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”
My Anti-theist Friend, Marchal: “God is just Ego, Misspelled….My Ego has Better Credentials than your Ego.”
One of my favorite people to converse with about religion is my good buddy, Marchal. I met Marchal in college, and like me, he was getting a bachelors degree in psychology. We lost touch after Heidelberg, but we recently rekindled our friendship. He contacted me after he read a couple blog posts, he was excited to share with me that he too, is an atheist. Marchal has an interesting story as well, and I would like to share with others, some of the conversation that we recently had.
After Heidelberg, Marchal went to Ohio State University, where he received a PHD in psychology. Marchal did not spend any time in the field though, because after he graduated he co-founded a start up company and has been traveling the world ever since. He has spent more time in other countries, than he has in his own, over the last couple of years.
“What is the most frustrating thing when it comes to dealing with religious people?” Marchal asked me.
Deep and insidious, beneath your consciousness, and just beyond your peripheral vision the horror of sin lies. The most base human fears, materialized with an agenda, and aimed at the young and vulnerable. Instincts derived from over a hundred thousand years of life in hominid form and millions of years before to the origin of species, have been carved by nature to protect the self and the genes from destruction. When weaponized, as proven time and time again, fear truly is: “the mindkiller”.
I get a lot of messages, most of which are asking about my deconversion from christianity. People want to know why I left, what it meant to me when I was a christian, and why I don’t see any reason to return. For anyone who has asked, and anyone else who is curious, here is my testimony.
I started life as an atheist. My parents, who were both raised as catholics, never felt the need to force religion or god upon me. I have never seen my mother or father as being faithful. As an adult I have come to know my dad is an atheist and my mother is (basically) a pantheist. My mum and dad were both followers of a man called Prem Rawat (Maharaji), an Indian guru with millions of followers world-wide who preaches peace and love. Many consider him to be a new messiah (he does not claim this himself). My parents often encouraged me to embrace the messages / teachings of Maharaji throughout my childhood and teenage years, but I never connected.
What I did connect with, though, was christianity. At age 6 my mum enrolled me into two christian institutions; the nearby lutheran church Sunday school and the local Girls Brigade company (pic below). Her only motivation for doing this was free childcare. She and my dad had divorced when I was 5 and my mum was working full time – the church offered what was ultimately cheap babysitting. For me though, it would start me on a path that would consume my existence for the next 15 years. Continue reading “Personal Journey Series: My Atheist Testimony”
It’s that time of year when the sun approaches its southernmost track across the northern hemisphere’s sky and people of various religious persuasions celebrate the winter solstice without actually knowing that that’s what they’re doing. Predictably, some of the Christian commentators who make their living defiling the airwaves and manipulating public opinion are doing their damnedest to ramp up paranoia about a wholly hallucinated “war on Xmas.” Crèches on public property and holiday greetings at retail outlets are being shoved to the forefront of national attention in the midst of an existential crisis that’s never even mentioned because that’s something only “liberals” talk about. It’s comic and tiresome simultaneously. If the promises of the Enlightenment held any water, you’d think that by now western civilization would have grown beyond that kind of thing.
By the time this post goes public I’ll have undergone cataract surgery and will probably have a great deal of vision restored to me. I thank science for that. For all the early 21st century’s horrors, I’m glad to be living in a time when the healing arts reflect the scientific understanding of the human body, not the shamanistic one. A surgeon armed with lasers and an artificial lens is going to do for me what Jesus of Nazareth is reputed to have done with a little clay on which he spat.
The prospect of that restored vision has me in an expansive mood, and I guess it’s for that reason that I want to couch this post as a kind of seasonal greeting to Christians – not that I think any of them will read it here. (But if anyone who does read it finds merit in the thought experiment I propose, please feel free to appropriate it and use it as you like. Who knows: in some rare cases, it might have an effect.)
I probably should say that as I write the following, I very much have certain members of my family in mind. This is the letter that I will not write to them because I know what kind of reception it would get and how much rancor would ensue. I’ve tried something like it before and learned my lesson. For whatever it’s worth, and for the benefit of whomever, here’s my letter:
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” -Christopher Hitchens – God Is Not Great
One of the last bastions of faith is a proposition known as Pascal’s Wager. Presented by the philosopher Blaise Pascal and it goes like this.
“God is, or He is not”
A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
You must wager (it is not optional).
Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
Stop for a moment, close your eyes, and picture someone you love in flames. Picture their skin bubbling and bursting through waves of intense heat, picture it blackening and shrinking as they fall to their knees, their screams gurgling up from scorched lungs through their blistered throat, bursting from their charred lips to pierce the fetid air.
Now, imagine yourself picking fresh fruit in an abundant field, a joyous smile upon your face, cool grass beneath your feet, the air thick with floral scents and laughter. Sweet nectar clinging to your lips, you stop to run your fingers through the mane of a majestic lion before setting upon the golden path to your personal mansion, the lilting sounds of abundant water and generous praise wafting on the gentle breeze.