Ghosts!

The following is copied directly from a post I made on Facebook, and then my subsequent comments on that post.

I used to believe in ghosts. The belief was originally based on just the possibility of their existence, then “confirmed” by my own eyewitness account.

Then I grew up, thought about it, and determined that my account of seeing and hearing ghosts (in a cemetery, no less!) was brought about by

A) the pre-determination of ghosts’ existence (itself based only on assumption, hearsay, and speculation),

B) heightened senses in a dark, quiet graveyard,

C) an overactive imagination that once convinced me when I was younger that an animated skeleton was stalking me from outside my bedroom window (it also led me to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the effectiveness of a toy I had growing up called a “dream chaser”), and even

D) peer pressure. I was with friends who also saw and heard creepy things that night. However even if those friends maintain that we really did witness ghosts or spirits, I am inclined to think they have not yet come to realize the roles these four factors play in their own belief.

Once these four factors are recognized and even more importantly, accepted, it is not difficult at all to dismiss any other supernatural claims or apparent phenomena.

A friend commented, stating that he feels differently (but refrained from going into any detail), which prompted my response:

I would also add a fifth factor: that sometimes it just feels good to believe in something fantastic or magical, like ghosts and an afterlife. It feels good because it’s comforting, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit that just because something seems or feels wonderful doesn’t mean it’s real.

I’ll use books and movies as an example: I love reading and watching films; I love being lost in the story and imagining all the things that happen within. I love rooting for the good guy and I love when he is vigilant. I love when a story can pull at my emotions and make me happy, sad, or frightened. But when the credits roll, or when I turn the last page, the story’s over. Sometimes I get a huge feeling of relief when a story is over, and sometimes I wish it could go on forever, but every story (ready The Neverending Story joke) comes to an end, and whether or not I’m okay with that — whether or not I’m ready for it to be over — it’s over, and I know it’s not real. But it felt good. Hell, it might even still feel good.

He answered again, this time stating that he believes there are things people can’t see or explain; things that exist beyond the realm of the natural; that there are parallel worlds and dimensions, implying that some things (ghosts?) may be able to exist on multiple planes at once, and saying we should not dismiss the existence of ghosts because they might exist. My final response:

I think it’s totally fine to believe we can’t explain everything (I believe the same, and wouldn’t claim otherwise). But to believe in something based strictly on its possibility is absurd. Leprechauns could exist, but I don’t believe they do. I believe there are very small people in this world, and their stature may even make them somewhat elusive, and some of them may even make it a habit to dress themselves predominantly in green, but I’m pretty sure nobody has ever been proven (or even evinced) to possess magical powers such as a leprechaun’s. Bigfoot could — hell, there’s even video footage of him! — but I believe (based on a general understanding of how the brain can play tricks on somebody) any eyewitness accounts are either hoaxes or misunderstandings. Russell’s Teapot COULD exist; there’s no way to prove it doesn’t, but since there’s an overwhelming lack of evidence FOR its existence, I do not believe it exists.

What are your thoughts?

The Bible as a source of scientific knowledge

I first saw this posted on Facebook (with the name blurred out as it is here) and it was met with responses that contained words like “stupid,” “idiot,” and “Creatard.” I’m not terribly fond of that last one, but I understand the sentiment it’s trying to convey. But not a single commenter made an attempt to explain just why the person who made this absurd statement is an idiot, or why they’re stupid. Now, I don’t know anything about the person who wrote this. In fact, I don’t even know their name. I can’t honestly call this person stupid, but what I will do is hopefully explain why their argument(s) is/are stupid. My one hope is that somehow this post makes its way back to the person who made these arguments originally, because I am genuinely interested in seeing their response.

Let me begin my dissection of this post by stating that nobody ever has or ever will claim that something begins to exist or be true the moment it is “discovered” by science/scientists. I more than likely stumbled outside as a toddler and found myself in the green grass of my parents’ front lawn before a scientist had ever affirmed to me the existence of grass. This does not mean I waited for somebody with a Ph.D. to confirm grass was real before I could accept that it was. This also does not mean grass did not exist prior to my “discovery” of it.

Which takes me to your first example: snakes. More specifically, snakes with legs. Whether or not the Bible states that snakes actually have legs is really a matter of interpretation. The Bible speaks of a serpent in Genesis, who coerces Eve to take a bite of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God’s punishment for the serpent’s role in Eve’s betrayal of his trust, “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” Whether this means the serpent had legs prior to God’s curse is unknown, nor is it obvious whether or not this meant the serpent did not have legs after the curse. After all, even a human can crawl on its belly while having legs. It is uncomfortable to do so, especially for long periods of time; perhaps this is what makes it such a harsh punishment. Or perhaps the bit about eating dust is the actual punishment. Either way, the nature of the serpent both before and after God’s punishment is ambiguous.

That being said, you specifically mentioned snakes. I can assure you, and I will do so publicly, that snakes do not have legs. They have not ever had legs and they will not ever have legs.* Throughout the course of evolution, any creature that had legs in the long line of a snake’s ancestry was, assuredly, not a snake. Even if it were so, like I pointed out in my opening statements, a scientist would not have to “discover” a snake in order for a snake to exist.

So let’s move on to your next argument, which is the Bible describing a spherical earth at a time when science allegedly told us the earth was flat. This would be relevant if it were true. It would suggest the Bible really was written or inspired by the words of somebody who not only knew more than modern scientists, but knew truths that were contrary to what science told us at the time. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Bible never once tells us the earth is a sphere. We hear talk of the earth’s “four corners,” actually, which suggests the earth is either a two-dimensional quadrilateral or a triangular pyramid. Incidentally, Pythagoras hypothesized a spherical earth as early as the sixth century BCE, long before the Old Testament was written (and even longer before the NT).

Oh, but you spoke of a “round” earth, and not a spherical earth. If that’s the case, I think you may actually be right in that the Bible suggests, at one point, that the earth is round (I couldn’t tell you which chapter/verse, but that would contradict everything it says about corners). That would be worth investing thought into, since Pythagoras’s spherical-earth hypothesis was not yet widely accepted, except that the common belief was exactly the same: that the earth was round. Flat, but round. More precisely, that the earth was disc-shaped. So the Bible has, yet again, taught us nothing we didn’t “know” already. In fact, at best we could only say it propagated the [false] belief people already held.

Your third example is that the Bible explained to us the nature of the ocean — specifically its currents and its topography — “way before the first submarine.” I think it’s important to note, first, that a submarine is not required to study the floor of the ocean. It certainly makes it easier (and yes, it is required once you get to the deeper parts), but for all intents and purposes let’s just agree that I could walk off the shore and into the ocean, swim twenty feet out, and tell you what I see below me without the use of a submarine. Likewise, I could describe the currents to you. The Bible does not, ever once, explain gravity and the moon’s role in the ocean’s tides. That would be an argument worth posing since it took “science” quite a bit longer to explain that, despite what right-wing talk show hosts on Fox News may tell you.

Second, I’ve read the Bible but admittedly I’m not sure what part you’re referring to when you say it tells us of valleys under the sea and describes how oceanic currents work. If you’re talking about the fantastical Noah’s Ark story, these are observations anybody in a boat could make.

I found your fourth example particularly interesting because I can use “toddler Dave” as an example yet again. My parents taught me constellations when I was young. I could look up to the sky and recognize Orion (though, admittedly, Orion’s Belt was far easier to point out) and Ursa Major. Looking up at the night sky and recognizing shapes made by the stars does not require the use of a telescope, just like a submarine isn’t required to study the ocean’s topography. That said, I’m curious to know which Bible verses speak in great detail of the constellations, and how looking at shapes in the sky pertains to science. Science doesn’t tell us anything about constellations, because they are irrelevant. Science instead focuses on the makeups of stars, their distances from one another, how they interact cosmologically, and what their relevance is. Whether or not a cluster of stars as viewed by the naked eye from earth vaguely resembles mythical people and animals is of no concern whatsoever to legitimate scientists.

Show me the Bible verse that describes the gases that make up stars and explains what happens when a star goes supernova, and then you’ll have my interest.

Your fifth example is dinosaurs. Again, I encourage you to tell me the exact Bible passages that discuss dinosaurs without using words that could possibly refer to other mythological beasts — such as behemoths — that people of that day and age actually believed in, but which never actually existed. You also spoke of archaeological discoveries, as though to differentiate between some random nomad digging up what appears to be a large skull in the desert and thinking it might have belonged to one of those mythological beasts they believed in long ago, and a certified archaeologist digging up a skull which they can study and determine once belonged to an actual dinosaur that we actually know actually existed.

To reiterate, anybody can stumble upon a large, old bone and say “Aha, something big used to be alive!”

I’ll respond to your sixth example briefly: nephilim have never, not ever, not even once, been “discovered” or determined to have once existed. Any skeletons of legitimate “giants” (as in, significantly larger than what we know modern and ancient humans and other apes could have grown to) that have been discovered have been proven to be hoaxes. I’m surprised you bothered to include this as an argument, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Finally, you’re restating what we all already know is stated in Genesis: that human life, as we know it, began with God’s creation of one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve). So far, we understand each other. Next you said we have, through the practice of anthropology, traced humankind’s origins back to “skulls in Africa.” The way you phrased it is confusing; I’m not sure if you meant we’ve traced our origins back to TWO skulls in Africa — which is blatantly wrong, so I won’t bother rebutting it — or simply back to, again, “skulls in Africa.” Hoping you meant the latter, this means nothing. Long before human-like skulls were discovered in Africa we had theorized that humans evolved from other human-like species. Based on the current geography of much of the world’s apes and monkeys, we theorized humans most likely first evolved in Africa. This is why we even searched in Africa in the first place! We already knew we evolved and it wasn’t based on anything the Bible tells us (especially since the Bible states that we were created, which we know is not true). Your last argument, just like your other six, is invalid and irrelevent.

Now, absolutely none of what I have just said disproves any gods, nor does it claim to, nor have I even made an attempt to; I’m simply rebutting the arguments which try to claim the Bible is a legitimate source of scientific knowledge and countering any arguments which state scientists are/were somehow wrong or “behind the times” at the time the Bible (especially the Old Testament, to which the original post primarily points) was first penned. Anybody is welcome to tell me where anything I’ve said here is wrong, but I politely ask to keep all discourse on-topic; that is, related directly either to the original post referenced or my response to it. Thank you.

*A Redditor brought to my attention a story of a snake with a single leg discovered in China in 2009. After researching it a bit I’ve yet to determine whether that particular story is a hoax or not (or whether it has simply been misinterpreted as something it is not), but it led me to feel the need to amend my claim that snakes do not have, will not have, nor ever have had legs. Snake embryos, in fact, have legs which are then absorbed by the body before hatching. This is an example of a vestigial limb, carried on in the genes of snakes from their non-snake-but-snakelike reptilian ancestors. In rare cases, the snake will retain its legs or feet after birth, but since this is a mutation (specifically, it is known as atavism) I will simply amend my statement to say that snakes do not have legs, except in rare mutation-related situations.

Godless Medley

This is a medley of three songs I’ve written. The first, called “Little Atheist Me,” makes its debut in the medley. The second and third, titled “Songs About Jesus” and “The Fantastic Theory,” were previously recorded and released on my YouTube channel. Altogether, the video is just under ten minutes long. Two, if not all three, songs contain swear words. So put on those headphones.

“Little Atheist Me” is about nothing more than me and my worldview, which just happens to not include any gods. The song describes those things I do believe in, such as “love and hope and family,” as well as those things I’m afraid of, like “falling to my death or being stung by bees.” As the song says in the chorus, I’ve got “no time for Jesus.” I wrote this as a way to tell the religious community that atheists do have plenty of things they believe in or are afraid of; it’s just that none of those things include superstition.

“Songs About Jesus” is really just one song, and it’s only about Jesus insofar as the Christian belief that “Jesus is God” goes. So I suppose, really, it should have been called “A Song About God.” But there you have it. The song is also how a lot of Christians don’t seem very Christ-like, so I guess that’s the part about Jesus.

“The Fantastic Theory” is about Intelligent Design versus evolution, and the battle to censor science and/or teach ID in public schools. Mostly I cover evolution and sing about how life has no apparent design; and if it was created, it wasn’t done so very intelligently.

A few notes unrelated to the song(s)…

  • No, I will not take off that hat. I really like that hat.
  • No, I will not trim my guitar strings. No reason; I just can’t be bothered.
  • The silicone band on my right wrist is zebra-print and I got it at the Dallas Zoo. Incidentally, the Dallas Zoo is where my wife and I had our wedding ceremony.
  • The guitar is a Yamaha. I received it as a gift for my seventeenth birthday.
  • I bought my shirt through RichardDawkins.net

Also on my YouTube channel, you’ll find a few additional songs:

  • “Mary,” which is more or less about marijuana.
  • “Imagine,” which is a cover of John Lennon’s famous song.
  • “Rat-Zinger,” which is about the Catholic Pope and child-molesting priests.
  • “Fabulous,” which is about equal rights, especially for the LGBT community.

Humans are pretty dam* dumb.

The following is taken from the comments section of a particular Listverse list of “15 Unusual Prehistoric Creatures.” This is one of those cases where I don’t think a rebuttal is even necessary, but I’ll provide a very brief one after the quote. It’s entirely possible that this Captain Carrot is just a “Poe,” but I’ll treat this as though he’s being completely serious.

Captain Carrot / 27 May, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Oh, Lord. I’m tired of hearing the retarded sounding “creationists believe the earth is only 6000 yrs old” bullcrap. Who said that? Where is that fact?

Good Lord, nobody is saying that the earth is only 6000 yrs. old. That would be like saying that nothing existed, that there was this big explosion, or “bang” if you will, and then things started growing from out of nowhere. But we all know that, scientifically, it’s been proven something can’t just grow out of nothing, right? Um, right?

Plus the fact that animals were a totally different creature or species and they just “grew” what they needed later. Like how I read somewhere that dolphins were actually land animals (a cow, for instance) and all of a sudden “transformed” into something else entirely. The legs just miraculously “fused” together, it grew fins out of it’s sides, the blowhole developed, etc. etc.

For f*ck’s sake, and they say the religious crowd comes up with some unbelievable stories. Humans really are pretty dam* dumb.

Fortunately, whether or not they’re correct, most people at least recognize the existence of the Young Earth Creationists who do, in fact, claim the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. To deny these people exist (“nobody is saying that the earth is only 6000 yrs. old”) is nothing more or less than a blatant lie. Just because something is highly illogical does not mean nobody believes it to be true.

Secondly, please, for the sake of the religious right, stop attempting to use science to invalidate science. That would kind of be like saying “The Bible says it’s true, therefore the Bible is true.” Nobody ever says that! (that’s an example of me being facetious)

Third, and finally, please refrain from commenting on evolution until you actually understand evolution. Animals don’t just grow things they need. If that were to ever happen, I would be more likely to believe some supernatural force is the one guiding such transformations. It is clear you have zero understanding of evolution or the theory of natural selection.

In short, you’re right. Humans (at least some of them) really are “pretty dam* dumb.”

Dear Kirk Cameron

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Kirk Cameron,

Why do you joke about how scientists have not discovered a “crocoduck”? Do you really just not understand how evolution works? Do you understand, but are purposely being misleading and dishonest with the eight-or-so people who cling to your every word? Have you ever thought about the fact that a true chimera (half one animal, half another) would essentially disprove evolution and falsify the theory of natural selection?

I mean, really, have you ever actually heard a biologist say that one animal simply morphs into another, and that’s how we get a new species? Things don’t work that way, Seaver, and nobody who knows what they’re talking about has ever said they do. An animal that is half-one thing and half-another would pretty much be indicative of divine intervention. That is precisely why we don’t have crocoducks, kangaphants, or narwalruses. Although that last one would be pretty sweet. Really, instead of asking “why don’t we have crocoducks,” you should be asking “why don’t we have crocoducks?” Note where the emphasis lies.

In short, that smirk on your face when you say “why aren’t there any crocoducks” looks really bad on you.

Dave

PS: bad-mouthing Stephen Hawking doesn’t help your case, like, at all.

There is no such thing as an atheist

For some reason this comment was moved directly to my spam folder, which meant I was never given the opportunity to approve it for publication. I’m not sure why, as it’s not blatant “trolling” or spamming – then again, it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic discussed in the original blog post, nor does it seem to add anything to any existing conversations or comments. Nevertheless, I rarely check my spam folder and did not see it until now.

It was originally made in response to my post titled Thank god! but I’m reposting it here because I think it warrants a response – in this case, in the form of its very own post.

There is no such thing as an atheist. Although I know my reply will be deleted, it matters not. My path almost led me down the road to so-called “atheism”. The term “atheist” is derived from two roots “a” meaning “against” and “theos” meaning “God” or “a god”. Thus people who claim that they are atheist because they don’t believe in Him is a contradiction of terms. You can’t be against something you don’t believe exists. You may as well be a-fairy, or a-pomogianisticis. There are no such things so it is impossible to be against them. The funny thing about so-called atheists is that they spend so much time talking about the very thing they claim doesn’t exist. Isn’t this a waste of time? I don’t go around trying to convince people not to believe in the tooth fairy. No, the real purpose of each and every atheist is a deep longer to know. You WANT to see for yourself. You wish deep down inside that God would show you a sign so that you could hold on to something tangible.

As for myself, I used to believe in science and believed that everything had to have a scientific explanation. Then I realized that God’s word was far more consistent that science. Science is limited to the five senses. With science there is no room for anything that our finite human bodies can experience. It didn’t take long for me to see that science has to continue correcting itself because what is scientifically proven one day can be false the very next day. I have very little faith in science these days. I have no faith in doctors either. Doctors prescribe drugs they have little knowledge about. They cannot see the effects drugs have on the human brain, DNA, and a whole multitude of bodily functions. While a certain drug can seem to solve one issue, it will ALWAYS create a new host of side effects that can be and probably are more detrimental to our bodies.

Wasn’t it science that claimed the earth was flat? Wasn’t it scientists that claimed there could not be such things as microwaves, germs, and the like? Why not? Because we did not have the instruments to see such things. Therefore they must not exist.

The truth of the matter is that anyone who puts their faith in science is going to be disappointed over and over again. Scientists are only now realizing that there are things in this universe that cannot be explained because they do not fall into the category of tangible evidence. This is why they have created a whole new field of science called quantum physics.

Don’t allow yourselves to be deceived by blind religion or blind science. Make intelligent well informed decisions. Seek out the facts first.

Remember just because we could not detect sound waves didn’t mean they didn’t exists. Similarly just because we don’t have the equipment to detect demons and angelic beings does not mean they are not all around us. One day science will have to be re-written yet again to contain new evidence. The scriptures, however, remain unchanged since ancient times.

Finally, my story… At the pinnacle of my own arrogance and the height of my intellectual achievements, I stumbled upon a radio station that played hard rock and heavy metal. There I heard a caller describing an apocalyptic event that was all the rave at the time. He asked the disk jockeys if they had heard about a meteor that would kill one third of the population. They laughed at him and hung up the phone and continued on with their jokes, but my attention was focused on one single thought – “a third of the population”… I had heard that in my youth in my Sunday School class. “Yes” I thought, “That’s in Revelation…” So I dusted off an old Bible my parents had and found some old scriptures giving an account of the end of the world in minute detail. As I read, there was a documentary on the Discovery channel about the same topic – a meteor strike of catastrophic proportions.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I read along with the program. The events described in both the Bible and the television show were identical to a tee! God had my full, undivided attention. It was at this point that I made up my mind to have faith like a child. I said within myself, “If God says ‘A donkey talked’ then by all mean a donkey talked. I will never again question His Word.”

It was that very year that things began to happen in my life. Those “signs” I sought after were revealed to me, and I lost all hope in science forever.

I laugh whenever I see Nacho Libre with Jack Black now. Whenever I hear his sidekick declare, “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science” I chuckle within myself because I am now the total opposite.

Delete my reply if you insist this is all baloney, but if you expect real discussion on this topic, then leave it and see what other say.

Man O God

http://www.godlyfather.blogspot.com/

I don’t plan on addressing everything said in the comment, but will try to catch what I think are the most important points:

There is no such thing as an atheist…
Well, there definitely is such a thing as an atheist. As long as you’re bringing up the roots of the word I should point out that a does not mean against; rather, it means precisely the same as the a in asexual, that is, without. I, and all the other atheists, are without theism.

You are right in bringing up disbelief in fairies, and the fact that it doesn’t have “its own word.” I actually agree with you – atheism shouldn’t even be a word. Atheism should be the norm. Just like we would question somebody who told us they believe in fairies, we should question somebody when they say they believe in gods. Gods are, after all, just as likely to exist. The reason we – the atheists – speak out so fervently against religion is because it plays such a huge (and, more often than not, unwanted) role in our lives despite the fact that we do not share the same beliefs. I guarantee that if politicians and educators were trying to pass laws that were directly or indirectly inspired by their belief in Bigfoot, we would speak out against that too. If belief in Bigfoot were so widespread that it affected our lives on a nearly daily basis, we might even start using a word to describe ourselves which separated us from those who believe.

No, the real purpose of each and every atheist is a deep longer(sic) to know.
This is somewhat accurate. I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can certainly speak for myself when I say I would much rather know something than to just believe in it. That’s why we’re called skeptics. We won’t take something based on faith alone. Faith is okay, in fact I have faith in plenty of things, but my faiths are reinforced by evidence. Religious faith is not.

You’re incorrect when you say we want your god to give us some sign of its existence based on the simple fact that we do not believe it exists. I can’t want a god to prove its existence any more than I can want Harry Potter to prove he exists. He most likely doesn’t, nor does any god – especially not your god. That said, if I believed in a god I would certainly want – or at least expect – it to prove it exists.

Then I realized that God’s word was far more consistent that(sic) science.
First, you’re terribly wrong. The Bible (“God’s word”) is littered with inconsistencies and contradictions. This isn’t the place to point all of them out to you, but a quick and easy Google search for “Bible contradictions” should be all you need.

That being wrong, you also said science has to continue correcting itself. You’re absolutely right here. That’s how the scientific method works: a question is asked, research is done and information is collected regarding the subject, a hypothesis is formed, experiments are performed, data is interpreted and, if the data supports the hypothesis predictions can be made and a theory may be formed. If the data does not support the hypothesis, then the hypothesis is scrapped. This is where science and religion seem to clash. Despite all the geological, astronomical, and biological evidence that specifically conflicts with the young-earth “theory” so many religious believers adhere to, they continue to ignore the data, preferring to believe that what a non-scientific 2,000-year-old book says is probably more accurate.

As more evidence is discovered or collected, scientific theories may change. But that’s what rational people do – they admit when they’re wrong, and reshape their theories to fit the evidence. A religious person, on the other hand, reshapes the evidence to fit their so-called theories.

The scriptures, however, remain unchanged since ancient times.
If we do not count the frequency at which the Bible is re-translated, or the fact that multiple books have deliberately been removed from the earliest copies of the bible, you’re right again. Incidentally, the scriptures are just as implausible and inconsistent now as they were back when they were written.

The events described in both the Bible and the television show were identical to a tee!
First, I’d like to know which show this was on the Discovery Channel. As a fan of the channel and their publications, I’m fully aware that they do air a lot of religious programs featuring “what if” scenarios. I hardly believe a scientific program would talk about the likelihood of a dragon falling from the sky, a beast with multiple heads emerging from the ocean, angels blowing their horns at the “four corners” of the earth, or people ascending into Heaven while others found themselves marked with the number of the beast. So unless this show was specifically about the Revelation chapter in the Bible, no, they were not identical to a T.

“If God says ‘A donkey talked’ then by all mean(sic) a donkey talked. I will never again question His Word.”
I’ll just rebut this one with another one of your own quotes: Make intelligent well informed decisions. Seek out the facts first.

I lost all hope in science forever.
I would assume, then, that you never visit the doctor, never take any medicine, never drive a car, never use the internet, never watch television, and never pay any heed to documentaries on the Discovery Channel.

In other words, I’m calling you a liar and a hypocrite.

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.

A Post-Independence Day Post

People trying to understand what the framers of the constitution meant and who try to stick to that, or Originalists as they’re called, remind me of people who stick to old religious texts and try to understand what their authors meant as a means of finding a way to live today. Both are focusing far too hard on the wrong things. The authors had literally no concept of what our world would look like today, and so their strict meaning at the time is meaningless and unimportant to us in this day and age. We can focus on the IDEALS of the authors when and where they have merit, but what they wrote and why they wrote it is only applicable where it makes sense in accordance with what we know about the world and about human nature in modern times. The major difference is that religious texts are less and less sensible in modern times, and often seen as barbaric if taken literally (and yet religion is not on the decline in the US), while the political texts are still very applicable, as they were written to be so, but this somewhat religious approach to the political texts, while not surprising to find in a country like America, throws an unnecessary wrench into the gears. And those gears weren’t exactly running at 100% in the first place.

The idea that things in the world change and the documents that relate to those things need to be able to change with them seems obvious on it’s face.  In constitutional interpretation it’s called The Living Constitution Theory.  Ironically the religious texts have been interpreted and reinterpreted over and over ad infinitum, which is partly where the Protestant Reform came from, but most Christians, at least, seem to ignore this fact when considering their viewpoint on a given topic.  This is most obvious when politics and religion collide, usually on social issues.  Religious folks will use the same texts to argue against abortion and for the death penalty.  They use them to to argue against homosexuality and gay rights, medical research and procedures, scientific advancements, etc.  However, the bible has also been used to support things like slavery and institutionalized racism, the shunning of science, the crusades and various aspects of World War II, to name but a few.  Most people can take a step back and see how the world has changed and how our interpretations of that world have been forced, often through struggle, to change with it.  If only people would start to take more of an active role in those changes instead of fighting so vehemently against them (and against the course of history!).  If only people would take a step back and try to look at themselves, their beliefs and their consequent actions as objectively as possible before just deciding that they  believe what they believe and they don’t need to think about it because someone long ago who didn’t know very much about the world wrote some stuff down that, I’m told, is absolutely true…to some degree or another.  If only…

Theistic evolution (and other things)

The following is [nearly] copied directly from a conversation I had on Facebook with a friend, Matt. At one point about halfway through the conversation another friend, Chuck, joined in for a short while. The conversation started with a quote by a hypocritical “Christian” and then moved quickly to evolution, the (in)errancy of the Bible, historical Jesus, and finally ended with a nice little “agree to disagree” moment. The whole thing began when I posted a quote:

“I have a compelling reason to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God… abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.”

-Carl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

Matt
Haven’t read much on theistic evolutionism. I don’t think its possible.

Dave
Considering the Christian god is “perfect,” why couldn’t he have created life, which then evolved? Through god, anything is possible (they say).

Don’t forget that evolution (and its theory) says nothing about the origin of life. Only about how life adapted and evolved after it originated. The origins of life are theorized in abiogenesis.

Matt
Well that isn’t the account in genesis. God created everything fully mature. New with the appearance of age. Jesus did the same when he turned water into wine. I am curious though… I can accept micro evolution. What are your thoughts on separating micro and macro evolution?

Dave
I think evolution is evolution. Micro- and macro- just measure it on different scales. Here’s a pretty neat explanation of how it works:

Image via thinkatheist.com

Matt
That’s what I anticipated. However I think you can separate the two. We see changes in frogs and what not. But the single cell to man theory I have issues with. New information in the genome through random unguided chance mutations just doesn’t seem like a plausible sound enough theory for the origin of intelligent life.

Dave
Given billions of years, why not? Remember a species may undergo many (like, millions) of random mutations that don’t work in favor of its survival, and those afflicted with such mutations either die out or remain “neutral” (the mutation is neither beneficial nor detrimental to its survival). But one in a million random mutations might be beneficial to the point where that species is now more able to procreate and survive.

So the species passes that mutation on to its offspring, who then procreate and thrive. A million mutations later, and another generation is that much more capable of survival. One won’t be able to pinpoint the exact generation in which speciation occurs, but it gets to the point where generation X+n is no longer able to breed with generation X.

The original species may still even exist – those which did not mutate beneficially may still be thriving in their own particular niche just fine.

An analogy:
Give a monkey a computer with a keyboard and word processor, then let it bang away. What are the odds it will randomly type out Shakespeare’s Hamlet in its entirety? Pretty slim.

But reprogram the processor so that every time the monkey randomly hits a letter in its proper place, the letter is saved in its position. Eventually, the monkey WILL have “randomly” banged out Hamlet in the word processor.

Matt
I can appreciate the theory. It does however boil down to a few pre-suppositions. Is the universe billions of years old? Were these primordial conditions exactly right to produce by chance those amino acids then so on and so forth? I mean it does make sense given bookoos of time and some very particular conditions, but it doesn’t account for some of the immensely complex organisms we see today. Like the bombardier beetle, the circulatory system of giraffes. Butterflies metamorphosis over weeks not years. The chances of life producing from nothing is not one in some very very large number, its zero.

The question is; who re-programmed [the hypothetical word processor]?

Dave
Again, evolution does not account for the origin of life, nor does it attempt to – that’s abiogenesis.

As to “who” programmed it, that goes back to the theory of natural selection. A species will retain a mutation (random pounding of keys) that is beneficial (landing in the right position) to its survival.

Funny you mentioned giraffes, though, since they have within them my favorite evolutionary “mistake.” Research their laryngeal nerve.

Matt
I remember. You had mentioned it previously.

Are you familiar with the 747 gambit? Also what are your thoughts on the anthropic principle?

Dave
Regarding the “Ultimate Boeing 747” I’ll remind you that complexity won’t arise out of nothing, or suddenly, but rather in tiny parts at a time and over long periods of time.

Regarding the anthropic principle, I’ll refer you to Douglas Adams‘ “puddle analogy.”

…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

Chuck
Keep in mind when were talking about the origin of life describing it in years doesn’t do justice. Single cell organisms can reproduce asexually, which means one organism could reproduce many many times in a year plus how many times it’s offspring reproduce. So yeah at the birthrate of mammals evolution happens slow. But with more primitive life forms a change could happen more rapidly. More keys mashed per year if you will.

Matt
So in observing asexual single cell reproductive cycles, have we seen, at any rate, mutations occur that benefit the organism’s ability to survive?

Also, if I may, returning to the original topic of why couldn’t God use evolution in the creation process, its seems to me that this ideology compromises Biblical inerrancy. This also suggests that God requires long periods of time to accomplish his creative process. If that were the case then I think the Genesis account would reflect that. Some might argue that the Hebraic lexicon only offers vague idioms for durations of time. While the Hebrew word for “day” could mean any period of time, it is important to know that this is true unless it is annotated by a number. So when we observe the creation account in Genesis, we must accept it as a literal six day creation week. Most importantly, coming from the Christian perspective, Jesus tells us that we must accept the teachings of Moses since it is the Word and Jesus is the Word. Anyways, that’s why one cannot be a Christian and subscribe to the ideologies of metaphysical naturalism.

Dave
You said: “So in observing asexual single cell reproductive cycles, have we seen, at any rate, mutations occur that benefit the organism’s ability to survive?”

Yes. Check out the Lenski E. coli long-term evolution experiment.

Chuck
It may not be single celled organisims but… there was a type or scale or fungus that infects a widely grown crop that developed immunity to to the main pesticide used to treat it within a human lifetime. It happend like ten years ago so I dont remember the specifics…

Dave
Re: inerrant Bible vs. evolution

Knowing that I’m atheist and consider the whole book a bunch of baloney, it may be a little more difficult to take what I’m about to say seriously, but I’m going to give this whole “apologetic” thing a shot. Here goes.

Is it not possible to see see the Bible as just a book? Perhaps it is inspired by the word of god. Maybe he even had a hand in writing some parts of it. But perhaps some of it really was just a recollection of stories that had been passed down verbally through many generations.

Instead of reading Lev. 11:20 as an outright error (I, personally, see it as one) try and see it as a misinterpretation. Knowing how geology works, we can essentially disprove a worldwide flood. So what if the flood story was just an exaggeration to try and get the point across that god means business?

With misinterpretations and exaggerations in mind, try to read Genesis in a similar light. Sure, maybe god created the world; maybe bugs and water and light and people all came at separate times (and they most certainly did!) but maybe the ordering of the story is just to give you the general idea: god did it, more or less like this.

The Bible was, after all, written by humans; not by superhumans. Perhaps they heard voices that told them what to say, but if everyone were hearing the same voice we would expect the Gospels to agree with each other 100%. Fun fact: they don’t. Perhaps because of misinterpretations and exaggerations.

If the Bible is read with more of an open mind and while considering the fact that stories can be misinterpreted or exaggerated and languages can be mistranslated, it wouldn’t be all that inconceivable to suggest that god could have “guided” the evolution process with his hand. Maybe the beneficial mutations were his idea to begin with.

Matt
Trees bearing fruit after their own kind. Like I said, micro evolutionary processes are evident and as far as I am concerned totally Biblical. Concerning the gospels, In a court of law, if all of the witnesses to a murder all had the exact same story, they would be accused of conspiring and their testimony would be thrown out. Luke accounts for one blind man healed by Jesus while Matthew accounts for two. Luke’s account was concerned with only the one because the man Jesus healed became a disciple. The argument you present lies in the realm of legalism, and Jesus railed against the pharasees for just this reason. Fun fact: the life, death, and even the resurection of Jesus are safely preserved as historical fact. Even His enemies admit to these things (except the muslims). And as far as mis-translations go, we literally have over 25,000 manuscript documents to validate the accuracy of the New Testament translations.

Dave
The Bible is riddled not with different recounts of the same story, but with outright contradictions. In the court of the law, that wouldn’t fly. In the New Testament specifically, Matthew and Luke give us two different people as Jesus’ paternal grandfather, and say that Jesus was descended from both of David’s sons (Solomon and Nathan). If one of those is true, both cannot be true. A person cannot have two biological fathers.

The Gospels tell us of Jesus sending out his disciples and he gives them specific instructions which included what they can or can not take with them. Are the disciples allowed to bring a staff? Mark says yes. Luke says no. That may be an insignificant detail, but again both cannot be true, therefore the Bible (at the very least, THAT part of the Bible) cannot be taken literally.

I think you and I can both agree that Jesus’ crucifixion was kind of a big deal, and we can probably both agree that the details are somewhat important. Jesus wore a crown of thorns. He was flogged. He carried his cross. He was nailed to the cross. All in all, he was treated pretty badly here. But let’s go back to the part about Jesus carrying the cross. Only one of the Gospels actually say that happened: John. The rest say Simon is the one who carried the cross. It’s commonly accepted that Jesus carried it until they met Simon, but that is nothing but speculation and assumption, as none of the Gospels tell us both men carried the cross. If the Bible is inerrant, there is no room for assumptions. If any of the Gospels are right, I would go with the safe bet of Simon carrying the cross (three against one, after all) but it is therefore logically impossible for John to have been correct.

I can list more contradictions for you if you’d like, since the Bible is teeming with them, but for now and for this discussion I think I’ve made my point well enough. So I move on.

You said “the life, death, and even the resurrection of Jesus are safely preserved as historical fact.” This is simply not true, and it’s unfair for you to use it in this debate. No proof whatsoever exists of an historical Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Not one historian (outside the Bible, which only Christians count as “proof”) from Jesus’ time ever wrote about him. Why is that? Miracles would have been a big deal, I imagine. It wasn’t until 70 years after Jesus had died that the first Gospel was written. Some people point to Josephus as an historian who wrote about Jesus, but it’s been proven that Josephus’ writings which pertained to Jesus were forgeries.

As even an atheist like I will admit, a lack of evidence of existence is not evidence for nonexistence, but you simply cannot state something is a fact when no evidence supporting it exists. The only “evidence” you could possibly use is the Bible, but even now we’re debating over its validity. To use it as proof is to assume we both accept it as valid.

For the record, the Muslim Qur’an tells us Jesus (“the messiah”) was born of a virgin, performed miracles, ascended into Heaven in bodily form (but not that he was crucified), and will return to earth on Judgment Day.

Matt
Look, I do want to be fair. Unfortunately, for the literary critic of the New Testament, there are several extrabiblical references and authorities to Jesus. To name a few secular sources: Cornelius Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, and Pliny the Younger. Not to mention Jewish references such as the Babylonian Talmud. As Josh McDowell puts it “Similar to the secular references, the ones found in ancient Jewish sources are unfriendly toward Christianity’s founder, followers and beliefs. For this reason their attestation to events surrounding Jesus’ life are valuable testimony to the historicity of these events.” If you would like to or are at all interested in furthering your understanding of apologetics, the I would refer you first to Josh McDowell’s book “The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” As far as the Qur’an is concerned, I have my reasons for rejecting It as Divinely inspired and that should be reserved for another discussion.

Dave
Pliny the Younger: his “references” were all Christians themselves, so any accounts are biased. He was born in 62 CE anyway, so his “word” is nothing but hearsay, being he wasn’t even born ’til after Jesus would have died.

Tacitus: Born after Pliny the Younger. Again, not an eyewitness account. He didn’t even cite his sources.

Suetonius: Born after Tacitus. Only ever mentions the common name “Chrestus” and never refers to an earthly Jesus.

Talmud: Never actually mentions Jesus. Refers to “Yeshu,” who was a disciple of Jehoshua Ben-Perachia, who existed more than a century before Jesus (or it refers to Yeshu ben Pandera, who was a teacher in the 2nd century).

Thallus: Doesn’t mention Jesus – only the darkening of the sky at the time of his alleged crucifixion. The validity of his writings is called into question, however, when one considers that neither Pliny the Elder nor Seneca (easily the two most contemporary scientists at the time) mentioned the “eclipse.” The two scientists were known for researching and writing about all the known geological and astrological phenomena.

There are no eye-witness accounts of Jesus. None. Anything said about him after the fact is hearsay.

For the record, I fully understand that none of this disproves an historical Jesus. That isn’t what I’m trying to do. God and Jesus cannot be proven to exist or not exist (actually, they could be proven to exist but so far nobody’s managed to do it). An inerrant or errant Bible, however, is very easy to prove. A worldwide flood 6,000 years ago, for example, would have left very specific geological evidence, yet none exists. In this case the nonexistence of evidence works as evidence for nonexistence.

So, back to the very original point (actually, the original post was just a quote I found amusing in its hypocrisy), accepting the Bible as errant does not necessarily make one unChristian, but it opens the door for acceptance of reality.

The reality is this: evolution has occurred on a massive scale and continues to occur. The earth is billions of years old. God may or may not still exist and have had something to do with the aforementioned known facts.

Matt
Well, it certainly delights me to see that you at least admit to the possibility of God’s existence. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that makes you an agnostic. Let me assure you sir, God is certainly real and you can know and interact with Him right now. That is the most powerfull evidence available. Nonetheless it is not my place to make God known to you, its His. Religion is not all its cracked up to be.

Dave
Technically, I’m agnostic. Technically, I’m also atheist. Gnosticism/Agnosticism has to do with knowing. Theism/Atheism has to do with believing.

I don’t know whether there’s a god or not (agnostic) but I don’t believe there is (atheist).

Sources I used:
Did Jesus exist? (nobeliefs.com)
Secular References to Jesus: Thallus
(tektonics.org)
Thallus: an Analysis (infidels.org)

Miracles?

Yeah, yeah, Brandon made a post with this same title a while back. But mine has a question mark. So it’s different, see? See? Anyway, the subject matter is slightly different and it’s been, like, almost two months. Now that we’ve settled that this is an entirely different post from Brandon’s, we can continue.

What is a miracle?
A miracle is any event that betrays the laws of nature. It is not simply something science has no answer for, but something science and scientific laws explicitly state could not happen. It is a phenomenon which, without “divine guidance,” would otherwise be impossible. A meteor hurtling toward earth and then stopping, abruptly, about a mile before impact is an example of something that betrays the laws of nature and science and could legitimately be called a miracle.

Some people think a miracle is “anything that happens at just the right time when it is not expected.” This is okay, if you’d like to consider every single coincidence or stroke of good fortune a miracle. By that definition, you would say that winning the lottery is a miracle, but it would be one hell of a stretch to call it an act of god, let alone proof for god’s existence.

There are no miracles, ever.
Now that we’ve got that explanation out of the way, I can make my assertion: that there has never in history been such a phenomenon which, by the above definition, would be considered a miracle.

For the record, I should point out again that as an atheist I am prone to disregard the Bible as a factual account of historic events, so using any examples from the Bible would be completely futile. To argue while citing the Bible as proof is to assume the Bible is one hundred percent factual and accurate. That just doesn’t fly with an atheist. To quote Damon Wayons in one of his greatest characters ever, Homey don’t play dat.

Word of mouth also doesn’t count as a legitimate source. If that were the case, I could tell you that I fell from the top of a skyscraper the other day and landed head-first in a garbage bin full of nothing but broken glass and fire ants, yet suffered no injuries whatsoever. And you’d have to believe me. Because you believe personal accounts of miracles.

All that said, you are welcome to provide me with examples of any miracles for which there is not only documentation (from a reputable source) but, ideally, photo and/or video evidence.

Biblical miracles
Even the so-called miracles in the Bible can be more or less explained away by science. It is entirely possible that “back in the day,” natural events happened. God-fearing people did what they did best and feared god. They embellished the natural events in their tales and as they were passed down more and more through the generations, by the time they were written down they had been so embellished they could now be mistaken for miracles.

Look, I realize the Bible is an actual book. It was written by people who believed in the business they were writing down. That doesn’t make it any more accurate, however. While some of the primary parts of the Bible (Jesus, as an example) are clearly sampled from previous religions, I’m sure some parts are simply huge exaggerations of actual events. Fascinating stories require fascinating embellishments in order to be fascinating.