Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rapp's Deconversion on AvC

Yes, it's me. I have many people to thank for this, but Dev was indeed a strong influence. So was Simpleton, LL, philosophy, DreadGeekGirl, Belly Bionic, and a bunch of others here. Reading was also an eye-opening experience, as was reading Dawkins, Harris, and dozens of others. I also have to thank ThunderF00t for his "Why do people laugh at creationists" series, it was great ;).

But I'll speak for myself now, I've got an hour to kill before I head to bed (trip to Geneva tomorrow ;) ):

I stopped being a Catholic because Catholicism is logically inconsistent. There is nothing whatsoever consistent about their theology. They accept that evolution occurred, however their Dogma of Original Sin is incompatible with such a view, as it would constitute a saltation event. This is contradictory to their acceptance of Evolution. I was hoping that they would take this finding as an understanding that their previous dogma was incorrect, but that's against their dogma too. I basically reasoned things out, and found that Catholicism is a bunk system of belief, even on a technicality let alone the whole fact that Original Sin is pretty stupid to begin with, but that's another story and not historically how I arrived at the conclusion).

For awhile I was a deist that attended Catholic services, but some interesting things are fun to examine wrt this. An omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient being would have no reason to be anything *other* than a deist-type deity. The laws of nature could be arranged such that no further intervention would be required. Hence, intercessionary prayer is demonstrably useless. Properly set up scientific experiments confirm this... there is no observable benefit to prayer. At that point one could simply say "I'm sorry for screwing up", or "Thanks for X,Y,Z", but even that's a little stupid. The deity in question knows you're sorry or not, whether or not you mutter under your breath for Ten Hail Mary's and Five Our Fathers, or Five Hail Mary's and Ten Our Fathers, or reciting Odin's Song, or while watching "The Daily Show". So I realized that prayer was a completely useless exercise and stopped doing it.

Then a weird thing happened: Nothing at all. In fact, if anything, my life got *better* after I stopped praying. Cute little anecdote... my wife and I tried for a long time to conceive a child "naturally". I prayed constantly to make it happen. Eventually (but unrelated to this, we decided to put the whole family thing on hold for a bit) I stopped praying, as I mentioned. Without prayer to turn to when we decided to give the family thing another go, we turned to science instead, and we went to an IVF clinic where we were given gonadotropins and we eventually successfully conceived a son (and then a daughter the "old fashioned" way, but that's another story). Our kids are beautiful, loving little atheists who are tickled pink by "They Might Be Giants... Here Comes Science!" My 18-month-old daughter can sing "Science is REAAAAALLL!!!" and my three-year-old son and I walk around the grocery store saying "Fossils! Dinosaur bones! Evolution! Mass extinction! Stratigraphy!" and we laugh hysterically every time.

Now, in my Catholic days I would say that IVF clinics are murder-houses where tiny little souls are stored in petri dishes and then "murdered" when not needed anymore. But then I started to think about identical twins. And genetic chimeras. And other blastuoles. And selecting a single stem cell from a group of, what, a few hundred, to make a "Catholic friendly" stem cell. And I realized this whole "soul" concept was all a bunch of hogwash. A cell is a cell is a cell. Magic properties imbued to cells do not define what a human being is. A cell is not a person. A person is a group of cells that is capable of thinking. That's what biology says we are. That's what evidence says we are. All evidence points to the fact that if our brain is damaged, we're no longer the person that we were before (in a very real sense). Hence, my concept of what a "person" is took a turn for the scientific (i.e. the better). So I stopped worrying about things like "souls" and started worrying about things like "what exactly defines
a person interms of neural function".

Long story short: SCIENCE gave me my children. Prayer did nothing. Demonstrably. In fact, science gave me pretty much everything I have in this life. Clean water, antibiotics, abundant food, vaccines, stable temperature control, disease control, sterilization, eyeglasses, antiseptics, fluoride toothpaste, refrigeration... all science. All from looking at the world around us, and making informed decisions about what IS, not about invisible things from another dimension. Then I realized that we, as a species, can only count on ourselves as a guarantee. We only have what we can personally eke out on this rock, "orbiting at 90 miles a second (so it's reckoned), a sun that is the source of all our power." Whether or not a God exists, we sure as all hell can't count on this thing to solve our problems for us. That, we must do for ourselves. So why bother with worrying about it?

Then I was introduced to the term of "apatheist" which is a characterization of what I am. I do indeed think that it is completely irrelevant whether or not a God exists or not. We only have ourselves to count on in this world, so don't bother worrying about offending some mythical deity who can't bother giving clear instructions to us. You're just as likely to screw up and try to appease the wrong God, angering the true God enough to punish you anyway. So I just do what I think is rationally moral and ethical, and if that's not enough for God, then I don't really want anything to do with such a thing anyway.

However, I am also an atheist in the strict sense of the word. People call it "agnostic" but this is a battle not bothering to be fought. I'm a weak atheist toward deism and other unfalsifiable notions of "God", a strong atheist toward the Judeo/Christian/Muslim God, a strong atheist toward Norse mythology, a strong atheist toward Roman mythology, etc.

So here I am! The deconvert. Very happy, in fact never happier in my life. I don't murder, rape, pillage, plunder, destroy, steal, deface, piss on churches and old ladies, or beat my wife or kids. I pay my taxes and my bills (usually on time ;) ), I help old ladies cross the street and offer advice to people that want it. I regularly attend Unitarian Universalist services with my wife and kids, and we love the atmosphere there. More questions than answers, what I like to see. In fact most of the UU's I've met are also atheists who just like the whole "community" aspect (don't knock it till you've tried it) but don't want to leave their brains at home when they go to hang out, listen to nice poetry, talk about moral and ethical issues that confront us today, volunteer, have sing-alongs, etc, etc, etc.

I highly recommend forming such an evidence-based philosophy as I have. It's all we really have to go with. Our own faculties of reason have drawn us up from scratching a living on subsistence farms (or hunter/gatherer communities), and now we're free to exchange deep thoughts across cyberspace from half a world away from each other. Tomorrow I leave for work at CERN, one of the world's best research labs, where we continue the evidence-based quest for new information, truth, and understanding of the smallest length scales of nature. I LOVE being a scientist. It's very gratifying, helpful, fun, rewarding (not monetarily, though ;) ), and all-in-all, a MEANINGFUL existence. I'm very fortunate to have been born in such a time that such things are possible. For this, we have only ourselves to thank. In particular, we have SCIENCE to thank. It's given us more than we can possibly imagine. The last 500 years (especially the last 100) have paved the way for a truly better society, where we can finally rise above
tribalism and actually ACCOMPLISH things that are beneficial to all of us as humans.

It's time to stop relying on notions of whose Invisible Benefactor is the "Right Invisible Benefactor", people. Stop worrying about whose "Invisible Friend" is the best "Invisible Friend". It really doesn't make a damned bit of difference. Listen to what your own reason and faculties can provide for you. Work it out for yourself. It's progressed our species more than can even be summarized.

What a lovely thought!

But I forgot to thank Joe. I was amiss in my deconversion story, actually! Joe, Liam, and many other Catholics were the ones that first opened my eyes to the dangers such a dogmatic world-view entails. I was appalled by the lack of honesty that such a world-view engendered, so it planted the seeds of discontent in my mind when I read Joe's posts, and those of Liam and many other Catholics. So I really should thank them for helping me deconvert, I apologize for missing it earlier.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

50 Voices Of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists

The following is a brief commentary by atheist author, Russell Blackford about his newly released book:

The official publication date in the US for 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists is now 26 October. In practice, the paperback has been available via Amazon for a week or so now, and it also seems to be in (at least some) Barnes & Noble stores.

Still, 26 October is a key official date in the book's life. For those who don't know, we have many high-calibre contributors, including Margaret Downey, Michael Shermer, Susan Blackmore, Peter Singer, Greg Egan, Prabir Ghosh, AC Grayling, James Randi, Ophelia Benson, and on and on.

Best wishes to all, and thanks for your interest,

Russell Blackford

This book sounds great! Please publicize it on your blogs, podcasts, etc.

To meet and talk to other published atheist authors, including Russell Blackford, atheists are welcome to join Atheist Nexus / Atheist Writers group.

(Please note that Atheist Nexus is a non theist only group and theists will be banned)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good, Evil And God

This post is related to the (somewhat) on-going debates about the Problem of Evil as well as the more recent post by christian about God, Good and Evil.

The problem comes about what good and evil are, in relation to God.

If we define good and evil based upon God, then the discussion ends. If it is take a priori that everything God does is good, then that certainly would eliminate the Problem of Evil, but not the way Christians intend.

The intention (as far as I can infer) is that God = Good leads to the solution that, yes there is evil, but it is being handled, by God in the best possible way. That this is the most good of all possible worlds.

But in reality, God = Good undermines the Problem of Evil by invalidating the very premise that evil exists.

This is because that the terms "good" and "evil" that are in use by people on an everyday level cannot be "good" and "evil" as based upon the notion that God = Good. If we are going to make an argument based upon these terms, then we have to be consistent.

If we judge God as good based upon God = Good then we also have to judge evil based upon that premise as well. We cannot judge God as good based upon God = Good and then judge evil based upon it's everyday use. It is this type of equivocation that is being used when Christians respond to the Problem of Evil with the God = Good solution.

The problem with God = Good is that it completely eliminates our ability to judge "good" and "evil" in an everyday context. When God = Good then the only actions that are good are those that God himself would do. But we don't know that without God explicitly confirming it. As Christians are always quick to remind us: God is privvy to an innumerable amount of details that we are not. Lacking these details means we can never know if any given act is good or evil unless God personally gives you the thumbs up.

Since good and evil are related, this also applies to evil. Without God directly telling us what is good and evil, we can't judge that evil even exists.

But humans can and do judge the goodness and evilocity of everyday acts. So, in pratice, we use a conception of good and evil that is not based upon God = Good. Not only does this bring the Problem of Evil back into place, but it also gives us the freedom to judge God as Not Good.

by Drafterman of AvC

Friday, October 9, 2009

Brother Richard, Atheist Nexus

Brother Richard of Atheist Nexus speaks at the Atheist Alliance International Conference 2009.

View Parts 2 to 4 by selecting the videos at the bottom of the display when the Part you are viewing is complete.

Video by Paul Filago of the Secular Examiner.