Monday, December 31, 2012

Depression, Nihilism & Humanism


I am sad. I am weary. I sometimes wish I was never born. Why does life have to be so tragic? Why does happiness evade me so easily? I often have those moments where I am alone and can do some self-reflecting. I think about my past and what things in my life have meant to me. Like the Buddha, I recognize that all things change. People die; relationships whither; money dries up; beauty fades; material things are lost or broken. One can never attach themselves to any of these things because they are all temporary and finite. As much as I wish that things I value would last forever, such is never the case; for change is the only thing that is constant.

I still can't help but speak of tragedy when I reflect upon the hardships I have endured. My life has been a roller-coaster of emotion, with a lot more valleys than peaks. I have come to think of my life as near constant depression, punctuated only by momentary episodes of bliss. Is it my nature to be such a way, or is it due to the circumstances beyond my control? I cannot help but be an emotional being. If nineteenth century romanticism has taught us anything, it is that we are as emotionally sensitive to our surroundings as a feather is to the wind. Love almost always ends in tragedy; happiness almost always ends in sorrow. Perhaps there is the need for a balance to be struck, in that one must exist for the other to have grace. I don't know if nature requires such equalizing properties with regards to emotion.

Is the prospect of nihilism to blame? Is the belief in no ultimate purpose or value the cause of such conditions? Like most atheists, I would rather know the truth even if it has negative consequences than live under an illusion. I reject accepting notions of false consolation, even if their falsity is not absolutely demonstrated. What hope can there be under nihilism when one is faced with depression?

I have a sought refuge during periods of depression in the hope that the future will be better. One thing that really depresses me is the idea of permanence, in that hardship will never improve or get worse. It is not easy accepting that things will never get better. Hope drives us all to wake up and start our day and think that a little bit of improvement can be made.

Is nihilism rationally justified given naturalism? Is humanism and nihilism one in the same or are they opposed to one another? Well it may depend on how you define each of them. Humanism can be defined as a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God. Nihilism can be defined as the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life and argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. 

So with these definitions do we have a conflict? I consider myself both a humanist and a nihilist. I do not believe human beings have objective or intrinsic value that exists beyond other living beings and certainly not beyond the material world, and I affirm human value on the basis of reason through the recognition that humanity benefits best from being treated with dignity, and with certain inalienable rights. The fact that we will all individually and collectively perish is by no means a source of conflict for the humanist.

Humanism is not attained by default given atheism, but nihilism apparently is. I have discussed this notion with other atheists who like to reject nihilism perhaps due to its negative connotations. I tell them, that in the absence of god nothing gives objective meaning and value to human life, and that even in the presence of god, human value is still not really objective but rather is subjective to god's will. He could have easily just said that rats and not humans have objective value. I think all atheists accept the idea that human life has no objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value but some are simply not willing to accept the idea of nihilism because it is perceived as believing that there is no hope and can be no value at all to human life. But I like to remind them that nihilism doesn't say that life has no value, just no objective value. We can still give ourselves meaning and purpose and lead fulfilling finite lives.

So when it comes to tragedy and depression which none of us are immune to, atheists can seek hope in humanist values which affirms scientific inquiry and moral progression free of dogmatic constraints. Free and open inquiry will allow us to best discover the realities of our natural world, which unlock the potential to better the lives of everyone, leading to less unnecessary misery at the hands of nature. Recognizing human rights and dignity through reason will affirm the value of human beings, leading to less unnecessary misery at the hands of mankind. While this by no means will result in the end of all personal hardships and depression, we can know that we are using our intelligence to better the lives of mankind and nature not only through science and this will lead to more fulfilling lives for all conscious beings.

Happy New Year to all.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

By What Sense Can We Consider Our Cognitive Faculties Reliable?

Our five sense are what we use to interpret the world around us. They feed our brain information, and we use this information to perform logic and reason and deduce what is and what isn't real. So by what sense can we consider our cognitive faculties reliable? How do we know if the reality we interpret really exists, or if it is just an illusion fed by our senses? Many say that we can never know with certainty that the reality we perceive does indeed exist, but rather its existence is measured by probability.

I like to think of myself as a man well exercised in logic and reason. I have patiently listened to some of the best and most knowledgeable experts on religion, science and philosophy regarding the nature of reality, the existence of the supernatural, the limits of logic and the cognitive faculties by which we all use to make sense of these things. Through the use of my senses and logic, I have came to the conclusion many years ago that naturalism best described the nature of reality since among other things, there is no evidence for the supernatural and it must be taken on faith.

Naturalism is sometimes criticized by theists by the argument that it cannot be rationally affirmed. William Lane Craig wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post recently criticizing humanism and naturalism. He writes:

For if naturalism was true, the probability that our cognitive faculties would be reliable is pretty low. For those faculties have been shaped by a process of natural selection which does not select for truth but merely for survival. There are many ways in which an organism could survive without its beliefs’ being true. Hence, if naturalism were true, we could not have any confidence that our beliefs are true, including the belief in naturalism itself! Thus, naturalism seems to have a built-in defeater that renders it incapable of being rationally affirmed.

His statements address the heart of my concern on whether our senses can be relied upon. Dr. Craig says that evolution may not select for truth and so naturalism can thus be an illusion with no basis in reality. But knowing the truth and having an understanding of the surrounding world that is accurate and not based on illusion would indeed benefit the species that evolved it. Since we are the most advanced and evolved species that we know of, and since part of our evolutionary advantage over other species is due to our intricate grasp on intellect and being able to connect information and see patterns, we have every right to believe our cognitive faculties accurately explain reality.

So Dr. Craig is wrong when he theorizes that evolution does not "select for truth but merely for survival." Having the ability to accurately sense truth would provide an evolutionary advantage, and it seems that us homo sapiens have yielded the most benefits of this process.

So as an intellectual thinker, I have wondered like Dr. Craig whether we can believe our cognitive faculties can accurately portrait reality. All we have to go on are our senses and intellect to discern what is and what is not real. The fact that human beings are the most progressive species ever to live is a testament to our senses being accurate. Our accurate assessment of reality allowed us to exploit nature to suit our needs through the manipulation of its resources. Who is to say that our understanding of physics is an illusion?

Furthermore, he said something interesting that I think applies to theism. Dr. Craig says "There are many ways in which an organism could survive without its beliefs’ being true." I agree, and think this would be true of all religions. Having false beliefs like religion, studies show, may actually provide survival benefits in terms of how wishful thinking can sometimes benefit morale which can aide recovery from disease. But this is more of an accidental byproduct rather than a serious method to aide recovery. To best cure disease and injury, it requires a truthful biological and scientific understanding of the human body and microbial life. In other words, a more accurate understanding of reality allows for greater survival. So we were able to survive better once we jettisoned superstitious beliefs in favor of science and biology. Naturalism seeks to explain reality by what is observable and testable, and such methods provide the greatest capability for accurately describing reality.

So contrary to what Dr. Craig argues, I think we have a very sound grounding for believing our senses accurately describe reality, and that naturalism best explains it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It's Christmas Time, So What's An Atheists To Do?


Every year around this time I write something about what the Christmas holiday means to an atheist like me.

When I was a kid I remember the joy of waking up on Christmas morning and opening my presents under the Christmas tree. I loved getting new toys as any kid would. Today as a grown up atheist, I see nothing necessarily wrong with gift giving, or spending time with family during Christmas. Although I don't really celebrate Christmas, an atheist can take part in these social traditions without any violation of their naturalistic beliefs.

One of the bad images atheists have is that we are trying to destroy Christmas and take the fun away for millions of its celebrants. I can fully appreciate this concern. I too am concerned that atheism can be an annoyance for anyone wishing to keep a relatively benign tradition. So I think as atheists we should conduct our preservation of the separation clause carefully. What groups like the American Atheists are doing is trying to prevent any government money and institution from funding or displaying a religious based holiday. So that means, among other things, there should be no nativity scenes on public property. When it comes to Christmas trees, wreaths and holiday lights, it gets a little more fuzzy. Some say that the lights and decorations do not necessarily have a religious meaning to them, and that the Christmas tree itself was a pagan tradition that can be secularized into a "holiday tree". So the question I ask is, do we as atheists really want to eradicate any and all visual displays of holidays, whether they are associated with a currently practiced religion or not, from all public buildings and property?

I'm actually not sure. Imagine a public building displaying Halloween decorations or Thanksgiving day decorations. None of those holidays are associated with a practiced religion today, indeed Thanksgiving was never ever a religious holiday. Would this be OK according to the American Atheists? Just how far should the "wall of separation" between church and state go? If Christmas is a pagan tradition adopted by Christianity as I and many others see it, than can we say that every aspect of Christmas  -  lights, wreaths, trees, candy canes and other visual displays, are all religious in their very nature? Might we allow a city to display on public property, (and paid for with public money) a snowman, some wreaths and a light display without any violation of the first amendment as we might also with a display of a jack o'lantern and scarecrow?

Although I have reserves about the consumerism surrounding Christmas today, I think atheists should trend carefully in the so called "war on Christmas". Officially, groups like the American Atheists are not trying to prevent anyone from celebrating Christmas, they are only trying to make sure that government does not fund or display what they see as religiously based holidays. I pretty much agree with this but I have reserves when it comes some of the holiday decorations commonly associated with Christmas. I do not see a snowman display or wreaths as religious.

Furthermore, just like how Halloween started out as a pagan tradition that was incorporated into Christianity, no one today dons masks and costumes because they actually believe it will scare spirits. The tradition of Halloween remains after the supernatural aspect disappears. Modern Christmas celebration can detach itself from the Christian mythology that it was fused together with, along with the pagan spiritual elements, so that Christmas becomes a holiday solely focusing on family, friends and gift giving. The Christmas mythology need not be suppressed, but rather it should be regarded in the proper domain myths belong to, where they are not in any way based in reality.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Gun Debate: My Thoughts



The recent tragic shooting in Sandy Hook Connecticut has griped the nation in the gun debate in the past few weeks. This is a debate that we seem to be having over and over, every time that there is a senseless mass shooting. Personally, I have been a long term supporter of 2nd amendment rights and have been a member of the NRA for years. I don't always agree with their politics rejecting all regulations of weapons laws, and understand that they are largely today an organization that tries to get republicans reelected.

It seems reasonable and obvious to me that we can preserve an individual's right to bear arms, and also have reasonable laws and regulations that restrict certain people from getting their hands on guns and assault rifles. A starting point would be a requirement that all gun sales require a background check by closing the loophole at gun shows. Additionally, I support regulations banning large capacity magazines and certain military style assault rifles. Newer proposals include ideas where we have smart guns where only the person who owns the gun can fire it with the use of fingerprint recognition technology.

No amount of regulation of weapons is ever going to prevent every massacre, so I think we also need to address the cultural impact surrounding our problem with young men and boys mass killing others.

I was in high school when the Columbine high school shooting tragedy occurred. I remember that the gun debate surfaced in the wake of that event as well, but also a debate on the crisis of masculinity. We live in a country with a culture where if you are a male going through some trouble, you cannot cry, you cannot show emotion or admit that you are troubled or vulnerable, or else, your very manhood itself will be questioned. So we have a culture in America where the only socially acceptable way males can express themselves without having their manhood insulted or questioned, is through violence.

We need a fundamental change in our culture in the way we treat masculinity or else we will continue to see outbursts of violence by males. We need to help foster a culture where is it acceptable for males to seek help and admit that they are dealing with trouble. We must remove this idea that a "real" man is a man who is always right, always on top of his game, and never shows any emotion or vulnerability.

If we can do this combined with some sensible gun laws, then we will begin to see a decrease in the amount of mass shootings and an overall decline in violence committed by males.

Are College Campuses Atheist Factories?

While digging through some old paperwork I discovered some old essays I wrote when I was a freshman in junior college for my philosophy class. Some of these papers I had not read in ten years. It's amazing to read that even back then I was a fervent atheist. In one paper where I was to write a Socratic dialogue, I create a mock trial where I am being accused of being an atheist in a system where it is illegal. I write:

I myself am an Atheist, I don't think religion is evil, I understand it has many good aspects of it, but I just do not have a place for it in my life. Let us say for example I didn't live in this era and place of religious freedom. I probably wouldn't be an Atheist, but lets say I was in a time and place where Atheists faced punishment or even death. I am accused by the authority for not believing in God. My devotion to Atheism is so that I am willing to [face] whatever punishment they have for me, even death.

Wow. This was written on September 30th, 2001, when I was nineteen. Even back then I was devoted to atheism enough to the point where I could imagine myself perhaps dying for it. The following mock trial dialogue that I wrote in the paper contains some interesting justifications I made for my atheism. I write:

Pros [Prosecutor]: So you began to question the very existence of God. Was there a particular moment in your life when you began to question God, such as a traumatic event or was it a gradual process? 
Me: It was a gradual process. I didn't wake up one morning and say "I don't believe in God." I guess as I got older I just didn't except the explanations religion gives you. I mean it's so vague. 
Pros: So you weren't convinced from what you were taught as a child. And I;m assuming you have your own theory and beliefs of how the world was created. What is it that you believe in?
Me: Evolution. 
Pros: Evolution. I see. I've heard of this theory. Something about how we humans, are descendents from Monkeys. 
Me: Yes, and it was the Apes not the Monkeys. 
Pros: And this is what you believe in? You are positively sure that evolution is true. 
Me: From the evidence I have see, yes, and it makes a whole lot more sense to me than religion had.

It's funny how I justify the world's existence through evolution, which not only does it not address the origin of the universe, it doesn't even address the origin of life itself. At nineteen, I wasn't as knowledgeable about the cosmological arguments or any of the other ones which theism uses. That didn't stop me from getting an A on the paper though.

In this introduction to philosophy class, I do remember us students having our beliefs challenged. Most of the students I was with were people who believed in god and I remember that many of the assignments and reading we did on morality were challenging to the idea that morals come from and are grounded in god.

So, when conservatives argue that colleges are really just liberalizing, atheist factories, they do have a mild point. Theistic beliefs and assumptions are going to be challenged in college, as well as long-held stereotypes of different people. College is the time to experience real diversity, and to have your beliefs challenged. Colleges are mostly liberal because it is the liberal point of view that is almost always on the right side of history. Conservatism is almost always on the wrong side of history, and we have plenty of examples of that. Furthermore, liberalism is more inclusive, whereas conservatism is more exclusive. For example, liberals are a lot more accepting of gays, immigrants and people with alternative lifestyles than conservatives are.

Conservatives have their own private colleges where they can spew out their creation "science" nonsense and teach kids that homosexuality is a choice. Fine, but public universities at least should steer clear of those non-scientific and religious based views. With religion aside, a university can still hold onto conservative politics. What we should have is debates with students participating from all points of view. College is suppose to be the time where beliefs are challenged, and if that means that someone with a conservative moral philosophy or someone with a liberal moral philosophy is going to be put in the hot seat where they will have to justify their beliefs, all the better.

Many conservatives do not want to have their student's beliefs challenged. They'd rather live in a box, where they can sometimes impose their beliefs on others without having them challenged back. And liberals are sometimes guilty of the same thing. I've met many liberal atheists over the years who I disagree with quite a lot on morality. One thing I hate to hear atheists say is that there is no such thing as morality, or good or evil, that we are all just products of our culture and families and that morality is all just an opinion. These atheists have to have their beliefs challenged too, as we all do.

So if colleges are the place to have one's orthodox beliefs challenged, does that necessarily lead to a more liberal way of thinking? I would think so. Since many conservative beliefs are religious based, and since many religious based morality has little to no secular justification, this means that morality that is ultimately held up by dogma is unlikely going to be able to withstand a torrent of secular critique. Thus, a conversion to liberalism can take place. If proper critical thinking usually leads to a more liberal or atheistic approach towards morality, then I have no problem with that in our college campuses.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"A Case for Secular Morality" Coming Soon....

You can think of this blog as a kind of record showing my moral growth and progression. Over the last few years that I began really getting into the arguments made for and against religion, I have learned a tremendous amount of knowledge concerning morality. I am developing my own moral philosophy concerning the nature of good and evil, and the source of morality. When it comes to ethics, we all have our own opinion. My goal is to simply offer my beliefs on the matter and have them compete in a free market of ideas where the best system of ethics wins on its own merit and logic.

So, I am beginning to write now a relatively brief and simple to understand paper outlining my moral philosophy, taken from the beliefs that I have already outlined on this blog. It will be called "A Case for Secular Morality" and it will be my attempt to explain as best I can, the precepts and principles of my moral system with regards to my atheism. I hope I can pull of a decent paper. I want to make it easy to read and interesting so that the laymen on morality can make use of it. In my paper I will address some of the objections that I have encountered debating theists who believe that only with god can there exist a complete moral system. Depending on the eventual size of the paper I will either post it on here whole or in sections hopefully over the next month or so.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Does Religion Retard Human Achievement?

It might seem pointless to pose the question of whether religion retards human achievement to atheists since we pretty much already know that it does. So my question is not really to address whether or not religion retards human achievement ( it does), but rather to address whether or not it is possible that religious people can recognize that it does, and understand that it's this retardation that bothers most atheists, free-thinkers and progressives.

Most atheists in the West are humanists. On the American Humanist Association's website, humanism is defined as:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Now humanism is not a default belief given the absence of religion. There are many other alternatives that can compete in a free market of politics, philosophies and ideologies. Humanism must therefore be arrived at through the use of critical thinking with the goal to seek the "greater good of humanity".

When I debate with conservative theists on the epistemology of truth, they all believe that the use of logic, reason and science, are inferior to the "truth" of revelation; meaning, if a supposed revelation gives us a claim to scientific or moral knowledge, even if it seems counter-intuitive, mankind's use of his critical faculties is futile, or in the case of Islam it is forbidden, to try to better explain events or arrive at better truths. So to the conservative theist, revelation must always supersede any amount of knowledge that contradicts it.

One of the most enduring arguments that Christopher Hitchens repeatedly made against religion, was that religion forces us to constrict our critical thinking abilities, - the most important abilities that we have, in favor of unproven dogma believed on faith. This is a retardation of human achievement if there ever was one.

But through all my debating what I have not been able to achieve, is to get any theists to admit this and say something like, "yes religion does hinder critical thinking, and that can slow human achievement, but my religion requires that I belief certain things on faith." If a religious person actually said something like that, perhaps with a difference choice of words but with the same overall message, I think it would be a milestone in the debate between reason and faith.

Instead of an acceptance that religion retards critical thinking, I get a bunch of history lessons thrown at me about Islamic and Christian scientists who made great achievements in math and science. For example, one Muslim debated me this position:

You still keep lying & saying that Islam retards Human-achievement, yet you have absolutely no proof of this. However, there are countless historical & contemporary proofs that the light of Islam has inspired Muslims to excel in the fields of history, science, medicine, mathematics, and the list goes on. In fact, the world-renowned “1,001 Inventions” exhibit, which highlights the technological achievements of Muslims, over the past 14-centuries, as well as the renovated Islamic-Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, thus proves how Islam helped, and even pushed people towards greater understanding of the cosmos, art, mathematics, technology, etc

Now I don't deny that there have been many people who believed in god that have made great achievements for mankind, but I cannot also forget that it was institutionalized religion in Europe and the Middle East, that feared many discoveries these inquisitive minds brought us because it contradicted long held assumptions founded on dogma. So I respond saying:

I fully acknowledge achievements made by Muslims during the golden era. But Islamic thinking (much like how Christianity was centuries ago) began to resent the critical thinking that lead to scientific and philosophical progression. Greek philosophy, which Arabs had preserved, became illegal to copy; the Ash’ari school of thought which still dominates Islamic thinking today, closes off the idea that human reason, science and observation can discover scientific & moral truths, and instead believes only revelation can do so. This is clearly evident in the way you argue. This lead in part to the decline in Islamic science and understanding, and the West, which had less restrictions on reason and logic, passed the world in all areas of achievement. So, if you do not have a free and open system, that allows all ideas to compete in a free market, where the best wins, you will retard human achievement. And Islams does exactly that.

When religion turned against the free pursuit of knowledge, many great minds were jailed, tortured, killed, and burned alive in the religious war against knowledge before, during and after the Middle Ages. Just because a person can be inspired by religion to pursue knowledge, doesn't mean that the religion as a whole supports an open platform for free inquiry if it also held down by unproven dogmas, as all religions have. 

Religious people do not want to publicly acknowledge the fact that religious dogma can hinder the pursuit of truth because they know that by doing so they will be admitting that religion acts like an anchor that prevents growth and thus retards our body of knowledge. That is why atheists like myself are extremely passionate about maintaining a system in which the free pursuit of knowledge, unchained by any dogmatic beliefs, continues to thrive. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Are Religious Liberties The Civil Rights Issue Of Our Day?

In the US today it seems that the playing field between atheists and the religious has turned quite a bit. Atheists organizations like the American Atheists have a public campaign erecting billboards with messages of religious doubt; secular student groups are popping up all over college and high school campuses; blatant violations of the establishment clause are vehemently challenged by those wishing to preserve our secular tradition; and the numbers of people identifying themselves as "religious" continues to drop. It seems by all accounts that those who disbelieve are gaining the upper hand on matters of culture and policy, if they don't already have it.

Given this reality, the religious have been increasingly vocal about their concern that their religious freedom is now jeopardized by a more confident and militarized secularism. Rick Warren, senior pastor at Saddleback Church, recently said that “religious liberty is going to be the civil rights issue of the next decade" in an interview earlier this week. His remarks stem from the increasing secularism of our nation and what he considers government intrusions into religious convictions like the healthcare mandate requiring contraceptives in healthcare plans.

There are people on both sides of the aisle with differing views. Some atheists/secularists think religion still has the power and a privileged status in American culture and politics. While some theists believe that secularists in our country are overstepping the constitution and violating religious liberty with a progressive and godless agenda that is increasingly more powerful. It is hard to say who is right; America is a large country, and a patchwork of different laws and subcultures.

This central issue here is whether religious rights should supersede civil rights. If a religious institution is against homosexuality, does it have the right to discriminate against homosexuals? To those who think it does, I always use the following analogy. Imagine a Mormon who believes black people to be a cursed and inferior race, as traditional Mormonism teaches. Would we allow that person to openly discriminate against black people because of his religious convictions, or would the civil rights of black people take precedence? It seems obvious to me here, that civil rights trump religious conviction. I believe issues of homosexuality are much the same, but other cases are not so clear.

Contraception use is still for some religious institutions and people a matter of controversy, even though studies show that 99% of women in the US between the ages of 15-44 either have used or will use some form of contraception. I was as shocked as anyone else when contraception use became a raging national debate earlier this year. This issue is not so cut and dry. There is a part of me that wants to say that no one should be forced to fund contraceptives or anything on personal convictions, just like no one should force me to fund religious causes. I believe access to contraception is a civil right for women, and I also believe people with religious or personal convictions have the right to be free from being forced to violate their convictions. Now we have a problem.

But if I grant that religious institutions do not have to pay for contraception for their employers, then we are opening the door to many other religious sects refusing to fund anything they don't see as being in-line with their beliefs.

  • Imagine a Quaker who refuses to pay taxes because his tax dollars will fund military drone strikes that kill people, and this violates his convictions of non-violence. Would the government allow him to not pay taxes? I think not. 
  • Would we allow a business owned by Jehovah's Witnesses to not fund in their healthcare program blood transfusions in cases of an emergency to their employees because it violates their beliefs? The very idea seems ludicrous. 
  • Many religions have some bizarre rules that they take as personal convictions. Religious liberty gives you the right to observe these convictions but not impose them on other people. If I take away your funding for something because I oppose it, I will have just imposed my beliefs on you.
When civil rights are pinned up against religious liberty, I side with civil rights because to me, religious liberty is no excuse to be racist, sexist or homophobic. The bottom line is this, we cannot let the claims of religious "liberty" be used as an excuse to discriminate against long fought for civil rights. We have collectively fought too hard to let such achievements slip. But we must also recognize religious liberty for what it is: the freedom individuals have to impose religious convictions on themselves without government interference but not to impose those same things on other people. The first amendment outlines that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof". I do not see how providing contraceptives to those receiving healthcare from religious institutions violates the free exercise of a religion. The "free" exercise thereof, means your religion can be practiced, as long as it doesn't impinge anyone else's freedom. Now you might say "no one is stopping the sale of contraceptives" (well Rick Santorum would if he had his way), but nonetheless, if a necessary civil right exists, religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against it.

One workaround to this dilemma would be if government provided a healthcare alternative to the private insurer and funded contraceptives. Then we wouldn't have to rely on our employers making healthcare choices for their employees. But something tells me that conservative tax payers would be up in arms over the idea that their tax dollars are funding contraception.

To address Rick Warren directly, I can understand how the future may look a bit uncomfortable for conservative religious people. Their beliefs will be increasingly at odds with the culture around them, and this will make them feel like a persecuted minority. They will either adapt or continue to shrink into eventual obscurity as morality progresses towards an ever more accurate description of a fair and just society.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating Homosexuality Part 3

Continuing from part 2 of my dialogue and commentary over homosexuality with a hard line Muslim Gareth Bryant which basically turned into a written debate, we address deeper issues of morality within the Islamic framework. Gareth basically comes to the conclusion that he is in a way forced to take as a fundamentalist Muslim, which is that the Qur'an has the final word on what is right and wrong, and that any critical thinking that can be used to justify better moral alternatives are the result of selfish acts of "ego & desire".

I present to you this debate as an example of how trying to have a rational debate with a fundamentalist Muslim on almost anything is futile, because when it comes down to the detail, they just invoke the Qur'an as the supreme authority on what is right. As atheists, we all know how difficult dealing with fundamentalists of all religions can be. Tactically, we must force them to justify their beliefs using reason and science because we know that on most points of disagreement, whether scientifically or morally, they have no case outside of their religious texts. Even if you never win them over through argument, it is important that it is made apparent to them that their beliefs are not justifiable outside their religious texts and that using those texts to justify their texts is not a valid method in the realm of logic and reason.

The debate stemmed from Gareth's critique of gay-friendly mosques. He doesn't acknowledge that they should even exist since he believes homosexuality is a sin and that it is un-Islamic to name a mosque after a sinful act. What I care about is how he justifies the sin of homosexuality in Islam, but is OK with forcing prepubescent girls into arranged marriages with older men which Islam condones. He never makes a rational argument to support his position even after many attempts by me to squeeze one out. Please enjoy this insight into the mind of a fundamentalist Muslim.

ME:

Islam is probably the last bastion of absolute intolerance towards homosexuals. It is because Islam has not gone through an enlightenment period. It probably will eventually as Western influence and modernity forces it to. Tariq Ramadan has voiced a slightly more modern view a Muslim could have towards homosexuality that I personally think is a step in the right direction, but not quite there yet. He says although you might not personally agree with the homosexual lifestyle, it can be acknowledged that people have the right to freedom, and privacy, and to live their lives differently than what Islam says is true. But if Muslims think that homosexuality is a choice, and think they can cure it somehow with Islamic philosophy, their efforts will be a waste of time and hopelessly futile and instead should best be used towards alleviating the poverty and suffering, that of course you believe allah willed for, created and designed.

GB:

Firstly, Homosexuality is, just like any other sin that people choose to do, a choice. I know people personally, whom have become Muslims, and they were Homosexuals, before they became Muslims. And, they have admitted, publicly, that Homosexuality is a choice & sin.

ME:

What kind of evidence is that for anything? Anecdotal evidence is not science, it is about as scientific as revelation. I can just as easily say I know someone who heard the voice of an angel named Maroni telling him that Mormonism is the one true faith. Would that make Mormonism true? Your friend could be bisexual, in which case they can be both gay ad straight at the same time, or they could’ve been faking their homosexuality, or are faking their heterosexuality now. They’d have to be hooked up to a machine that measures whether they get aroused or not when exposed to homosexual imagery. Saying they are “straight” means nothing, anyone can lie about anything. Religious people like you base far too many “facts” on what a few people say.

GB:

You claim that Homosexuality is normal & natural. Now, if this were true, then: one, how do you explain the fact that there is no such thing as a “Gay-Gene”; two, how do you explain a straight man, in prison, who gets raped, and because of whatever reason (most probably pressure from fellow-inmates or shame), decides to be Homosexual. Are you saying that all of these men, whom have succumb to rape were all Homosexual from the very start, they just needed to get raped, in order to activate their Homosexual nature that was hiding inside of them, dormantly?

Or, better yet, how about a young person, regardless of being male or female, whom was sexually-molested as a child; are you saying that they were really Homosexual, all along, but just needed to be sexually-molested, in order to activate their Homosexuality?

To really believe this would be utterly retarded.

ME:

To believe you would be utterly retarded. Most homosexuals were neither raped, nor molested, so this victimization does not activate homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a button that can get turned on like a light switch.

How do you explain unabused young children, growing up in conservative religious heterosexual families and environments, who exhibit behavior like the opposite gender, and soon thereafter feel same sex attractions?

How do you explain hermaphrodites? It seems obvious that our gender and sexuality is due to a complex variety of hereditary and hormonal factors, that can result in the existence of all kinds of sexualities. But of course your close minded ignorant religious world view will never allow you to see that because anything that contradicts your Koran you think must be a lie.

GB:

Being a Hermaphrodite has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s inherent sexuality. Sexuality is not genetic, we don’t inherit our senses of sexual-self from a gene-pool, there’s no such thing as a sexuality-gene; sexuality is something that is largely influenced by external-environment; and, generally, people are in fact products of their environments. No person just wakes up one day, and say, “You no what, I wanna be a Homosexual, one day.”, real-life don’t work that way. And, if what you’ve mentioned about how people’s sexuality are affected by “chemical-imbalances” or “hormonal-factors”, then, why is it that a man could live out his entire life as a Heterosexual, then, get locked-up, raped, eventually conforming to a Homosexual-lifestyle, as a result of being pressured to do so? Are you saying that this person was indeed suffering from a “chemical-imbalance”, all along, or was hiding his sexuality from his very self? Explain that!!!

And, also, referring to your claim of “existence of all kinds of sexualities”, the only Islamically valid sexuality is Heterosexuality, really simple. This is the only Islamically permitted sexual-lifestyle, and anything/everything else, contrary to Heterosexuality is a sin, just like any other sin, that has been established as such, in both the Qur’an & Prophetic-Tradition.

ME:

I don’t know of any men who became gay after years in prison. If that would be true, why isn’t every guy who spends years in prison gay? According to your theory that would happen. Instead, men who get out of prison, go crazy over women and getting vagina is often the first thing on their menu. So your false belief is not true.

If a hermaphrodite can exist, and they do, this explains that nature can sometimes make a host of different models besides the standard hetero male/female combination. People can be born feeling like they are the opposite gender, while not having two sets of genitals. These people might have a sex change or not, they might be gay or not, but they don’t choose their sexual identity, it is in their nature.

If you still maintain sexuality is “influenced by external-environment” you still haven’t explained the 7 scientific points I gave you indicating physiological factors in sexual identity and you have not explained why almost all homosexual people come from heterosexual families often in conservative environments where no one influenced them to be gay at an early age, and they exhibit their sexual behavior at a very young early age (i.e. acting like the opposite gender).

*****
So Islam forbids consenting adult homosexuality, but it allows slavery, and forcing underage girls into marriages with 30,40 or 50 year old men. Wow some moral standard that is. Please justify this Mr. Islamic scholar. I love a good challenge.

GB:

1. To answer your question about slavery, yes, Islam allows slavery, but, at the same time, Islam does not condone taking someone whom is born as a free person & placing them into a state of slavery, unless they are military-captives of war.(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.8, Surah al-Anfal/Spoils of War/Conquest)

2. Regarding the marriages of women, at teenage-years, yes, Islam allows anyone, after they’ve reached the age of puberty, to marry. This is because manhood & womanhood, Islamically, is determined at the age of puberty, which could be at any age for a Human being, from 8-16 years of age.(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.4, V.6 & Chpt.24, V.33)

ME:

Gareth you are telling lies. Islam allows men to marry girls who have not reached puberty yet.

Behold [Qur'an 65:4]

“And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women – if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated”.

From WikiIslam:
Since this is not negated later, we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl. The Qur’an is not like the books of jurisprudence which mention what the implications of things are, even if they are prohibited.

This verse is talking about the proper ways Muslims can divorce their wives, whether they have had their periods or not. C’mon Gareth you know you can’t get away with lies in the information age.

Now how do you justify prepubescent girls who are married? How could they consent to such an act at an early age? And if this is somehow OK in your world view, how is this *more* moral than slavery and consenting homosexual adults? I seriously cannot understand the Islamic view on morality. A Saudi Arabian friend of mine who is an ex-Muslim told me that Islamic “morality” is insanity and from an insane mind (Mohammad) and I totally agree. Please prove me wrong.

GB:

The easiest way to prove you wrong is the following:

One, you don’t have any knowledge of classic Islamic-texts, according to authentic commentaries.

Two, you don’t have any knowledge of these things, according to the Arabic-Language.

Fortunately, I do. This verse, regarding how a man can divorce a woman, Islamically, is exclusively referring to women whom have experienced menopause, as well as women whom are currently pregnant. As for women whom have reached menopause, or even presumed as reaching menopause, this particular verse is stating that regardless to whether they’ve truly reached the biological-state of menopause, they (man and wife) are to stay in a period of `Iddah/Separation, for three menstrual-cycles (basically, 3-months), in oreder to do two things: one, to reconcile any differences & try to salvage the marriage; two, to find out whether the wife in-question is pregnant, because, Islamically, you cannot divorce a woman while they are pregnant, unless they have a miscarriage, or have already given birth. And, this is clearly indicated in the later section of the verse, where it is clearly stated that to divorce a pregnant-woman, one has to wait until that woman gives birth to the child (i.e. the regular `Iddah, instead of only being 3-months, is now extend to however long the woman ramains pregnant, unless she has a miscarriage or gives birth).

Also, this verse is not at all referring to women whom are prepubescent, it’s referring to women whom are not currently menstruating. I don’t know how the Hell you got that from this verse; there’s absolutely nothing which indicates that, neither from the actual text, nor from any of the authentic commentaries. And, for the record, WikiIslam is not at all any sort of religious-authority, over any religion, so, to quote this site, which randomly picks translations of Islamic-texts, without knowing any nuances of texts, nor of any authentic commentaries, nor of the linguistic-dynamics of the Arabic-Language, is very unfairly biased, it it’s purposely done on your part, to push your agenda against Islam.

If you wanna learn about any religion, out of Universal-Respect, learn it from thos whom are actually ascribers to that particular religion. And, ex-members of that particular religion don’t count as religious-authorities either, by virtue of the fact that they will never be objective enough to comment on the respective religion that they’ve abandoned.

Moreover, you’ve mentioned how is prepubescent-girls allowed to get married, then, it’s very simple:

The consummation of the marriage is not allowed to take place, until/unless the prepubescent person in-question reaches puberty. The proof of this is in the Prophetic-Tradition of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), when he married our mother,`A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her), at the age of 6, and the marriage was not consummated until she had reached 9, because it was confirmed that she had reached puberty at age 9.(al-Bukhari) Then, we have the fact that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was, in deed, a Prophet. Now, as a Prophet, he along with any & all Prophets before him (Peace be upon them all-together), had been given a special type of protection, directly from Allah, from committing any type of sexual-offenses, because if any Prophet would’ve committed any sexual-offenses, even before they became Prophets, their missions would’ve been compromised. No one would take them seriously, as Prophets, had they committed any sexual-offenses during their lifetimes, even prior to Prophethood.

Furthermore, all of the religious-actions of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), along with the religious-actions of all the Prophets (Peace be upon them all-together), were exclusive, direct, commands from Allah, they had no choice. So, when it comes to marriage, Muhammad didn’t have a choice as to whom he was to either marry or divorce, as Allah clearly states, in His book.(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.53, V.2-4 & Chpt.33, V.37) By the way, Muhammad was not the first and/or only Prophet whom had been slandered, accused of a sexual-offense: There was Lot (Peace be upon him), accused of committing incest with one of his daughters(Genesis), as well as David (Peace be upon him), accused of sending a man to the battlefield, to die, so he could have the man’s wife, and he’s even accused of getting this woman pregnant, before he married her, after her previous husband had died.(Samuel 1 & 2)

ME:

Well you admit that prepubescent girls can be married to men, which is pretty much against their will since they are too young to consent. When is the freedom and dignity of the underage girl ever considered? It is my belief that Islam is a religion where there are many “morals” that lead to unnecessary harm to those affected by them.

If you believe that morality can be commanded solely by god, regardless of whether that commandment’s actions will unnecessarily hurt people affected by it, then you have no moral standards. You are only blindly following the words of a man who lived 1400 years ago. You are not even willing to consider if there are better alternatives that produce less harm to those involved. Example: slavery.

You keep coming to the point where you have to say “the Koran says so” and then you seem to stop thinking about it. I’m asking you to use your own words to justify this morality of allowing prepubescent girls to marry, and tell me why this is better for overall human well being when compared to adult consenting homosexuals. I just do not understand how one can be rationalized to be worse than the other.

Furthermore, since there isn’t a single line in the Koran forbidding the marriage of prepubescent girls, it is allowed. Mohammad could’ve adopted Aisha, instead he committed what today would be pedophilia.

GB:

1. Yes, that’s exactly the point: Allah, alone has the right to determine what is moral & what is immoral, because He is the Creator & Lord of everything. And, by virtue of this, He & He alone knows what best for us, when we don’t even know what is best for ourselves.

2. The marital-consummation between `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) & Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was not Child-Molestation, because the Islamic definition of Child-Molestation means to have sexual-contact with someone whom has not reached Puberty. As long as a person has actually reached Puberty, Islamically, it cannot be considered Child-Molestation.

3. Child-Molestation is relative to societal-norms, and political-agendas. Even in the United States, previous to the 20th century, the average female was married before she reached 18; yet know, marrying someone under the age of 18 is considered “Pedophilia”, or “Stachatory-Rape”. You get my point? This modern concept of “Pedophilia” is very biased, socio-politically.

4. Now, referring to the actual marriage of `Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) to Muhammad (Peace be upon him), this was a known practice, not only in Arab-culture, but in other cultures, around the world, during this particular time. And, even the Pagan-Arabs, who hated Muhammad, and tried innumerable times to thwart the progress of his prophetic-mission, had never accused him of committing any such sexual-offenses, because during the lifetime of Muhammad, these types of sexual-offenses were in fact committed, having sexual-contact with persons under the age of puberty; but, Muhammad, himself, was never personally accused of this, because he never did it, even before Prophethood. As a matter of fact, the first woman that he was ever married to was 25 years older than he was, 15 years before he became a Prophet, and they were married for a total number of 25 years, before he had even married anyone else.(al-Bukhari, ar-Rahiq-ul-Makhtum/The Sealed-Nectar, Safiyy-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri)

ME:

Then you would have to believe that the abolishment of slavery that every country has adopted, is wrong, because it oversteps allah’s morals for us. Instead, all nations should have just regulated their practices of slavery in order to conform it to Islam. Do you honestly think we should reverse our laws on slavery to conform to Islam?

Since you think mankind cannot even think for himself and even attempt such a thing as a moral philosophy, most of our laws according to you are wrong. The failure of Islam in the long run will be probably on this issue: Islam forces its believers to believe morals that are only justified “because the Koran says so.” Meaning the Muslim has no other justification, and the more educated and critically thinking the world becomes, the less and less they will adopt the Islamic way of thinking.

Which brings me to the pedophilia issue. You are criticizing the West for raising the age in which a person can legally marry, because we have determined that being 6 or 9 years old is too young. If you are going to make the case to justify any moral, do you honestly think that saying “because the Koran says so” is a valid conclusion and equal or better to using reason?

GB:

Referring to the abolition of slavery, this is actually a noteworthy action, Islamically, even to the extent that if slavery is abolished in a place it is Islamically prohibited to re-establish slavery ever again thereafter.

Referring to your claim that I think that Mankind cannot think is simply foolish, because, in the Qur’an, itself, there are countless references to both intellect/intelligence & learning/knowledge. So, you’re dead-wrong on that one.

Refering to the raising of the age of marriage, this is one of many proofs of how Allah has supreme entitlement to tell us how to function in the Mundane, and that we, by ourselves, don’t know what we’re doing, when it comes to governing ourselves, based upon Human-Logic, outside of the regulation of divine-revelation.

And, I say this, because, whenever the mood for Humans to just change laws, to either suit their egos, desires, etc., or to suit socio-political agendas, they will just change whatever they want, just to suit the time, not because it’s even better for Mankind, but, for the soothing of ego & desire.

ME:

I cannot understand your belief in thinking that the arranged marriage of prepubescent girls, and slavery are morally good, when compared to consenting adult homosexuality. Please outline a rational argument for this that does not appeal to scripture. If you cannot make this case, then you admittedly only believe so because it is in the Koran.

Allah could’ve said consenting homosexuality is right and you would think so to. How ignorant is it to accept something is right or wrong without thinking critically about it. The problem here you must admit, is that Islam stops critical thinking and the logical conclusions it can lead to. That is no religion I want to be a part of, never ever ever, and it is a good thing that anti-critical thinking people like you seem to be declining in numbers.

If we can’t think critically, which is one of our most important gifts as human beings, than Islam hinders the full potential of the human mind.

GB:

The problem with you, and all people like you, is that you’re so incredibly arrogant, that you would rather follow your whimsical ego/desires, rather than to admit & submit to the fact that there is someone whom exists, whom is greater than you are. The only reason that you’re even an atheist has nothing to do with you not believing in a divine-creator, but the fact that you don’t want to have anyone dictate to you how to function within the Mundane. Your ego/desires are your gods, and you’d rather worship those things, as opposed to the one who created them for you.

In fact, there’s really no such thing as a true atheist, because at the end of the day, everyone worships someone or something, whether they worship Allah, the true, divine, creator of the Universe, a false-god, themselves, via their own egos/desires, etc. It’s just like Allah says that a person takes their desires as their gods, and, you, as well as people like you (Daayiee Abdullah included) fit this description, that Allah gives, in the Qur’an itself, perfectly.

ME:

You are the most arrogant Muslim I’ve encountered in quite a while. You don’t know me, and you have no justification saying I’m a fake atheist.

What I did notice is that you did not even attempt to justify why slavery and forced prepubescent marriage is good, while consenting homosexuality is wrong. You have no argument, other than to say that a book containing the ideas of an epileptic and illiterate cave dweller says so. Wow. What a great method of critical thinking for mankind.

If secular humanists like myself want to *raise* the age of consent, and agree with the abolishment slavery (unlike you), how could we be acting in our selfish ego and desires? If we were, we would drop the age of consent to 0 so that we could have sex with children. You make no sense even on your own ignorance. It is your religion that forbids raising age of consent – that feeds the ego of men who like to rape children within the confines of “marriage”. Furthermore why would we forbid polygamy? According to you, all our laws should cut restrictions, not impose them.

The idea that we cannot use our intellect – our greatest ability – to solve problems and come up with solutions based on reason and evidence, means as I’ve said before and as you’ve confirmed, that Islam is a religion that retards humanity.

You are proud of not using your mind to think about anything. This is because you know in your heart that Islam’s rules lead to unnecessary harm, and are not at all based on critical thinking, but one man’s ramblings. The more educated people are, the less likely they will subscribe to your way of thinking, because it is obvious from your ramblings that you are not even trying to have a serious, rational and scientific discussion on these issues.

GB:

1. Explain how am I arrogant…Did I push a button, when I mentioned that everyone worships someone and/or something? Did that cause a dent to your ego or something? You’re getting real antsy about that, I wonder why. It’s simple…your souls knows that I’m telling the truth, but, you’ve allowed your ego & desire to control you, as opposed to the other way around.

2. Allah, as I’ve continually mentioned, makes the rules, so that’s that. Whatever He wants us to do and/or not to do is just what it is. And, it is He alone, who has the divine-option to tell us what to do/how to do, as well as what not to do/how not to do, period.

3. Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was not an Epileptic. He was, however, illiterate, which is actually one of the standard proofs that the Qur’an is purely revelation from Allah, and not an invention of any created-thing, especially not from an illiterate man from the desert of the Arabian-Peninsula, whom received no formal-education.(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.7, V.757 & 158)

4. Allah commands, and encourages us to use our minds, to observe the wonders of the Universe, and all creation which is within our limited-scopes.(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.3, V.190; Chpt.86, V.5-7; Chpt.88, V.17-20) So, your insidious claims that Islam retards Humanity are just venomous lies.

ME:

My ego dented? Please. You haven’t even tried to make a case based on reason and science why you think you are right about homosexuality being worse than slavery and the forced marriage/rape of underage girls to older men as your religion condones.

The only thing you have said is that your religious text says so – “so that’s that”. Using the Koran to justify the Koran is as stupid as using the book of Mormon to justify the book of Mormon. You have to use evidence from outside this limited scope. If you can’t, it demonstrates the weakness of your position, but you already know that.

So what has our dialogue established:

1. Islamic “morality” does not seek to prevent unnecessary harm to humans as best it can.

2. Many Islamic morals cannot be adequately justified using science, logic and reason.

3. Islam considers the use of critical thinking when it is used to find better, and less harmful moral alternatives to be full of “ego & desire” and therefore “harem”.

4. Therefore, our critical thinking faculties, which is what separates us from all other animals, is at least in part, retarded by Islamic dogma.

5. It is pointless to continue having a debate with someone who is so blinded by dogma, that he refuses to acknowledge that his way of thinking (1) leads to unnecessary harm, and (2) is not rationally justified and therefore is unqualified within the realm of logic and reason.

All these reasons stacked up are the reasons why the future of Islam is not like you, rather it is the more liberal and moderate Muslim who will represent the face of Islam. We all hope your kind disappears as soon as possible – and the trend appears that way. Soon your kind will be like the republican party – on the verge of extinction.

THE END

Conclusion

If I could I would have debated him on every point he made, but within the confines of such limited space, I had to stick to the main argument and steer clear from going off on tangents. I think in my last response I pretty much summarized the debate adequately: Islamic morality is irrational and hinders critical thinking. Not that I didn't know that already, I just wanted to see if Gareth was going to try to make an attempt at a rational justification of his morals. And also, I enjoy rubbing it in his face.

I surely do hope that fundamentalists like him become less and less influential and that Islam has an enlightenment and modernizes with the rest of the world. It is too naive to think that there will be a mass outbreak of atheism in Muslim majority countries anytime in the near future so the best we can hope for is moderation and the adoption of secularism. Therefore, it is critical that we engage in debate and dialogue and constantly force the fundamentalist to recognize their own irrationality. That will help move significant numbers of fundamentalists into moderation and we will then live in a more rational world.

Monday, December 10, 2012

How To Talk To A Muslim: Debating Homosexuality Part 2

Some theists today take the position that religious "holy" books are not meant to be books of science, even while they all do indeed make factual claims. Nevertheless, you can interpret many of these claims as symbolic parables. With Islam you generally get a more strict interpretation of the stories with in the Qur'an and this makes talking to Muslims a bit more difficult. Being that I live for debate and challenge when I come across a theist I feel is uttering nonsense, I call them out on it. One Muslim named Gareth Bryant wrote about how he thinks Western culture is turning people gay. He insists that homosexuality is a choice, and that it can be "activated" like a button from a situation like going to prison, or being taught that it is OK. His Islamic view point forces him to believe homosexuality is a choice, because if it is biological than this brings up some serious theological issues for him. He offers only personal anecdotes and one-off examples of bisexual celebrities showing their ability to switch their sexuality from hetero to homo as proof that homosexuality is a choice, and he even plays up the term "sexual preference" saying that it denotes a preference - as in preferring vanilla or chocolate.

So I challenge him on several points and even offer 7 physiological findings that show differences in gay people from the general population. He offers nothing in response as a rebuttal and from this it is obvious that his position is not scientifically based, but instead based on his own close minded ignorant religious world view. Now he doesn't represent all Muslims, and on his blog there were many Muslims who voiced opposition to his views. He does however offer a very typical conservative hard line Islamic approach to various issues on sexuality that a growing number of Muslims are moving away from.

Below is our dialog going back and forth on the issue of whether homosexuality is a choice taken from the comments section of his blog post about "Princess-Boy", a boy who's fond of wearing girl's clothing who Gareth thinks is a “Homo-In-Training”.

ME:

It could be possible that this boy has gender identity issues. There are people born who identify with another gender, and it has nothing to do with the “Devil”, it is simply just a product of hormonal/chemical imbalances and issues with DNA, just like hermaphrodites are. I don’t know of this case but as long as the child is not forced or pressured into behaving how he is, there is no problem here. Your narrow minded Islamic world view forces you to look at everything being black and white, but our world is much more complicated than that. Human sexuality comes in a variety of shades.

You seem to think that all gay people are straight and then one day wake up and decide to be gay. Where is your scientific evidence of that? You know there are bisexual people who can identify as more straight or more gay, and can go both ways. That doesn't mean being gay is a choice. How could a straight man, make his penis get hard for other men when it doesn't do so naturally?

It is comforting to know that ignorant people like you are a shrinking and disappearing minority in this country, and eventually you will be a tiny fringe group of extremists complaining to each other why the world doesn't think like you. And the reason why is because you base knowledge on a book from the 7th century while ignoring much of modern science and blasphemy.

GB:

Well, since you’re an atheist, I’m going to move right past responding to this previous comment of yours, because, the fact that you can deny the existence of a divine-creator, yet believe that Homosexuality is something scientifically/biologically natural is more serious than the current topic-at-hand.

Firstly, I've never viewed anything as “black & white” as you’ve so foolishly presumed. I’ve simply viewed this particular topic based upon right & wrong, thus dictated by Allah, the Lord of the Universe, because it is He who decides what’s right & what’s wrong, what’s pure & what’s filth. And, since Allah is responsible for everything which exists, then, yeah…I’m of the position that He has the right to tell us what to do/not to do, how to live/how not to live.

Furthermore, chemical-imbalances have absolutely nothing to do with gender, because of the term, itself, “sexual-preference” anything that we inherit, biologically, is outside of our control. But, whom we are attracted to is within our control.

And, one of the even secular proofs of this are the following: Cynthia Nixon, one of the popular character-actresses from the SexAndTheCity franchise, not too long ago, recently announced that she was no longer a Homosexual, that she no longer lives that lifestyle; she spoke out concerning her choice to be a Homosexual, and this caught monumental media-attention. In fact, to the extent that, the LGBT lobby blasted her, and tried to pressure her not to say that “being ‘Gay’ is a ‘choice’.”, and, obviously, the reason why they would try to place pressure upon one of the most famous actresses in the world, right now, from taking a position like that, is simply because it completely shoots down their falsified-propagation that Homosexuality is something biologically-natural. And, that fact that she’s a very popular celebrity, people are going to be prone to take he very seriously, regarding this issue, based upon her personal-experience with being a former Homosexual.

ME:

So you are sticking with the theory that all gay people are pretending to be gay. I just don’t see how that makes sense. How can heterosexual men and women, deny their attraction to the opposite gender, and instead only have sex with the same gender? It makes no sense. Furthermore, as I mentioned there are people who are bisexual who can self-identify as straight or gay when they like. There are people who are truly gay who are only attracted to the same sex. Bisexual people give the impression that sexuality is so fluid and can change at any moment, but most people are all about either the opposite sex or the same sex.

Me personally, I am a heterosexual male, I am aroused by women only, but a particular kind of woman. I’m attracted to fair skinned women almost exclusively, and I cannot get physically aroused by dark skinned women. I can’t say that is a “preference” because I didn’t choose to be attracted to the kind of women that I am, it’s more of an orientation. Preference means that I can simply choose what I like, but I have trouble getting aroused by dark skinned women, so it’s not my choice, it is the way my body sexually responds. That’s not my “preference”. It’s just like how if I cannot digest milk because I’m lactose intolerant, not drinking milk would not be my preference, it would be cause[d] by my nature.

Gay people are much the same way, they cannot get aroused by the opposite gender, and they did not choose to be this way. The term “preference” is inaccurate and made by people who didn’t know what they were talking about. Don’t assume someone else’s term means it is accurate, it is a misnomer. Just like how we call koala bears, as bears, even though they are not bears. Sexual orientation is the more appropriate term.

This should be good news to you, because it means you can’t make someone gay. So there won’t be a recruited gay army created to take over the world. Relax.

GB:

I’m sticking to my general-position, yes. But, you’ve mentioned something that’s very ironically interesting, I’m attracted to fair skinned women almost exclusively, and I cannot get physically aroused by dark skinned women. I can’t say that is a “preference” because I didn’t choose to be attracted to the kind of women that I am, it’s more of an orientation.”. When I had read this, the very 1st-thing that popped into my mind was self-hate. I’m gonna take a fair assumption that you’re Afro-American, like myself, or at least a person of relative, general, Afro-descent. Now, based upon my assumption, assuming that I’m even correct, concerning your ethnicity, Afro-Americans & peoples of general Afro-descent have been generationally, systematically, indoctrinate with a pathological “self-hate complex”. In other words, we’ve been taught to hate everything about ourselves, ethnically. Even on the African-Continent, itself, you have people who bleach their skin, because they’ve been so negatively affected by the onslaught of self-hate indoctrination, that they are ungrateful for Allah creating them as Africans, and they want to be just like the same people whom are responsible for all of their hardships & oppression, the European colonialists, whom have been exploiting the African-Continent, for the past 1/2-millennium, even in the Caribbean, skin-bleaching is very common among peoples of Afro-descent, it’s called “Browning” in the Caribbean. Even a popular Reggae star, Vybz Kartel, recently bleached his own skin, for the same writing-on-the-wall, silver-lining reasons why you “cannot get physically aroused by dark skinned women”. There’s also the so-called “Kinky” or “Knappy” hair complex, where Black people, particulalry & especially Black women, are indoctrinated to change the natural way that Allah has created their hair, in order to make their hair appear more Euro, just like how their former physical & current psychological oppressors hair looks-Even the wife of the current U.S. President, Michelle Robinson, has been affected by this, she still straightens & processes her hair, just like every other Black woman with a deep-rooted, ethnic, inferiority-complex.

ME:


You got it all wrong, I’m white. What is your scientific evidence that sexuality is a choice? I mean, how do you explain young children showing signs of acting like the opposite gender, when they are raised in families and cultures that do not promote that activity? How could this “act” of acting like the opposite gender be carried out, throughout a person’s entire life, if it is faked? These people would deserve Oscars for their performance. Furthermore, why would anyone want to fake this anyway, if they are just pretending? To make a point? To rebel? There are much easier ways to rebel than having sex with the same gender and acting like the opposite gender.

How do you explain the physiological findings on gay people that can’t be faked:

1. The average size of the INAH-3 in the brains of gay men is approximately the same size as INAH 3 in women, which is significantly smaller, and the cells more densely packed, than in heterosexual men’s brains.

2. Gay men’s brains respond differently to fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.

3. The amygdala, a region of the brain, is more active in gay men than non-gay men when exposed to sexually arousing material

4. Finger length ratios between the index and ring fingers may be different between non-gay and lesbian women.

5. Gay men and lesbians are significantly more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than non-gay men and women; Simon LeVay argues that because “[h]and preference is observable before birth… [t]he observation of increased non-right-handness in gay people is therefore consistent with the idea that sexual orientation is influenced by prenatal processes,” perhaps heredity.

6. A study of 50 gay men found 23% had counterclockwise hair whorl, as opposed to 8% in the general population. This may correlate with left-handedness.

7. Gay men have increased ridge density in the fingerprints on their left thumbs and pinkies.

If you are a smart individual and want to back up your arguments you will be up to the challenge of finding scientific evidence to contradict what I just told you. One-off stories of Cynthia Nixon saying she likes men and then women, mean nothing. She’s bisexual, which means she can like both. She also is now married to a female partner. Even if one person can fake being gay or straight and switch around, it means nothing to the big picture. Would the finding of a faked Koran alone discredit the Islam? No. It would just be a one-off hoax perpetrated by someone. I know you are smarter than that.

If you like making large claims, back them up by large evidence, otherwise admit your position is based on faith.

THE END

Conclusion

Part of the fun with theists is getting to debate and throw facts into their faces. Theists can either deny scientific facts altogether that contradict their faith, or they can try to retro-engineer them onto their religion in an attempt to make it make sense. The Islamic faith requires that you disregard facts, evidence and critical thinking and believe a dogma, even if that may lead to more harm being done. For example, on another blog post Gareth and I debated the morality of consenting adult homosexuality when compared with allowing 6 year old girls to be forced into arranged marriages. Because of his strict adherence to the word of the Qur'an, he is forced to believe that homosexuality is the worst behavior of the two with no moral or scientific justification of his view.

He tries to justify this view by saying "Allah, alone has the right to determine what is moral & what is immoral, because He is the Creator & Lord of everything. And, by virtue of this, He & He alone knows what best for us, when we don’t even know what is best for ourselves." So he expects that allah knows best, like father knows best, and that we have to accept whatever father says, even if critically thinking about the consequences of these actions determines they are unnecessarily harmful. Later I respond by saying what only seems apparent given this train of thought, "Islam stops critical thinking and the logical conclusions it can lead to. That is no religion I want to be a part of, never ever ever, and it is a good thing that anti-critical thinking people like you seem to be declining in numbers. If we can’t think critically, which is one of our most important gifts as human beings, than Islam hinders the full potential of the human mind."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The "War" On Christmas?

It is once again the holiday season. Oh sorry, I meant to say it's "Christmas" season. Damn my political correctness and those godless liberals for making me fall in line with their war on Christmas! Ha ha, just kidding. Even though I am a pretty staunch atheist, I was raised in a cultural Christian setting. We celebrated Easter and Christmas although I was never really taught their religious significance. Today as an adult, I really don't celebrate any holidays to be honest with you and it kind of sickens me how Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween have now become month long celebrations. My uncle told me that decades ago Christmas season used to start a week or so before Christmas, and now it starts at midnight on Thanksgiving day.

When it comes to Christmas today I see it for what it is: a pagan tradition incorporated into Christianity that evolved into a celebration of unfettered capitalistic materialism. Yes I am against the nativity scenes on public property; they belong on private land and paid for by private individuals. The so called war on Christmas is really just secularists repealing the violations of the first amendment when countless state and local governments created religious displays with tax payer money. Christmas time for generations has really been the war on secularism. But what I really think is an interesting note on the "Christmas" holiday, is how capitalistic it is and how that is really what drives the continuation of the holiday. What I think some people fear about secularism pushing back the religious displays is that it might lead to a time when Christmas is not celebrated and this would ultimately hurt the economy. In other words people care only about the bottom line.

Today in the US I can pretty much say anything I want criticizing religion, but what really is blasphemy today, is any critique of capitalistic materialism. Telling people that they really don't need to buy all the things they want, and that they should buy mostly what they need, or focus on non-material things, is the equivalent today of what doubting the existence of god was two or three hundred years ago. You will be branded a heretic if you even imply to Americans that materialism has gone too far. Now I understand consumption drives the economy, and that any curtailing of this will slow and hurt the economy and stock market. What I really want is the world to wake up and realize that our economy based on the consumption of goods made from finite resources that adds pollution to the world and that will eventually end up, in part, as unrecyclable waste, cannot last forever and is leading us to our downfall.

I don't celebrate Christmas because of this. I refuse to be a part of the machine that drives mankind into oblivion. When we have an economy that is based on the sale and purchase of fully recyclable goods made with fully renewable clean energy, then I will reconsider. But that day is many decades away at least. So with secularists working hard to keep religion out of government this time of the year, my war on Christmas is really a war on the type of capitalism we have today. We are still using a 20th century system to supply a 21st century demand of consumer goods. It is about time that business leaders realize this and put this concern ahead of their short term goals.

David Hume On Religion

No one, I am confident will mistake my intentions. No one has a deeper sense of religion or pays more profound admiration to the supreme being.
                                                                                                                     -David Hume

I am an atheist who probably spends more time thinking about god and religion than most theists do. Studies show that atheists generally know more about religion than those who are or claim to be religious. It seems important to me, and in a way an obligation, that I know about religion and theism before I disbelieve in them, or else I should be committing the same ignorance as the person who disbelieves evolution without knowing anything about it. The skeptic therefore often thinks of god in the deepest and most thoughtful ways as Scottish philosopher David Hume said above, because it is usually him or her that treats god as an adult.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Burden Of A Thinking Mind: Some Thoughts On Existential Nihilism

Because I think. Because I think. I can't stop thinking. I am plagued by my consciousness, by my inquiring mind, to pursue the answers that I seek to find. Perhaps I have the philosopher's mind. Why do I overburden myself with so much thought? I would be so much better off in many regards if I could accept the blissfulness of ignorance. But I am so made that I cannot be. 

Recently I was thinking about existential nihilism, the philosophical doctrine that life ultimately has no objective purpose or meaning, and I was wondering whether atheism dooms all its adherents to it. The apparent pessimism of nihilism is often used by theists as an emotional argument against atheism. So the question is, under atheism, is there no objective meaning and purpose to life and are we all doomed to nothingness?

Taking this question head on, I would say yes, the atheist does believe that all life will ultimately end as it seems likely that the universe itself will end at some point in the future, albeit trillions of years from now. Scientists says the Earth will perish when our Sun runs out of fuel to support its nuclear fusion and explodes in about 5 billion years. All life on Earth will have ended by this time, unless there exists a species of life evolved enough that can escape Earth permanently. And under atheism, when we die as individuals, our physical matter decays and our consciousness is forever extinguished. We will have ceased to exist. So in short, yes atheists are nihilists.

Contemplating this idea gives many theists problems pertaining to the need for objectivity in purpose and meaning. Let me address these points for a moment.

Objective Meaning and Purpose

First, as an atheist I do not believe in an objective purpose for life (if by objective you mean a purpose given by any intelligence, supernatural or not, that exists outside of the natural processes of the origin of life and its evolution). Life is an extreme expression of matter, it is a by-product that the laws of physics allow to exist. The purpose of the universe is not to permit life, and certainly not human life, because there is no purpose to the universe. Mankind is nature becoming conscious of itself and it is our consciousness that forces us to search for meaning. Once mankind evolved the consciousness, he became plagued with the unquenchable search for meaning to justify his seemingly unexplainable existence. Religion to the atheist, is just mankind's attempt to create meaning for himself because that answered his curious mind.

In the absence of modern science, which much better explains the causal processes resulting in our existence, ancient humans fabricated thousands of origins stories used to explain that which could not be explained. We are lucky to be living at a time when we do have a pretty clear picture of how most of our world came to be. I came to the conclusion that life has no objective purpose or meaning in light of our acquired knowledge of reality. To find meaning or purpose in life, one has to search within; that is to say, search subjectively. A lot of people have a problem with this answer because it is subjective and it requires them to think for themselves. It seems that most people would rather simply be given a meaning to their life because then they could stop thinking about it.

I can say to you that your purpose in life is to make a million dollars before you die, and you could accept this and walk out of here thinking that you now know what your purpose in life is and you wouldn't be overburdened with the search for meaning anymore. But it wouldn't be true. That would simply be my opinion of what I think the meaning of your life is.

The only thing close to an objective purpose of life under the atheistic world view is nature's way of preparing life to reproduce and propagate DNA. The need for objective meaning by many theists, I see in a way similar to the heroine addict unable to imagine life with their fix: The theistic world view is so dependent on it that they can't imagine life without it.

Nihilism does not mean that life has no meaning, just no objective meaning. The atheist can find beauty and purpose in the finite existence of life, even if it is subjective, and the atheist can find beauty and awe in the symmetry and intelligibility of the universe and the laws of physics. For me, that is enough to inspire meaning in my minuscule and finite existence, for I live for knowledge and philosophy. If one's life only has subjective meaning and purpose, they can choose to devote it towards something that either helps or harms other people and the environment. The negative consequences of a life devoted to harming itself or others, is bad in and of itself, and acts as its own reinforcement against it. Why must we pretend that there must exist an object purpose to life in order for one to find meaning?


Objective Value

When it comes to human value, under nihilism there is no objective value as there is no objective purpose. The universe is indifferent as to whether we are happy or are suffering and to whether or not we even exist. We give ourselves value and everything in the universe as it becomes useful to us. Houses for example, are only given value as they relate to a human's desire to buy it or live in it. Would a house retain any value in a universe devoid of all human beings? No. Not unless some other intelligent life could find use for it. Things are given value when they are useful to living things. This makes the value of things always subjective, and never objective.

It always struck me as odd when I hear theists say that god gives us objective value. Does the theist really mean to say, that our objective worth lies in the professed statement by god that we have it? What if god changed his mind and turned his back on mankind and instead said rats have objective worth and not humans? Would our objective worth suddenly disappear? It seems scary to me that our objective worth could be so committed to an opinion, even if it is believed to be unchanging.

The idea however, that there needs to exist this supernatural and unchanging opinion that all human life has value, is understandable to me at least. It allows its believers to say that no human's opinion of human value has any ultimate affect, and that even an unchanging principle recognizing human value must still be constantly upheld by people who adhere to it. To that I have to say that god's opinion that all human life has value is not going to prevent someone who disagrees with it from harming or taking a life. All of our rights, no matter where they stem from, must constantly be fought for, and upheld by human beings who believe in their principles. It simply doesn't matter whether you believe in god given rights, or natural rights, or any other source of rights, because ultimately what it comes down to is human action. Furthermore, the same believed god might have a completely different set of rights and opinions on human value according to members of different religions. This then forces you into religiously interpreted relativism, which gets you no where in defining the objective value of human life.

We can recognize a baseline of intrinsic value and worth of every human life, and then from that recognize that any increases in value will be subjective with respect to how important that person's life is to them. So for example, a person with no loved ones, no money or job, and with no usefulness to anybody else, still has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is a principle that utilizes the golden rule: I might lose all my friends and family and become homeless and unemployed one day and I wouldn't want any of my rights taken away simply because I had no one to love me and no money. Years ago rights did depend on race, gender, money and position, and through the philosophy of the enlightenment we came to recognize how incredibly harmful this is. I believe we all have the right to life because we were given it without asking for it. Humans are not mere property, we are not merely inanimate objects, we are sentient beings in our fundamental nature. It is the recognition of sentience that must guide this principle.

This brings me to the idea of "speciesism" - or "the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership." In nature, pretty much all species behave with a bias towards their own. It is a natural necessity to ensure the survival of the species, and this is especially true with social species like primates. If we recognize a very basic intrinsic worth of all human beings, are we just doing so because we too are human?

Well it seems to me that all morality must stem from the way it affects living beings. For example, if I smash a rock in half with a sledgehammer, (assuming the rock didn't belong to anyone) no one would really consider that act moral or immoral. But if I smashed a baby's head open, now we recognize that there is a moral component to my action because it affects a living being. So morality at its very basic core stems from whether or not actions negatively or positively affect living beings. If they positively affect living beings, they are said to be good morals, if they negatively affect living beings, they are said to be bad morals.

With humans, our bias in favor of ourselves might also be justified in recognizing our advanced levels of emotion, cognitive abilities and sentiments that to our knowledge, supersede of other life. From this we can logically conclude that the greater these abilities in a species, the greater the consideration must be given when harm is done to them. That is why we consider the lives of dolphins to be greater than that of bacteria.  It is also worth noting that our preferences for certain kinds of animals regardless of their sentimental faculties  because they are cute or otherwise desired, is another explanation why value is considered.

Imagine if we were visited by intelligent extraterrestrial life forms that superseded us in intelligence sentimental faculties, to the degree where the stupidest among them had the intellectual equivalence of our most gifted geniuses. If they were peaceful, we would be forced to recognize their moral worth, perhaps to a higher degree than ours. But if they had to compete with us for limited resources, only then in order to ensure our own survival would we might have to discriminate against them. So speciesism has its natural justifications but so too does the recognition of cognitive ability. The two only come into conflict when the species' survival is threatened.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, before I ramble on too much longer, let me summarize what I've gone over. Under nihilism, there exists no objective meaning or purpose in life. Life exists as a natural by product that the laws of physics allow, and therefore all meaning and purpose for life will be subjective. This doesn't leave the atheist to wallow in unguided purposelessness, but it does require the atheist to think for themselves and to find their own purpose. This can either be one that harms others or one that helps others. For me personally, fighting for rationality, secularism, freedom, and a better world have become my purpose in life.

There also exists no objective value of human life outside our own existence. We give our lives value and we can also recognize basic human rights and value using the golden rule, while understanding that there is also a subjective element in how important we perceive human life. To place human value in whether a god gives us it, is highly subjective and not going to stop anyone who disagrees with the premise or has a different concept of god. Speciesism certainly does give us a reason to justify our valuing of human life over other species, just as we have a bias in favor of ourselves when we must compete with others.

The bottom line is this: Nihilism does not mean life has no purpose, just no objective purpose, and I've never felt that an objective purpose was necessary in order for me to wake up in the morning and start a fulfilling day. Anyone who does think it is necessary, behaves like the drug addict who can't image finding a reason to get out of bed without their drug.

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