Monday, September 22, 2008

God Can't Beat This Meat

Christians scare me. Their rigidity scares me. What this holds for my country and the world really scares me.

Case in point. Scientists are getting very close to being able to reliably generate meat (read steak, hamburger...bliss) from animal stem cells. Soon we'll be able to cook up a T-bone that didn't require a cow to carry it for months and then die for its harvest. PETA rejoice! And lab grown meat wouldn't require nearly the resources; water and grain, that raising a cow does. We would be able to enjoy a burger without depriving others of food, and further taxing a dwindling global freshwater supply. World, rejoice!

And me rejoice! As much as I'm philosophically drawn to vegetarianism, I don't think I could ever give up meat. Selfishly, I can't wait for cultured meat patties. And my excitement for said patties caused me to bring up lab-grown meat at a breakfast I attended with my family recently. Probably not the most savory subject to bring up as we crammed sausage links and bacon strips down our throats, but far more palatable than the response I got from my stepmother.

She's wonderful woman on all counts but one...she's a Christian. I'm sure some of you can guess her response. "Well I don't know about that...that seems pretty unnatural." Okay, not so bad yet. I responded with, "Okay, but consider how we get our meat currently. Fro animals in pens with no room to move, dosed with growth hormones and antibiotics (and sometimes each other), killed en masse by disease-spreading machines. That doesn't seem terribly natural either. Or healthy." And she says...

Wait for it...

Oh crap, here it comes...

"If god wanted us to grow meat in labs, he wouldn't have given us animals."

Eecch! C'mon. That's akin to saying, "If god wanted us to live in houses he wouldn't have given us caves." Houses are just an upgrade on caves. In fact, houses wouldn't be possible without the raw materials (stone, dirt, etc.) found in caves. And cultured meat wouldn't be possible without the stem cells and genetic material found in animals. I say, "if god didn't want us to do all the things our technology currently allows us to do, he wouldn't have made us so damned intelligent!"

According to your teachings, Christian nay sayers, god gave man free will. Clearly he also gave us the intelligence to do interesting things with that will. What was the point if all he really wants us to do with our intellects is sit in supplication to him and ponder a book that was started almost 3,500 years ago, when iron was considered "high tech." Why would he gift man with such a staggering ability to create and manipulate and then condemn his creations?

Why not look at our ability to craft technologies from scientific insights as a gift...from god if you must, or just as a gift that our evolutionary heritage has bequeathed to us. Regardless, the technological advancements of the last 100 years have created solutions for many of the hardships our ancestors faced...disease, heavy labor, waste management, constant hunger. But in the process we've created all new issues, some much larger than previously faced. Global warming, fresh water shortages, population booms (which leads to constant hunger in some areas), pollution, major species extinctions, etc. Now more than ever we need to bring our technological minds to task. We've passed beyond the event horizon of technological damage. We can now create technologies, unimaginable technologies, which greatly swing the order of the natural world and finally bring a balance where one hasn't existed in quite some time.

Technologies like cultured meat. Meat grown in a lab can reduce deforestation, since less land is required for grazing. It can reduce water waste associated with raising large quantities of food-animals, as well as free the grains previously used for animal feed to be used in the fight against world hunger. Fewer food-animals means less methane released into the atmosphere. That, paired with slower deforestation creates a net gain in the fight against global warming.

And this is why Christian's scare me. Well, it's not the only reason, but it's the reason I'm including in this post. There are enough close-minded Christians, like my stepmother, to keep these sorts of technologies from reaching the mainstream. We've seen fundamentalist attacks on stem cell research. But Christians, voting with their wallets, can be just as damaging. If the majority of people (read Americans) choose not to buy cultured meat, the technology will wither and die. In a market-driven economy, the majority speaks. And the last thing I want to do is trust the well being of our planet to a bunch of people who believe Jesus is coming soon to rapture all the true believers and then clean up our mess. But that's a topic for another entry...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Right on, Mr. Sagan!

I found this quote in an interoffice memo. I'm sure some of you have seen it, but it's new to me.
“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
- Carl Sagan
This is a powerful position statement for atheists in general, I think. The truth is that we reside in a mind-bogglingly big universe that doesn't know we exist and wouldn't care a whit for us if it did. It's more violent than any of us have experienced or could imagine, violence made worse by its random and emotionless nature. We could be vaporized in an instant by some unseen cosmic cataclysm, and the big U would keep on truckin' without a notice for our absence. This can be troubling sometimes, even for the stoutest minds among us. It can be tempting to infuse the chaos with a little human compassion. Throw a little meaning and control into the mix.

But it's not necessary or desirable. Any meaning or character we impose on nature is a lie, a personification of our own desires and fears. When Christians call on god to help them, they aren't accomplishing anything. But they've experienced compassion from other people, and imagine that the universe functions according to the same principles. It doesn't, and assuming that it does can stop them from taking action on their own that might ultimately alleviate their situation.

And the interesting thing is that we atheists, by nature of being human, can be just as guilty of manipulating existence to fit our "story." The description of the universe I painted two paragraphs ago is just as much a lie as anything the religious might conjecture. The universe isn't mind-boggling, or big, or violent, or any other adjective we might use to describe it. The universe just is. Before we came on the scene and tried to describe it the universe just was.

There is no need to anthropomorphize the universe in positive or negative terms. This frees us from fear and allows us to seek existence on it's own terms. To hypothesize, theorize, test and reject if necessary. It is best to seek the world as it is, free of delusion and self-deception. Doing that is the tricky part. Stay tuned for part two...why Christians are dangerous because they believe they are doing everything I just detailed above.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

You Don't Know Jack...

I was driving to the airport to pick up my girlfriend yesterday and I started thinking about what happens when flying ceases and gravity takes over. I tend to think pessimistically when airports are involved.

So I'm thinking about downwardly spiraling airplanes and my thoughts went to how many Christians say they "know" what's going to happen to them when they die and are very quick to lament your life if you aren't preparing yourself for the same bliss they're counting on. If you try and convince them that there's a chance they might be wrong they are very quick to discount the possibility. "The bible tells me what's going to happen when I die, the bible is the word of god, therefore I KNOW it to be true," says a hypothetical Christian who for the purposes of this entry we'll call Stu.

But here's the thing. God requires faith of this adherents. Faith is defined as belief that is not based on proof. If there were proof of the afterlife, then faith wouldn't be possible. So can you know, with certainty, that what the bible says is absolute truth? No, of course not. That would require absolute proof and absolute proof would destroy completely the potential for faith.

So really, an essential factor for any believer having faith in the bible as the true word of god is an understanding that they COULD be wrong. That is in essence what faith is. Faith is saying, "I don't have any proof for what I believe, and understand that what I believe could be wrong, but I choose to believe it anyway." As an atheist, I am equally beholdant to this definition of faith. I don't "know" there is no god. I choose to believe this with the knowledge that I could be wrong.

So ultimately my point is this. Christians, you don't KNOW anything with certainty about your god or his policies. Intrinsic to your dogma is the possibility that it's incorrect. And my two probably is. So screw you, Stu.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ending a Long Hibernation

Yeesh. It's amazing how much real life can interfere with a mostly frivolous pursuit. It's been almost a year since my last post! Apparently Christianity only raises its nasty mug around July each year. I won't let that kind of time pass again. There's far to much inanity to comment on. This post was provoked by an almost year old comment I received anonymously from one of my previous posts. I knew I'd come across these. Well-meaning christians trying to save me from myself and my semantic spiral down to hell.

Here's the thing. They might think they're being kind when they wish blessings from god for me. But I don't believe in god. So you might as well be saying, "Yoda bless you!" I don't need their blessings. They're useless to me. In fact, in a very real sense, they're useless to the world. I get that these people are genuinely concerned for me. I suppose I appreciate it, but its misplaced energy. If most of the well-meaning christians put the energy they spend praying and wishing blessings on people into actually working on the world we currently live in, I think we'd all be much better off. There are a LOT of christians praying and wishing for god to help people. What a waste of time and energy if there's no one listening!

This sums up one of my major beefs with christianity (and many other religions.) Since they consider this world transitory, simply a prep class for our eternal souls, it makes it easier for believers to ignore the pain and injustices going on around the world. And, by thinking their prayers are accomplishing something, they remove themselves from any personal responsibility to do something themselves to fix the situation. So the world goes to pot while all the well-meaning Christians are gazing skyward, waiting for the rapture.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In Defense of Biblical Marriage

Here's a funny one. This classic skewering of biblical marriage has been circulating the internet for a long time. I love it, so I'm posting for anyone who hasn't seen it (yes, the two of you) and anyone who wants to enjoy it all over again.

The Presidential Prayer Team is currently urging us to Pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to Biblical principles. With any forces insisting on variant definitions of marriage, pray that God's Word and His standards will be honored by our government.

Any good religious person believes prayer should be balanced by action. So here, in support of the Prayer Team's admirable goals, is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:

A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5.)

B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

Ah...good stuff. One of these days I need to confront a believer with this, along with a bible for quick reference. I want to see them squirm.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Please god, help me! I'll go back to not believing in you tomorrow."

A coworker of mine was reading this blog and she raised the point to me about how many non-believers in times of crisis will instinctively call out to god for help. Her feeling was that these people are simply acting on impulses taught to them as children, either in Sunday school or by other adults. And she's probably right. From birth most of us are taught that god is out there and that he's just a thought-call away. We might make the conscious decision as adults to walk away from superstitious and religious beliefs, but under intense psychological stress these childhood beliefs could manifest themselves.

And I don't think it's fair to say that these reactions prove an underlying but ignored belief in god. If I were to find myself in agony, pinned under a building or something like that, I might call out for help. But in any normal situation I know what I believe. I think people in these situations are just desperate for someone to help them. If that means calling out to "god", then so be it.

And I think there's another, deeper reason even non-believers still seem to have some connection to a "higher power." I know this is a simplification, but essentially our mind is composed of two spheres, the conscious and the subconscious. Our conscious mind is our awareness, the part of our mind that observes and comments. The part that interacts with the world. Our subconscious mind resides just out of reach. This is where real thought happens. This is the part of our mind that accesses and processes information, sensory input, memories, and then presents its findings to the conscious mind.

The conscious mind has no access to the subconscious, generally. It only receives what the subconscious wants it to receive. Here's what I'm getting at.
when you have a thought it comes in a flash. A telling phrase is, "something occurred to me." You, your conscious mind, had nothing to do with gestating that thought. It merely heard the subconscious mind blurt it out. It's really almost as if our subconscious mind is a separate entity residing inside of us, communicating with us sporadically.

I think this accounts for people's feeling that they aren't alone, even in their own heads. Most people attribute "that still small voice" inside their mind to god, but in fact it's only you.

And since even non-believers live with the constant sense of "being with someone" inside our skin, we might instinctively call out to them in a time of need.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I'd ask you to pray for me, but what's the point?

SOURCE: Skeptical Inquirer, July/August '06, "One Big STEP: Another Major Study Confirms That Distant Prayers Do Not Heal the Sick." by Bruce L. Flamm

If you get the chance you ought to track down this article. I'll summarize.

STEP is a massive study into the efficacy of distant prayer. The results have been published, confirming what I've known for a long time. Distant prayer does nothing. The decade long study, involving researchers from six different academic medical centers found no statistical basis for the idea that distant intercessory prayer helps the sick get well.

The study involved 1,802 cardiac bypass surgery patients and randomly divided them into three groups. One group was told they may or may not receive distant intercessory prayer and ultimately did receive the prayer. The second group was told the same thing as group one, but ultimately did not receive prayer. Neither the patients nor the doctors new which of these first two groups were actually receiving prayer. The third group was told they would definitely receive prayer, and ultimately did. The prayer was carried out by one catholic group and two protestant groups.

Here's what the study found. There was no statistical difference between groups one and two. None the patients in these two groups knew whether prayer was being rendered on their behalf, and whether it was or wasn't made no difference to their health. Group three, which new it was receiving prayer actually fared worse than the other two groups. Funny, because they were definitely receiving prayer. You would expect them to fare better (if prayer worked) or, more likely, fare the same as groups one and two. The authors of the study hypothesize that this discrepancy might be caused by stress. Learning that they were going to be receiving prayer may have caused patients in group three to believe their condition was worse than it was; one that required prayer. This extra stress could have caused health complications.

The author sums things up in his closing paragraph. He says, "If prayer was a drug being tested for effectiveness, these well-designed studies would have destroyed it. A medication that failed this miserably in two huge randomized trials would never be approved by the FDA." (The other study being referenced here is MANTRA II, an earlier, smaller study that came to the same conclusions STEP has.)

But here's the hard truth. Christians don't care what the study proves. In their minds, it proves nothing. Bob Barth, a member of one of the protestant prayer groups said that his faith in prayer wasn't shaken a bit. He said, "People of faith don't need a prayer study to know that prayer works." And what do you base this knowledge on, Bob? Your own sense that your accomplishing something? Clearly not actual, confirmable evidence.

That's a textbook example of a human brain with its switch firmly in the "off" position. 1.) "I believe X." 2.) "But look, X is clearly not true. 3.) "But I believe it, so it is true." Christians can manipulate the universe to conform to their neat little prepared package. Even if god himself were to appear before them in a bank of the blindingest of all blinding lights, and tell them something in the bible wasn't true, they would find a way to discount the experience. After all, Satan can appear as an angel of light.

Not that converting Christians is the purpose of this study. Nor should the study be looked at as a way for thinking people to feel good about the positions they've taken. When conducting a study is this sort, an open mind requires that we prepare ourselves for the possibility that our hypothesis is wrong. And, using this study as an example, if we discovered that distant prayer had some effect on the health of patients, we would have to open ourselves to the possibility that some supernatural force was involved. Or at least some as of yet detected energy or other physical mechanism. However, I don't think we'll ever be in that position.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jesus Christ, The Musical!

Not Jesus Christ Superstar...even better! Just a goofy flick to lighten the mood a little. I'll get back to bashing Christians in the next post. Proof that Jesus truly was the messiah: his beautiful singing voice.

Christianity and Christians: Are They Indistinguishable?

What funny timing. I don't really talk to anybody I used to know back in my Christian days. It's not that I cut them out of my life. I just slowly drifted away from them. We lost our common ground. Except for one guy. We don't talk often, but it's always to good to hear from him when we do. And oddly enough he called me after at least of a year of no contact just days after I started this blog. (To Christians: Evidence of God's involvement in our lives. To Atheists: Coincidence.)

I really like Steve (we'll call him Steve to protect his anonymity...and his pride, since his real name is Flogchortle Cheesemumbler.) I like his positive attitude and his general approach to life. He's truly live and let live.

After I got of the phone my girlfriend asked me how I could rectify having Steve as a friend while publishing this blog. Good question. I've thought about it a bit, and here's my answer.

I don't like Christianity. For that matter I don't like religion. Religion, dogmatic religion, is stifling and mind-constricting. It doesn't leave room for alternatives, nor does it leave room the possibility of being wrong and redrawing conclusions.

Spirituality on the other hand is great. I may not be terribly spiritual myself, but I'm totally open to the idea. Spiritual people, outside of the dogmatic realm, make up their own minds. They choose what to believe. And their belief system is flexible. It can evolve and change as life changes. It can inform an internal moral code without the need for fear and guilt-inspiring concepts like sin and punishment. Some of the most open-minded people I know are highly spiritual, while the most closed-minded people are usually Christians.

Here's what I think it comes down to. Like I said in a previous posting, the basic philosophy Jesus the man espoused was reasonably positive. His claims (or the early churches' claims) of messiah-hood defeated most of Jesus' message, unfortunately. But I think Christians that follow Jesus the philosopher, Jesus the rabbi, are far more spiritual than they are religious. And they are probably better people for it, not hypocritical, judgmental bigots. While following the moral code set down by Christian theology, they do it more out of a love for other people than out of fear of hell. Sure they believe in all the goofy stuff that goes along with modern Christianity. But that is all secondary to them. First and foremost is, "love thy neighbor," "turn the other cheek," etc.

Flogchortle...I mean Steve, is a spiritual Christian. And I can respect him for that. He's applied his mind to what he believes. Maybe because he's my friend I'm biased, but I think that's true.

Plus. I just like Steve. I'd be just as much a bigot to hate someone for being a Christian as Christians are for hating someone just because they're non-christians, homo-sexuals, pro-choicers, whatever. Steve is a cool guy...except for his name.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Unmasking God as "The Man Behind the Curtain" for Intelligent Design

I was just reading an article about Intelligent Design. It's a valid theory...really! It's had just as much intellectual energy thrown at it over the years as Evolution. In fact, the ID theory been debated much longer, for millennia, because it's Creationism!

This will be a quick post. I just wanted to make one point. ID claims that life is so complex, with so many independently complex systems depending upon each other, it couldn't have been generated randomly. If you stumbled upon a pocket watch, something fairly complex, you would assume it had a creator. And life is more complex than a pocket watch by many orders of magnitude, so how much more would life require a creator?

Intelligent Design proponents mask their Christian puppet master by claiming not to know what or who the intelligence is behind the design. It could be extraterrestrials. Could be anything really. Okay. Let's say it was extraterrestrials, or any other finite being. Creature capable of creating life would have to be awfully advanced. Fine. Pocket watch...earthlings...earthling-creators. The ECs are even more complex than we are, so now they require a creator. You can see where this is going. How far into infinity do you want to travel?

The infinity progression has to end at some point. It must ultimately end at an entity that, although it is infinitely complex (it created everything) it needs no creator. The only entity that could conceivably possess those characteristics is god. Intelligent Design theorists knows exactly who their designer is.

And really that's where ID falls apart. The core claim is that anything very complex requires a designer. But god, IDs final designer is an infinitely (or at least immensely) complex being that has no designer. That's point one. Point two is if ID allows for a complex system or entity to exist that has no designer, why not simply say that life has no designer. Life is far less complex than a god character. ID negates itself by allowing exactly what it purports to deny.