Posts Tagged ‘ Supernatural ’

My World View – Agnosticism

I had set about to write a ‘what is agnosticism’ post several times. It turns out that it wasn’t as easy as I had at first thought. Insert some saying about getting on a horse here. I’ll have to leave equestrianism for another post 🙂

Agnostics can be militant or not, vociferous or not. In many ways they are like atheists. The label does not define them in any way but one – they generally do not believe in the existence of gods (see no evidence for them) but cannot be certain that gods do not exist so will not claim that they do not. Most people with any vestment in this discussion will already have formed an idea of how they feel about such a position. I’m not going to discuss their opinion, or even the opinion of agnostics.

Meditating with my cousins

I remember well the transition from evangelical believer to agnostic to atheist to anti-theist. It was not a weekend fling. It took a lot of work to figure out that I was agnostic when in fact I finally told myself that I was. I can’t remember exactly when it was but I do remember that it was out of frustration. I was in search of answers since I was a very young boy. Finding none in my parents church I sought them in other churches. They didn’t have answers either. I travelled the world, well, I travelled some of it. More of it than most American born folk. I looked for answers everywhere I travelled, and found none. Oddly enough, one of the few places that I went where I did go that did not raise more questions was the zoo. I visited zoos all over the world. Never once did I find a question there that I could not also find an answer. There, the magic of the number 5 was all around me. There I found the meaning of life: eat, drink, fornicate, sleep, wake … repeat. It is what all these wonderful animals and I had in common. The real meaning of life, if there must be one, must be a meaning shared by all of life; the best of us and the least of us. I know that I spent a lot of time watching primates. The looked to me like cousins, however it was the apes that made me think. I watched them and I could spot the policeman, the troublemakers, the miscreant teens, the caring, the democrats, the republicans, the libertarians. I could see in them all manner of human behavior. At least I then thought it was only human behaviors. I did not understand evolution as I do now.

This made me think. How can God not care for them? Why are humans special? Why is there no heaven for them? Where do they go after death? Why doesn’t my God care the same about these wonderful creatures? There were, of course, no answers in the brochure with the map of the zoo. These thoughts troubled me. They troubled me more than anything else ever had. I could find no answers and as far as I knew I was the only one for thousands of miles that felt as I did, if there even was another thinking like me. I have always known what it feels like to be, or at least feel, alone. I thought quite some time about it and finally decided that I just don’t know. There are no answers that sound right so I just don’t know and can’t know. I can’t know what happens to animals when they die. It was not long before I had a discussion with myself and we concluded that it is unreasonable to assume that we can know that a god like that exists. For quite a few years I was content with the fact that I can’t know. It was not until many years later that I would understand this to be agnosticism.

So What Exactly Happened Next? (C’mon, finish the story)

I was agnostic for many years. I searched in all the usual ‘spiritual’ haunts for signs of supernatural evidence of any kind. For that I can only say that Harry Houdini and Penn and Teller are kind influences on the world that I then inhabited. It was at this point that I started learning the importance of thinking critically about the world around me. Reason and rationality became part of my world. I know the sequence well. After these changes it was then that I started becoming an atheist. Not because I hated god or anything as silly as some apologists will tell you. It was simply because I had looked everywhere and could find nothing but reasons to not believe, nothing but lack of evidence, nothing but evidence that gods are not necessary to life. I remained agnostic, yet fearful that a god might exist, though I did not know if it was the god of Abraham or some other god… it still seemed possible.

I don’t remember the day exactly, only that I was thinking to myself that it was frustrating that yet another ‘spiritual’ story turned out to be complete scam. I was frustrated. This god was supposed to be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. Why is it that I can’t find him? Why is he hiding? It was in this funk that I sat up like a shot, looked around carefully, thought to myself nervously…. and said a prayer: God, if you exist, show me. Give me a sign, throw me a bone, something, anything… and I waited. Weeks, maybe months later I hesitantly repeated this prayer. Still nothing. I began to become distraught by this result.

Months later yet my distress turned to anger. Again sitting by myself I repeated my experiment but spoke the words out loud as if this would help him hear me and know I meant it. I didn’t even see a pair of paper clips posed in a cross formation. I looked. There were no signs. I did not know what to do. Eventually I firmly called out in prayer ‘show yourself. I don’t care if it kills me. Show yourself, this teasing is not working for me’ and waited. Still nothing. This was repeated until it became a threat for god to kill me if he could. Just show up and obliterate me with laser beams from his eyes or something. Still no sign. I teased back… ‘guess you don’t care, not about me… show yourself… coward!’ I did not know it, but I had become an atheist. I had lost all fear and respect for gods. They have no power, no presence, they are nothing. The god of Abraham, like Thor, was a myth.

Still, I was alone. Always alone. I did not know anyone that thought even a little bit like me. I had never thought of finding others. I never thought of needing others. I was simply content that I had the answer I had looked for. The meaning of life was already clear. I learned it from my cousins. If there is a true meaning of life, it is true for them. If they can enjoy it I too can enjoy it. I was content. I needed no more explanations, no more excuses. Life made sense to me.

So what happened to make you so angry?

That’s fairly easy. After 9/11 the activity and zest of Christianity popped up and started making claims and pushing for this and that… it felt wrong. My cousins would not do this. Why are these people doing this. Their god does not exist, surely they have a clue? Some time later I heard about these four horsemen fellows. I studied and listened. It was amazing to find that there are other people who think like I do. I was stunned. I literally did not know what to think of it all.

The more I read, the more I studied, the more certain that I became that religion poisons everything. That these angry fellows were right, but more pointedly many of them did not go far enough. It is not enough to say that the god of Abraham does not exist, that there is no credible evidence for such a being to exist but that there is no credible reason to believe that such supernatural beings even can exist. Since that moment science seems to have accelerated. Perhaps I’m just reading more and more on the Internet, I don’t know. The evidence I needed for the answers I sought is becoming available at an ever increasing pace. Religion offers me no answers. Science brings me more answers every day. The god of Abraham is the kind of horrendous manifestation of mankind’s imagination that truly sets us apart from animals. An animal will kill another but never make up a story to justify it. In this, yes, we are different from the animals.

I don’t agree with all atheists. I don’t agree with all non-believers… I am me. I got here on my own. I speak for me and no other and no other speaks for me.

If you wish to present to me apologetics I ask that you start with the evidence for believing that a supernatural being of any kind can exist. What evidence even shows that such beings are possible. Show me that, then we can talk about the rest.

God Is In Your Head, Not Your Heart!

Every month we seem to find more evidence of how the mammalian brain works and with that information we find more reasons to doubt or indeed discount anecdotal evidence of transcendent feeling so often associated with ‘experiencing god’.

The latest such information comes in this post from Machines Like Us. The short of it is that researchers have found that no single spot in the brain can cause transcendent feeling, rather it is the case that many parts are involved.

The study, “Right parietal lobe ‘selflessness’ as the neuropsychological basis of spiritual transcendence,” was published in the International Journal of the Psychology of Religion.

In fact, studies with brain damage patients shows interesting results:

“Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self,” Johnstone said. “Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”

Further, other studies have shown that through meditation and other practices humans can learn to suppress the right parietal lobe activity and thus achieve a greater sense of transcendence.

All of this is within the mind and has been demonstrated to be an effect of brain activity. Any anecdotal evidence for gods will have to prove that this mechanism is not in play. Yes, that means there is near zero chance that anyone will try it. If someone were to pray and get into the spirit of their god only to find out it was because their brains were acting a certain way they would deny it, or try to explain that is how god works his mysteries etc.

And so I feel more confident in my stance that gods and ghosts are simply imagination at work, aided by misinterpretations of fuzzy sensory input and wilful misguided understanding of the evidence.

We won’t even touch on the reasons that we have to believe that many ‘prophets’ were psychotic individuals with a lot of charisma. They would probably have been good used car salesmen. Gods are just ghosts in the machine between our ears.

Why William Lane Craig Is Like A Cancer On Society

Yes, I’m going to explain that headline, but it will take a bit. Get a drink or smoke ’em if you got ’em. Here we go. Lets start 2012 as we mean to finish.

I’m not insinuating anything here, but in the USA we only really give three names to convicted felons, murderers, and heinous people who broke the law.Yes, I know we give three names to presidents too. I guess that joke wasn’t funny as it was in my head.

I don’t think that three names adds profundity, nor do I feel that titles add authority or guarantee rightness. So from here on out I’m just going to call him Bill. Despite all the time he wasted in divinity school his title offers no authority in my opinion. If you get someone to offer you a title for spending 8 years of your life studying the tooth fairy and all the arguments for and against its existence and other bits, you are not deserving of  respect based solely on that. It is wise for the reader to remember that Bill makes his living spouting the stuff that he does. The more he spouts it in public the more money he makes. That is more or less the Hollywood business model, the crack pipe-dream of using more than  your Warholean 15. Philosophy is an odd thing. As important as it might be it is rather useless to the normal person just trying to pay bills on a day to day basis. Even Bill has not figured out how to make philosophical thinking a useful tool for those who would rather know where their next meal is coming from or have some clean drinking water.

Even having said that, most probably all of us ponder the great questions of why do we exist and what is our purpose. Bill has added some to this questioning by championing the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It’s a god of the gaps argument that will eventually be put to rest, but it is his big thing. I won’t tell you that Bill is not well spoken nor well read, but I will tell you he is just an ape in a nice suit. Nice suits don’t make your argument more true. You see, to believe as I do you have to believe that we humans are apes. Apes with grand skills and abilities, but apes nonetheless. So, that puts some perspective on this post. We’re talking about an ape in a suit who very strongly believes the Kalam Cosmological Argument proves his deity exists.

One of the things that really stands the hairs on the back of my neck straight up about this guy is his thoughts on animals. I’m not a PETA member, those folk are a bit nuts. I do believe that we have more in common with other mammals than we don’t have in common with them. The basics of our brains are the same. Anyone that can tell you that animals do not feel pain the way that we do is an evil person. There is no room for argument on this, they are simply evil. Their bigotry and racism is without question. Animals do have morality and you can see examples here and here and here and here and there are many more examples. We are slowly learning how little the difference is between humans and other animals. If you simply take the science stories in the news about human children and animals you will begin to see that there is very little difference. If human children can know about their pains so can other animals. Bill is lying to everyone and he knows it. How can he claim to be a top class intellectual and make such bold assertions? He’s a philosopher, not a doctor of neurobiology. His ideas about animals comes from a dusty old book written by people who practiced ritual sacrifice of humans and animals alike in their past. His holy text is demonstrably easy to show as full of contradictions, corrections, changes. It is generally easy to show that it is not inerrant. Kosher and Halal ritual killing should be banned in every country, as should ‘stoning to death’ and beheading among the many objectionable religious practices in the world. Many of these are taught as law in the holy text that Bill wants you to believe is the inerrant truth of his chosen deity.

There are several links to Bill’s website above. Go and read a bit about his thoughts on animal pain. Remember, he’s just an ape in a suit. While you are reading try this fun word game: substitute the word ‘animal’ and its various forms with a word like ‘homosexual’ or ‘black’ or ‘indian’ and see how bigoted and racist he sounds. It was not long ago that social Darwinists used the same kind of arguments for unethical treatment of other humans.

Bill gets a lot of respect. Far more than I think he is deserving of. He uses that undeserved respect to add weight or value to the ideas he spews onto the social conscience of society. Without proof that his deity exists he insists that it does and further that this deity wants you to live this way or that. Along the way he justifies some very nasty things. His thoughts on animals is simply one of them. So prolific is his fount of ‘thoughts’ that it cannot be helped that some unfortunate among us will be duped into believing as he does. This is how cancer works, generally. It does not take over all the cells of your body but slowly, just one or two at a time. In time it will take over many cells in your body. Finally it will have taken over enough to kill you.

Bill is not advocating that we seek knowledge and truth. He is certain that he has the truth already. He has no proof of course, but he is certain anyway. Bill is a snake oil salesman, and a good one at that. He makes his living from the pockets of those he dupes.

By the way, Bill’s belief that the Kalam Cosmological Argument proves the existence of god does not prove that there is a god. Even if it did, it does not prove his god is the one. Even if it did prove his god exists, it does not prove another deity did not create this existence. All that you will find on Bill’s website is bullshit argument from a bullshit artist. Because he is able to convince others to think like him he is a cancer on society.

What Is Happiness?

Here’s a thought for you, What IS happiness?

Merriam-Websters says:

1  obsolete : good fortune : prosperity

2  a : a state of well-being and contentment : joy

    b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience
Hmmm that is not very helpful. Lets see what contentment means, back to Merriam-Websters : the quality or state of being contented, that wasn’t too helpful. Contented, it says, is : feeling or showing satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation. This is getting circular. Okay, satisfaction is supposed to mean

1  a : the payment through penance of the temporal punishment incurred by a sin

   b : reparation for sin that meets the demands of divine justice
2 a : fulfillment of a need or want
   b : the quality or state of being satisfied : contentment
   c : a source or means of enjoyment : gratification
3 a : compensation for a loss or injury : atonement, restitution
   b : the discharge of a legal obligation or claim
   c : vindication
4   : convinced assurance or certainty <proved to the satisfaction of the court>

Okay, but what if you have no needs or wants? What if you fulfill them as soon as they occur? How can one be satisfied thus contented, thus happy if you have no needs or wants? It would appear that the struggles of life are necessary for happiness. How then do you find that in heaven?

I think it’s time to redefine some words. Not for the dictionaries per se, but lets try doing so for ourselves. Let us consider what we feel when we are happy. The word elation or joy seems a good way to describe it. There are some neuroscience thoughts on elation and spirituality and contentedness and joy: the story of Jill Bolte-Taylor’s brain hemorrhage is a good read.

It would appear that these basal emotions are based in the brain and not the spirit – whatever that might be if we have one. So it is fair to hypothesize that some situations or conditions set the stage for the chemical state(s) in our brains which allow us to experience these emotions. They can be different for everyone to some degree or another. You can have more than  you need and be unhappy, and not have anything you want but still be happy.

So really, it’s time we defined such words in terms of self. While you might think they already were, those definitions were rigged against common sense or understanding of such. I firmly hold that was is true for the best of us must also be true for the least of us. So is a pet’s happiness less worthy of attainment than our own? Is the happiness or joy of an autistic person of less value than our own? Is the hunger of a starving child less important than me missing a meal?

Happiness is a state of mind, regardless of physical conditions or situations. A moment of happiness is like a beautiful sunset – precious to the observer, fleeting, likely never to be repeated in quite the same way in a single lifetime. Happiness is subjective, not some objective state that can be given to you be a deity. Contentment is a subjective state of mind, not an objective state which can be given to you. The key here is state of mind. It happens in your mind, because of your mind. Without your mind such things cannot happen. The promise of eternal happiness and contentment is a lie. Your ability to experience these things dies when your brain stops working… at death.

UPDATE: I almost forgot the original thought: It’s okay to say that you find it difficult to be happy/content when this or that happens or when some person is not happy but you’ve got it all wrong if you say you can’t be happy unless this or that situation happens or some other person is happy. When you pin your happiness on something other than yourself – well, sister, you’re doing it all wrong. I don’t need a god to be happy. Think about that for a minute. Yes, what I’ve said gels with depression as a chemical problem and how some people just never seem to be happy, and why some people always seem to be happy. There is no god needed for happiness.

There you have it. Happiness is what you want it to be, or rather what makes your brain feel it. It has no objective meaning. Neither do joy or elation or contentment or ….. well, you get the picture. So what makes you happy? What do you do to make others happy? Anything?

Why not leave a comment to let us know.

UPDATE: (number 2) Sophie at reminded me to say that what I’m saying here completely gels with stress. She mentions so in her ‘about me’ blurb. Awesome.


Tools of life

It was a few years ago that my father retired. He did a lot of work with hand tools and power tools. He asked me if I would like any of his tools as he was giving it all up. Very decisively I replied “yes! I’ll take any that you are willing to give to me” because … well, I worked with him when I was young and learned the cathartic joys of building things. He happily came to visit with a truck loaded full of tools. These were not heavy duty industrial grade tools, but they are very useful for projects even bigger than any I’ve plans for. The Bosch jig saw is an awesome bit of engineering. Hammer drills and table saws never go amiss. The list of tools was long, and every one appreciated.

Today I was thinking about how I had managed now to use, with vigor, each of the tools that he gave me. Ripping wood to meet your needs with 10 inches of table saw powered carbon tipped blade is just awesome… every time I do it. It really is satisfying to ‘manufacture’ stuff, to see it in it’s place in your project, and to every now and then look up and think ‘wow, that came out looking nice. It makes me happy to have done some work that good.’

I was marveling about things like that today and a few thoughts crossed my mind. First, it was first class awesome that my father gave me these tools. Second, I’m not fully a neo renaissance man in the inspired views of Heinlein, but I come pretty close at times or at least I think I do. That number two point sparked a few other things. One is that my father taught me how to use these tools that he gave me. His patience and skill is how I learned this. Of course I get some credit too, but I can’t take all of it. Not only that but he gave me the skills to both doubt myself and others and the skill to analyze what is going on. I’ve not always done the most I can with such skills, but he passed them to me or helped to make them sharper. When my wife said she wants built-in cabinets I did not say I could not do it. I said I could. It’s not the kind of thing that I do regularly, but I was certain I could do it. Sure enough it took a bit of time remembering and figuring things out, but I got the first one done and took about a week of spare time to finish the second one (both sans doors at this point).  Just the same they have paint on and are well on the way to completion.

At some point in all this I did some math. I inherited some capabilities. Some were taught to me. My father gave me tools. I bought some wood and created some decent looking cabinets. Absolutely nothing in this entire decades long chain of events was supernatural. Not at any juncture did any ‘blessing’ give me anything. With the help of my family and a natural curiosity I have retained, gained, and improved skill sets that are useful. I really am one of the smartest apes on this planet. Not the smartest or even close to the top, but I belong to that group which all those do belong to also. I am one of them. It’s good to be human. It is good to know in some small way I have built something on the face of this planet that proves we are here. It may not last long, but I’ve built something that shows we apes are changing the face of the planet. I am proud to be part of a group which has done so very much.

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