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?

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Dealing with family

Little-known fact: not everybody is entirely tolerant of atheists. Sometimes the intolerance is made even harder when those displaying it are family members. Today I received a private message from a cousin on Facebook. For her privacy I will not repost her message, but for the sake of showing that it’s important for us to stand up for ourselves — even against family — I will repost my response. In my response I refer to specific things she said in her original message, so it should be easy enough to catch the gist of it.

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If I might…

Yeah, I’m very in-your-face about my atheism. This is because Facebook is the only place I have to express my feelings about it. Religious people can be open about their beliefs publicly; whether you like to admit it or not, atheists cannot — not in Texas, at least. This is why I share my feelings on my private Facebook page (my account is set to friends only and has been for some time now).

I do not act like I know everything. Religious people seem confused when it comes to atheism in these regards. On the contrary, I do not feel like I know everything; in fact, I’m not going to presume to know the answer to all life’s difficult questions is “God.” I’ll leave that know-it-all attitude to the religious.

I’m not going to touch the fact that you sincerely believe I’ll “rot in hell” for eternity, because I don’t think you actually believe that. I believe it makes you feel like a better person to say it, but if you actually believed millions of people alive today would spend eternity being tortured, you’d go insane.

Fortunately in this day and age, atheism is on the rise. More people are thinking rationally and logically. Sure, I get emotional about it sometimes but in the end the one and only reason I am not religious is because I cannot — as a rational person — agree that the ideas put forth by religious people make even a shred of sense. I’d like for there to be a Heaven, but it doesn’t make sense. I’d like to think there’s a god out there who intervenes and answers prayers, but it just doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, wanting something to exist does not make it exist. And “faith” just doesn’t make sense to me.

You wouldn’t rely on a 200-year-old book for medical advice; why would you rely on a 2,000-year-old book for moral advice?

But all of this will go right over your head. You’ll continue to never doubt anything you were taught to believe in as a child. You’ll continue to feel guilty every time doubt rears its ugly head. You’ll continue to believe things that just don’t make sense. You’ll continue to believe because you’re scared. I’m not scared. I know that we live and we die, and so my outlook is to make the absolute most of my short, short life. You said I believe once we’re dead, that’s it. Well, that’s not entirely true; that’s it for our physical bodies, sure, but what we achieve in our lives resonates in the lives and memories of others long after we’ve died.

With that said, again, atheism is on the rise. More and more teenagers and young adults are shaking off the guilty feeling they get when they’re faced with a difficult question they don’t know the answer to. More and more teenagers and young adults are refusing to accept “God did it” as the penultimate answer. My hope is that your children — as the next generation of thinkers, makers, and dreamers — realize the answers they’ve been spoon-fed since infancy just aren’t cutting it. My hope is that one day they’ll recall the fantastic stories they’ve read in the Bible and say to themselves (or even out loud), “Now that just doesn’t make sense.”

Despite the fact that you might actually believe I’m going to suffer eternally after I die (again, I don’t think you seriously believe that) I hope you have a happy life. I guess that’s where you and I differ: you’re okay believing millions and millions of people will suffer forever while you enjoy an endless paradise, whereas I’m just not that selfish or spiteful. Every human being has the same fate: you live, you die. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to do wonderful things in between and be remembered after. Either way, we all end up in exactly the same place.

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Just for fun, I went through every single thing I’ve done/posted/uploaded on Facebook from July 1st up until the receipt of her message, just to determine exactly how in-your-face I am about my atheism on my personal, private Facebook page. I specifically noted things of a religious nature, political nature, and scientific nature. Everything else is categorized as — let’s just be adults and admit it — “nonsense.” Here are the results out of 106 posts:

Religious in nature: 17, including one scary picture of Jesus and one post where I just happened to mention the word “atheists.”
Scientific in nature: 6
Political in nature: 8
Nonsense: 75

Summary: I am 16% in-your-face with atheism and 71% in-your-face with nonsense.

 

 

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.

Pray for me!

It bothers me when people tell me bad news, then ask me to pray for them, or their loved one, or a friend. I’m not talking about when people say things like that on Twitter or Facebook; I mean when somebody says that to me directly.

Why does it bother me? Because they’re assuming I pray. That’s what our society is like: it’s perfectly okay to assume, without even knowing somebody, that they are religious. It doesn’t even matter which religion, just as long as they believe in the supernatural. Things don’t work that way for us atheists. I can’t just meet a stranger and speak as though I assume they don’t believe in any god(s).

Hell, even I assume people are religious when I first meet them. But the difference between me and theists (especially, I’ve noticed, Christians) is that I won’t act on that assumption or say anything based on that assumption. Because that would be rude.

When people ask me to pray for someone, my first instinct is to say “Okay, as long as you’ll promise to think for me while I’m doing it.” But don’t worry, I’m only an asshole when I don’t have to worry about retribution. My answer is typically something along the lines of “I wish you the best, and hope everything turns out okay.”

Inspired by a Twitter update by @ParsleyV

New New York

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

Image via Wikipedia

Congratulations, New York!

What’s the what?!

Hey there to the readers that Dave has managed to attract.  My name is Brandon and I have been invited to take part in this blog about various subjects close to my heart.  Let me start with a brief introduction.

I grew up in Tulsa, OK.  I went to church with my family all the way through high school, though less and less as the years went on.  I have been skeptical all of my life, and I can’t recall a time when I believed in god and did not believe in Santa Claus.  At first I kept my unbelief to myself.  I think I first told my parents that I didn’t believe in god when I was ten or eleven.  I even went through a phase in my early teens where I tried to believe, studying the bible harder and having discussions with preachers and religious friends, but the more I studied it the less sense it made…to me.  The other people that I spoke with seemed to ignore the problems that we spoke about, always using the bible as a reference for their argument.  I studied history and science more as I got older and found it more and more exciting and interesting.  I still love learning about science and history, and the more I learn the more I realize how incredibly inaccurate the religious texts are.  That combined with their incessant self-contradictions make it perfectly clear that religion is man-made and bankrupt.  The fact that so many people choose not to think about the obvious facts, not to mention that so many people just take it for granted that the bible is historically accurate in any meaningful way without doing the tiny amount of research required to disprove that falsehood, often makes me feel like a sane man among crazy people.

I should mention here something that I will go into more later on.  I used to be disturbed by my lack of faith.  That is not to say that I had faith and was fighting it.  I had no faith and that seemed so uncommon to me at a young age that I felt there might be something wrong with me.  I rarely spoke of it, so I wasn’t actually able to learn what my friends thoughts were, and in the end that turned out to be somewhat self-fulfilling.  Oddly enough, all of my good friends from elementary school grew up to be atheists as well, which leads me to believe that we all shared a lot more in common than we knew at the time, and we all spread out and lost contact until Facebook came along and allowed us to reconnect and realize our mutual faithlessness.  The other things that we all have in common are that we are all very happy people, all successful in our jobs, nearly all have families with children and all ended up fairly well educated.  I know that many religious people feel that a full and happy life isn’t possible without faith, though I can’t say that their reasoning makes sense, and they frequently make a big deal out of coming to faith or being born again.  I recall the day that I fully gave up on trying to believe in god and let myself just believe what I intuitively believed all along.  That day a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I felt like I was seeing the world as it really is for the first time.  I’d always doubted and there had never been an argument that was convincing to me in any way, but until I fully embraced my irreligion I was never able to see it for what it is; I only had inklings.  However, leaving all of that behind was the best thing I ever did, and any atheist worth their salt will likely agree with this statement.  Except the lucky ones that never had all that nonsense dumped on them in the first place.

My wife and I live in Texas now with our four-year-old son.  It literally creeps me out to see so many churches all over the place.  It’s disturbing to see people throw their crazy right out there for all the world to see.  We are not looking forward to sending our son to friends’ houses for the weekend and getting the “do you mind if he just goes to church with us on Sunday morning and then we can drop him off afterward?” questions that are bound to come up.  My son is incredibly smart and I look forward to having discussions with him about the cosmos and our place in it.  I love knowing that when he asks me difficult questions I actually have answers, and if I don’t know I find out and then explain it to him in a way that he can understand.  My best hope is to give him as much knowledge as I can and let him make his own decisions.  That’s what I did, albeit by myself, and it worked out just fine for me.

My purpose here is mostly just to vent and to share the thoughts and realizations that I occasionally have about religion.  It’s so present in society that it’s impossible to ignore, plus around these parts people are more than happy to start a religious discussion with a stranger, assuming that they also believe, so it’s not like I am given the option to actually opt out.  Instead I find myself forced, far too often, to discuss this nonsense with people who don’t seem able to actually hear the words coming out of their own mouths.  Thus, the truth behind the B.S. sometimes seems clearer, and this is as good a place as any to voice my thoughts on the matter and see what other people think.

Finally, fair warning: I am more than happy to have a calm and rational discussion with believers about religion and faith, but the moment they stop being rational I gotta quit.  Otherwise I start to get too irritated by the willful ignorance.  It’s always been my biggest pet-peeve, whether about religion or anything else that can easily be known and understood.