Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Skeptic looks under rocks

looking under rocks
As a boy, I have dreamt of becoming a naturalist, discovering new animals in the jungle. When strolling around creeks and other places in free nature, I used to flip pebbles and rocks in order to discover beetles, worms and other interesting things. Andrea's buzzing new Skeptics' Circle, Looking-under-Rocks edition, reminds me of these old days that I still love to remember. And times have not changed in so far as still very interesting things can be discovered, flipping rocks.

What I have found is another science-based mix of rants, partly about philosophical and partly about medical nonsense. All excellent stuff as usual, and all those who tend to be tolerant about creationism and ID should bear in mind that anti-science (aka quackery) can be bad for health.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Religious free riders

child with measles
The outbreak center of the most recent measles epidemic in Europe has been identified: Muttenz, Switzerland, a couple of miles away from the headquarters of Anthroposophy. This is not quite a religion of its own because most Antrhoposophists consider themselves as Christians. But in my view it is sort of a compound religion with a mix of Christianity and eastern religions such as Buddhism.

Center of the measles outbreak that has expanded to Austria, Germany, and Norway meanwhile is the Rudolf Steiner School of Muttenz. Outside of Switzerland, such institutes are called Waldorf schools.

Anthroposophists reject the idea that children should be vaccinated. They have managed to gain much influence: Switzerland has become the antivax center of Europe, nowhere else is the immunization rate so low. The health officials of European Union are concerned and have become diplomatically active.

Rejecting science but profiting from it

This example is typical for the free riding behaviour that can be observed in many religious or spiritual people. They profit from the benefits of science in our modern world but are not willing to pay the price, that is, respecting science. Not enough with indifference, no, they reject science. They are against it.

The fact that their unvaccinated children mostly stay free of measles is due to all those parents and children who have been vaccinated. They profit from a behaviour that they reject. Not only are they free riders, but free riders of a very deliberate sort.

This is enough reason for an anti-religious rant

After some tolerant, kind-hearted posts about respect for religious beliefs, common traits with theists, and looking for sense in religion, it may be high time for this rant: Religious beliefs can undermine the coherence of our society, they can be bad for health and may even kill children.

My rant is not about all religious people but only about those who are anti-science: Anthroposophists, spiritualists, creationists, idealists, mind-matter dualists, reincarnationists, (un)intelligent designers, evangelicals, and the like.

What these people do is taking advantage of a world that could not have been developed without the progress of science, that is, by applied freethought and by eliminating the influence of religions on everyday life. Not only are they technological free riders. They are also moral free riders because the modern human rights are achievements of secular political processes that have restricted the influence of religions. That's it for today, I'm going to take up the issue of moral and religion later.

Photo credit: Wellcome Images

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

An inquiring mind on humanism

spanish inquisitor
I love it when someone takes up a word that has been grossly misused and gives it a new meaning. Just like the Spanish Inquisitor, deriving his name from his own urge to find out more about what religions tell us and about the eternal question when it comes to religion and faith: fact or fiction? This is inquisition at its best, what cannot be said of its historical precursor some centuries ago in Catholic Spain.

The Spanish Inquisitor presents Humanist Symposium #18, the Age of Aquarius version. I was about to shake my skeptic head and sigh, but regained my pleasure after having read his witty comment. And I agree, astrology can be fun if you don't take this crap seriously.

As usual, this symposium is a great collection of ideas based on secular, non-religious humanism. There is some spiritual stuff, too, and I was quite surprised to follow this piece of afterlife talk among a group of women. It is such thoughts and connotations that make me say decidedly that I am not spiritual but mindful.

The symposium presents, as usual, lots of great stuff. My favourite is this piece on peace among primates, partly because it features my old professor Hans Kummer of Zurich University who supervised, three decades ago, my diploma thesis on the social behaviour of Hamadryas baboons, and partly because it is about primate behaviour which is fundamental stuff when it comes to understanding humanism, humanity, and ethics. I never would have dreamt of coming across my old professor at a blog symposium. The world is a global village, really.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Life, death, and the butterfly effect

The man who has coined the term butterfly effect, Edward Lorenz, has died last week, aged 90. I owe him some positive thoughts regarding my life and what will remain after my death.

As you may know (else read my FAQ), I am convinced that, after my death, all of me, physically and mindwise, will cease to further exist. At the time when I stopped believing in afterlife, I admit that such thoughts have left me depressed, or at least uncomfortable. I used to push them quickly away, and that's why it is difficult for me to analyze them in hindsight. But I think that one of the negative aspects has been the idea of "no traces left" or a future state of the world "as if I never had existed". After the birth of our children, a son and a daughter, such negative thoughts faded away.

An importance booster

The "survival" of the own biological traits in the children is only one aspect, and it does not work in all those without children. Children, of course, are big events in a life. But even less important events make big differences in the outcome, thanks to the butterfly effect.

Lorenz has detected the high sensitivity of the global weather system to small changes of an initial state. Human societies are even more complex than the weather system, therefore small changes may have even more changing power.

Just an example: The world-changing effect of the World Wide Web is due to the small but important decision of Tim Berners-Lee not to patent his idea but to make it freely available.

Think your version of Back to the Future

I think I've seen two parts of the Back to the Future trilogy, and I enjoyed it. I am especially fond of those scenes when photographs or newspaper articles begin to fade away because something has changed back in the past.

I have tried to figure out the parallel world beginning with my hypothetical abortion as a fetus. I never would have been born, and this would have changed the time schedules, plans, behaviours and emotions of hundreds of people up to now, and this in turn would have changed the time schedules, plans, behaviours and emotions of thousands of people connected to these hundreds, and so on and on and on. In all those decades since my birth, hundreds of people would not have been born, but hundreds of others instead of these.


This planet is definitely a different place because I, the author of this blog, and you, the reader of it, have been born and changed it. Yes, we change the world. We do not need to invent the Web, or become President of the United States, or start wars or make billions of dollars. Due to the butterfly effect, every single decision of ours will make a difference, and some of these differences will have really big effects that change the world.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/victoriabush/48704596/

Monday, 21 April 2008

Commission ascribes dignity to spinach

A federal ethics commission issues a paper, declaring that spinach has a dignity, and therefore certain behaviours against spinach should be regarded as morally not acceptable. A spinach-hating child, for instance, is not allowed to tear out spinach plants in mother's garden wantonly. The reason, according to the commission, is not the damage of this vandalizing act to the gardening mother, but the dignity of the spinach plants. In contrast, tearing out spinach plants for eating them does not hurt their dignity. The commission does not comment on the influence of cooking versus eating as salad on the dignity of spinach plants.

Does this sound like a joke? Maybe, but it really happened last week in Switzerland. Our Federal Ethics Commission is a panel of reputed philosophers, theologians, biologists and physicians. And it came, unanimously, to the conclusion that plants have a dignity that is to be respected. The spinach example is mine, not theirs, but I derived it from their own examples because I find spinach more fun than, say, beautiful flowers by the wayside. Dignity must not depend on beauty, in my view.

It seems that the philosophers and theologians have been the leading spokespersons in these discussions and that the natural science fraction has not managed to keep things down to earth.

Our leading weekend TV satire show has tried to apply the plant dignity guidelines in everyday situations. It was a real fun. For instance, the show introduced a papa tomato and a mama tomato, together with a couple of cherry tomatoes, as a family. After some heart-warming, humanizing talk, one of the anchormen outed himself as a cruel child eater. And his fellow, after peeling an onion, broke out in tears, stating that he knows now why we all weep when violating the dignity of these veggie beings.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/snowriderguy/250623239/

Friday, 18 April 2008

One god less does work

wedding couple
"I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." Of all atheistic statements, this is one of my favourites. It has been widely quoted, in many versions from many authors, Dawkins included (his version can be found here). Stephen F. Roberts claims to be the original author, back in 1995. He brings some of my own thoughts to the point, and I have posted my own version of the theme in How to talk with theists.

Some recent theist reviews of my blogging have led me to visit their sites and those sending me traffic, and in one of them I have come across an alleged "refutation" of the "one god less" statement, using the analogy of marriage. Vigilante, over at TheologyWeb Campus, quotes a woman from a radio show, saying that "a Christian being an atheist to other gods is like saying a husband is a bachelor to other women".

Lack of humor is the problem here

Theists are sooo serious, especially when it comes to their religion. They cling to words and their earnest usage and seem to have no sense of witty wordplay. It certainly is not usual to say "I am married and a bachelor to all other women", but all the same, this statement remains true. Not all unusual statements are necessarily false. The statement "you as a Christian are atheist to all other gods" is of the same kind, unusual but undeniably true. Humor, intended to be an eye-opener, obviously does not work with many theists.

History of Christian atheism

In the early days of Christianity, Christians have been accused of atheism by the state authorities of the Roman Empire. Justin, one of the accused and later executed, has tried to plead not guilty, addressing the Emperor himself, stating: "Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God."

Thus, the "one god less" argument, also known as the plurality criticism, is not an invention of modern atheists but has its origin in the inner circle of early Christianity.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/matthiasorfield/1177025218/

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The skeptics of the other side

In the worldview tug-of-war, the position of skeptics always has been clear to me, until recently. I consider myself a skeptic, and I have found myself together with the group of natural scientists, materialists or physicalists, evolutionists, and atheists - as opposed to believers, idealists, creationists, and theists. Until recently, I said.

Until I have dealt with the question of idealism vs. physicalism which is the theme of the 67th Philosophers' Carnival, hosted by Kenny Pearce, a self-declared idealist.

You can read much cloud-headed stuff there, which is my main criticism of this debate. Of course, thoughts are free, and as a self-declared freethinker I am the last one to impose borders to thoughts. I only doubt whether it is wise to start the whole philosophy of the world with the statement "I think, therefore ideas do exist, but everything else may be subject to doubt, even matter." This position, called radical skepticism, is one of the main lines defending idealism. Briefly put: Idealists believe that ideas are the basic essence of all things, and that matter is just sort of an illusion.

And here we have them, the skeptics of the other side: They doubt almost everything, even the existence of matter. Is this a sound position? I guess that skepticism itself should not be excluded from a skeptic view. A real skeptic should always ask himself: Is my skepticism justified?

In the last consequence, a radical, borderless skepticism must lead to a position known as solipsism, that is, I only can be sure that I exist, and all other things and living beings may just be an illusion. This is weird. Of course, we may do philosophy, applying logic in a radical way without accepting borders, and looking where this may bring us. Nothing against that. But when we arrive at a consequence that contradicts every experience of our life and is completely opposed to common sense, we have to decide which of these two possibilities may be more plausible: Either the world in which we live is a complete illusion, or there is something wrong with the reasoning. I take the latter position, definitely.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/lizandcormac/386382427/

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Surprise: Jesus himself has backed my view

My remarks about the Ten Commandments, stating that atheism is compatible with them, have provoked a detailed reply by the Christian theology student Cory Tucholski at the Josiah Concept Blog, in two parts covering 1-4 and 6-10. I am going to review these replies in more detail later.

It's very interesting that even Cory, as a hard-boiled theist, agrees with me in four out of ten points. Hard-boiled means that he believes the Ten Commandments to be set up by God himself, and that violations of these Commandments are not mere offenses against humans but offenses against God: "They were designed to be absolute rules." (emphasis mine)

His reasoning is mostly consistent, as far as I can tell; the main point is that I cannot share his premises and he cannot share mine. Many arguments that he brings forward base upon theologic background and quotes of the Bible other than the Ten Commandments. I, for my part, have looked at the text of the commandments as it has been carved in stone, and nothing else. This is one major source of disagreement between us.

Jesus: "It is just the Golden Rule" (Matthew 7:12)

In my remarks about the Ten Commandments, I have come to the conclusion that their real content can be summarized as "Treat others as you would like to be treated by them", also known as the Golden Rule. Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 7:12, has put it like this: "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you, this is the law and the prophets." By the way, "law and prophets" means not only the Ten Commandments but all the holy scriptures of the Jews at that time.

Surprise, surprise. Was Jesus a freethinker? In the eyes of the Pharisees, he certainly was. Now compare his "law and prophets" statement with Cory's claim of the Ten Commandments as God's absolute rules that have to be followed word by word. He seems to contradict his own master in this respect.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/ultimorollo/166876408/

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

An atheo-skeptic look at blogs

The 84th Meeting of the Skeptics' Circle is up at Archaeoporn, presenting a wide scope of skeptical contributions in the fields of science, medicine, theism and atheism, woo, and the media. I am always fascinated by the similarity of thought flaws in quackery medicine and in religions.

The Carnival of the Godless #89 is hosted by Kelly at the Rational Response Squad, and I like very much what she says about me, and other contributors of this carnival, being a bad representative of atheism. Yes, well spoken, Kelly: We are no adepts of a religion, and we differ in many particular viewpoints. That's one of the reasons making this carnival so interesting. Many good posts here, but my favourite piece is Adrian's 101 Atheist Quotes, and if you ask me to quote one and only one of them, I take this one: “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. Frank Lloyd Wright"

Monday, 14 April 2008

No basic need for a creation

spiral galaxy
It seems that dumb documentary films are booming these days. There has been the ineffable Fitna in the Netherlands. And there is the ineffable Expelled in the United States. The latter is about the Intelligent Design (ID) debate that I have been following from distance for a while. It leaves me puzzled, somehow, and I ask myself where all those guys have left their brains.

What they describe as intelligent design, the creation of life without making use of an evolution, is misnamed in my view. It should be called dumb design. A really intelligent designer never would bother with detailed construction plans of sea urchins, worms, birds and primates. He would design quarks that have the potential to aggregate to atoms which have the potential to aggregate to molecules and then to compound structures that replicate and cluster to form more and more complex beings, simple living organisms, then higher ones, even primates and humans. An intelligent designer would make use of automatic evolution rather than bothering himself with dull detail construction work. Are the ID promoters really so disrespectful of their Greatest Being (which they refuse to call God in order to circumvent the secularity rule)? I am disappointed. Shame on them!

This said, I am ready to deal with the question whether a really intelligent concept of creation might be worth being discussed. Shouldn't we forget about the ridicule ideas of flat-earthers, six-day-creationists and ID adepts? Shouldn't we go back to the very basic questions?

The basic formula of creation

The cosmologists, those guys dealing with the very beginning of the Universe, have a bunch of theories and models that are disputed all the time. Some think that the Universe is pulsating in cycles of Big Bangs and Big Crunches. Some think that our Universe will end in a Big Rip. Some postulate dark matter and dark energy, others reject this notion. Some even don't exclude the possibility of multiverses.

Be it as it may, all these concepts can be summarized as "there is something rather than nothing". Every creationist, going back to the very basics, must come to this question: Why is something? Possible (but questionable) answer: From an initial state of nothingness, an agent (creator) acted, and as a result there has been something.

But nothingness cannot be

"Sorry, there is nothing left." Such a statement makes sense in everyday life, in situations where the focus is on certain things that are lacking. A poor guy may say that he has nothing, meaning that there is no money left, because he badly needs some money. These things are not the issue here.

But it may be useful to keep them in mind when looking at the concept of nothingness. No thing is the absence of some thing. This definition needs a thing that can be absent. Nothingness cannot be a stand-alone concept. It needs things.

When we try to figure out what absolute nothingness would mean, we inevitably come to statements such as "there is not even one single photon or electron or other elementary particle around in the whole Universe" or "there is no such thing as a Universe". It is not possible to make such a statement without using terms of things such as photons or electrons or the Universe.

In other words: The concept of nothingness is a paradox. It is just as impossible as a person being in New York and in Paris at the same time. Simply put: There is something, as we all can see, therefore nothingness is impossible. You may try to imagine nothingness, if you are not frightened by mental vertigo. But I guess you won't succeed.

No escape left

I am fully aware that our mind is not capable of grasping everything. There are things beyond human imagination, such as multi-dimensional spaces. This is not the point. Imagination is not needed here. Even things that cannot be imagined are still things. Therefore, even for a hypothetical supermind, nothingness must remain inconceivable. And without nothingness, there is no room left for a basic creation that made something out of nothing.

Photo credit: HubbleSite

Friday, 11 April 2008

The peek-a-boo of physicalism

carnival of venice
I am not yet fully satisfied with my yesterday's post about unmasked idealism, for two reasons. Firstly, I want to show a beautiful half-mask, coming back to the philosophical implications of the Venice Carnival. And secondly, I think I have missed an important point against idealism: its violation of common sense. Thus, I am going to show that physicalism is common sense and that idealism violates it.

Why is this important? In a strict sense, neither idealism nor physicalism may be falsified, let alone proven because both make a priori assumptions that must be taken for granted. The right or wrong discussion, the true or false dispute is most likely a pointless one. Rather should we argue about what is sound or unsound. If two theories exist and neither of them can be proven true or false, we should prefer the theory that fits common sense.

Babies, peek-a-boo and innate physicalism

I only can recall a few things from my earliest childhood. One is the view of my tiny shoes and the woollen socks bulging over their rim, and I remember their tight fit and how hard they were to put on. And another thing is the peek-a-boo game.

I don't know exactly what makes this game so exciting for babies and toddlers. It may be the experience of a reality that continues to be real even when hidden, and the sudden release of tension when the visible reality merges with the previously hidden one.

Just recently, an experiment at the Baby Cognition Lab at the University of British Columbia has shown that a realistic common sense guides the behaviour of eight month old babies: They have a basic understanding of random sampling in a game where the experimenter pulls red and white pingpong balls out of a box. The baby, when looking into the box, is more surprised when it finds that the mix of the balls in the box does not match the mix of the sample. This reaction seems to be an innate understanding of physical things, even when hidden from perception.

The common sense of physicalism

Objects do exist. They exist whether they are perceived or not. Objects are physical things. You can have an idea about an object. But this idea is not the object. And is seems counter-intuitive that the object itself should be an idea.

Babies seem to have an innate insight of this common sense. In peek-a-boo games, they learn that the assumption of a physical world makes sense. The whole world is full of physical things, and we humans deal with them, always assuming that they are real. And we have never proven wrong with this view. We may be tricked by illusionists, but all these tricks are applied physics on the object side and applied psychology and distraction on the observer side. Even as adults we are fascinated by peek-a-boo games like the Carnival of Venice.

Of course, it cannot be excluded that all physical matter and all energy is just sort of a crystallized idea. Energy and matter may be defined this way. Such a definition is not necessarily false. But it does not make sense.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/darcyvallance/2221983999/

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Idealism unmasked

carnival mask
In the upcoming Philosophers' Carnival, a dispute about Idealism has been announced. Idealism is the belief that all existing things are just ideas, not physical matter. I am ready to take the invitation, and I'll put my focus on a cornerstone of Idealism as claimed by Berkeley: "To be is to be perceived" (esse est percipi).

Berkeley has set up a logical construction, leading from his premise "esse est percipi" to the conclusion that all existing reality is basically an idea. I accept all his logical constructions without even looking at them, because I am going to attack his premise. If his premise is false, the conclusion must be false is unsound (hat tip to The Barefoot Bum), regardless of the fact that all logic may be correct.

Hidden faces still exist

The Carnival of Venice is a celebration of beauty. What I love in particular are the half masks, showing beautiful lips and chins, surrounding the eyes of the women by sexy glitter. But for my reasoning, we need full masks such as this one. Every child knows that, while not visible, there are real faces of real people behind these masks. They cannot be perceived, yet they are there. Refutation of "esse est percipi" seems to be child's play. Are we done, then?

Just some more of this kind. We fall asleep and do no longer perceive the world, but the world continues to exist. An asteroid may strike our planet and extinct all life, and the planet would continue to exist. I better stop here because there are examples to infinity.

Not without a God

Of course, Berkeley was not dumb. He must have considered all these arguments himself, and of course he was ready to counter them. In fact, the main purpose of his whole philosophy has been a theological one: an apology of Theism and a rejection of Deism. Theism, that is the idea of a personal all-knowing and all-acting God. Deism is the idea of a God who created the Universe but does not guide it.

Berkeley says that the Universe exists because God perceives it. Well, this is one of those claims that are not falsifiable. The probability of God's existence is a function of the properties that are attributed to this God. With zero properties, I am ready to accept that God's existence is a hundred percent sure. Berkeley's God has a number of properties such as a mind, having created the Universe, and perceiving it. For me, this reduces the likeliness of such a God to a very low percentage. And the claim that only the perception of this God has brought the Universe to existence is very counter-intuitive, hence very unlikely, too. The combination of very unlikely with very unlikely is very unlikely squared.

Another look behind the mask

I am sure that Berkeley would not have accepted this as a refutation. I do not claim to have done it yet, by the way. I only point to the fact that he is using a double standard. "Esse est percipi" does not work at the Carnival of Venice. It does not work for humans. Then why should it work for God? Why should a notion that obviously is incorrect in our known world become true in a world that we do not know and making use of an entity (God) whose existence cannot be proven?

Of course, the people at Venice can be unmasked, and then their faces can be perceived. But I insist on exactness here, the devil is in the details: The claim is "esse est percipi" (to be is to be perceived) and not "esse est facultas percipi" (to be is the possibility of being perceived).

Would it be just the possibility, then Idealism would have been refuted: Something that can be perceived, but is not perceived at the very moment, not even by God, is most likely something physical.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/aarigo/103161345/

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

When atheists begin to pray, things must be really bad

sant roma de sau
This is the church ruin of Sant Romà de Sau near Barcelona. Normally, it is flooded by the water reservoir of Lake Sau to the level of the steeple's roof. This year, the drought has been so bad that not only the ruin but a wide range of its surroundings are dry. Catalan minister of environmental affairs, Francesc Baltasar, has begun to pray to the saint Virgin of Montserrat for rain. Sounds not so surprising in Catholic Spain. But: Baltasar is a self-declared atheist.

This reminds me of other irrational reactions of despair I have come across. I have heard an adult person around me call for mama in a situation of pain and illness, and notabene mama has passed away years ago. I remember myself yelling to objects that did not behave as I wanted them to behave. And some Italian lovers are said to call for "mamma" when coming. Oh, oh, oh, we humans are not always very rational beings.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/8189058@N07/2123868651/

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Just another skeptical hop

frog hop
Children are born skeptics because they answer every reply with another question, mostly beginning with "but". As far as I can remember, I have been such a kid. I must have been three, four or five years old when I asked my dad where the world comes from. I recall his reply: "God has created it." I do not exactly recall my wording but I am quite sure it was something like: "But where does God come from?" To which he replied: "God has been existing for ever since."

All children are born atheists

I am sure such a dialogue has been taking place millions of times between children and parents. Not only is it basic philosophy, with no need for sophisticated books to grasp it. It is also a proof for the fact that we all are born atheists, with a basic urge to scientific query. No child on its own ever will come to the idea that there is a God. It is told so by the parents. And I strongly support that a child's naive view of the world should be taken as the default position.

What I have learnt as a child, then, was the fact that the greatest conceivable entity, God, has not been created. God must be greater than the Universe because he has created it. And, as my father told me more than once, I am quite sure, that God has not been created nor has he created himself but is uncreated and ever-existing. My childish brain has been unable to grasp such a concept, and my adult brain is still unable to do so, still bound to a world existing in time and space. Anything beyond time and space is inconceivable.

I did not question the concept of creation then, as a boy, three, four or five years of age. It seemed to make sense for the Universe because the Universe is so great and complicated. How could it have come to existence on its own? And for every boy, the default position is what their parents tell him. So why should I question it?

Going back to my childhood question

When I go back to this scene now, as an adult skeptic, I cannot help wondering about the double standard for the need of creation. My father, as a creationist (not of the six days kind), always has used the complexity of the Universe to convince me that it must have been created. Now I take his own argument and go just one skeptical hop further: How can an entity even more complex than the Universe have come to existence without a creation? I carefully would listen, then, how he tries to convince me of the assumption that God has not been created. Suppose he did a good job and I am convinced, then I simply would skeptically hop back once and ask him why the Universe, much less complex than God, must have needed a creation for coming into existence.

I only see one possible escape out of this dilemma: God must be much simpler than the Universe, his superiority being just a matter of power, not complexity. To this I would answer that this notion is very familiar to me: As an evolutionist, I am very used to the notion of complex things arising from simple things. Only that I would not call this a creation.

My conclusion: Take a claim of theists or creationists, use their own rules to make another skeptical hop in the same direction, and you may, surprisingly, come to conclusions that are fully compatible with a skeptical science-based worldview.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/wishymom/539663946/

Monday, 7 April 2008

Where is the beef?

beef pie
Religions have existed for thousands of years, and they can be found in all human cultures. Obviously, they supply human needs. Today, we have science. Science can supply certain functions formerly provided by religion, namely in explaining the world. And it does this part considerably better than religion: Creationism has not gained any considerable audience outside of the United States. In Switzerland, for instance, the attempt of pushing creationism into schoolbooks and curricula has been a pathetic failure.

But this does not mean that science can supply all the needs formerly fulfilled by religion. For instance, science tries to avoid emotions and a subjective worldview. But emotions are a basic human need.

This does not mean that religion is necessary for a good life. The point is that all functions of religions must be substituted when we turn away from a religion. If we only substitute the knowledge part of religion by science and forget all the rest, we may suffer from a mental shortage.

The emotional part of religions often has been called spirituality. I do not particularly like this notion, because it is often used in a dualistic sense. That is, assuming a spiritual world besides the material world.

But, certainly, there must be an emotional or mental beef hidden in the religious beef pie. The one depicted here has been described as horrid by the photographer. This may be the case with many religions, leaving us with the old question: Where is the beef?

Instead of spirituality, I like the term mindfulness. We all have a mind, no question. And for mindfulness, mind matter dualism is completely irrelevant. Meditation does work and has a calming and mind-expanding influence even for science-based skeptics like me. This is what matters.

Here is my personal conversion table for my former religious feelings that have been suffering from religious atrophy and have been reactivated by deconversion and freethought:
Religious Non-religious
Worship of God
Being protected by God
Awe of the Universe
"Oceanic" feeling

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/su-lin/2081783802/

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Atheism is compatible with the Ten Commandments

I guess that most atheists may not be aware of the fact that they observe the Ten Commandments better than many observant Jews and Christians. I mean the original Ten Commandments, the Decalogue of the Bible. You don't believe me? Here is the proof.

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The observant Jew will certainly fulfill this commandment. The observant Muslim, too. The observant Christian, too. But most certainly of all, any atheist will fulfill it perfectly. He is the only one who can be certain. All others must ask themselves whether they really might worship the wrong god, and who the big Me really is.

2. Thou shalt not make for thyself an idol.
Observant Jews (and Muslims) will fulfill this commandment in the real world, but not in their mental imagination. Observant Roman Catholics violate it grossly, making crucifixes and Mother of God statues, even praying to them. Observant Orthodox Christians violate it grossly, making icons and kissing them in prayer. Only atheists will fulfill the Second Commandment perfectly, in the real world as well as in their imagination.

3. Thou shalt not make wrongful use of the name of thy God.
Observant Jews have taken the Third Commandment very seriously. They considered every use of the name of God as wrongful and therefore avoided even to pronounce it. This position comes very close to atheism. Any atheist may be ready to share this view, stating that there are really great things behind our visible world, things that we never will be able to fully understand, and that we should not use the name of a god to denominate them. Devout, fundamentalistic Christians and fanatic Muslims use God's name frequently, and this use is considered wrongful by more liberal and open-minded Christians and Muslims. Only atheists can be a hundred percent sure that they never will violate the Third Commandment.

4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
Well, this one seems to be the exception to the rule stated above. But besides the orthodox Jews, most religious people do not give it a high priority.

The following commandments, basically, are all variations of the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated by them. The Golden Rule is fully compatible with a secular (atheistic) humanism. Whether a person will fulfill it or violate it has nothing to do with theism or atheism, just to make this clear.

5. Honour thy father and mother.
Because, once you are a parent, you like to be respected by your own children.

6. Thou shalt not kill (murder).
There have been many violations against the Sixth Commandment in the name of God.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
The wording is not quite how a secular humanist with a modern sexual ethic would put it. There are modern forms of ménage à trois, and they may work in some cases. But if you do not like your sex partner to have partners besides you, you should keep the same rule for yourself.

8. Thou shalt not steal.
Because you do not want to be a victim of theft.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Because you do not want him to do it to you.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house nor his wife.
Because it is easier to prevent a conflict than solve it later.

In conclusion, I have shown that it may be easier for an atheist than for observant Jews and Christians to keep the first three commandments. The big part of the rest has nothing to do with God, therefore atheists and believers are equally fit to keep it or violate it. The only instance where atheist will lag behind is the Fourth Commandment, but this may not be the most important one.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Learn from this Iranian flat-earther

Watch this video and learn a lot. Not about astronomy but about the human mind. About the fact that misusing the brain for learning a book by heart instead of thinking obviously can lead to statements such as this one.

Another important point: For a real believer, facts do not count. Just imagine you have used weeks and months for learning a book by heart, you probably cannot stand the possibility that it may not be the truth. All your effort would be lost, and this cannot be. Never.

It is hard to believe, but there have been times when the Islamic world was leading in science and medicine, chemistry and math. This is many centuries ago, when thinking still was allowed there.