Monday, October 24, 2011

For the Bible Tells Me So...

Last night, I watched a documentary (streamed it on Netflix) with the same name as the title of my post.  The movie features several religious families dealing with the revelation that one of their children is gay.  This is not an atheist movie.  Rather, it seems to be a movie made to show that the god of the Bible does not truly sanction the killing of homosexuals.  Theologians and historians talk about the context of the Bible passages that are often used to persecute gays and lesbians.  Ultimately, it's a hopeful movie that shows that religion and homosexuality can intersect and that the church community is (in some cases) becoming more open-minded about sexuality.

I enjoyed the movie.  Parts of it were infuriating.  Clips of Dr. Dobson (of Focus on the Family) and Jimmy Swaggart preaching against homosexuality made my heart race and my arm hairs stand on end.  Some of the parents' initial reaction to their child's "coming out" was difficult to watch.  There was one news clip of a kid (with a mullet--surprise!) talking about how "fun" it was to beat up on gay kids.  I was saddened as I often am, to realize that such close-mindedness and hatred exists...especially under the guise of Christian ministry.

But the movie is somewhat uplifting, since all of the parents come to accept their child's sexual orientation.  Some do it more graciously than others.  Some parents go far beyond acceptance and become advocates for LGBTs.  I recommend the movie, though it the message is ultimately a religious one.

As an atheist, I am left baffled.  So many people in the movie--real, thoughtful people--have epiphanies.  They realize that God wouldn't make homosexuals only to curse them to hell.  Or they realize that Jesus' message of love is more important that obscure Old Testament references to sexual behavior.  Despite these "a-ha" moments, they all remained faithful.  Nobody takes the logic one step further to question the existence of god.  Some even attribute their change of heart to god's will.  Is the brainwashing that effective?  I wish I could give those believers a glimpse at life without the notion of god.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Logical Reason(s) #5: Classic Atheist Arguments

1) If God is all-knowing and all-powerful and all-good, how do we account for all the evil and suffering?

The answer is: You can't!  When I was a Christian, I remember answering this question with statements like, "Everything happens for a reason."  "God must have a reason for not intervening and we cannot know His will."  "Tests of faith make us stronger."  What a bunch of baloney.

Other Christians might think that disasters might be caused by god for a reason.  Pat Robertson warned Dover, PA to "Watch out" after they voted against teaching intelligent design in schools.  Regardless of whether you take the warm and fuzzy "It'll all make sense in good time" notion or the brimstoney "God is sending a message" stance, I call your BS.  Try to justify it all you want, but I can't and I won't.  It is insulting to victims of oppression, natural disasters, criminal behavior and plain bad luck.

2) Explaining the existence of a god is just as difficult (and arguably more so) than explaining the beginning of the universe.
I'm guessing we'll have a viable explanation for how the universe came to be within my lifetime.  Nobody has presented a theory on the existence of god that doesn't require a leap of faith.  Why should we accept that god has always just been there?

3) Atheists are just taking non-belief one step further.
If you belong to any religion, you are making a statement about what you believe.  If I asked you why you don't believe in the gods of Greek mythology, you could give me a bunch of reasons.  If I ask a Christian why she isn't Muslim, she could give me her rationale.  If I ask a Muslim why he isn't Christian, I could probably have a long conversation about why he believes in his god.  Why do people around the world subscribe to one religion, rejecting the rest, without turning a critical eye on their own? As an atheist, I am just believing in one less god (or set of gods) than any religious person out there.

4) The fly exists, so therefore, god must not.
Mark Twain, in Fables of Man, goes on a bit of a rant about the fly.  He questions any being who would invent the fly, knowing that the fly is going to spread disease, annoy animals and torment humans.  Since I live out in the country and inevitably get flies in my house, I am acutely aware of the nuisance that is the fly.  Therefore, I have elevated this argument to classic status.  Twain writes the imagined words of a creator to the fly, "Persecute the sick child; settle upon its eyes, its face, its hands, and gnaw and pester and sting; worry and fret and madden the worn and tired mother who watches by the child, and who humbly prays for mercy and relief with the pathetic faith of the deceived and the unteachable...spare no creature, wild or tame; but wheresoever you find one, make his life a misery, treat him as the innocent deserve; and so please Me and increase My glory Who made the fly."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Logical Reason #4: Evidence! Evidence! Evidence!

This reason dovetails with reason #3.  We have evidence from science that supports evolution, the laws of the universe, how species reproduce, the formation of mountains, the appearance of rainbows, weather patterns, the life and death of dinosaurs, etc.  Every day, new discoveries are made and more knowledge about our world is gained.  On the other hand, it seems to me that the evidence for religion was never there.  The arguments that theists often present as evidence are weak and emotionally-charged at best; totally ridiculous brainwashing at their worst.

I remember once, when I was in college (I'm embarrassed to admit), I had been at a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting talking about creation versus evolution.  I don't think they were arguing completely against evolution, but I remember being encouraged to "keep an open mind" and to remember that we really don't know the true nature and motives of god.  As a result of the discussion, I remember seriously considering that dinosaur bones and the fossil record might be the work of a (brace yourselves) humorous or (even worse) sneaky god who simply wanted to test our faith.  I know!!!  I can't believe my train of thought drove through that tunnel either.  It's embarrassing to admit, but a good reminder of how easily religion and the resulting group-think can influence a person's sensibilities.

I recently joined the Happy Atheist Forum where I am enjoying reading and occasionally taking part in discussions about everything from religion to parenting to scientific innovation.  Some theists regularly put in their two cents, only to be consistently schooled by the atheists.  I like to think that I can be somewhat objective since I've been on both sides of the argument.  It seems clear to me that atheists (myself included) want evidence and refuse to take things on blind faith.  The theists, even the well-spoken ones, continue to present the same arguments, which always come back (at some point) to faith.  I have to quote one of my fellow forum members here.  He wrote, "I often used to think that if god DID exist, then it was HIS failure that I didn't believe. I could never accept blind faith and refused to be ruled by it."  Why would any god make us scientific, knowledge-seeking beings, then expect us to go against our nature and believe without proof?  And for a god who could create the universe, it would've been so easy to put some indisputable, or at least less disputable proof.  Carl Sagan, in The God Hypothesis, gave the following ideas for some pretty convincing evidence: 1) God could've put some very important phrases into the good book that would've only made sense as human beings progressed.  "Ancient Babylonian science is the cosmology that is still enshrined in the book of Genesis.  Suppose instead the story was 'Don't forget, the sun is a star.'...You'll understand this later."  2)God could've embedded important parts of the bible elsewhere in the universe for scientists to discover later.  "God could have engraved the Ten Commandments on the Moon.  Large.  Ten km across per commandment."

While Sagan is clearly making light of this lack of obvious evidence, his point can't be mistaken.  If god made the world, why didn't he build evidence of himself into it so his existence couldn't be doubted?  Why didn't he sign his work of art?

Monday, October 10, 2011

No act of god needed, thank you very much.

Yesterday, I ran my first half marathon.  My husband ran his first full.  He decided to sign up about six months ago when I was still pregnant with baby #2.  He knows I really don’t desire to do a full marathon, so he thought he’d check it off his bucket list during a year that I was busy with other things.  Well, about a month after I had my baby (at the end of May), I started saying things like, “I would like to do a half marathon someday, maybe.  I think I could do that.”  A month later, I signed up—at the suggestion of my sister—for a sprint triathlon in mid-August.  I figured, hey, since I’m doing a sprint tri, I should just go ahead and sign up for the half-marathon 2 weeks later.  So, I did.  There’s a little insight into how my brain works.

Anyway, the event was a huge affirmation to my belief system.  Personally, I was happy with my performance.  I completed the distance, ran the whole way, and didn’t come in last.  That was 3 out of 4 of my goals.  The 4th goal was a time goal, which I missed by a few minutes, mostly due to some cramping in my legs and a bum ankle.  But, I did it!  Four months after having a baby, I ran my first half marathon.  My performance was a reflection of my level of training.  I’m not a competitive runner, but I’m fairly fit and I was able to squeeze in some long runs in preparation.

For me to complete the full 26.2 miles of a full marathon…now that would’ve taken an act of god, which is exactly why I DIDN’T DO IT!  And this comes to my main point: I get annoyed when athletes/coaches/presidents/entertainers/etc. give credit for their performance/award/win to god.  Thank your parents, thank your role models, thank your teammates and training buddies, but don’t thank god.  First of all, it diminishes your accomplishment.  Be proud of yourself!  Take credit for the time and effort and superior genes and sweat it took to reach your goal.  Secondly, it begs the question: What about the losers?   Is any god so petty that he will choose a favorite football team?  Does god even humor prayers for a good race?  If so, why is he answering those prayers and not the prayers of victims of oppression and disease?  Why help somebody earn a Grammy, but not help someone else live to see another birthday?

Yesterday morning in Denver, CO was cold.  The race started at 7 am, so the first few miles were run on streets not yet warmed by the sun.  Near mile 5, I rounded a corner to see a bright blue sky with sun reflecting off the windows of the downtown buildings.  The breakthrough of the sun came at just the right moment for me.  My ankle was just starting to bother me, and I knew I was not yet halfway there.  The sun, along with a well-timed song on my I-Pod, motivated me.  It reminded me to pick up my feet and move forward.  I looked around at the other runners, some clearly up for the challenge of the run and others noticeably struggling, and I smiled.  I can do this, I thought.  I’ve put in the time, and here is the pay off.  No act of god needed.  I can do this all on my own.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A few pressing issues before I get to Reason #4

First of all, Sarah Palin has decided NOT to run for president.  Phew!  I would really have to consider relocating to a new country if she was every put in charge of this one.  Check out this humorous (but scary) prediction for a country under her control.  In this article from BBC News, she is quoted as writing in a letter to her supporters, "After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for President of the United States."  I find it interesting that her version of god doesn't encourage her to run for president, but somehow guided her and her child into reality television.  Hmmm...I'm guessing tv shows pay quite a bit more than presidency.

Secondly, I was a bit disappointed at my place of work today.  I work for a community college teaching college-prep reading and writing.  On one of the bulletin boards in the hallway, I saw a poster for a talk titled "Darwin or Design: A Viable Alternative."  The talk is being given by a zoologist who plans to show evidence for Intelligent Design.  This alone bothers me because it isn't a viable option--at least not scientifically.  It's a PC version of creationism.  But I guess what bothered me the most was the fine print: "Sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ"--no surprise there--"Funded by student fees."  Doesn't this seem fishy?  (pun, anyone?)  To me, it seems wrong because it's clearly a religiously-charged topic being funded with student fees and not all students are religious.  But I'm a critical thinker and I tend to challenge my own stance on issues.  I think I do this to solidify my real opinion.  Anyway, I checked out the club list and there are clubs for women, Latin American students, parents, etc.  So is this just another club that everyone isn't going to join, but has every right to exist and sponsor discussions (with the help of student fees) that are clearly biased?  Or does the religious factor change things?  Please comment.  I'm a bit at a loss and I don't want to let my own belief system keep me from being objective in this situation.  I might try to go to the talk if I can find someone to watch my kiddos.  Call it morbid curiosity...

Finally, here is an addendum to my previous post: Logical Reason #3.  This article talks about the possibility that Earth's water initially came from cometary impacts.  The god of the gaps just got a little smaller.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Logical Reason #3: Science is slowly explaining away the likelihood of a creator.

   Recently, I went to a community discussion about religion and science.  The event had a panel made up of a biologist, an anthropologist, and a pastor.  The discussion centered around the theories of Natural Selection and Intelligent Design.  After each member of the panel gave a little speech/lecture, the audience was encouraged to discuss certain questions.  One question was this, "Why do you think Darwin's theory has been so controversial within the religious community?" or something along those lines.  My answer went something like this, "First of all, natural selection goes a long way in explaining away the need to believe in a creator, and believers, understandably, don't like that."  Sure, we don't yet know how the origin of life first happened, but scientific knowledge is constantly expanding, and I'm guessing we'll have a viable scientific answer in my lifetime.  "Secondly, if there was a creator, why set in motion a process that takes billions of years and includes the complete eradication of species.  Why not just create a perfect world with perfect species that don't need to 'evolve'?"  I'm guessing that unless you are a total literal and fundamentalist Bible thumper, you can't argue that species have evolved and continue to do so.  I'm guessing you believe that dinosaurs did exist.  I'm also guessing that you see how the argument for a creator has "evolved" from a literal interpretation of the world being created in a week, to the softened, science-friendly (if only pseudo-science), politically-huggable theory of intelligent design.  Yes, things look designed.  They look designed because over many years nature has selected for the most perfect design within each species.

   If you want to see both sides of the argument, check out this website to see an elaborate argument for Intelligent Design (ID).  Here's another interesting series of articles from National Geographic that gives voice to ID's best arguments against Darwin's theory with a short but convincing counter-argument from evolutionists.  Finally, here's an article that states, plain and simple, that intelligent design, while interesting philosophical debate fodder, is not science and shouldn't be taught in schools because it is wrong.

   Throughout history, and especially recent history, science has slowly explained away god.  People used to think lightning and thunder was the work of the gods.  They used to think that gods moved the planets across the skies.  They used to think a sneeze was our soul trying to exit or a demon trying to enter.  Science has given us logical explanations for these common occurrences.  God is still used to explain many of the gaps in our knowledge.  So, with each scientific advance, isn't god simply getting smaller?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Logical Reason #2: Religion is a cultural fabrication used to assuage fears and explain phenomena.

    According to my research, historians and anthropologists have yet to identify a culture or community that lacks religion.  Religion here does not necessarily mean a formal, organized institution, but rather a belief system used to connect a group of people and explain phenomena.  Clearly, human nature tends toward religiosity.  Whether people worship nature, one god, many gods, or a powerful leader, people like to have something to idolize.  
   Some people argue that this universal need for belief is evidence of our strong connection to the divine.  As an atheist, I see it as just the opposite.  We like to explain things.  Before the rise of scientific thought and methodology, societies understandably used supernatural explanations for things like natural disasters, disease, birth, death and countless other events.  They didn't know better.  So, who could blame them?
   We, however, do know better.  We know the causes of thunder, flood, earthquakes, illness, babies etc.  We don't know everything, of course, but we are learning SO much ALL the time that it's becoming difficult to find phenomena that don't have a scientific explanation.  But I'm already touching on reason #3. Stay tuned for that.
   For a few years, I taught middle school.  I taught at a great, altruistic alternative school for "high-needs" or "high-risk" adolescents.  My core subject was science, but I got to teach a variety of electives.  One subject I taught was Greek Mythology.  I was struck by some of the similarities between the myths and stories in the Bible.  For example, Pandora and Eve both unleashed evil into the world by disobeying God.  Both histories tell of an epic flood that wiped out most of the human population.  Prophecies and wars and murders played major roles in Greek myths and in Bible stories.
   These similarities lead me (and many others) to believe that religions evolve.  They borrow from each other.  They mutate to fit the times and the culture.  But inherently, they are all simply attempts to explain the unexplainable, to enforce laws, to build community, to justify behaviors, to create meaning and hope of an after life, and ultimately, to give people something to believe in.