Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Atheistic Journey

My atheistic journey was an uneventful one. I was raised in a mostly secular home. We never prayed, we never went to church, and we never had religious artifacts or symbolism around house. I remember asking my mother at about the age of 4 with the usual child-like curiosity about what happens after you die, and I remember her responding to me that when you die, you just die. In other words, its just like it was before when you were born.

That belief didn't stop me from being sent to a Catholic preschool for a year. I still don't know why I was forced to go to this day, although I assume it was my devoutly Catholic grandmother who spearheaded that decision. My year at Catholic preschool was the only attempt that I can think of during my youth, when I was indoctrinated into religion. My parents made no attempt at home to inculcate or coerce me into faith of any kind.

As you can imagine, I am grateful for this. But even in preschool, as I was being instructed to say my daily prayer before lunch, "god is good, god is great, let us thank him for our food, amen", I knew something was bullshit. I could smell it in the room somehow. I wasn't the sophisticated, world traveling, cosmopolitan, intellectual that I am today. I had no knowledge or of science, metaphysics, evolution, or philosophical argumentation. But I did have an inner intuition of reality and reason, even at the age of 4 to see past the fallacy of religion.

Throughout my adolescence my doubt in god and religion continued, altering from mere secularism to borderline anti-theism. I always had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity in my youth, yet I never was overly pugnacious with my beliefs. I remember being about 9 or 10 or so one summer when this girl, I believe her name was Linda, came to the playground where my friends and I used to hangout. All she wanted to talk about was god, and Christ and would constantly confront us with the fate of those who disbelieve in Jesus. I immediately began questioning her rationality and one particular day I remember spending hours on a splintered old bench going into the logical inconsistencies for and against god's existence. If only I could see and hear now as an adult what took place that afternoon.

I had a brief flirtation with agnosticism for a short period later. Agnosticism was the closest I ever got to believing. I think it is really important for one to deeply question their beliefs, even for atheists. It is a bit smug to assert a metaphysical claim without a steady foundation to stand on. That's why I am a thinker. I struggled with these concepts for years and years. It was not often easy. Even now, I do not entirely rule out the position of the believer. I really try to imagine the existence of god and of all individual religions as a serious, rational, and tenable argument. But it is not before long, that the ability for easy and pathetically unsophisticated criticisms chip away at that foundation and I return to atheism.

Now in my adulthood, the new atheists, like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, as well as the "old" atheists and skeptics like Bertrand Russell, David Hume, and Socrates have strengthened my atheism and its foundation. It is almost unbreakable. I still seek knowledge and truth and wisdom and I want to learn as much as I can during my tenure here on this pale blue dot. Philosophical and scientific argumentation is a near constant for me. In other words, my atheistic journey is just getting started.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Declaration of Independence from Religion

I am an atheist. Not only do I not believe in god, I derive great pleasure from arguing against it. I was thinking recently of writing a declaration of independence from god, or religion. What would it be like to declare independence from religion and its oppression? Just as how the founding fathers of this great secular country declared their independence from the clench of the British empire, atheists and rationalists such as myself, should declare our independence against the totalitarian grip that religion holds.

Then I begin to ponder whether this declaration should be for just the U.S. or should it be for human kind as a whole? Surely, I would like this to be extended to all nations and to all people, especially how in light of the humanist movement, it is becoming less and less politically correct to be nationalistic when speaking of rights. I suppose it is religion that is the main oppressor, and not god. It is religion after all, that give us these outdated, unpractical, fatuous rules and regulations that one must live by. God in this case is a mere figurehead, the enforcer of these rules. A deistic god doesn't sit on the throne and take perverted pleasure in this way. It is the religion itself that is the culprit for so much of our conscious imprisonment. I shall for now focus on a declaration of independence from religion.

Rather than start from scratch, since original Declaration of Independence is so beautiful in form, I decided to basically retool the document as a fight against religion and all its forms of tyranny in place of British style despotism. The declaration then goes as follows:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for all people to dissolve the religious bands which have connected them with one another, and against one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and that Religion has for so long, been the primary hindrance of mankind achieving such an objective.

That to secure these rights, Religious institutions among Men and Women, are not to infringe them with coercion, force, capital, subversion, theocracy or any other power they have at their disposal.

That whenever any Form of Religion becomes destructive by infringing upon these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new forms of organization and policy, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Religions long established should indeed be changed for enlightenment and humanist causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that if no attempt at modernity be assembled, that humankind are more disposed to suffer, and it is hence better to right themselves by abolishing the religious forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Theocratic Despotism or totalitarianism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a Religion and its authorities, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of humankind; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Religion. The history of religion is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the mind, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over belief and consciousness. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Religious tyranny of all forms needs to be oppressed. I sincerely believe that it is for the good of the future of all mankind. I make this no secret in my writings. The original Declaration of Independence gave us our great freedoms that the much of humanity comes to recognize as the template for a modern society. Gone were kings and queens, and their supposed divine rights. Gone were state religions that all had to fund through taxation.

With the Declaration of Independence from Religion, let there be no despots, or religious ruler of any kind, or state sponsored religion, or creationism in the classroom, or ten commandments in front of the courtroom, or tax dollars to print holy books, or religiously inspired laws, or freedom of speech muted out of religious sensitivity. Let there instead be a rational, secular society that promotes free, scientific inquiry as a means of finding truth about our natural world, and to guide us to creating the just society.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Logically Implausible God (Part 2)

If you are reading this for the first time, please first read part 1 of the The Logically Implausible God where I introduce the contradictions in the traditional concept of the monotheistic god being timeless.

For part 2 of The Logically Implausible God, I will focus on the belief by many that god is morally perfect. As I mentioned in part 1, there are so many differences in the characteristics of god between faiths and even among individuals of the same religious sect, that it will be impossible for me to address all these concepts. I cannot stress this enough. Rather, what I will do instead, is conflate the many concepts of god into one single entity that is an all powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect, timeless being, who is essentially kind and compassionate, and who is the "first cause" in the creation of, at the very least, our universe.
That being said, I want to focus on the idea of the "morally perfect" god and how I think that this is not a characteristic of the god of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. I'm not even sure that a morally perfect being could exist in the first place.

The Euthyphro Dilemma

First of all, where does morality come from? Theists disagree tremendously on this concept. We are told by some theists that god is morally perfect, and that morality comes from him. If god is morally perfect, then his very nature must therefore also be morally perfect. Now this brings us to The Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's dialogue Euthyphro. It asks the question, "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?" I love this brilliant wisdom of the the ancient Greeks. Let's analyze this a little deeper. If god says stealing is wrong, is stealing wrong because god commanded it, or is it wrong independently of god's will and god agrees with it because so? If stealing is wrong only because god commands it, then morality is simply just determined by the opinion of god and can be arbitrarily decided, in other words, might makes right. But, if god said stealing is right, then it would therefore be right. I think the Islamic viewpoint has the biggest problem with this part of the Euthyphro dilemma, since it is a religion that is so dependent on gods commandments to believe what is right or wrong.

The Logically Implausible God

Although it is true that no human being, atheist or believer, can disprove the existence of god with empirical evidence, this is not a requirement for the Atheist position. I'm not in any way, going to make the claim that I will be the first homosapien to disprove the existence of god, but my doubt in god's existence relies in large part due to some logical contradictions that I think exist.

First of all, what do I mean by god? There are a myriad of different concepts of what god is, between religions and even within religious sects themselves. For instance, ask two believing Christians what they think is the nature of god, and you will get two totally different (and even contradictory) answers. With all these apparent differences in beliefs, I will try to focus on the general concept of the monotheistic god believed by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

To the three monotheistic traditions, god is an all powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect, timeless being, who is essentially kind and compassionate, and who is the "first cause" in the creation of, at the very least, our universe. Now these properties of god all have slight variations in the beliefs among Jews, Christians and Muslims (as well all the other religions) and we all know this has led to centuries of bickering and bloodshed (praise be to god!). I am not here to argue these differences, but rather I am here to make a case for how a simplified, conflated view of these beliefs in god comes across some logical contradictions, just as the religions themselves do.

Part 1: The Logical Implausibility of a Timeless God

We are told that god is timeless, but what does this mean? Believers say that god exists outside of time, but how is this really possible? If god created the universe, then there was a moment when god existed alone, before he created the universe, and then there was a moment when god exists with the universe, after he created it. But you cannot have concepts of "before" and "after" without time. In order for god to do anything, there must be a time before, and a time after he does it. Therefore, it is logically impossible for god to exist outside of time.

Now if god exists inside of time, then that brings up other problems. For example, believers say that everything that begins to exist must have a first cause, except god (how convenient). But if god does not have a first cause, and exists in time, then he must have an infinite regression of time in his past. To have an infinite regression of time in one’s past, also means that there are an infinite number of events in their past as well. To quote an argument made by the Christian theist William Lane Craig in his debate on the existence of god with Christopher Hitchens, Craig states that "mathematicians recognize that the existence of an actually infinite number of things, leads to self contradictions. For example, what is infinity, minus infinity? Well mathematically, you get self contradictory answers." Craig is on the right page on infinity’s impractical implications and is using this logical contradiction in defense of god, however he is failing to realize that the very same argument he is trying to make for god, is better applied against god. In other words, if god exists in time and therefore has an infinite past, then it would take an infinite amount of time for god to get to the present, and thus he would never have enough time get here.

The Thinker's Social Dilemma

My very own mind is often my own worst enemy. In social situations, I can sometimes think of everything that can go wrong, even when there are really no outward signs of them independent of my mind. For example, I know that I'm the kind of person that doesn't easily get along with most others. It is something that I've learned to accept, although it took many long years. My interests and passions are topics that for the most part, are enjoyed by a tiny minority of the populace. For instance, I have no fucking interests in sports whatsoever. I don't care for stupid reality shows, and pop culture has never seem so dis-interesting to me.

That being said, when I am put in a social situation, such as getting a new job or meeting a bunch new friends of friends, my mind starts having these thoughts. Thoughts that I will not get along with them because the chances that they are into the kind of stuff that I'm into, are so rare. My mind is usually, actually often right that I won't get along, however I don't necessarily need someone to be interested in my passions for me to get along with them. I can chat about some off-hand interests at length, sometimes. However, without another person having interest in what I really love, there is no hope for a real close friendship. And this is why I have not really made friends with anyone at work at all. Sure I can chit chat with them, but actually hanging out and becoming real friends is impossible since the only thing they really care about is sports.

So where does that leave me? I can't change who I am. I can't get into the other shit that most guys are into. Sure I can brush up and refine my social skills and small talk, but at work at least, I don't even have the motivation to do that. I'd rather not even engage at all.

And so I am very picky about who I keep as my friends. I have a small inner circle of people who I can hold real conversations with. They are mostly atheists and thinkers. We do not agree at all about our views on god, religion, morality, politics and economics, but that doesn't necessarily matter. What matters is our interest in the topics themselves, and our ability to have stimulating and passionate conversations about them. And it's this, aside from loyalty, that is all I pretty much all I ask for in a friend.


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