Monday, February 28, 2011

Do Atheists have faith?

According to the dictionary that came with my computer, faith is

complete trust or confidence in someone or something


strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

I like that my dictionary acknowledges that there is no proof of an invisible omnipotent all-knowing being.

You know Atheists don't have any believe whatsoever in a God or religion, but do we have complete trust or confidence in someone or something?

Every Atheist is different. We have no doctrine that we follow. There's no handbook. There's no association we are all a part of. Some Atheists are super duper rationalists, committing to never-do-anything-without-a-good-reason. And some, like me, are ridiculously spontaneous and mindless in our actions... especially after too many beers.

This Atheist, Your Atheist Muse, does have faith, in the sense of having complete confidence in someone or something, without lots of scientific data to back up such a belief. Here is my faith:

I have faith that humanity has the capacity to be kind to each other. I have faith that humanity has the capacity to take care of the Earth and its resources and landscape in such a way as to make/keep this world a beautiful, joyous place where no species goes extinct, where every human has access to nutrition, job opportunities, learning opportunities and basic, affordable health care, and where every human can live safely and, as long as it doesn't hurt other people, the way he or she wants to. I have faith that humanity has an infinite capacity to learn and to love.

My faith that humanity will realize those capacities? Not so strong...

There's some scientific data that backs up what faith I have. There's lots of anecdotal evidence to support my faith. Sometimes my personal experience supports it and, sometimes, my personal experience is in direct contrast to those beliefs. Maybe I'm programmed by DNA and upbringing to have this faith.

No, my faith in human capacities does not come from Super Invisible Friend Guy. There has been absolutely nothing I have read, seen or experienced that has any way indicated such comes from Super Invisible Friend Guy. In fact, kindness seems logical to me, while being unkind is illogical to me: when I'm kind, then most of the time, I get a good return, excepting the occasional person that takes advantage of such. By contrast, being unkind usually leaves everyone in a bad mood, including me. Living a life that leaves less of a carbon footprint on the planet, ensuring no species goes extinct (except maybe bedbugs), and using resources wisely seems logical to me, while being a glutton seems silly, destructive and, ultimately, not enjoyable.

Could goodness be logical? Considering that so many of us are kind without any belief in God, it would seem so!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Billy Ray Cyrus is scared of this adopt-a-highway sign.

In Billy Ray's own words: “A physical sign. It could have easily said ‘You will now be attacked by Satan.’”

Read more about why this sign scares Billy Ray, on the Friendly Atheist blog.

Billy Ray doesn't seem to understand that not only do we Atheists not believe in his invisible friend with super hero powers, we also do not believe in Billy Ray's super villain.

What scares you, sir? Our love of science and reason? Our dedication to equality for all humans? Our repulsion regarding superstitions like yours, which lead to things like the Inquisition and the Holocaust? Our efficiency at cleaning up areas around highways?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Surviving yet another apocalypse prediction

I saw this on YahooAnswers recently, and it brought back memories of my Bible Belt childhood:

Please help me.. I need it :(?
I am going crazy. I'm worried about the end if the world, not 2012, bu this year. People have been saying May 21-October 21 (5 month rapture) will happen. The world is going to be destroyed by fire.. I don't want to burn alive. And I'm just all out scared. What should I do?

I remember this fear. I was about nine years old, and book and movie The Late Great Planet Earth, were being talked about at churches all over the USA, including in my home town. All the talk had me convinced that the world was about to go up in flames. The book and movie asserted that the world would probably end by the end of the 80s. I was terrified. One night I cried so hard my mother had to console me.

The world didn't end. And within three or four years, I was realizing I wasn't a Christian. The 80s and 90s, instead, saw me learning just how often different human communities had been caught up in a belief that the world was about to end (if you are interested in this yourself, I highly recommend The Last Days are Here Again: A History of End Times by Richard Kyle, which shows how the belief that the world will end soon is deeply embedded in the human psyche).

And now the 2012 phenomenon is terrorizing various people, including children, with its proposal that it's all going away next year.

This 2012 campaign of fear bothers me on a lot of levels. Sure, the Earth could be destroyed next year. It could be destroyed later today. It could be destroyed a million years from now. Death from the Skies!: These Are The Ways The World Will End, the a book by American astronomer Phil Plait, also known as "the Bad Astronomer", explores the various ways in which the human race could be rendered extinct by astronomical phenomena, such as asteroid impacts, supernovae explosions, solar flares and gamma ray bursts. Plait isn't trying to be alarmist - instead, he explains the science behind each event and the odds of it occurring in our lifetimes.

People shouldn't live in fear of what might happen, in terms of pure hypotheticals, any more than they should ever believe yet another apocalypse prediction, religious or otherwise. To torture children with such a belief is reprehensible.

We don't know how humans will die, or how each of us will die, or how the Earth will end, or what will happen to each of us when we die. No one knows, though there are a lot of beliefs - that we sleep until the end of the Earth comes, and then some go to Heaven and some go to Hell; that we go straight to one or the other, no sleeping required; that we're reincarnated as a new living being, or even more than one; that we go into another dimension; and on and on. But no one - not even Atheists - know. What I'm pretty sure might happen:

From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.
- Edvard Munch

I'm okay with not knowing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Evolution Weekend

Over the last five years, more and more faith communities -- churches, temples and mosques -- in the USA have recognized the Sunday closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday (February 12), also known as Darwin Day, as an annual opportunity to reflect on what religion has to learn from science, in particular how Christianity can embrace the insights of evolution.

Many Atheists don't know that there are many Christians, Muslims and other religious adherents who are not anti-science. That's because mainstream media gives much more voice to the extremist religious elements that fight against science education. Adhering to religion does not mean turning one's back on the science of evolution, and many Christians, Muslims and others know this.

Comedian Stephen Colbert is a practicing Catholic, yet that doesn't stop him from believing in science -- and from brilliantly satirizing people like Fox News' Bil O'Reilly, who claimed that the regularity of the ocean’s tides proves the existence of God. When various people pointed out that the moon’s gravity causes tidal ebb and flow, O’Reilly dug himself in deeper by saying, "Okay, how did the moon get there?" Colbert likened O’Reilly to St. Thomas Aquinas since “Like St. Thomas Aquinas, Bill O’Reilly’s understanding of the world is also from the 13th century.”

The Rev. Carl Gregg blogged recently about the importance of Evolution Sunday to Christians and other communities of faith. He brought this to my attention:

In recent months, perhaps the most exciting dialogue between Christianity and evolution has been a series of free online teleseminars on The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith that have featured some of the most well-known luminaries of the religion-science dialogue, ranging from scientists to theologians to pastors. The series was hosted by Michael Dowd, author of the bestselling book Thank God for Evolution.

Great stuff! What a shame THIS doesn't get covered on mainstream media!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

E pluribus unum means me too!

For more than 150 years, until 1956, the de facto motto of the United States of America was E pluribus unum, which means out of many, one. Originally, that motto was meant to show that out of the individual colonies or states of North America, between what is now Canada and Mexico, emerged a single, united nation. It was a motto endorsed by our founding fathers, who envisioned a secular nation. But by the 20th century, it was also seen to mean that many peoples, races, religions and ancestries make up this one country, creating a single people and nation.

It was an incredibly appropriate motto for my country. It was one that any citizen of our country could support and feel proud of.

Sadly, in 1956 -- just one year after the phrase "under God" was incorporated into the secular Pledge of Allegiance - the motto was replaced by a new, official motto: in God We Trust, a statement that isn't true for several million citizens of the USA, including the one whose blog you are reading now. My country went from a beautifully representative, uniquely American motto to one that sends the message that the USA excludes myself and my fellow Atheists -- we just live here, we don't belong.

I'm sure the speeches in Congress that urged support for this religious-based motto sounded a lot like the justifications used to call certain countries The Islamic Country of...(Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan...). And I'm sure the USA Christians that support the revised motto would cringe at the idea of living in a country where the official state religion wasn't their own. But it's just fine to exclude those that don't adhere to their religion fromthe national motto of the USA.

If there is a movement to restore E pluribus unum, let me know: I'll sign on!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Perhaps not-so-Godlike afterall?

Sorry for the silence! I got two short-term consultancies at once, and there were bills to be paid!

Sunday night, my husband and I stumbled upon a real treat: Clever Monkeys, on our local PBS station. It was originally shown in November 2008. To be clear: it was about monkeys, not apes. It was focused on monkey culture: how they pass information from one generation to the next, how the young learn to find food, communicate, recognize kin, even use tools, medicine, and language -- about all the things monkeys do that are from learning, not instinct.

It's jaw-dropping when you see monkeys, in the wild, using calls that have specific meanings for circumstances (snake!) and even combine calls to make sentence-like messages - this requires grammar! Or a monkey using deception on his family in order to have food all to himself.

The show presented the evolutionary history of modern human intelligence in an easy-to-understand, delightful way. And when you see intelligence and emotion exhibited by monkeys that, once upon a time, you were taught were uniquely human, it's humbling. And energizing. And wondrous. How we humans have evolved from monkeys has been an extraordinary journey, and the more you learn about it, the more extraordinary our world becomes.

Just one quandary: after the show was over, I turned to my husband and said, "So, what does make us human, as opposed to monkey?" We couldn't think of anything, other than Facebook use.

If you want more than even the video offers about monkey (and human!) intelligence, then read this excellent article on Humans And Monkeys Share Machiavellian Intelligence.