Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What is our Reality?

Really, what is our reality? The idea that we might really be in a matrix-esque computer simulated world, or that I am living in a dreamworld of my own design while in reality my body lies in a coma; these are some ideas that kinda freak me out. All the way back to Plato's cave has mankind questioned the reality of the world around us. We can only comprehend the universe as far as we can see & understand it, but what if it exists only because we comprehend it?

I play games like Grand Theft Auto, and wonder; who might be playing me? Could "god" just be some 16yr old nerd programmer running a really complex version of Civilization in which we are just peons? What if some people are programmed & some are real? (It's not that hard to imagine) The 13th Floor was another good movie that played on this theme.

I roll these ideas around my head, but I don't actually believe any of them is true.

I don't believe I live in my own head because I learn new things every day, and because people exist and act in ways outside of my realm of comprehension. If I created my own world, I'd have made things better for myself. But I still can't shake that slight fear that maybe I just don't know any better to say differently.

I don't believe the world I live in is inside of a computer either. Just because the universe we experience is perfectly formed for human life does not mean it was specifically created as such. If that were true, who created the universe in which our creator lives in? Did someone create that universe as well? Where does it end? I can only imagine a universe that is constructed from the bottom up, not the top down. We experience the universal constants as they are because it is the only universe capable of maintaining our lives; not because it is the only universe.

If it did turn out the universe as I know it isn't what it seems to be, I doubt I will ever get to know. And so it really doesn't matter to me what the nature of the universe is; only how I act in it, because that is all I can control.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Supernatural vs. Natural

I've seen written several times recently that the true battle being fought shouldn't be put in terms of "atheists vs. believers" or "creationism vs. evolution" but that it's really "supernatural vs. natural." One of the latest such articles is from Richard Dawkins. One cannot believe in both an scientific explanation for everything and things that are unexplainable (miracles, angels, gods) because they are mutually exclusive in their perception of the universe. This is where the line must be drawn.

I'm glad to read that Dawkins has some sense of spirituality; "love, nature, goodness, the universe, the laws of physics, the spirit of humanity, or Planck's constant," and it inspires me to read more of his works. Part of me has been afraid that embracing atheism would mean I'd need to loose my sense of wonder of the world around me, but I think it is acceptable to say the universe is wonderful enough without a god.

I never got how the idea of intelligent design worked either; If it's complicated, someone must have designed it. But doesn't account for where an infinitely complicated designer came from. The idea that the universe is built up from the very small makes so much more sense in my own mind.

I believe several things contradictory to Dawkins thou. Self The first self-replicating molecules (life) may or may have not originated on this planet. And may or may have not happened only once. The abundance of life that has more recently been found deep within the earth & within the ocean, living off of chemical reactions & thermal heat may imply several origins of living organisms. There are new speculations that life exists not only elsewhere in the universe, but elsewhere in our solar system. But I think this is besides the point. Even if the only instances of life in all of the universe existed on this little blue planet, this would not imply that some god made us special.

But I am still afraid of the supernatural, or perhaps I am afraid that what we consider as "supernatural" are really natural phenomenon we just don't have the capacity to explain yet. Ghosts scare me, even thou I don't believe in them. What if they live in another dimension? Or another parallel universe? What if the energy we've been taught to think of as our souls really has some inextinguishable energy in some dimension of our universe? I don't think that the answers to these questions require a belief in a purposeful god orchestrating it all, but I still like to ponder the possibility that there could be natural phenomenon that we just cannot yet explain behind some of life's greatest mysteries. Perhaps I am holding on to a hope beyond reason that there is more to our lives than the short time we know of as life, but it's just a hope, and I wouldn't put any real belief in thoughts like that being true unless I had proof. I'll have to wait to find out, like everyone else.

Monday, October 23, 2006

What kind of Atheist am I?

There's an article on Wired News today by Gary Wolf on the Battle of the New Atheism. I find it interesting because I titled my blog "New Atheist" not just because I am new to Atheism, but because I feel I am part of a new generation of Atheism.

It has made me think a bit more on how I stand on religion. Unlike the New Atheists described in his article, I don't think I'd ever challenge someone else's believe in a god, I have perfect respect for spirituality. I feel that the idea of god & practice of religion don't have to be intertwined (But this is probably because, if I had to choose, I quite prefer Pantheism to any other concept of a diety). I'd just like to challenge blind adherence to religious dogma.

While I do agree that religion can be evil, just as government can be evil, I can't say "religion is evil" because I still think there is a lot of good that comes from religion; a lot of good lessons to be learned from it. It's the sense of entitlement, the idea that one set of beliefs is better for everyone than another set of beliefs, and the belief system that fights against change that I find repulsive & evil.

Frankly, I think religion keeps a lot of people in line. I see religion as tailor made for the sheeple, people who can't keep themselves in line, and need a reason above themselves to be good & see the good in their lives. But this blind faith has been taken advantage of and so we have wars, suicide bombers, funeral petitioners, and begging donations in return for prayers, all sighting religion & god as their motivation for causing pain & suffering to others. Religion gives people a belief in an after-life that they so long to join, they often loose concern about how their actions affect the living.

I do think I am still a step back from hard-core-Atheism, not because I am afraid of saying "The very thing you hinge your life on, I totally dismiss," but because I don't want to totally deny a sense of spirituality in myself or others. I want to walk into the forest and have that sense of something bigger than myself, even if I know that "something bigger" is just the unimaginable physical universe beyond.

So I find I need to continue to ask myself, as an atheist, where do I stand? What do I expect of believers? How should I act in order to uphold my lack of belief & yet not be that "asshole atheist" at the table who just wants to start a fight?

Friday, October 20, 2006


This is a wonderful site I came across today.

Jesus Would Be Ashamed of You

Every time I see some hard-core-Christian on TV brandishing a sign that says, I note many of those signs have bible verse numbers printed on them, and I think only other Christians really know what those bible verses are off-hand. Sometimes I break out a bible and check out what they're quoting, and how it's been taken out of context. The quotes are usually there to validate their signs that say "God Hates so-n-so," and I've thought about how contradictory that is.

But two can play at that game.

But being so familiar with versus, you'd think they'd have come across these:

Matthew 5: 21-22 Jesus said don't get angry. (Thou it's clear that he was angry at others on occasion)

Luke 6, Jesus himself is said to have "worked" on the sabbath, healing people and this kinda pissed off the synagogue leaders because no one is supposed to do any work on Saturday's.

So if Jesus took some liberty with the old testament, can't everyone else?

And a little further down in Luke6:27-41, he talks about loving everybody.

And you gotta love his anti-establishment statements in Luke 11:

46 Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

52"Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering."

So, even thou I don't personally believe the bible is absolute, I find it invaluable to use with those who do.
Luke: 6:38 ...For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

If they are to judge us by the Bible they say is absolute, I will judge them by the same book.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Getting god from the couch.

Flipping through the TV stations on Sunday morning one is sure to come across numerous instances of religious programming. I have satellite, and last Sunday I counted 12 programs of religious nature on at the same time, including one on the Spanish station.

If you've never watched them, I'd definitely recommend taking the time one Sunday to watch, just for a bit, it's an interesting experience. Most of the programs I've seen include just a preacher giving some kind of inspirational talk to his audience, usually quoting this or that bible verse.

I watch because I like to know what the other side is up to. I don't think many people take the opportunity to look beyond their own views these days. There is a niche for almost everyone, a blog, a cable station, a part of the country even. I'm sure each individual religious program that was on on Sunday morning was filling in it's own niche as well. We are a fractured society, and yet we seem more willing every day to apply labels to ourselves.

What I find most fascinating is how distant religion on TV is. I guess I understood when my bed-ridden aunt would watch Catholic mass on Sunday mornings. But these huge churches, where the live audience fills a stadium and the sermon is broadcast across the country, I can't imagine any connection there. When I did attend church, I did feel that connection to the local community, and that is the one and only thing that I miss about it. There are other ways to make a difference in the community, I know, but how many people are doing that as well? And what about those who believe they are "saved" by faith alone, are they compelled to give back to society? How is being just another face in the crowed spiritually fulfilling?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Animals are Gay.

And an exhibit at the Oslo Natural History Museum is showing us gay animals. And of course, Christians are protesting.

As an atheist, I'm fascinated by the natural force behind homosexuality, and the human interpretations of the phenomenon. In many places & many times throughout history, Homosexuality has been considered a "crime against nature." I'm not quite sure what that means, I consider deforestation & pollution crime's against nature. I consider consenting adults doing whatever behind closed doors their business.

Homosexuality may be an evolutionary dead-end for the individual, but perhaps it contributes to the species as a whole. We must remember there are many genetic "abnormalities" that persist in any species despite that they render the gene carrier infertile (I'd only refer to homosexuality as "abnormal" in the fact that much less than half the population is homosexual, making heterosexual the "norm"). But from what I've read on the subject, I actually don't believe that homosexuality is genetic, I am under the impression that it has more to do with the hormones a fetus is exposed to as it is growing.

But I'm pretty sure that those Conservative Christians who protest Homosexuality don't believe in evolution anyhow. So what's the problem? Oh, yea, the Bible says it's wrong, at least according to their interpretation.

But can we justify our actions in my life by saying "other animals do it too"? We often consider our actions above basic animal-instincts, like we are better than that. I feel the fact alone that I am conscious that I justify my actions puts me on a different playing field, yet I cannot rise above all of my instincts. Animals eat & sleep, and these are obviously necessary things for our survival as animals, and as such, we do not completely deny ourselves of them, and thou some humans try to control their urges to eat or sleep, we do not find these urges offensive. Like animals, humans also have sex and kill each other, and yet there is where humans try to apply reason & morality.

Why do we always feel the need to apply the labels "wrong" or "right" to our desires & actions?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Don't have a Prayer....

When you don't believe in god, it becomes all the more obvious how the idea of god is entangled in our daily lives.

"Oh my god," is a common phrase, although it is not often used in the religious sense. And the idea of a curse, "damn it to hell" becomes a bit more absurd when one doesn't acknowledge the existence of a hell. I don't see a conflict between my own use of these terms and my believes, as I know even believers misuse these terms quite frequently. These terms have become like any of the 7 words you can't say on TV, just like saying "shit" doesn't often refer to fecal matter, saying "oh god" doesn't refer to a deity. I think the power these words have to offend & shock people is lessening with time.

A more serious term that comes up frequently in life is "I'll pray for you." This for me is a little harder to work around. I'm not about to tell anyone "I don't need your prayers." People who offer prayers in times of trouble or sadness are often generally sincere, and I know my response of "thanks" is not for their prayers, but their thoughts & kindness. In turn, when others are going through a rough time, I often find myself sending "my best wishes," "the best of luck," or "my thoughts are with you & your family" where the religious would offer prayers. Is this appropriate when talking to people of faith? I can't say "I'll pray for you," because that's just a lie.

When people say they'll pray for me to find god, or pray for my soul, if they are sincere, I also say "thanks," but I'm never certain if that is the appropriate response. I want to be nice if they are offering something to me they feel in their heart could be good for me. On the other hand, if they offer prayers out of anger, or pray that I burn in hell, I might pick a fight. I get the feeling that the loving & accepting Jesus I read about in the Bible isn't the same one those types of people believe in.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More thoughts on the nature of chance/choice.

After my last post, I've thought more about the questions I brought up. So I'd like to present some more things I've read up on since. I still don't completely understand, and I don't know if anyone does (and if someone does understand, would they be able to explain it?).

I realize there's a problem with my idea of predictability (Determinism) from my post yesterday: Quantum physics. Yea, all that itty-bitty crap that they can't unify with all the properties of the larger world we are familiar with. The uncertainty principle says that it's just impossible to measure particles with accuracy, therefore we can never know where that particle is headed. (Check out part 5 of Hour 1: the Quantum Cafe for a more fun-explanation )

There's even a Wikipedia article on Quantum Mechanics & Philosophy.

I won't try to explain much here. There are plenty who do a better job at that than I could, plus there are many books on the subjects if you're really interested. The general idea is; even knowing all of the beginning conditions of the universe still wouldn't allow us to predict the end result because of Quantum Chance.

This idea of an unpredictable universe on a Quantum level leads me to further believe in Free-Will of choice. If the universe is already splitting do to the odds of happenings on a Quantum Level, our own choices aren't in conflict with the universe. All options exist in the 5th dimension. A universe exists where every option ever expresses itself.

What does this all have to do with the idea of god? The way I see it, if all possibilities exist in parallel planes of existence, our universe can't be any more or less important, so this would seem to me to negate the idea of a god playing any kind of active roll in any universe, as all possibilities happen anyways.

But there is one thing that does make me wonder thou: if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? When does the actual quantum state stop being a linear combination of states that resemble different classical states and begin to have an unique classical description? If the state of being is only determined by observation, doesn't that mean the state of our universe is determined because someone is observing it?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Are we nothing more than Chemical Computers?

Physics & chemistry in high-school were fun for me. In chemistry, we got to set fire to stuff & make smoke. In physics we got to drop lots of stuff & build fun contraptions. In both classes, we'd have to explain why or how these events occurred mathematically. We'd put so much of chemical X & Y into a crucible and you'd get so much chemical Z and heat out. Or we'd drop object X from a height of Y and find it has Z velocity.

I can't say our answers were "exact" because there's always a little chemical that gets left on the spoon or a bit of wind blowing against the object as it falls. But I know, if I could measure all these things, I could achieve even more accurate calculations. (Heck, even dogs can figure out where a frisbee is gonna land.)

This lead me to the conclusion that god must be that entity that can do all the math. The moment of the big-bang was just like the first domino in the line, everything after that would certainly be predictable if you knew all the factors at t=0. Being able to see it from above gave god the advantage, while us humans are so tiny we could only see the dominoes right next to us.

The only unpredictable component would be life. Life is like a fork in the domino path, which way will they fall? Life gets to make choices, and choices can be random and unpredictable, right?

More and more science discovers just how much of our brains can be easily manipulated by chemical & electrical stimulation. An imbalance here, a shock there, and people have an out-of-body experience! So is it any surprise that if you deprive the brain of blood long enough, there can be a near-death experience? It's just another chemical reaction in the brain, thou it seems to have profound effects on those who experience it.

In the end, I wonder if life is just as predictable as domino-rally, just a bit more complicated? Are we anything more than self-aware chemical processes? (Maybe we aren't as aware of ourselves as we think we are.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What Makes Atheists So Scary?

Several months ago, the University of Minnesota Survey that identified Atheists as the group least likely to share "their vision of American Society," and the group they'd least like their children to marry.

Why is this? It has been shown that American Society wasn't founded on Christian ideals, but it's obviously become a more religious-minded country over the years, especially during the Cold War (when we were fighting the godless-commies.)

Perhaps this link between godlessness & communism is still strong in the minds of most Americans. I believe that Communism in it's simplest form, where everyone works together & everyone shares the wealth, is a nice idea but totally impractical in a world of lazy humans who would rather live off the hard workers. (Add in some laws and a dictator and Communism as a governmental entity is definitely a really bad idea.) But after an entire generation of children were bred in fear of godless communism, with the opposite obviously being god-fearing capitalism, I'm sure it's a bit hard for a country to overcome that mindset.

I also get the feeling that there is a prevalent idea that "without faith" and "without morals" are synonymous. I can't say I feel that morals and faith have much to do with each other. Some people do derive their morals from the dogma of their faith, but even many people of Jewish or Christian faith have personal morals that expand beyond the 10 commandments of the Old Testament. And it's not like the only people in this would hurting other people are atheists, quite the opposite really.

This video on youtube does a good job of summing up why religion is so important to atheists.

So, please discuss why Americans who believe in god feel so at odds with Atheists?

The New Atheist

A little background on me:

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. I've read my bible, and I've read quite a few other religious texts as well. I never felt the connection. I wonder if it's a bit like growing up gay: everyone assumes you're straight, but there's this feeling inside that you're different than everyone else, but you can't quite put your finger on it.

As I grew up, I donned my plaid uniform & headed out to Catholic school every day, I attended Church every Sunday with my family, and I took my sacraments as they came. But I can't say I ever truly believed any of it.

I constantly made excuses for my religion as I learned more and more about science. I came to my own conclusions. Noah didn't really build an arc for all the animals in the world, he probably just took his own animals on a boat & the story was exaggerated over time. The plagues Moses brought on Egypt are mostly explainable by natural phenomenon; red tide, bubonic plague, etc.

I made a lot of excuses in my mind for Jesus. Maybe he was just smarter than everyone else, he probably didn't "raise" people as much as he could see they weren't really dead to begin with. He didn't really feed thousands with a few loaves of bread & some fish, the real "miracle" there was that people shared the food they brought with them. When he said bread & wine were his body & blood, that was just a metaphor. And most of all, he probably didn't really die on the cross, again, at that time in history, it was probably pretty hard to tell when someone was really dead.

It wasn't till later in my life that I realized that not believing the body & blood & resurrection actually meant I wasn't even a Christian. I could recite the Profession of Faith, but in reality, I would be lying any time I said it. To me, Jesus & god then fell into the rhelm of Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, Magic, & Superman. All can be nice stories for children, ways to get children to behave, to teach a moral lesson, to make you think about the world, but none are true. The real faith is faith in the goodness in other people, the real magic is our ability to manipulate the physical world to our own advantage.

As I've grown and learned more about the physical world, I've also explored more of my spiritual world. I have begun to say "I don't believe in god," but sometimes I still struggle a bit to say "I believe there is no god." And here is where I welcome you to explore with me.

I don't wish for anyone to convert me, and I don't wish to convert anyone, but I do wish to confront those of faith & those without. There's plenty of opinionated people with their own blogs, why not provoke them some?