore our need to drink water. Yet we’ve agreed to adopt a social construct with a rigid interpretation of sex – based almost entirely on a flawed document  As I read the comments and even a few articles reflecting on the Duggars, one thing seems certain:  the current is changing.  We are seeing the negative effects of this particular social construct and we are ready to realign it to more reasonable, and honest, interpretations.

Giving the current a significant boost in velocity is the discovery that many in the US are turning away from religion and the flawed document it is based upon as noted in the recent Pew Research publishing.   By leaving behind an outdated document, by eliminating it from the foundations of our social constructs, I contend that we should expect adjustments to include instead more science, academics, and probably humanistic tendencies.

Change is painful, it is messy, and it is oftentimes violent.  As we move forward together, we must be conscious of the struggle incurred by adjusting and redefining the social construct of sexuality.  It will help us to be patient with one another.  As we move forward together, we must acknowledge that work is involved, awareness is required, and stubbornness is appropriate so that ignorance no longer has a place within the new frameworks.  It will keep us focused.  As we move forward together, those of us who aren’t a part of the millennial generation need to provide them with exemplary discussions and elevate the standard for hashing out new precepts.   It will give them tools to manage their own adjustments.  As we move forward together it behooves us to keep in mind that social constructs are not permanent, they are pliable and influenced by new concepts.  It will enable us to embrace change.

Here’s to healthy adjustments,

Frankie


Spiritual Blindness: Impossible for an Atheist

If you haven’t heard, Stephen Fry made waves recently with this interview wherein he declares that a world which exists with such suffering as bone cancer in children must clearly be created by a madman.   He makes a valid point.

In the melee that’s followed he’s been accused of being ‘spiritually blind.

It’s an interesting accusation, spiritual blindness, and one that we atheists get often.  Yet if we consider the issue a bit deeper, in order for one to make the rational, logical, evidence based decision to become an atheist, we must examine the very depths of our spirituality. – the very opposite of being spiritually blind.  It’s not as if any of us wake up one day and in the course of one conversation we declare ourselves without belief in a deity.  No, we come to the conclusion thoughtfully and often over years of self reflection and soul searching. I would therefore contend vigorously that atheists are amongst the most aware creatures alive.

We can look at it another way of course.  An atheist is typically well read and informed because their resources are as limitless as their curiosity.  On the other side of the spectrum, a religious person is mandated to be bound to a single fallible text, often accompanied by a narrow interpretation and without any countering evidence.  Who is most likely to be blind?

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I suspect the accusation towards atheist concerning spiritual blindness is more of a subconscious projection:  when faced with the reality of their dilemma, in this case Stephen Fry’s logical point of how an omniscient god can allow innocent children to suffer, it’s easier to deflect the issue and make an illogical allegation.

Truth will out kids….and here’s to spiritual awareness…..

Frankie


The First Commandment: Thou shall be Ignorant

Right there in the very front, in the beginning so there’s no question of its importance, no room for misinterpretation, god commands his children NOT to eat of the tree of knowledge of ‘everything’* and thus the religion is bound and encapsulated within itself, with no outside influences – however sound their truths might be.

This thought struck me for the first time the other day and it intrigued me greatly because I immediately understood that it was important, no it was crucial to the religion to damn knowledge right off the bat, at its inception: That way there could be no question or curiosity from its followers and any thinking or contemplation done by said person is strictly limited to “a chaotically cobbled together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors, and copyists, unknown to us and to each other, spanning nine centuries,” as Richard Dawkins accurately describes the bible.

Now I am well aware of the ‘theological’ discussions regarding this particular transaction in the story of the garden of Eden, I was a christian myself for a long while.   Most interpretations use the story to set the stage for the rest of the bible, ie.  the fall of man, the failure of man to be perfect and hence the need for a redeemer.  Some say it defines man’s life cycle: pain associated with birth, toiling in the soil until death.  There is also significant discussion about whether the whole thing was a set up:  surely an omnipotent god just knew we were going to botch it? Yet, didn’t he have to give us free will at some point in order for us to have the ability to choose whether or not to obey him?  But if he was an omnipotent god wouldn’t he have known we would be unable to resist temptation?  Especially that all-too-human trait of doing exactly the opposite of what a parent tells us to do?  But then he had to allow us a choice….ad infin.

I say not one of those premises is the truth and they merely act as smoke screens.  See, if one is tasked with compiling a workable document for a fledgling religion as were the delegates at the Council of Nicaea under Constantine’s orders, then it makes perfect sense that a well refined story would be utilized at the very outset of the narrative which effectively deters its readers from ever wandering past the pages of that one quilt-worked book.  By so doing, the religion is then set up, indeed, mandated to refuse any other refinements or outside information.   Now the religious leaders have a captive audience.  Now can begin the building of a theological empire whose leaders are given carte blanche control over their flocks because they have been taught that information and knowledge is evil and suspect.

It’s been an effective tool.  The christian religion is entirely encapsulated and absolutely refuses any new information.  Check out what Copernicus went through when he observed that the sun did NOT revolve around the earth.  His successor Galileo was forced to recant his view about a heliocentric galaxy and not until 1992 did the church issue a formal apology on his behalf.  1992!! Darwin’s ideas have been similarly refused even though the past one hundred fifty years have yielded massive amounts of support in their favor.  Yet a christian’s response is almost robotic:  Doesn’t matter, got a commandment to follow, No. New.  Information!!!!!!!

How has that affected our nation?  Well, we have a large section of our population who are dutiful  christians and therefore make for paranoid, suspect, information wary voters whose only source of information comes from the church and select news sources that are proven horribly skewed.  I know ’cause I was once one of them.  Some of those christians have been elected to office and so we possess wholly ignorant politicians who are charged with making long-term policies without caring about facts, they blatantly admit it, and they careen forward recklessly, with blinders on.  So we will continue to suffer the effects of global warming because we cannot accept new knowledge as a nation. And we will continue to be left behind the world in terms of groundbreaking science research, education, and progressive social goals.  We can no longer claim to be number one as a nation on several levels simply because so many of us have obeyed the first commandment:  thou shall be ignorant.

It’s a damning, damning situation and there’s not much to do for it except plod along.  It doesn’t do any good to present facts, send links to verifiable resources, or emphasize one’s historical background in education.  Our brothers and sisters simply cannot fathom or manage any form of outside information or knowledge: they’ve been taught that its evil. I find for myself, that at some level this new revelation allows me to muster a great deal more patience towards my fellow humans. Awareness is everything sometimes. The best we can do is educate when the opportunity arises and try not to sound like arrogant asses at the same time (I know this can be a problem because I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to be conscious of it).

Despite the ironclad direction to remain naive, there are those brave enough to dare step outside the lines and let the road take them where it may.  I know because I was one of them – and every day more and more of us make the choice.

Imagine ….  a movie with a character living in animation until suddenly something makes her real and we see her foot emerge from the cartoon into real grass, experiencing real sounds, amazing smells, and beautiful, beautiful colors for the first time.  She feels the warmth of the sun on her face and the wind gently tossing her hair.  For several long moments we might watch her as the camera circles around her and we witness the overwhelming gratefulness she experiences as she takes in everything and smiles at her newfound freedom, no longer confined to the pages of someone else’s hand. Yes she’s a bit scared and we would see that she navigates through some bumpy roads in this new reality, but we watch her grow more confident each day.  And, at the end of a few years, we might picture her at her computer writing these words of truth:  Peace comes with understanding, it does not pass it.

Here’s to knowledge and understanding kids; and let truth will out.

Frankie

* I choose to use the word ‘everything’ here since it more accurately depicts the gist of the commandment.  In research for this article it was asserted in several places that the phrase ‘good and evil’ is really used a merism…that is a set of linguistic opposites put together with the effect to mean not just the parts, but the whole. So the interpretation of knowing ‘good from evil’ is a bit off, it really means that adam and eve would have knowledge of everything, including good and evil.


Sunrise story…….

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This beauty appeared a couple of days ago, when I see clouds on the horizon in the morning I know I’m in for some color and I was not disappointed.  I have a funny story about another gorgeous sunrise …. I work as a front desk clerk at a hotel and so my job in the morning is checking guests out.   One gentleman, big guy, booming voice, seventies-ish, mentioned the sunrise and that “Jesus must’ve gotten his paint brushes out this morning.”   Being an atheist, these  comments always put me in an awkward position….I must be respectful, but at the same time I don’t want to perpetuate theism…I have to come up with some way of stating the truth without  offending or condescending.   I chose silence at first, hoping we could move on somehow, but the question begged an answer and the six or seven people standing around all heard it and were awaiting my reply, probably a bit vexed at my silence.  He repeated the question again in some variant form and the best response I could come up with was, “Well, I’m a science kind of girl so when I see a sunrise like that I think of the clouds of water molecules that are reflecting the sun’s light off of them which gives them the colors we see.”   I didn’t include the fact that I also wonder incessantly at the idea that we, of all animals formed from the dust of the stars and living on this earth, can have the conscience to notice such beauty, and that I have this moment and this day to make my time count for something.   I think it would have been overload for him.  As it was, he coughed and muttered and shuffled away as I said in my
kindest voice, “Have a great day!”   We all breathed a few moments as the tension passed and then, to my delight and surprise, the woman behind him came up to check out and said to me in a low whisper “I’m with ya on the science thing.”

Have Peace Kids,

Frankie