The easiest book in the world to understand.

If I were the creator of the universe, esp. the earth and its inhabitants, and I wanted everybody to know and worship me and follow a very explicit set of rules and guidelines, I might list all my achievements in book form, and I might even include all my rules in that book. Takes a load off my shoulders, right? I wouldn’t have to pop down here every hour and tap somebody on the shoulder and say “Hey, that’s against the rules.” Because if I wanted everybody to follow my rules and I had them all laid out in a nice book and people still didn’t follow them, I would do that. I would intervene. First off, it could serve as a pretty cool reminder that I actually exist. Second, some people just need reminders.

But being that I’m supremely awesome, supremely powerful, and supremely knowledgeable, the rules put forth in my book would be crystal clear. There would be absolutely no way whatsoever for people to misinterpret what I am saying. If I had to use my infinite magical powers to craft the book in such a way so that the words are phrased differently for every person just so they’ll understand exactly what I’m saying, so be it. But two people who have read my book would simply be unable to disagree on the fundamentals within: you would not have one person saying “Clearly if you read it this way, Dave says homosexuals should be put to death,” while another person says “Ah, but if you look at it this way it’s pretty obvious Dave thinks every adult person capable of decision-making, signing a contract, and saying the words ‘I do’ should be offered the right to be married.”

THERE WOULD BE NO MISINTERPRETATIONS. There wouldn’t be sects of people who interpret even two words differently in my book. Because I am awesome-fucking-possum and I actually want these people to obey my rules. They will be clear. I would use my incredible powers to make my rules somehow even more clear than the phrase “Don’t punch people in the neck.” Pretty clear, huh? Someone could misinterpret it. Not if I’m god though.

That is why religion is nonsense. Because the world’s three largest monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are based upon the exact same story, yet all three religions are vastly different from one another and each even have a whole sloppy slew of sects and cults within that disagree with one another. Yours is one interpretation out of thousands, and you learned it from your parents, who learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, whose interpretation of your religion was probably even vastly different from your own. And yet somehow all those other religions/sects are wrong and yours is right.

My role as the atheist/skeptic is not to say to you “Nope, you’re wrong. They’re wrong. Everybody’s wrong.” Rather, it’s to say “Seriously? Look at the odds. What divine knowledge has been bestowed upon you that makes you right and millions of other people wrong?” So what if it turns out you’ve got the right god? You‘ve probably been following the wrong rules.

Pascal’s Wager

Fortunately, most moderately intelligent theists won’t bother playing the Pascal card when debating religion, but nevertheless there are many who do. The purpose of this post is to respond only to those who feel the Wager is a legitimate reason to believe in their god. I make no attempt to prove or disprove the existence of any god in this post; just to counter the Pascal’s Wager argument.

For those of you unfamiliar with Pascal’s Wager, it goes a little something like this (paraphrased):

God either exists or does not exist. Salvation and eternal happiness is through belief in and worship of God. If you “bet” on God’s existence and you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing; if you’re right, you will receive salvation and everlasting life. If you bet on God’s non-existence and you’re wrong, you’re destined to an eternity in Hell. Therefore it is safer to bet on God’s existence.

Now if you’ve got any mind at all you’ll see the obvious flaws in this. However, I’ve had people who I had previously thought of as fairly respectable play this one on me, so you never know who might fall for it.

First, being that he was Christian, it’s clear Blaise Pascal was referring to belief in the Christian god. To the skeptic, however, one need only swap the name God for another name (Allah, Zeus, Odin, et al) because the fact is that most mainstream gods demand worship and punish those who don’t offer it. So which god should I bet on? How do you know the god you’re betting on is the right god? Is anybody really making a safe bet?

Second, belief is not a light switch. One can’t just say “Oh, in that case I believe.” In order to believe something is true, one must be convinced of its truthfulness. Threats like Pascal’s Wager do nothing to convince anybody of anything.

Third, chances are the god you’re trying to convince me exists is omnipotent according to your religion’s textbook. Surely it can see through somebody who claims they believe simply because it’s the “safer bet.”

Finally, the part of the Wager which states “If you believe and you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing” is absolutely wrong. What about all the time you wasted on your knees praying or in a church singing? What about the scientific or medical advances you’ve ignored (extreme cases) because your religion states that all you need is your god? If you believe in a god and you’re wrong, then you’ve lived your entire life thinking you had an eternity of happiness and pleasure to look forward to in an afterlife without paying as much heed to the life you’re currently living.

I and many atheists like me, on the other hand, see this life as our only one. We are more inclined to live our lives to its absolute fullest; making sure we make a lasting impression on others, hoping that once our bodies are decaying and our atoms are moving on to other endeavors that our legacy will live on in the memories of others.

So maybe the safer “bet” is that no gods exist. We’ve got a 50/50 shot at being right, while the odds that your particular god is the only one who exists are far lower. Bet on non-existence and perhaps you’ll see a whole new value in your one and only life.

Morality sans Bible

Pretty much every society, culture, and even religion has their own version of the “Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule says, essentially:

Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.

This Rule is old. Like, old old. Again, it’s found in the texts of pretty much every major religion. Christianity’s got their version, Islam’s got theirs – even Zoroastrians, Taoists, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains. If this is not evidence suggesting the Rule (and what some consider the basis of ethics) is not founded in religion, consider that the ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Egyptians featured it in their texts, and that it can be found in Hammurabi’s code of the ancient Babylonians.

If not because “God made it,” why does the Golden Rule exist? How did we figure out that we need to be good to other people, and that we shouldn’t be bad? How did we even determine what good and bad are? Instead of giving credit to the supernatural, let’s try the practical approach: human evolution.

I should mention right now, before I get ahead of myself, that this doesn’t specifically pertain to human evolution, as some form or another of morality/ethics is evident in other species such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, dolphins, lions, penguins, elephants, and even bats (to name only a few of many). So really, morality has to do not with human evolution, but with the evolution of social animals.

But, being that we’re human, I’ll focus on us.

As far back as when our monkey-like ancestors were still living primarily in trees, we’ve been a social animal, which means particular social “rules” must have existed for a very, very long time. Why? Because without rules, there won’t be cooperation, and a functioning, progressive “society” could not exist.

Close your eyes. Now open them. Magically, you’ve been flung back in time into the body of Bobor, an ancient ancestor of yours, part of a quaint tribe of early hominids living in the outskirts of a forest near the edge of a hot, grassy plain.

Bobor’s role in the tribe is that of a hunter. Every day he and the other men venture into the jungle with crude weapons in the hopes that they will come back in the evening with plenty of food for the tribe. In order to catch their prey, the hunters must cooperate. Sometimes their prey is far larger than just one man, but when two or three work together they are perfectly able to bring it down. The men know that if they do not work together, they will likely not find any food and for that they and their tribe will suffer.

In the evening, Bobor and the other hunters return home with plenty of food. The rest of the tribe is happy because they are hungry, and now they can eat. The women of the tribe cut up the food and prepare it for eating. Soon, the whole tribe is sitting down and enjoying their dinner. Bobor is happy because he got to help feed the tribe. The rest of the tribe is happy with Bobor (and the other hunters) for the same reason.

While they are eating Bobor notices that a hunter, Kraduk, is trying to take food from another tribe member. A fight breaks out, and the tribe member whose food Kraduk was attempting to steal, ended up dead. Bobor and the rest of the tribe begin yelling at Kraduk. The man he killed was another hunter, and so now they will have one less in their hunting party when they go out in the morning.

Angry, the tribe shuns Kraduk for making life more difficult. With Kraduk an outcast, the hunters head out in the morning, now with two less men than the day before. When they encounter their prey, they find it much more difficult to take down. Bobor and another hunter are injured but ultimately they manage to kill their prey and take it back to the rest of the tribe.

Despite Kraduk’s killing of the other hunter, the tribe manages to survive another day, but they will not forget what Kraduk has done, and they will remember the hardships they suffered (one dead, two injured, and one outcast) as a result.

Morality, at least for humans, could easily have spawned from a situation like Bobor’s and Kraduk’s. It was not as a result of religion (though the tribe may or may not have practiced a very primitive form of religion), but simply because of a need for cooperation and cohesion.

Even if Kraduk’s crime had simply been theft, or as petty as lying about something, this could have created distrust which may have shaken the cohesiveness of the entire tribe. So rules are made, whether they’re written down, spoken, or simply understood: don’t lie, cheat, steal, hurt, or kill. The success of your tribe depends on it. Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.

These rules would even spread among other tribes, and dictate how members of one tribe should (or should not) treat members of another. If you kill members of another tribe, the rest of their tribe might come and kill you right back. Or they’ll kill someone else in your tribe. And then your tribe may realize you were the cause of this, and you may be outcast, and now your tribe is two members less than it was before and their chances of success have lessened because of it.

Okay. Close your eyes, and open them again. You’re you again. You are the result of millions of years of cooperation. It seems to be working, so please don’t go and screw things up.

How to be a god in 10 easy steps

What would it take to be a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient god?

  • First, you must exist beyond the logical and scientific realm and you must be immune to paradoxes. If you abide by the laws of logic and science, you have limitations and therefore you simply cannot exist. After all that would be paradoxical. Hopefully you’re immune to paradoxes.
  • Second, you must be impossible to comprehend. This means that whatever attributes we could possibly attach to you must exist and also not exist at the same time. If you were possible to comprehend, you would exist within the realm of logic and so you would not be perfect, nor would you even exist (see rule #1).
  • Third, you must not exist. Taking into account rule number two, if we can imagine your existence then in order to exist you must not exist.
  • Fourth, you cannot have a sex. None of this “He was pleased,” “…and He smote them…” nonsense. If you are perfect, you do not have a sex. Also, you have a sex. But it is neither male nor female. Also, it is both male and female (see rule #2).
  • Fifth, you cannot have an identity. If you are everything, everywhere, always, you cannot be pinned down with all this “I am the LORD” business. You are not you. You just are, were, and will be.
  • Sixth, you must exist outside of time. This means you cannot “create” things in any order. You are all powerful and perfect, so anything you can imagine should just pop into existence immediately.
  • Seventh, you must not imagine anything. If you imagine, then you have a mind and therefore an identity. See rule five. A perfect god would have nothing to imagine, anyway.
  • Eighth, you must not create anything. If you are perfect, you have all you need even though you don’t need anything. You cannot even want anything, otherwise you would not be perfect. You have no need to show off your powers. You know they’re there because you know everything there is to know, and that’s all that matters. You can’t even create the universe. Don’t even think about it.
  • Ninth, nothing can matter to you. To worry, care, feel, love, want, desire, enjoy, taste, dislike, hate, tire, or even to comprehend are emotions that no perfect god could have. To have emotions brings you down to an animalistic level. You also must feel all those emotions (see rule #2) but you cannot do anything about them (see rules #7 and #8).
  • Tenth, you must not abide by any of these rules. See rule #1. However, you must also abide by all these rules. See rule #2. You must also only abide by one of them, and also only by five of them, and even by any possible (or impossible) combination of them.

To sum it all up, you must exist (and not exist) outside the laws of logic and science. And that’s it.

This was absurd.

god, not God

Any time I debate somebody about the existence of the supernatural (which, admittedly, isn’t very often – I tend to keep my debates online only) they always seem to have reasons why they believe in a god and why I should too. Nobody has ever given me a convincing argument, obviously, but that’s not the point here. What I find amusing is that nobody has ever argued with me in favor of their god.

You can tell me all you want that evolution is a hoax and we were created. You might even give me “evidence” that we were created (you can’t – I’m just sayin’). But your “evidence” doesn’t support a theory of creation by your god. Just by a god. Not even necessarily by a god, but by some supernatural force. You’ve provided me with no argument whatsoever why the particular god you believe in must have been the one who created us.

To me, no religion makes sense. But deism makes far more sense than any organized religion. “There is something out there that started all this, but I won’t presume I know any more about it than that.”

There is no thought or reason behind believing in one god but disbelieving in all others, there is especially no reason behind choosing a particular god over others, and frankly I find the notion of choosing a god to believe in quite silly anyway.

Quotes

“Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail.” – Sam Harris, An Atheist Manifesto

“There is no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.” – Sam Harris, An Atheist Manifesto

“When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.” – Sam Harris, An Atheist Manifesto

“For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” – Charles Bukowski

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” – Albert Einstein

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect, had intended for us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei

“It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so.” – Ernestine Rose

“Fundamentalists are like the fir trees in German forests: they cannot stand alone, and are only stable when crowded together, branches locked with those of their brothers. That is why we must always fear them, because they will always hate us for our individualism.” – Brent Yaciw

“If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.” – Isaac Asimov

“To say that atheism requires faith is as dim-witted as saying that disbelief in pixies or leprechauns takes faith. Even if Einstein himself told me there was an elf on my shoulder, I would still ask for proof and I wouldn’t be wrong to ask.” – Geoff Mather

“People will then often say, ‘But surely it’s better to remain an Agnostic just in case?’ This, to me, suggests such a level of silliness and muddle that I usually edge out of the conversation rather than get sucked into it. (If it turns out that I’ve been wrong all along, and there is in fact a god, and if it further turned out that this kind of legalistic, cross-your-fingers-behind-your-back, Clintonian hair-splitting impressed him, then I think I would choose not to worship him anyway.” – Douglas Adams

“I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” – Richard Dawkins

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” – Douglas Adams

“Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon; it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.” – S. D. Weitzenhoffer

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.” – Richard Dawkins

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason” – Benjamin Franklin

“I credit that eight years of grammar school with nourishing me in a direction where I could trust myself and trust my instincts. They gave me the tools to reject my faith. They taught me to question and think for myself and to believe in my instincts to such an extent that I just said, ‘This is a wonderful fairy tale they have going here, but it’s not for me.'” – George Carlin

“Properly read, the bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” – Isaac Asimov

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” – Albert Einstein

The countdown is nearly over!

Two days ’til rapture.

So what exactly does that mean? It means a great world-wide earthquake, to start with. As already determined the earthquake will begin precisely at 6:00p local time everywhere. This gives us in Texas and the central United States a good 19 hours’ warning. I’d say that’s plenty of time to get away from large, heavy structures that likely wouldn’t survive an earthquake. Simultaneously, 200 million or so Christians will be “raptured,” meaning their physical bodies will be lifted off the earth and into Heaven. What is yet to be determined is whether their clothes will be raptured with them. In addition, the ground will split open and all of the dead who in their lives believed in Jesus will also ascend into Heaven.

Gross.

Anyway, the rest of us will be left behind – yes, just like in the books! For five months (because the world will cease to be on October 21) those of us who didn’t perish in the earthquake will suffer terribly: war (even without all the crazy Christians?), plague, starvation; not to mention the terrible natural disasters that will happen. This summer we can expect to see hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, storms, hail; basically all the same things we see every summer.

I can only imagine all the pissed-off non-Christians who will be left behind. I said jocularly in my last post that we atheists will be all that’s left in this world, totally free of religion. That’s obviously untrue. We’ll still have all the crazy Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Rastafarians. If I believed any bit of this was true, I would be worried about the crazy religionists who aren’t super thrilled about learning that everything they’ve ever believed was wrong. Naturally (and I’m talking about you, Jihadists) some of them will take out their frustrations on the rest of us. No doubt there would still be war. And this time, all the crazy Christians in the US government and intelligence agencies won’t be here to protect us. Which brings us back home.

The majority of the US government and government agencies will disappear. The majority of the US armed forces (Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, et al), FBI and CIA, police and fire departments will be gone. There will be bedlam, anarchy, riots, looting, fires, depression, terror – just absolute chaos. Most of my friends and family will have disappeared. My wife and I, along with a pretty small group of close friends will be left behind and, if we survive the earthquakes on Day Zero, we’ll have to work together to survive the next five months…

…to be continued.

Why the “Big 3″ will be the last

Symbol of the three Abrahamic religions.

Image via Wikipedia

Right now the world sees only three “major” monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (though to actually call them monotheistic is a pretty liberal take on the definition of monotheism). Of course each is comprised of hundreds or thousands of its own sects and no two people of any religion actually share the exact same beliefs as one another (possible exaggeration). Catholics and Mormons, both branches of the Christian tree, have very different beliefs from Protestants and Baptists, Puritans and Methodists. Likewise, the Islamic sects of Sunni and Shia are considerably different to the point where members of the two opposing sects seem to constantly be at war with each other. The same is true for certain Christian branches.

The point here is not that the words “Christian” or “Muslim” seem to be more of a generalization than actual religions, but that one could go so far as to say Christianity does not actually exist at all. What exists are Catholicism, Mormonism, Protestantism, et al, with the members of each being part of a vast minority when compared to the rest of the world. In fact, the number of members of each religion is slowly but surely dwindling down while the number of people coming out as atheists is on the rise.

A recent study performed by the American Physical Society even goes so far as to say that in nine countries religion is on the verge of going extinct. The sooner the better, but that’s just my opinion. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

The “Big 3″ monotheistic religions are all Abrahamic religions. That is, they are all founded on the belief in one all-powerful god who commanded Abraham to kill his son then, as Abe raised the knife, said “Ha ha, just kidding. See? I’m merciful!” But the Abrahamic system(s) of belief goes much deeper than that. What many people fail to realize is that when juxtaposed next to the ancient religions the Abrahamic religions are so clearly full of ancient symbology and blatant “rip-offs.” Here is an extraordinarily long list of similarities and parallels between the stories of Jesus Christ, Horus, Krishna, Mihras/Mithra, Prometheus, and Buddha. This certainly doesn’t prove the story of Jesus is entirely made up (just as it doesn’t prove any of the other religions mentioned were made up), but it ought to raise an eyebrow for the skeptic.

Christian apologists will tell me it is all merely a coincidence, or that the other ancient religions were simply prophecies. Technically speaking, they could be right. The story of Horus could have been a prophecy speaking of Jesus’ arrival. Then again, it is only the Christians who will say that is the case, just as it is only the Ancient Egyptians who would have said the story of Horus was not a prophecy and that Horus existed and everything in the story was entirely true.

One could wager that in ancient times, world leaders found it more and more difficult to maintain the support of their people. Perhaps, though, if they reintroduced some old stories of gods who demanded obedience without question and modernized the stories a bit, they could regain some control. Whether or not people believed the stories to be true, they would certainly catch on to the “obey or die” message. Science wasn’t nearly as developed then as it is now (even that is an understatement) so nobody really knew how the world around them worked. It would be easy to spin a few tales and get your people to believe. “I am your leader, and because I am your leader I am telling you the truth, and because I am telling you the truth you should obey me and accept me as your leader.” The people, who were gullible, bought into the hype and eventually the tales were published in their holy books.

So that’s what I imagine were the roots of our modern religions. All religions are based off of those before them and tend to spawn new ones based on their own systems of belief, given enough time. But it won’t last. People, though still gullible, are not quite as easy to trick into submission anymore. We have explanations now – perfectly logical and reasonable ones – for those things which “required” religion so long ago. We know the sun does not actually “rise” and “set.” We know the earth rotates and revolves around the sun, and what’s more – we know why and how. We know the earth is not flat. We know where rain comes from, how it forms, and why it is essential. We know it doesn’t take a human or animal sacrifice to bring rain for a successful harvest because we know about seasons and weather patterns. It’s getting to the point where we will not need to rely on the god of the gaps because more and more often the gaps are being filled as knowledge evolves.

Nothing could possibly replace any of the Big 3. People as a whole are not as gullible now as they were then. We don’t require made-up tales of sky-wizards to keep us in line anymore, or to explain the unknown. One day the questions we do not yet have answers for will be answered. Sure, they’ll be replaced with more seemingly impossible-to-answer questions, but at some point we’ll stop relying on the god-crutch. Do I think that will happen in my lifetime? Certainly not! But I believe that by the time I die the world religious population will have dropped significantly from where it is now.

Which religion?

  1. Why did you choose your religion over all the other options?
  2. If you are Christian, how do you know Christianity is right and Islam is wrong?
  3. Do you suppose if you had been raised in a culture with conflicting beliefs that you would have adopted a different set of beliefs?
  4. If yes, do you believe that the hypothetical you from question #3 would be “damned” to your current idea of Hell?
  5. If yes on question #4, do you believe that is fair?
  6. If no on question #5, how is it fair that people who do not adhere to your current set of beliefs would be damned to your current concept of Hell?

(edited May 10, 2011 @ 19:01)

Bin Laden’s Virgins

The likelihood that Osama bin Laden is currently philandering with seventy-two maidens with heaving breasts in a giant bathtub full of wine is exactly the same as the likelihood that the Christian Heaven exists.

Just sayin’.