Thursday, May 31, 2012

Trends in Atheism From

Check these statistics out from about trends in belief and disbelief in god. It seems that between 1998 and 2008, Western as well as Eastern Europe continue their trends towards atheism. According to these statistics, in the U.S. there is a slight trend towards a decrease in certainty that god exists, as well as a decrease in the percentage who disbelieve in god. Such anomalies can be explained in the article below.


% Don’t believe in God% Theists overall% No doubt God exists
1998           20081998          20081998           2008
Great Britain9.6              17.746.2           3622.5            16.8
Austria6.8              9.351.3           40.832.4            20.8
Netherlands17.2            19.844.2           36.726.4            21.1
Australia10.2            15.652.2           43.528.6            25.1
Norway11.7            17.742.5           3718.4            15
Ireland2.4              477.3           67.549.8            45.1
New Zealand7.9              12.552.9           46.430.9            28.2
Spain8.6              9.764.7           59.545.8            39.2
Italy4.1              5.373.5           69.548               42.9
Sweden16.8            19.525.8           24.912.3            10.3
France19.1            21.938.8           37.320.1            17.5
Denmark14.7            18.434              33.413.6            13.4
United States3.2              2.877.5           78.262.8            61.3
Switzerland4.3              8.544.5           45.128.3            28.8
Germany west12.1            10.541.3           48.123.4            27.2
Germany east54               5315.7           16.59.4              8
Japan10.6            8.713.2           16.44                 4.4
Northern Ireland3.7              6.874.4           67.450               45.2
Portugal1.9              484.8           72.960               54.4
Czech Republic20.3            37.330.4           23.917.1            23.9
Hungary12.8            15.351.6           42.431.1            23.2
Latvia9.2              18.338.9           36.922.9            21.7
Poland2.4              3.381             76.470.5            62.9
Russia19.7            6.140.2           58.223.8            33.9
Slovakia11.1            10.456.7           59.840.8            41.6
Slovenia14.2            13.639.4           40.722.9            24.2
Chile1.5              1.791.4           90.581.4            82.3
Cyprus1.6              1.984.8           70.265               59
Philippines0.7              0.882.3           92.579               82.7

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Day Unto Myself

In times this when the weather is spectacular and I unfortunately have nothing to do, and no one to be with, I get the most depressed. I'd still rather be doing nothing than working. I feel a bit reminiscent of the summer of 2010, when I was unemployed and had all summer long to do essentially nothing. Those were the days, but I do not like being unproductive and idle. There is a compulsion in me that wants to be busy all the time and not waste a day for anything, especially a nice day. Perhaps today is best for a little serious self-reflection. I am finishing up the touches of another refutation of William Lane Craig of his Cosmological Argument. His argument for theism is spearheaded on this and I want to address it, hopefully in a single blog.

Monday, May 21, 2012

An Argument for Trickle Up Economics

I have not written about economics lately, but a new TED Talk from millionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer outlines what I've always thought to be true: that the real job creators are the middle class and that trickle up economics makes a hell of a lot more sense that trickle down economics.

Watch his short and to the point lecture at TED.

The Human Condition: Part 2

We are social beings by nature, and we have evolved as such. When I reflect on myself, I am often reflecting upon my interpersonal relationships and their particularities. I used to think to myself, that I could live totally free from any strong relationships with others, and that I could be a total loner, and still remain happy. But I've found that when I am alone for too long, a certain depression begins to creep over me. It's the lack of happiness that stems from the enjoyment of the company of others. I also feel that I need in a way, other people's respect, to feel good about myself. I used to look down at this trait in particular, before realizing that it is a property of all human beings. As social beings, our social position in life, and the quality of our interpersonal relationships, mean a great deal to us, and I am certainly no exception.

I am often amazed at the few of us who can abandon all contact with others, retrieve into social isolation, and yet be content with themselves to such a degree, that even the most satisfying interpersonal relationship cannot produce the same happiness. The Buddha is one such person who is said to have achieved this maxim. I have been learning more about Buddhism lately. There is wisdom in all philosophies and in all religions. The best thing to do is take the best from all of them and use it for the benefit of yourself and others. Buddhism is a very malleable philosophy. I personally see the Buddhism as a philosophy, and not a religion, based on the teaching of "The Buddha", or the enlightened one. Siddhārtha Gautama was just a man, who when he reached "nirvana", achieved a transcendent state to such a degree, became The Buddha. He did this after years of punishing his body, and discovering that the path to enlightenment lies not within suffering, but in understanding and reconciling one's desires.

As an atheist, I of course reject the supernatural aspects of some of Buddhism's beliefs, but I cannot deny some of its wisdom. The transcendent experience exists for sentient beings, and I see the Buddha as one who sought out this state, and personified it better than any human being. The Buddha achieved this state  alone, under a tree after meditating for several days, according to the story. And since then, many have tried to seek this path to enlightenment by imitation. Although the Buddha achieved enlightenment alone, it was through the people around him that helped guide him toward this path. I cannot think to remain alone in this world and not expect mental and physical suffering.

The problem I have with social interaction is how my awkward personality, and my tendencies toward unpopular topics for conversation, lead to a disconnect between me and others. I'm a deep thinking, philosophical type, and that doesn't always mix in well with our cultural obsession for material and superficial gains. There are few people who I naturally get along with, and this has always been a strain on my sense of happiness. I've always felt a little disappointed in myself for not connecting with people in many social situations. I've come to learn to accept this reality, that I am simply not going to get along and have a connection with many individuals. My acceptance of this allows me to make certain changes with my regard to these people. It is very simple: avoid people I do not get along with as much as possible, and surround myself with people that I do get along with.

Now there are times when I am forced to deal with people that I do not like, such as with work. My response shall be in making the best out of the situation, and to not let my character suffer. In other words, be myself, whether these other people like it or not. To sacrifice one's character, to mold it into a form more compatible with those who one does not naturally get along with, is what I seek to avoid. I used to so freely pretend to be the person I thought others wanted me to be, when I did not naturally get along with them. I now look back at those days with great disappointment. What about pretending to act as others want you to act, to get something you want? We sometimes behave a certain way towards others to get what we want, and we all do this from time to time. I am quite aware of the lack of virtue that comes with being a pretender.  Considering how natural it is, I say that as long as one retains the core of their character, there is nothing necessarily wrong with acting a certain way to get what one wants.

As I have said before there are three basic conditions that make me happy: being in a place I like, with people I like, and doing something I like. If those three are met, I am a happy man (assuming I am not dying from a disease or the like). If I were to take out the second condition-being with people I like-and instead imagine myself alone, this lessens but does not destroy my requirements for happiness. The act of helping others can suffice the pleasure of being with good company, and helping others does not necessarily require being with other people.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Human Condition

To be more or less happy with one's self; to be in a contented state with with one's appearance; line of work; interpersonal relationships; personal integrity and character, is to, I think, achieve life's maxim. The age old philosophical question, "What is the meaning of life?" I think can best be answered by the achievement of such a state.

Biologically, we are machines for propagating our DNA, as Dr. Richard Dawkins so gloomily puts it. But this doesn't represent the human condition accurately. We are certainly more than just baby making machines. I for one, do not wish to propagate my DNA at all. So where does that leave me when looking at life's ultimate meaning?

There is I believe a strong subjective element when searching for life's meaning. One must find his or her own way towards purpose. I found mine a few years ago when I realized that my life long atheism was calling me into a life that advocates it, and its associated humanist causes beyond my immediate relationships. For others it might by the pursuit of athletic goals, or financial status. I think one's perceived purpose in life tells quite a lot about their inner character.

Now religions all have their say when it comes to life's meanings. Worshiping god and adjusting one's life according to certain doctrinal rules is how many religions view life's ultimate meaning and purpose. But I've never seen this as something personally appealing. I can fully understand how some people feel compelled to throw their lives into a particular religion, and how it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. To me, my feelings of purpose in being an advocate for atheism is not something I was pressured or commanded to do. There is no central doctrine of non-believers to go preach atheism to the masses.

But what about the transcendent? It is that elusive state of consciousness that some claim the human experience is fulfilled through. Religions have tried to claim the copyrights to the transcendent experience, but the fact of the matter is that it can happen to anyone in sometimes the most secular of states. The fact that Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists and naturists alike, have all reported these experiences shows that it is a natural phenomenon that is perhaps a by product of a being that has achieved a certain cognitive capacity. Religions simply just tap into this existing human condition.

I must admit I am deeply intrigued by the transcendent. I have never had such an experience in my life to my knowledge. Although, not having had one, I might not know what it is that I haven't had. It has been described as the sensation of being at one with the universe, and transcending one's own physical body, and even one's mental limitations; to be free of ill will and pain, greed and desire. Such states by the Eastern religions have been called nirvana.

Being the atheist that I am, I am not particularly sympathetic to religions, whether Eastern or Middle Eastern in origin. But I will admit, that all religions have some good aspects in them. The Eastern faiths approach the transcendent through deep meditation and spiritual exercise. I don't agree with all of their stoic teachings, but their recognition of, and approach to, the transcendent, particularly the Buddhists, is I think a fabulous achievement for the human condition. The Buddha, or enlightened one, is worthy of respect in my book.

Buddhism answers the question on life's meaning as achieving happiness. It is more or less the same conditional state that I described above. But is happiness the purpose of life? Achieving happiness is a universal human desire. What that happiness is, is purely subjective to the individual. I cannot say for sure that I know it is so, but it seems that Buddhism is on to something here, if only on this one point. Such a universal desire, with no exceptions, must mean something. We all desire to be in pleasurable conditions. Even the masochist, who desires pain and discomfort, simply just has a different conception of happiness.

If happiness can be achieved through nirvana, and if the transcendent can uplift the conscious realm, and if these are all products unique among the human condition, then is the transcendent tantamount to the human condition? I am not prepared to say that the Buddhist idea of achieving enlightenment is the only path towards the transcendent or a deeper purpose; surely there must exist many ways. What I think I am trying to say, is that achieving the transcendent, or nirvana, however it may be done, could be the ultimate subjective meaning of life.

To be human is to be conscious; it is to reflect on one's self, and one's condition, and to reflect on the lives of other sentient beings. It is to bathe in awe at the mysterious; it is to laugh at irony, and cry at misery. It is to appreciate beauty, and cherish wisdom. The human condition is utimately achieved through experience.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good From God?"

In 2011, author and neuroscientist Sam Harris debated evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig on the topic of morality and god entitled, “Is Good From God?” The debate, largely was an attempt by Dr. Craig to critique Dr. Harris’ book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. As you may know, I have a bone to pick with Dr. Craig regarding his attempts to rationalize the more troubling aspects of his Christian faith, and in the debate he offers several examples which I will criticize.

Dr. Craig opens the debate with his two primary contentions. First, that if god exists, he offers a sound foundation for the existence of objective morals and duties, and second, that if god does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral duties and values. Dr. Craig defines “objective” morality as being valid and binding, independently of human opinion. Both Dr. Craig and Dr. Harris assert the existence of objective morals and duties, and only disagree with what is its foundation. On my blog, I have written repeatedly about how I believe there is exists a certain core of values that are objectively true, and are not relative to anyone’s opinion. And I have argued against the idea that the existence of god is what these objective values are founded in. What I want to do is critique line by line, the objections that Dr. Craig makes against Dr. Harris’ argument that science can offer us a foundation for objective values.

Right off the bat in Dr. Craig’s opening remarks he asserts the ontological foundation for goodness:

11:20 On the theistic view objective moral values are grounded in God. As St. Anselm saw, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good. Indeed, He is not merely perfectly good, He is the locus and paradigm of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured. He is by nature loving, generous, faithful, kind, and so forth. Thus if God exists, objective moral values exist, wholly independent of human beings.

One of the problems I have with this statement is the fact that the greatest conceivable being is a highly subjective expression. For example, Muslims and Christians have distinct beliefs on the nature of god. Muslims disagree with Christians that god had to rest on the seventh day after he created the universe because resting is not a property of an omnipotent god. If a god who needs to rest is less great than a god who doesn’t, than it follows that the Muslim concept of god may be better than the Christian concept. So a greatest conceivable being to a Muslims, is different than that of a Christian. And what if a psychopath’s idea of the greatest conceivable being would be that of a sadistic dictator? Could the greatest conceivable being then an aggregation of all these diverse concepts by taking the best from each? God’s nature consists of many things and jealousy is one of them. He is also wrathful, and capricious. Are these the characteristics of greatness?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

President Obama Endorses Gay Marriage

I just realized how little I have blogged about the current presidential election. I am one who follows politics: Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Show, and the Colbert Report is standard viewing for me. President Barak Obama yesterday has "came out" and endorsed gay marriage. This is truly a historic and unprecedented event. Never has a sitting president endorsed gay marriage before and I support his boldness during an election all the way. Now I have already written about my support for gay marriage without hesitation before, and for me it is a non-issue. But the issue of marriage itself is something in the back of my brain right now, and just briefly, I'd like to make it front and center.

I do not want to dwell on the gay marriage debate right now, but as I near my 30th birthday, like all  people who have not yet tied the knot, I feel the mounting societal pressure to marry and marry fast. I am very open and honest with my family and friends about my disdain for marriage. I do not, ever, want to get married. I dislike being legally bound to another human being. I do not want to see, or be near, the same person everyday, for the rest of my life. The mere idea of it, nauseates me. That being said, I fully recognize the rights of others to do so. The legal benefits of marriage, as well as the bond that is shared by two people, truly in love and committed to one another, is a wonderful concept--that I will most likely never experience.

I like to joke when asked on my views on gay marriage, that I am against straight marriage. It's true, because technically I am against all marriage in general. I never enter into a relationship believing it is going to last a lifetime. I usually imagine that I will be lucky to make it passed the 6 month mark. And dating today is perhaps as complicated as ever. We use other other people as means to our ends, and we don't even care anymore. I'm not particularly romantic, and I am a bit ashamed about the lack of real serious and deep committed relationships in my life. Perhaps I was never given the right opportunity, and if I had I would be happily married right now for several years. But, I've never even come close to getting married with anyone I've ever dated. I perhaps could have gone down that road with a few girls I dated, if I didn't loose interest in them.

And that's my problem. I get bored way too easy. Like tiring from an album that is overplayed, I crave newness, I crave the novelty. There is nothing like the feeling of starting a new relationship before getting to know someone's disgusting personal habits and traits. Usually, the more I get to know someone, the less and less I like them. Occasionally I stay intrigued, but all that does is simply prolong the inevitable incuriosity.

I would never deny the right of someone else to marry another consenting adult, but similar to president Obama's public struggle with gay marriage, I have struggled privately with marriage in general. Recently I have heard of a new marriage idea, where you enter into a temporary marriage that must be renewed every few years, much like a cell phone contract. If I ever did get married, I could see myself getting married in this way. So, maybe there is hope for me yet. Although, the idea that marriage should be the inevitable goal for all human beings, repulses me due to my natural inclination against it. Connecting with someone intellectually, and sexually, even if it does not last til death does us apart, is my preferred goal.

I love Bill Maher for having the same basic feelings that I do on marriage. He's in his 50s and still dating, and that's how I would love to be. So, to rap things up, I'm pro gay/straight marriage for others, but for me personally, it's not my thing. If only other people were able to sometimes divorce themselves from their extreme or bigoted personal views on moral issues with their attitudes towards it publicly, like I do, the world would be a slightly better place.


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