Some of the great scientific discoveries have been syntheses that emerged more or less organically from the systematic crunching of a compendium of data accumulated over time. Plate tectonics furnishes an illustrative example: the Grand Unified Theory of Geology was made possible by a great many observations made over the course of a couple of centuries, some of them serendipitous (e.g. the discovery of deep-ocean trenches and mid-ocean ranges during the submarine era). Put enough data like that in a room with enough smart people and a really big idea is sooner or later going to take shape, in a manner that kind of resembles abiogenesis.
Others have been leaps of pure intuition so striking as to seem truly original. One of them is Darwin’s theory of evolution. I wish I could have seen the look on his face when the idea of speciation driven by natural selection occurred to him. That’s got to have been one of the greatest OMG moments in history. It must damn dear have stopped his heart: imagine having a single insight that explains everything you’re interested in! He must immediately have recognized how revolutionary an idea that was, and how much resistance and rancor it would incur. No wonder he sat on the idea for two decades before going to press with it – and even then, only out of concern of having his thunder stolen.
Continue reading “Dreaming of Darwin: Fundamentalist Night Terrors”
© Arun Madhavan
Recently one of my close friends had to undergo chemotherapy and finally organ transplantation for cancer. It was a time of great stress and sorrow for all of us.
As a doctor who was closely following his ordeal fighting the illness, I was not surprised to see that it was not the disease itself, but its treatment that made him suffer more. Moreover it was a costly suffering too, as the treatment was expensive. But many of his family members were distressed seeing that the treatment was punishing his body so much. Fortunately the patient himself remained strong and had no doubt that those sufferings and expenses were necessary to win over cancer.
How can a person undergo a treatment which caused a lot of suffering, fully believing that it’s for his good? How can a team of doctors make an outwardly normal-looking person undergo so much expensive suffering ?
The answer to both questions is their belief in Science. It’s science that is predicting that this outwardly normal-looking guy will die in few months time if he does not undergo radical treatment. It’s also predicting that though chemotherapy and organ transplant are distressing , they are all that will help the patient defeat the cancer and live a long life.
Many people all around the world have strong beliefs not about science, but about holy books, gods, religion, god men and women.
Is belief in Science the same as belief in religion or holy books or in god men?
Continue reading “Is Atheism as Fundamentalist as Religion?”
A little over a year ago I ran into the following news item from the land that gave us David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/parents-outrage-extremist-religious-sect-2254926. I posted it on my Facebook page, thereby precipitating a winding, entertaining, and sometimes heated discussion with a Christian fundamentalist Facebook friend from England. His position is not uncommon, and certainly more prevalent in my country than in his, and for all I know there may be visitors to this blog who, like my friend, would find themselves in sympathy with the headmaster who allowed the proselytizing to take place. So I’d like to enlarge the scope of the conversation to include anyone here who’d care to chime in, with an especially warm invitation extended to any Christian fundamentalists who might happen to be lurking. (Whether you’ll bother to read a TLDR that raises troubling questions is itself a troubling question, of course; besides, in addition to hurling poison darts at your cherished beliefs, I tend to write in compound sentences and sprinkle my prose liberally with semicolons and parenthetical asides. I’m afraid people sometimes find me tedious.)
What’s at stake here is a principle that has come to define most of the Western world ever since the Enlightenment, and the consequent composition of the U.S. Constitution: a precious principle that has come under sustained attack during the past few decades by forces on the religious right, both in the U.S. and in a number of European countries. That principle is secularism. Fundamentalist Christians, I’m addressing you in the following paragraphs; atheists and others, I’d be honored to enjoy your company as well if you’re inclined to join me for the ride.
In the interest of helping you understand the position I take on this issue, I’ll ask you to consider the following (if you read the article I linked to above, you’ll understand that I’ve constructed an exact parallel with the soul-saving literature that was distributed at the school in question): suppose your child came home one afternoon carrying a book with a title like, “Why the Book of Mormon is True and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Is the Surest Way to Heaven,” which had been distributed that day to the students at his school. Or perhaps, “Why Islam Is True, the Qur’an Is the Word of God and All Unbelievers Are Destined for Hell.” Would you, committed to your Christian faith as you are, take offense at the proselytizing efforts that Mormons or Muslims had launched in your child’s school? Would you consider it acceptable that they were permitted to do that, or would you find it outrageous and impermissible, a breach of public trust? Would you acquiesce (however grudgingly) in such activities, or would you agitate to have them prohibited? If the latter is the case, then surely you understand why that prohibition should extend also to proselytizing by those who embrace the faith that you happen to espouse.
Continue reading “Congress Shall Make No Law…”
Gives Thanks Expresses Gratitude
(To whom, exactly, would an atheist “give thanks?”)
There are four calendric events – the equinoxes and solstices – that have meaning for me because of what they reveal about our planet’s relationship to the star it orbits and of what they meant to the ancients. On those occasions I always spend some time thinking about the Earth’s axial tilt and Newton’s laws of planetary motion; I usually take the time to look at some diagrams of the solar system while meandering through some photos of Stonehenge and other ancient calendars.
There are also national holidays that I hold in high regard, Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day foremost among them. To me, those holidays speak of justice formerly denied my brothers and sisters but later hard-won by courageous men and women who laid their lives on the line; of a country wise enough for all its failings to recognize value in the struggle for fairness and to commemorate it. Those days occasion my watching of Matewan and reading of Letter from Birmingham Jail respectively.
There are national and religious holidays for which I have mixed feelings yet observe nevertheless in a way that lends them meaning; these include Independence Day (which for me involves the reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights), Veterans’ Day (when I read the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon), and the Christian holiday Good Friday – an occasion for auditing J.S. Bach’s Matthäus-Passion. The holiday we are about to confront (celebrate? enjoy? endure?) in our various ways is another; I speak, of course, of that holiday known colloquially as Turkey Day, when I usually make a list.
Continue reading “An Atheist Expresses Gratitude”
1. Don’t read this list.
This list quite obviously highlights those areas of fundamentalist Christianity I find to be problematic in today’s society with all of its knowledge and freedoms. Consider this a friendly warning – many of the items on this list hint at those factors which led to my own ‘fall from grace’.
2. When reading the bible, read only those portions mentioned by your pastor the previous Sunday -or- read only the bible verses assigned for the current date in a “read the entire bible in a year” program.
Pastors are quite unlikely to mention those portions of the bible that may seem ethically, or logically… unfortunate. The cold-blooded slaughter of the Midianites excluding, of course, the virginal girls; the production of patterned offspring in cattle brought on by placing streaked sticks in the water troughs of copulating flocks; or the God initiated mauling of children by bears for the unpardonable sin of teasing (Numbers 31:7-17, Genesis 30:37-39, and 2 Kings 2:23-24 respectively) rarely make up the bulk of a sermon or bible study. Pastors are also adept at placing each bible verse in the proper denominational context to prevent accidental individual analysis. If accomplished as intended, this context will feed your faith while starving any doubts or conflicts you may be harboring.
Continue reading “10 Ways to Remain a Fundamentalist Christian”