Friday, January 7, 2011

This post is for the birds.

I'll admit it... I live under a rock.  It took me until yesterday to hear about all the crazy stories of animal mass-deaths to have happened in the last week or so.  Apparently on New Years day, there were several hundred to several thousand birds to die all at once.  Then a few days later, it happened again in Louisiana (birds AND fish), and then again in Sweden.  Since then, I've heard a lot of buzz about it being a sign of the end-times, or some crazy conspiracy.  Apparently, it's taken on the name, "Aflockolypse".

So what does it mean?  Why are we suddenly being inundated with mass animal death? Why is this happening now? And what in the world does this have to do with Atheism vs Theism?

While I'm not a biologist, I can't answer, "Why" these animals are dying off en-mass. I'm sure there are perfectly valid reasons.  But I can answer the other above questions.

What does this all mean?  Well, it doesn't mean anything.  Nature doesn't work that way.  There is no message in something like this.  This doesn't mean that God thinks we're too sinful or anything like that.  If anything, the lessons we learn from something like this are more localized to the answers of, "What is causing a large amount of species to die prematurely?"  and "Is there a way to prevent it in the future/should humans even try to prevent it?"

Why is this happening now? And what does this have to do in this blog?  My answer to both of those is: confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypothesis regardless of whether the information is true.

We had one sensational news story that happened to take place on New Years day. Since it's a time that people think of a "rebirth" of the year, something sensational happening on that day gets more notice.  People assume it has something to do with this special day, and they take note.  When a similar, just as sensational story comes out soon after, people will correlate the two (or more) stories.   Add in a conspiracy theory or two, and every time a mass species death occurs, you get confirmation bias that these events must be related.

At this time, there is no reason to believe that any of these recent mass deaths are related at all.  In fact, there is no reason to believe that this is anything but commonplace in nature.  Mass animal deaths happen all the time, and they just don't make the news. In fact, here is a map of mass bird and fish deaths in the past few weeks alone, all over the world.  As you can see, this is not an uncommon occurrence. It happens all the time.

This is very similar to the story of, "The Bermuda Triangle".  Where people take note of plane and shipwrecks that happen in this specific area of the Atlantic Ocean, and completely dismiss the equal amount of plane and shipwrecks that happens elsewhere in the world.

How does this relate to theism and/or religion?  The most glaring parallel I can make is through the idea of prayer/spells/asking your god for something however outrageous and possibly sometimes getting it.  People pray all the time.  They certainly don't always get what they want.  But when they do get what they pray for, it's taken as a sign of god's acceptance.  When they don't get what they want, it's taken as a sign of god's "mysterious ways" or some sort of lesson, and the event is generally forgotten.
In reality, there have been numerous studies on prayer.  They have varied results at best.  But the one result they all show is that prayer seems to have no more success than that of chance.
To take an answered prayer as proof of god's existence is to be using confirmation bias to prove your belief.  You could just as easily flip it around and say that every unanswered prayer is proof that god does not exist.

What other parallels can one take from the lessons of confirmation bias?  Earlier in this blog, we debated the validity of prophecy.  We argued Christian semantics back and forth about whether or not prophecy was or wasn't fulfilled.  But we skipped over the myriad prophecies that were never fulfilled.  These non-fulfillments are just as important in validating the truth behind a given religion.  They give a much broader view of how close to chance a prophet (or prophets) actually is.  One or two accurate predictions is impressive unless there are several hundred other predictions that aren't accurate at all.  Then we see how close to chance a prediction actually is.

Confirmation bias is a very sneaky rationale.  People from all sides fall for it.  It runs rampant in Homeopathy, a prior i skepticism, religion, atheism, spirituality, and science.  If we're going to know the truth, we have to understand how it happens, and we have to be willing to see it when it happens.  Most importantly, we have to acknowledge when it's happening to ourselves.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Apologies.

I've been away from the blog for several weeks now.  As I am in the process of starting a business from scratch, I have had very little time to work on this project, which is more of a hobby for me than anything right now.

I appreciate everyone's patience.  And don't worry, there will be more to come very soon!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Know your non-believer: Atheist vs. Anti-Religionist

This is the first in a series of posts I've been wanting to tackle for a little while.  While it's not necessarily going to be written to ignite debate, I wanted to address a few things that would help people of different beliefs better understand atheism from my perspective.

There is a relatively new movement within the atheist community called, "New Atheism".  This has been brought about by the work of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and several other rockstars of atheism.  It has spawned organized groups like The Brights, and aided to the numbers of Humanists. These are groups which I would go so far as to say fit within Cory's earlier definition of a religion. New Atheists have followers that are just as vocal and opinionated as any other fundamentalist.

The point of view of the New Atheist movement is very much the idea that religion is antiquated, and should be questioned. Many consider it harmful and are very vocal about it. Richard Dawkins has even gone so far as to call certain aspects of religion "child abuse". Christopher Hitchens has said that religion is, "the main source of hatred in the world".

What I want to address in this post, is that there is a significant difference between, "Atheism" and "Anti-Religionist". 

Atheism is a dis-belief in god.  That's it.  In and of itself, this does not force someone to have a philosophic belief about the morality of religions or people of other beliefs. One can be an atheist and be perfectly fine with people believing something other than what they believe. Not all atheists, including myself, believe that religion is evil.  Not all atheists are anti-religionists.

Anti-Religion is atheism with an agenda. Anti-Religionists feel that religion has a negative effect on our society, and are openly against it.  They are the ones that speak up, because they are the ones with an agenda themselves.  Unfortunately, because they are the ones that speak up, many people associate all atheists in this manner, and this is simply not true.

To take things to a personal level: at this point, I feel like I need to be honest and acknowledge that I most likely have anti-religion leanings now and then.  There are certainly agendas that religions push politically that I clearly don't agree with, and I may be vocal about them once in a while.  But I can't say that religion is inherently evil.  There have been terrible things done in the past in the name of atheism just like there are terrible things in the past done in the name of religion.  I don't think that touting one philosophy as being morally right or wrong over another is going to solve any problems.  This may be a blog specifically devoted to debating, but the point is to have open communication.  In communicating, we may actually learn from each other, and that can actually solve problems.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Alien scabies attack!


As far as I'm concerned, we've hashed out the arguments for and against calling atheism a religion. I don't think we'll really come to a definition of "Religion" that we will both agree on.  And that's where we're falling short.

Admittedly, this post is more in reference to your comments on Richard Dawkins then to the rest of the post.

The belief of Dawkins that you are referring to is called:  Panspermia. It is the idea that life has traveled through space, probably carried on something like a comet, which found it's way to Earth, and started multiplying here. Versions of this theory has been around at least since the 5th century B.C. and is not something Dawkins made up.

Not that I necessarily believe this is how life began on Earth, but I think it is a valid theory worth exploring.  For one, we have recorded the existence of extremophiles, some of which could actually survive a trip through space. For two, humans may have inadvertently done this ourselves.  We know that certain strains of extremophiles that can survive a trip through space happened to be around during the Cambrian Explosion.

Of course this theory doesn't explain how life began, but it could explain how life began on our planet. We know that collisions with extra-solar objects and planets can launch pieces of the planet into space. We know that Earth has been bombarded with meteorites.
Given that we know there is life that can survive a trip through space, and that we humans have actually done it with our own space-equipment, I don't see how this idea is assinine whatsoever.  And I certainly don't see how it is self-contradicting. It has nothing to do with intelligent design whatsoever, and has everything to do with known natural processes.

Well, that's all I have to say about that for now.  Take care Cory!


Dawkins' aliens gave all of us scabies!


You keep coming back to this "faith is a belief that finds supporting evidence" thing, and I have to take issue with that. I feel that I have searched for what I consider to be the most logical conclusion to my questions, and that search for truth has led me to believe in God. I didn't start out believing in God and then ran around looking for supporting evidence. I think our methodologies have been very similar; it is simply our conclusions that have differed.

Regarding "lessor Gods", certainly a point will come when accepting more than your own god will cause a conflict, and you'll have to decide which god you believe in more accurately (Zues may exist, for instance, just not as the ancient mythologies describe). This is a tangent that I don't wish to get sidetracked with, except to say that I agree with you to a point, but that explanations can be made.

Dawkins has made the case that intelligent design is not possible, but that life on this planet may have originated by alien life "seeding" the blocks of life to this world. This claim is not only self-contradicting, it is outright assinine. This is one example.

As for disagreeing with Jesus, certainly one couldn't hope to contradict God and still call themselves a follower of Him. But I could disagree with His apostles, or certain doctrines or events recorded in the Bible - even ones that i thought were true. This is a distinction, admittedly, that atheists don't have to make.

I always heard the quote as "atheism is a religion like bald is a hair style" in which case all I have to do is shave my otherwise full head of hair and reveal the fallacy of this idea. I suppose the same would hold true for calling it a hair color. "None" could arguably be called a color. But this is always going to come down to definition, and your slice of my argument refering to religion as a system of beliefs only portrays part of my argument. It is a system of beliefs regarding the supernatural that results in a call to action - that call may be to do nothing, but choosing not to believe is an active decision by a sentient being. This is the action to which I refer, not specifically a call to "preach the word" or some such thing. In this case, the NRA isn't quite a religion (although they do have some borderline dogmatic doctrines).

Your beliefs may not get tax exempt status, but your not-for-profit organizations do, same as mine. I'm not tax exempt just because I believe a certain way, but the institution I support is a registered 501(c), just like, oh, say, the HRC. Tax status has nothing to do with this debate.

I'm not offended that you think I'm wrong regarding atheism, and I'm not out to offend you, so I am glad you don't take offense. I just think you're defining the term too narrowly to purposely exclude your beliefs from the title of religion, simply because of the implications it would have to admit that you believe in something without proof. Likewise, you think I am defining the term too broadly and including too many groups. I'm not convinced that you are right, and clearly you don't agree with me. This is probably a reasonable place to put this element of the debate to rest. Almost.

I'll end by reminding you that abscence of evidence is not evidence of abscence. Hence, your evidence-based approach still leaves you with a gap that must be filled before you can make the claim that God does not exist (your claim is that nothing you have found shows evidence of God, therefore He must not exist. But since this evidence does not prove absence, you are making a leap of faith to conclude that it does). I am glad to see your intellectual honesty in admitting that you may be wrong. I would argue that the most honest thing to do would be to conclude that God may or may not exist, and that there simply isn't enough evidence one way or the other to make a valid conclusion. But that would likewise require me to do the same thing, since my belief in God is based largely on the same evidence that you have been citing, simply with different conclusions (I am assuming that God exists until shown otherwise, while you are assuming the God doesn't exist until shown otherwise). But this is exactly the point. In abscence of absolute proof, we each have to assume that our beliefs are true, how did you say it? oh yeah, "with our without proof." Neither of us has sufficient evidence to bridge the last bit of the gap into fact, so we must rely on faith alone to validate our beliefs. Hence, we are both religious.

On to bigger and more important things. Until next time.


PS- I have been working on an approach that will put you a little more on the defensive, since I agree that up to now we have really been defending God's existence more than you defending His abscence, but I want to be careful because I'm not interested in attacking or offending you or your beliefs. Dan made most of my recent argument in his last post, so I have scraped that one and am researching another approach. Before Christmas, I promise. Hopefully it's worth the wait.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Richard Dawkins cured my scabies!

Ok, I've never had scabies, and I certainly don't believe that Richard Dawkins could do very much to cure them. But I think it's funny to think of him as a "Patron Saint" of Atheism.

Cory, I really have a hard time with you saying I have a certain amount of, "faith" and that drives my beliefs.  In fact, it is absolutely the contrary.  As I talked about in my very first post, it is my lack of faith that drives my atheism.  My beliefs are based on evidence, not faith.  I believe in the Big Bang origins of the universe not because it sounds good, but because of the evidence we have that caused us to come to those conclusions.
My personal philosophy is not to come up with an idea and then find evidence to prove it.  My personal philosophy is to look at the evidence and then use it to understand what is happening.  This is the polar opposite of having faith.

"Faith" and "Belief" do not mean the same thing.
"Belief" is something you think is true. and "Faith" is trusting what you think is true to be true, with our without proof.

I don't believe in God not because I have faith he doesn't exist, but because I don't see any proof of his existence.  I acknowledge that I may be wrong.  I can't disprove god's existence.  But to take an idea and then search for proof to validate those claims is a flawed process.  It causes people to filter out what information doesn't fit their idea.  I don't disbelieve in god because I want him to not exist, but because I don't see the evidence that leads me to make the conclusion that he does.

I understand that god could exist and works in ways that show no evidence.  But  I can't take lack of evidence as proof of his existence.  That is just illogical.  That is why I can't say that I have "faith".

"Bottom line - a religion is a system of beliefs that result in a call to action." You can use that definition if you would like, but I think this is far too broad.  For one, my Atheism doesn't necessarily call me to action. I may choose to act upon my dis-belief, but I know far more atheists that prefer not to say or do anything to others about it.  For another, there are far more systems of beliefs that don't have anything to do with a belief in god that result in a call for action. For example: I would not consider "Pro-Gun Rights" to be a religion.

For the record, I don't take offense to calling Atheism a religion.  I just don't agree that it is.  But like you said, it comes down to what our definition of "religion" is.  This reminds me of the Don Hirschberg quote that goes something like, "Calling Atheism a religion is like calling 'bald' a hair color."

You may believe in other "lesser gods" but if they are the gods of other religions than your own, you have to acknowledge that in most cases, there will be a conflict of interest in terms of which mythology is correct. If you believe in Yahweh AND Zeus, then you have extremely conflicting origin stories of the universe.  If one is correct then the other isn't.  You can't get around it without skewing the very understanding of who that god is.
Although I'm curious as to what logic of Richard Dawkins you think is assinine, I don't think it's relevant to this debate.  The same goes for the other famous Atheists. Although as far as Bill Maher is concerned: Anyone who makes a movie where they are belittling people of other beliefs for two hours is just a deuchebag.

"However, just as disliking Mahar or Hitchens doesn't make you less atheist, disagreeing with, say, Brigham Young on certain things doesn't make me less Christian."  I agree with you here.  Although, I wonder how you would feel if instead of you disagreeing with Mr. Young, you disagreed with Jesus.  But that's a whole different subject.

We can go back and forth about the subject of what does and doesn't constitute a religion.  Like I said, I'm not offended by it.  I just don't agree that my atheism is a religion.

You're right.  I have first amendment rights on the issue.  But my beliefs don't get tax-exempt status.

Thanks for (although not deliberately) bringing up this subject.  I feel as though I've been playing offense this entire blog and you and Dan have been playing defense.  I would love for you two to bring up debates where I have to defend my stance a little more.

Take care, and happy (belated) Thanksgiving!


Re: It's Gettin' Silly Up In Here


You're right, things really are getting silly at this point.  We've hit a point where we are stuck in an endless loop.
I'll argue that you're using circular reasoning.  You'll argue that you're not.
I'll argue that I don't accept testimony as accurate evidence.  You'll argue that it is.
I'll ask for more evidence.  You'll give me something from the bible, and we'll play a game of "who knows the bible better than who."  Then I'll argue that using the bible as proof of itself is using circular reasoning.  Then we're back to square one.

I can (and did the research) to argue against the extra Biblical writings and why they aren't evidence for the New Testament claims.  But that will get us back into the, "Who knows the bible better than who" game.  And I think you misunderstand what I would consider as evidence to back up the claims of the gospels.

I feel as though I've explained that human testimony can be invalid, and have shown proof.  As I said before, I will hold steadfast in this regard.  I understand that in history, sometimes this is the only way we know what has happened.  But I also argue that in the history we know, especially that which we know solely from human testimony, it is subject to be invalid. This doesn't mean that it's ALL wrong.  In most cases, I would bet that what we know is fairly accurate.  But in terms of arguing for the existence of the supernatural, which is what we are doing, we can NOT settle for anything less than 100% accuracy.  Human fallibility is an unfortunate trait that will never allow for human testimony, however earnest, to be capable of being considered as 100% accurate evidence.

I feel as though I've given enough evidence to make a case for why I BELIEVE the gospels have been embellished/changed/corrupted.  I could go into it, but I don't feel like getting into another game of, "who knows the bible more than who".

I am at a loss for words about your arguments for the Gospels as not being biased stories for Jesus.

At this point, I'm willing to declare that I agree to disagree.  We aren't making any more headway on this subject, and our energy can be saved for new debate. I really don't want to go another round of rehashing the same arguments.

Thanks for keeping me on my toes!  I expect nothing less during our future debates!