Showing posts with label Buddhism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buddhism. Show all posts

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Did Pew Project The Future Of Religion Accurately?

A few months ago Pew released a report about the population growth projections of religion from 2010 until 2050 and many atheists and secularists were a little dismayed, to put it mildly. The world's religiously "unaffiliated" were projected to only grow from 1.13 billion to 1.23 billion, and would actually drop as a percentage of the world's population from 16.4% to 13.2%. By contrast, Islam would be the fastest growing religion, going from 1.6 billion to 2.76 billion, and from 23.2% of the world's population, to 29.7%.

Holy shit.

The numbers are projected, it seems, largely from fertility rates, which Muslims have the highest of, with a rate of 3.1, compared to the unaffiliated at 1.7. But I think using fertility rates as the primary factor in projecting future growth rates of religious affiliation is faulty, if indeed that's what Pew is doing.

It seems that they're not taking into account conversions and deconversions. Many theists are leaving their religions and becoming unaffiliated (which includes all deists, agnostics, and atheists) and this is especially true in the West, where the number of Christians is dropping precipitously. Their future projection of the percentage of the unaffiliated in the US by 2050 seems deeply suspect, and indeed, out of whack with their other data.

Take a look at the graph to the left from the report. They projected that the percentage of unaffiliated Americans by 2050 to be only 25.6%. I say "only" because their own latest study on religion in America that came out just a month after this report shows the unaffiliated population to be at 22.8%, up almost 7 percentage points from just 2007.

Pew doesn't seriously think that the number of unaffiliated Americans will rise just 3 percentage points from now until 2050 after they just grew nearly 7 percentage points in 7 years do they? No. Rather, there is a flaw in their methodology in projecting future religious growth, which, I suspect, relies almost entirely on fertility rates. As such, they're dramatically underestimating the projected growth of the world's unaffiliated population.

I have my hopes that a large part of the Islamic world will secularize in the social sense, if not in the political sense, and religion will continue to dramatically decline as it has in the West. There was a report recently that 5% of Saudi Arabia's population is atheist. 5 percent! That's technically higher than the population of Americans who identify as atheist (3.1%), according to Pew.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Few Notes On Spirituality & "Beloved"

I just got back earlier this week from a week-and-a-half long vacation in Oregon. I had attended a music/art/spiritual festival called Beloved and I also got to see my mother, sister and my eight year old nephew. At Beloved, I got to spend several days camping with thousands of free-spirited hippies, many of whom take their spiritual beliefs very seriously. And I have to say it was a very enlightening experience. I spend my time around mostly secular people who rarely, if ever, show any strong outward signs of religiosity - even those who believe in god. So after speaking and spending time with several thousand people who'd probably self identify as "spiritual," I have gained a new perspective.

I wasn't there to preach to anybody. In fact I kept my atheism in the closet the whole time. I was there to learn. I was there to absorb. I was there to warmly educate myself on a slice of humanity that I rarely encounter. "Beloveds" as the attendees are called, are free-spirited hippie types, who mostly feel very passionately about the earth, the environment, humanity and humankind's connection to the spirit world.

On the first night, around the "sacred fire" where at night I would sit to warm up from the cold mountain air, one of the hosts gave a speech about fire. He spoke of the ways in which fire is misused, such as in war, and spoke of the ways it should be properly used. Then we were all instructed to give thanks to all four directions, north, south, east, west. I played along and participated, hoping that there would be a strong emotional response in me, but there wasn't. I seem to have an adverse reaction for group rituals. To me, anything that appears religious or cult like, such as group rituals, makes me uncomfortable. On the second day, we did another group prayer. We were asked to think about those suffering in the world and I did get an emotional response. It wasn't the group prayer that I think did it, it was my empathy for those suffering. I've had emotional moments like that all by myself and so I know the way my body and brain react. Group prayer or singing still isn't my thing. Even Sunday Assembly didn't quite rub me the right way. I was amazed however at some of the people attending who really seemed deeply and sincerely connected to whatever spirits they believed in.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

That there is only the natural world, which we are a part of, seems to me truth given the evidence. Thus the naturalist like myself realizes that man and nature are the same thing. Mankind is nature becoming conscious of itself. The late Anglo-American philosopher Alan Watts knew this quite well. In recent years he's become one of my favorite philosophers, and although he may not have technically been a naturalist in the strictest sense, his Zen inspired wisdom and metaphysics more often than not fall perfectly in line with the naturalism espoused by many atheists.

There is no doubt that naturalism can seem a lot more appealing when cloaked in the beautiful poetic language of philosophy and analogy. And Watts was incredibly good at doing this. In the Eastern traditions, the universe is not a creation, it's more like an organism. It grows. And as it grows, it peoples, in the same way that an apple tree apples. Thus, human beings are not born into the universe, they're born out of it. Watts thought that existence was fundamentally musical in nature. And so just as music doesn't have a destination, he argued the universe is not heading towards a particular goal. It is the process of the music unfolding over time that is why we enjoy it, just like when we dance we don't aim at a particular spot on the dance floor. The point is not to finish as fast as you can. The enjoyment comes from the dancing itself. Western philosophy however, which is so heavily influenced by Christianity and Judaism, sees the world and man as two separate creations, each created with a teleology in mind, and this Watts observes, is fundamentally at odds with the Eastern traditions and naturalism.

From some perspectives Zen and naturalism go hand in hand. Perhaps naturalism allows us the best explanation why we at times feel one with nature. In my mind, one can easily be a naturalist and a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. Now I'm not at all advocating Zen, or claiming myself as one of its followers. I'm just noticing that there is this tendency among too many atheists to reject all of what religion or spirituality has to offer because it is associated with metaphysics which the atheist rejects. I too reject the metaphysical claims of almost all religions, but that does not mean that here and there one cannot find bits of wisdom and insight that offer a far richer view of the natural world than through the lens of a purely scientific epistemology. Life is too colorful and our minds are too philosophical to restrict one's way of thinking in such rigid scientism. Philosophies like the kind held by Alan Watts can offer the naturalist who has jettisoned all forms of religion and spirituality with an enhanced understanding of their place in the universe. And so I leave you with his words:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fuck It

About five years ago I really started taking my atheism seriously. I began learning about many of the world's religions and I became obsessed with the arguments for god. This made me a whole lot smarter in the areas of science, history, philosophy and of course, religion. But now I feel like I'm at that point where I've pretty much heard everything. I've taken on the best arguments for god that I could find and tried to refute everyone of them. I've had dozens and dozens of debates with theists online and in person. And after 5 years of debates and rigorous education in the arguments between atheism and theism, I have yet to still hear a reasonable and convincing case that a god of some sort exists.

Now I don't think that I'm done, but I do think that counter-apologetics for me might be running out of steam. Don't get me wrong, I'm still fascinated by the science and philosophy behind the theism vs. atheism debate. If I had enough money, I would actually consider getting a PhD in philosophy or maybe physics specifically so that I could become the best atheist debater in the history of the world. It's a fantasy of mine. But there is also a pull from the materialistic world. And I don't mean materialism in the sense of ontological naturalism, I mean materialism in the sense of money, bitches. There is a part of me that wants to say, "Fuck it, you only live once. Why not just party, drink, give into consumerism and carnal pleasure, and forget about all that atheism shit? God doesn't exist."

I struggle with this. These two mindsets seem to be pulling me from either side, like an angel and a demon sitting on opposite shoulders. Only with me, it's the angel that's telling me to focus more on my atheism!

Right now, it's winter and it's freezing outside. We've had a particularly nasty couple of months here in New York, but in a few weeks spring will be here and I will want to get back into party mode. Perhaps I should take a cue from the Buddha and find the middle path. Perhaps I should strike a balance between my conflicting desires to immerse myself in these intellectual things and immerse myself in gratuitous debauchery. I guess that's probably the right thing to do. Plus, I know that if I do immerse myself in the party scene again I'll quickly get bored with it, because I've been there and done that, and the people living the party life are not deep thinking intellectuals for the most part. So it's probably best I do a little of both. I can't live without my intellectual fix, and the desire grows stronger and stronger as I get older. So there is no way I'm giving up my pursuit of wisdom.

But, I don't want to turn into some old fogey either, who's buried in books and who's totally lost touch with style and coolness.

Fuck it, I'm going to have to rethink my previous "fuck it."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I'm An Atheist

I've been feeling a bit compelled recently to write about why exactly it is that I'm an atheist and what reasons I have for being one. While I feel that this post was long overdue, an adequate justification for my atheism has been the product of a learning curve several years in the making. I know many others have written posts explaining why they aren't a Christian or why they aren't a Mormon, or a Muslim, etc., but technically I can't write a post like that because I was never myself a member of any religion. What I can do, is justify why I'm an atheist and why I think the naturalistic worldview best describes reality, and so here I want to put into a single post the main reasons why I personally am an atheist, and why I think you should be one too if you aren't already. I apologize for the length.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Don't Cry For Me, Indonesia

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country by population. About 87% of its 237 million citizens are Muslim. I have been there a total of three times, as recently as 2010. Two of my relatives are currently living in Bali as ex-patriots. I've always enjoyed going to Indonesia and whenever I went I never really felt like I was in a "Muslim" country at all. It seemed to me, a lot more like the popular images of Bangkok Thailand, filled with "discotheques" and seedy prostitutes. Indonesia was for a long time, perhaps along with Turkey, a shining example of a moderate Muslim country that could counter the crude stereotypes of many of the Muslim majority countries of the Middle East, and I can tell you that first hand. I first went there when I was 13 and I remember going out to a nightclub, being served beer and being able to buy cigarettes without any problem.

But perhaps I saw it through a filter. I've only been to two areas in Indonesia - Jakarta, the capital city on the island of Java, and the island of Bali, which is the predominantly Hindu part of the country, known to tourists for its nightlife. Just like in the US, religiosity in Indonesia increases once you get out of the big cities. Generally speaking, the further west in Indonesia that you go and the more rural the part of the country, the more likely you'll find people who are deeply religious. And in Indonesia, "deeply religious" tends to mean deeply Muslim, as Indonesians are at least about as Muslim as Americans are Christian.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jack Kerouac : King of the Beats (2012) Full Documentary

Watching this documentary makes me want to be a writer. A real writer, not just some blogger. I'm trying to write a novel right now and let me tell you it is FUCKING hard. I have about 79 pages so far, but I have no idea how many of them are useful. I can sometimes write for hours and hours and feel I'm making great progress, and then for days I write nothing. Nada. Creativity can't exactly be scheduled, it rears its head whenever it wants. I can't set my alarm to go off at 9 AM and declare, "It's time to be creative." It just doesn't work that way.

I've always wanted to actually write a book. Any book. The idea of writing a novel crossed my mind numerous times and I've had a few false starts that never went anywhere. This time it's different. I'm going to complete this novel or die trying. I'm aiming for at least 150 pages, but more closer to 200. Any real novel has at least about that much. The problem is I get creative mostly at night, right before I'm supposed to go to bed, right when I'm drowsy. I can't write anything during the day for some reason. I seem to have a creative aversion to bright light. I thrive in the darkness. I'm naturally nocturnal, did I mention?

There's going to be lots of philosophy in my book, along with sex and drugs. I'm going to touch on many topics dear to me: atheism, nihilism, existentialism, free will, determinism, Buddhism, religion, dating, polyamory, feminism, partying, economics and more, all through the mind of a millennial living in contemporary New York. I'm confident it will be awesome. It will be exactly the kind of book I would want to read. Isn't that the goal of every writer?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Godless In Paradise

I am lucky enough to have done my fair share of traveling.

In the summer of 2010 I went to Bali, Indonesia to visit my father, sister and nephew. I had just graduated college and it was an exciting time in my life. I had been there before but not as an adult and I now had the chance to understand its culture and people with a deeper meaning.

Bali is an island in the Indonesian archipelago with a population of 3.8 million people. It is home to the majority of Indonesia’s Hindu population, giving the island a distinct cultural feel apart from the rest of the mostly Islamic population of the country.

Bali is rich in culture and draws millions of tourists every year. Some people who go, never want to leave, and a community of ex-patriots has grown from all over the world. My sister is one of them.

I arrived in the early morning to my sister’s house after a long car ride from the airport. When I got to my room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The view from the balcony was amazing. It was like being in a dream, a surrealistic tropical dream. The house was situated on a hill overlooking a valley below that contained a stream. Halfway down the valley there was also a swimming pool. I thought to myself, “This was paradise found.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Alan Watts On Christianity

A few years ago I came across the British-American philosopher Alan Watts. He was one of the foremost interpreters of Zen Buddhism and Eastern schools of thought in his day during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Although he was for a time an Episcopalian priest, he left the church and was often critical of Western religions like Christianity. His criticism of Christianity is not typical of the brash New Atheism we are accustomed to today. He does not slam the church and the scriptures with the wield of a sledgehammer like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins does, but in his remarks you can pick up some of the precursors that these contemporary critics deploy.

He wasn't even an atheist as far as I know but he did accept that there was some sort of higher power in the universe. Nonetheless, I am not so hardened an atheist that I cannot respect someone who accepted into his life something beyond pure materialism.

Watts believed that there was some sort of a transcendent nature to reality. I personally interpret this transcendent phenomena as simply just being an aspect of our consciousness that we often interpret in the language of spirituality. "God" is just a word we use to express these feelings we sometimes get in the context of the religions we were raised in, and Watts was perfectly aware of this as he says in this lecture. Listen to this critique he gives of Christianity from a slightly different perspective from what we are used to today.

Why The "Inner Witness To The Holy Spirit" Is Evidence Of Nothing

When all else fails for the theist, many decide that they can always fall back on the "inner witness to the holy spirit." This is true among Christians but other theists and New Age types that I've debated with in person have similar justifications for their beliefs. For example, I remember one time talking to this woman who described herself as "spiritual" who told me she knew for a fact that the spiritual force behind the universe had put certain situations into her life for a purpose. All attempts to inject a little skepticism to the conversation were futile. But people like this I think highlight what is at the core of religious/spiritual belief  that there is at heart, primarily an emotional basis for belief in god or one particular religion and things like the "inner witness to the holy spirit" are really just manifestations of strong emotional triggers contextualized in a Christian environment.

It seems that some people just "know" that god or some higher power exists because they "feel" it, and nothing can come in their way. But it always seemed obvious to me that the fact that Christians, Hindus, Mormons and New Age spiritualists alike can all have these amazing emotional/spiritual experiences, that their experiences were indicative of nothing more than just our natural tendency to attribute deeper meaning to our emotional experiences and hallucinations. For example, if the Christian god existed, why would he be giving Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims amazing transcendent spiritual experiences when they meditate, chant and pray? These experiences often lead to the faith of those believers increasing, and as a result often takes them further away from ever becoming a Christian. It seems odd that the Christian god would give any non-Christian a spiritual experience that strengthens their non-Christian faith.

Christians have two general answers to this dilemma: (1) The spiritual experiences of non-Christians are mistaken or are possibly caused by the devil; or (2) in the Calvinist tradition, these people are being purposely mislead by god because god has predestined them to hell where he wants them. Since I think Calvinism is intellectually bankrupt, I will focus on (1).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Maps Of War

Check out this really cool site that allows you to see the history of empires of the Old World going back to 3000 BC. One interesting thing to note as it begins is that the Kingdom of Egypt around 2,000 - 1,000 BC controlled the land of Israel - showing you that the Old Testament stories of the Jewish Exodus is nonsense - the Egyptians already controlled the land of Canaan (Israel), so the Jews could not have fled there to evade them.

Spread of ancient near-eastern empires:

Spread of world's major religions:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Science Vs. Philosophy

Many of my fellow atheists are very quick today to discard philosophy in favor of science. Science has made philosophy irrelevant, they say, and philosophy no longer contributes anything useful to understanding reality. This is a problem in my view. Atheists hold science up in such high regard because we know it's largely been science that has cast light onto the darkness of man's ignorance, and has given us the best way of understanding reality that nothing else comes close to. But, we can not deny—we should not deny, the fact that in order to make sense of anything, you need philosophy.

Sure, science is the empirical methodology that we should all use to guide our philosophy, but science should not be used to replace philosophy altogether. To do so would be an egregious error on the part of the atheist. For example, how do you argue morality without using philosophy? It's impossible! Science is not going to give us definitive answers when it comes to ethics. Science can be used to guide our ethics when it comes to giving us empirical information about certain moral issues, but you will need philosophy to make any sense of that scientific data. And what about interpreting quantum mechanics? Science can allow us to predict quantum particles to eleven decimal places, but how do you interpret quantum weirdness properly? We have many theories, including the Copenhagen interpretation, and the many worlds interpretation. But science is not—at least not yet—going to give us definitive answers to these pressing issues. The philosophy of science is what guides these theories because the scientist who entertains such possibilities has left the realm of physics and entered the world of metaphysics.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Healthy Living For A Healthy "Soul"

Many years ago my sister recommended that I see her friend who was a spiritual healer that could help me guide my life in a better direction and address some issues I had been facing. My sister was very spiritual and knew many hippie types that specialized in yoga and spiritual cleansing. Since it wouldn't have cost me anything, I abided.

I met my sister's friend in a fourth floor apartment in the East Village right on second avenue and eighth street. She looked like your stereotypical hippie: She was a white woman with long dreadlocks, and had all sorts of beads and accessories you'd think a shaman should wear. She also had a very intense stare and demeanor as if she was permanently in touch with her inner chi. 

We practiced a meditation ritual that I found rather difficult to concentrate on. Meditation has always been difficult to me. I've never been able to tame my mind in the way it's needed for a successful experience. I think it's because I think too much. I remember being in the middle of the "trance" and opening my eyes and seeing her so into it, that I felt jealous I couldn't quite get there with her.

Later she gave me a massage that was supposed to unlock my inner spirit that involved cracking my back by her stepping on me and putting downward pressure on my spine. That might have been as close as I got to inner peace.

Finally we talked about what was bothering me and she wrote down on a piece of paper some thoughts or suggestions should I consider going forward with my life in order to help me. I recently found this paper folded in a book (Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great of all places) after several years. It said:

How does attachment to people, places & things prevent you from growing? How do they contribute to fear, insecurity, & self doubt? Is this the truth of who you really are? How are you potentially being held back by fearing to take risks? What does taking risks mean to you? Why is this crucial to your growth - for now & later?
What is your daily routine for developing your practices & new direction for a healthy/empowered lifestyle? Is there anything holding you back from this?

It finished with some recommendations to keep a day to day regiment to guide me towards a better path.

*Daily Practices
1. Meditation: BOS, practice 10 min. twice daily, am & pm & all throughout the day
Observe, witness, as it is, w/o judging, labeling, assessing
Surrender, letting go, pure acceptance of what is
2. Colon cleanse: Live Live, 63 E. 10th St. between 1st & A
3. Diet: Try 2 weeks of no meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, sugar. 80% living/raw foods, 20% coocked
4. Drink 1 1/2 liters lemon water daily
5. Take yoga classes, ashtanga, kundalini

I remember trying to go on a raw food diet afterwards and dropping a lot of weight as a result, and since I was really skinny at the time, I just couldn't keep it going. Although I have to be honest that I have not been able to adjust my life to this daily regiment, I have definitely cut down on the amount of processed foods and garbage that I used to eat when I was younger. I only drink organic almond milk or protein juice, and I eat a lot of fruits. I of course have my occasional junk food binges but I keep them under wraps because I'm a lot more conscious now of how negative they are health-wise.

While I haven't been able to fully accept life as it is, I do feel that some things should be left alone and not constantly dwelled upon. The mind should be occasionally unplugged. In the years since this experience, I've no doubt struggled to be a better person and to treat my body better. Even though there is no "soul" to be cleansed, we do have our inner being, our bodies and our minds, and they do fall prey to contamination.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

God, Time And Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig

Central to any argument about whether god exists or not is the notion of time and its relationship with being. "What is time?", is such a profound question that underlies our entire sense of reality. The fundamental nature of time is so puzzling that we do not get a consensus amongst physicists and philosophers alike on what its true properties are.

In philosophy, there are generally two theories on the nature of time, A-theory and B-theory. The A-theory of time states that the present is all that exists. The past no longer exists, and the future is a mere possibility, but doesn't yet exist. There is only the eternal now of the present moment. Because past and future do not exist, they aren't in a sense, real. The A-theory of time is adopted by most Christian theologians as describing the nature of time within Christian theology. Buddhism also interprets time according to the A-theory. The A-theory states that there is a "master time" or absolute time of which all clocks are set to, even if others tick slower of faster. Our intuitions are more closely in tune with the  A-theory of time because we feel that we exist only in the present, and so the present is therefore all that exists.

The B-theory of time states however, that the past, present and future all exist and are therefore all equally real. The past doesn't cease to exist once it's gone and the future doesn't come into being when it is reached at the present moment. Think of it like driving down a road. The town up ahead doesn't begin to exist when you reach it, it already exists, you just haven't gotten to it yet. Under the B-theory of time, the future already exists, it has already happened in a sense, we just haven't gotten to it yet on our subjective journeys through time. This means that notions like the experience of the passage of time are subjective illusions, and indeed time itself is an illusion. Past, present and future are more like destinations that we can in theory, travel to. The B-theory of time runs counter-intuitive to how we generally sense our understanding of time.

Now what does physics say on the matter? Issac Newton's understanding of time as a fixed absolute would agree with the A-theory of time, but we now know that Newton was wrong on time for all his genius. Einstein's general theory of relativity helped close the gap in our knowledge on the true nature of time. Time and space are intertwined in what we now call space-time, and the laws of physics permit the passage of time to increase or decrease depending on your speed relative to other objects, and the strength of gravity where you are. The faster you move and the stronger gravity is around you, the slower time passes.

This has amazing implications on what we think of as "now". We generally believe that the present moment is the same for everyone and everything. While I'm typing this blog, you are currently doing something at the same time. My now is your now, and your now is my now. But general relativity tells us that that is not quite so. If another being living in some far off galaxy at the far reaches of the universe, say 13 billion light years away were to travel away from us at a certain speed, their "now" would actually be our past. And depending on how far or fast they were moving would depend on how far into our past their "now" would be. So their "now" could be a year ago or a thousand years ago before we were even born. If they started traveling towards us, their "now" would encompass our future, even after we might be dead. But you're thinking, "Wait a minute, the future hasn't happened yet. How could someone else's "now" be our future that hasn't yet happened?" I've pondered exactly this problem myself.

The reason this occurs is because time is relative, as Einstein showed us. When objects move, their clocks tick slower. So if a traveling alien billions of light years away starts moving away from us and their "now" becomes our past, the straight line of time between us that represented our "now", becomes angled for the alien backwards towards our past. But ahead of the alien, in the direction he's (or it's) travelling, that diagonal angle points toward someone or something else's future. So, if the alien travels towards us, its "now" is our future. And that means that the future already exists much like the town up ahead when you're driving down a road.

Physics therefore, has demonstrated that the B-theory of time is more compatible with its laws. Watch physicist Brian Green explains in the clip below from the Nova ScienceNow special, Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time how this concept works.

Time is like a frozen river, and our experience of the present may just be a subjective illusion. What does this say about the existence of god? Well, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument, so often used by theists as the "shock and awe" tactic and front line of offense is predicated on the A-theory of time, which we now know not to be true. That doesn't mean that god is definitively disproven, but it punches serious holes in the argument that theists have to address.

This is where William Lane Craig enters since he is the current champion of the KCA. I've voiced my concerns over the problems of god and timelessness numerous times, particularly how a "timeless" and "changeless" being can have a causal relationship with temporal events, like creating a universe. Furthermore, if the beginning of the universe is the first event and thus the beginning of time, if god caused the universe to exist, then the cause of the universe would have to precede time. In other words, time would have to exist, before time existed. Logically, it's like saying I was born, before I was born.

I recently was reading a paper Craig wrote years ago about timelessness and creation in which he takes on these same concerns that were made by Oxford University Professor Brian Leftow. In it he writes:

God's choices are not events, since He neither deliberates temporally nor does His will move from a state of indecision to decision. He simply has free determinations of the will to execute certain actions, and any deliberation can only be said to be explanatorily, not temporally, prior to His decrees. If time is essential to choosing, then a timeless God could not choose between a beginningless or a finite time either.

It would seem according to Craig, that the execution of god's will must create time since he believes god is temporal posterior to the creation of the universe, which is an event. But how can god have "free determinations of the will" if he is timeless? In the paper Craig scrutinizes three theories that Leftow criticizes. I won't mention all of them, but the theory that Craig settles on, is one that states that time was preceded by what Craig calls "finite time". In other words, in order for god to have created the universe before time existed, and in order to explain god's timeless state before he somehow willed time into existence, another form of time had to exist before time existed. Craig argues:

Since [the beginning of time] is preceded by finite time, that time is not the consequence of t's being the time of the first event (otherwise it would be infinite or amorphous, since if t's elapsing is itself sufficient that there should have been n finite time units prior to t, it would also be sufficient for there having been n+1 finite time units prior to t). So the times prior to t must be either substantival time units in their own right or the relational consequences of events going on prior to t. Thus, if God refrained from creating t, that would have no intrinsic effect on times prior to t; they would still have existed, only now they would be at the end of time. Thus, it is difficult to see how God could do anything at t to bring it about that time was infinite when it was in fact finite.

Basically Craig is saying finite time that existed before time cannot be infinite (hence the name) and must be some kind of "relational consequences of events going on prior to" time. But this doesn't make sense when Craig constantly stresses the absolute beginning of time at the Big Bang and according to his website says, "A sequence of mental events alone is sufficient to generate relations of earlier and later, wholly in the absence of any physical events." That sounds like regular time to me, and so it appears the theist might have to commit to the idea that time began before time began in order to make sense of the cosmological argument.

If theists can be expected to just make up imaginary units of time, as is the case with "finite time" existing before time on purely philosophical and theological grounds, with no scientific theories or hypotheses backing them up, then how can we be expected to have a serious debate? The atheist goes to great lengths to make his case as scientific as possible. That doesn't mean to say that a theist can't be knowledgeable of science and use it to make their case, but if they get to violate logic by resorting to theories that have no scientific basis, and in some cases are even refuted by science, like the A-theory of time, then they should at least stop making a big fuss when we say that the universe came into being without a prior cause. It's only fair.

Further reading on arguments against god:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument
The Logically Implausible God
The Logically Implausible God Part 2
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Perspective On The Problem Of Evil

I don't often write of the problem of evil on this blog because to be honest, it is not an aspect of religion that deeply concerns me. I don't think the existence of evil proves or disproves god. I can actually understand the idea of allowing human free will, which would consequentially allow humans to inflict harm on others. Suffering caused by nature is a bit harder to accept however. The idea that earthquakes, floods and diseases can cause misery and suffering not only to humans but also to animals, is very hard for me to reconcile with the idea of a god of love. This is especially true when you consider that god might have designed every deadly pathogen and exactly how it causes the being it infects to suffer and die. I wonder what a good god must have been thinking when designing the intricate viral and bacterial mechanisms that would later wreak so much pain and misery.

This is all explained as the result of man's sins. Man's sins brought this evil into the world, and if it were not for this, our world would be perfect and free of suffering. Millions of Christians accept this sorry excuse for an explanation. Logically speaking, if no living thing ever died, the world would be plundered of all its resources. It doesn't take a genius to see that coming. But it is easy for me to target the low hanging fruit of fundamentalism. Let's take a moderate Christian view that understands Genesis to be symbolic. This take on Christianity sees that god is more like an artist or a farmer - he set the universe in motion and let evolution take control naturally. That way deadly pathogens evolve out of the same evolutionary process that elephants, dinosaurs, fish and people do. If there is no original Adam and Eve, then original sin may have taken place at some point in the past when god chose to reveal himself to us. Either way, death and suffering would have predated original sin, and so the instability of tectonic plates, weather and disease are somehow the result of a natural process that god started and knew would happen. It's equally perplexing.

What about the idea of god sending people to hell for worshiping in other religions or not worshiping at all? Is there any conflict with this and the idea of a just and loving god? I think so. Imagine Christianity to be true. That means the pious Muslim, who devotes his whole life to worshiping god according to the tradition he was born into, gets a very rude awakening upon his death that he has been wrong all his life, and must now suffer the consequences of hell. The same is true for the Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, and depending on what denomination of Christianity, the Protestant and the Mormon. All of these people wanted to sincerely worship and sacrifice according to the traditions they were born into, but because of the geographic bad luck of having been born into the wrong faith, they spend an eternity in hell.

I find this idea hard to reconcile with the notion of a loving and just god. I mean, where's the mercy? Where's the compassion? Why couldn't god make his existence more clear instead of mysterious and invisible? How can a god of love sentence someone to eternal hell-fire simply because they were born into the wrong religion, or were thoroughly misguided by science? Why would a loving, just and omniscient god choose to make his point by rewarding those who happened to win the lottery of geographical luck? Regardless of what monotheistic religion is true, if anyone of them is, it means billions of people today are going to hell. It means billions more who have lived and died have gone to hell. The majority of the world's population is going to hell, all because of a lack of evidence and bad geographic luck. Considering this, I think it would be wantonly cruel if a god did exist and didn't reveal himself or make his existence verifiable for the sake of the billions headed towards hell. Anything short of this is unjust and I would argue, intentionally evil.

To me it isn't man's evil that I find difficult to reconcile with, it's god's evil and indifference. That's how I would interpret the problem of evil with respect to religion.

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, October 6, 2012

The Ego Driven Life

I feel the tremendous urge to show off on occasion. It's something that I don't acknowledge easily, but I cannot deny its existence. But why do I feel the need to show off and what do I think I am getting accomplished by doing so? By showing off you make others jealous of you, and you make them envy you, and this feeds the ego. And through this a great sense of satisfaction is obtained. Who hasn't had the desire to be envied or imitated by other people? It's one of the most basic aspects of selfishness probably that exists. But how does one reconcile the natural selfishness in human nature with the conscious understanding of its destructive capabilities?

According to Freud, sex was the primary motivation driving humans. It seems that in the modern capitalist world, sex has been equaled by money, along with power. So money, power and sex drive the ego, and generally, the more we have of them, the happier we are. But is this an illusion of happiness? The rich aren't really any happier than the average American is and according to numerous studies having more money can only buy temporary happiness, like the way a drug can. Happiness comes from a multitude of conditions. In the documentary Happy by director Roko Belic, it analyzes several metrics to gauge the happiness of people. First there are extrinsic goals. These would include things like, money, image and social status. These are contrasted with intrinsic goals. These would include things like personal growth, relationships, and the desire to help. Intrinsic goals are said to be in and of themselves rewarding because they relate to intrinsic psychological needs we all have and can thus more easily produce a state of happiness.

With these two types of goals pursued by many people, it's not hard to see how putting too much emphasis on extrinsic goals toward happiness can lead to problems because extrinsic goals are ego driven. For me it hasn't really been money so much, but I've spent quite a lot time obsessing over my image and social status. Getting just the right look, with just the right clothes, and making sure that my social status is high enough up in the hierarchy have all been very important concerns I've had, and I have had many periods of depression when it just doesn't seem to be working out. My last job for example drove me crazy because, I couldn't fit in with the people I worked with and sort of became the social outcast. I hated this social status and it resulted in massive depression, for which massive amounts of alcohol was prescribed.

The kind of happiness that derives from intrinsic goals, is clearly where the emphasis should be put. They can not only produce happiness, they have positive gains for society when put to practice. The pleasure obtained from helping others and bettering one's life and relationships is incredibly rewarding for good reason.

But this leads us back to square one, which is the problem of the ego driven life. How do I reconcile my unhealthy extrinsic goals towards happiness with the more beneficial intrinsic goals when the extrinsic goals are so powerful in their lure? Well for one thing I could squash my ego and pretend it doesn't exist. In Zen the ego is an illusion, it doesn't properly exist. But Zen also teaches of the "middle path". And since there is no dogmatic approach to Buddhism, I am free to interpret Buddhism how I please and where ever I see fit.

So using the middle path analogy that the Buddha is said to have made, whereby he described to some of his early followers who were adapt at extreme austerity measures of self mortification, of how when the string of a guitar is too loose, it becomes flaccid and cannot produce music, and when it is too tight, it snaps. But when it is just right, it makes beautiful music, pleasant to the ear. This middle path, avoiding the extremes at both ends is what we call moderation.

Using the middle way, perhaps a careful check of my ego driven pursuits with in the extrinsic goals is preferred rather than taking such extreme measures as abolishing it altogether. I know that keeping one's ego in check is not an easy task. It requires a constant reminder, and humility. I'm not the kind of person who worships money and materialism so I might have a head start over others wishing a more moderate path towards happiness and fulfillment. I'm not about to give away all my possessions and go meditate in a cave for the rest of my life. I want to live in the modern world, with its amenities and conveniences, and yes I want to look good and have a decent social status. But what I cannot do, is let myself obsess over these things to such a degree that they drive my life. And I must balance them out equally, if not more, with healthy pursuits of trying to be who I really am, building closer relationships with my friends and loved ones, and wanting and committing myself towards the help of others.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications Part 3

I would be perfectly fine with never having to work another day in an office, performing work that I cared nothing for. To me, the idea of spending 40 years sitting in an office, is like hell. Sure there are office jobs that I could see myself working in, where the job wasn't that stressful and overbearing, and the people I worked with were decent and we got along. But ultimately, I think that my personality type, is simply not meant to exist for long periods of time within the confines of a florescent-lite cubical.

That being said, where do I belong? I'm actually not quite sure. I know where I feel comfortable. I know that there are three basic conditions to be met that make me content. They are: doing what I like, with people I like, at a place that I like. This is of course assuming that the physiological needs for me to be content are already met, such as having good health, a place to live and food. When it comes to work, I prefer to have a job working for an organization that does good to the world in accordance with my personal morals. Any job where I have to aide giant corporations in their destruction of the Earth for money, is not something that I can take lightly. I have done that in the past and I am not proud of myself for it.

Discovering Zen Buddhism through the teachings of Alan Watts has helped me to see the world from a new perspective. Zen has this mystery to it. Many of the experiences associated with it cannot be put into words adequately, which for me is a part of its appeal. I think that though Zen I have journeyed a bit closer to where I am supposed to be. I don't consider myself a Buddhist but what I aim to take from Buddhism is its practical philosophical aspects, and incorporate them into my existing belief system, that is grounded in atheism and Western philosophy. I would like to keep a foot in both worlds so to speak.

This all being said, I still honestly feel lost as to where I am in this world or where I belong in terms of my profession. I feel almost as if I simply just exist, without a greater purpose being actively implemented by me. I know where I stand in terms of my philosophy and morals, but translating this to an action plan that can support me financially has been an utter failure. Now I am of the mindset, that we each make our own purpose. We each have within us, inherent talents and desires, and from them we can each find the path that  feels right for us. A few years ago, when I started to get very serious about my passion for atheism and humanism I felt as if a light had just gone on. Unfortunately, this light seems to have gone off a bit too late - I was already in college paying thousands of dollars towards a degree in the IT industry just as my interest in it was waning.  This set of events has left me angry, but I don't blame anyone or anything for it, it just happened. I am glad to have found something I am passionate about at all. I do still wish that I could turn the clock back 5 years or so and have gotten my degree in political theory, philosophy, or one of the sciences.

In Zen you don't dwell in the past, because it doesn't exist. The past doesn't determine the present because the present is all that exists. My past miscalculations should not affect my desire and strive for doing something I am really passionate about. But all to often I become controlled by my past, as many of us do, whereby we allow events that have happened to limit our abilities in the present. This is not only harmful to one's potential, it is harmful to one's being. For to dwell too strongly into the past prevents the self from expressing who it truly is, and I struggle greatly with this.

What Zen philosophy means that my past experiences do not determine my potential in the present. Haven't we all succeeded in an assignment when we had no past experience to gauge whether we would be successful? It is shocking sometimes when you realize what you can achieve in certain situations, even when there has been failure in the past. All I can say is that my potential now to achieve what I am passionate for has is not bound with the chains created by past events.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications Part 2

Where there is peace, there is happiness. Inner peace of the mind, distilled in tranquility, is perhaps the greatest source of happiness. When I am tense, and anxiety ridden, it is often because I lack inner peace of the mind. There is a blockage somewhere preventing me from the calm and ease I yearn for. Zen is the art of unblocking that tension, through a sort of mind-based training. Meditation is one of its key exercises, designed to distill the mind of what Buddhists call "mara".

Is it not true that happiness comes from within? But what is inner happiness worth if there is nothing but difficulty elsewhere? What I mean is, let's say someone's life is by all objective opinions, depressing. Let's say for example, that someone with no home, no loved ones, declining health, and no foreseeable way to improve this in the future, has mastered the art of meditation and finds himself experiencing an inner bliss that no amounts of fortune or fame could reproduce. I ask myself seriously, if I would trade places with him. I have to be honest and say "no", I wouldn't. For all my problems, and lack of happiness that the blissful man had found, I do not think I would want the problems he must eventually face.

The inner peace he experiences through meditation is only a temporary experience in his presence. He will eventually have to face the reality of his situation like a drunk who sobered up in a jail cell. So I guess what I am saying, is that inner bliss through the practice of meditation, as good as it is, is not the only bliss that I want. I want the kind of inner peace that comes from knowing my life is something tolerable, and that it is populated with things in it that give me happiness in and of itself. I want to be living the life that gives me happiness, and not have to meditate in order to escape any kind of hell I find myself in.

If one can find inner happiness irrespective of the condition of their life, then couldn't that also prevent that person from improving their situation since they are content with having less than optimal conditions?

Deeper than meditation is the zen way of looking at things so that in the long run, a dire situation can be perceived in a new light. Therefore what bothers the mind can be soothed not just momentarily. I am no Zen master that is for sure. My realistic understanding of Zen is only months old and surely I have a lot to learn. I just thought I'd mention this inner conflict I have with some of the practical applications of Zen.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications

The Zen philosophy puts great emphasis on the perpetual now. The time is always now, it is never the future, it is never the past. And just like how spring doesn't turn into summer, and summer doesn't turn into fall, you don't turn into the person you will be tomorrow. You only exist and can only exist in the here and now. Thinking about this concept of time and of existence, I cannot escape my mind from my solidified western approaches to existence. And that is the belief that I am the same person I was, and the same person I will be, I change like the seasons do, and although I can only exist at the present, I am inextricably tied to my past. And so I struggle with this conflict, in hope of a reconciliation. I admit that I do dwell way too much on the past. Events that have happened years ago, often have their way of popping into memory, sometimes at the ugliest of times. Sometimes I am consumed with a past memory, that it makes me surrender to it. It controls me. The neurons and impulses in my brain that compose this thought have such power over me that I let it affect my future. This the Zen master, knows too well.

So how do I reconcile these two views on one's state of existence in relation to time? Our past certainly affects our present. If I had a child in my past, that likely means that I am a father now. If I ate some bad food in my past, that will affect my health here in the present. How does one not let the past affect the present when almost everything about the present is set down by events in the past? I think it's foolish to act as if the past doesn't exist, because it can lead to irresponsibility. So how then does the Zen master view time? Zen teaches that the past doesn't exist, and neither does the future, there is only the present. In other words, the me that existed in high school all those years who, does not exist. I only exist in the here and now. The me of yesterday also does not become the me of today. In practice, there is an important bit to be learned here. And that is that we too often let our past determine our future. When I had failures with women in my past, I learned that every new meeting with a woman was a unique experience, and that no problem I had in my past will affect this new encounter, unless I allowed it to. If I had let my past failures determine my future, every time I'd meet a woman, I would have already declared defeat before it started. A negative outlook on life is not a recipe for success.

The existence of suffering is one of Buddhism's four noble truths. Being that suffering is a bit different for everyone, its reconciliation is different as well. I am forced into an environment that that I don't like, around people I don't like, to do a job that I don't like. The stress from this is making me get older and am starting to see the results. I've passed the apex physically, and I know that from here on out, my body will be in a perpetual state of decline. This is beginning to cause me increasing depression. We all handle it slightly differently. The best thing I could do would be to get a new job, spend more time doing what I like and spend more time with people that matter to me. While easier said that done, it could be accomplished with enough diligence and hard work.

I am really scared of the effect that stress has on aging faster. I see gray hairs sproughting up where they weren't before. My skin looks weathered at times. I recently went shopping and bought a bunch of clothes a 23 year old would fancy. I feel a strong urge to desperately cling to my youth before it completely evaporates away. The stress I get from my job increases the aging process that is also causing me stress, and so I have a run away process that I ultimately will come out on the losing end of. I would like to practice meditation and to get back into nature. I need peace in my life. I need also to be around people that I like. I need to build strong relationships with like minded individuals, and indulge in my healthier passions. I need to stop listening to that voice in my head of negativity. I need to stop letting the past control my present and future. I need to be more confident in who I am and to stop putting false limitations on myself. These are all things I know in theory but need to be put to be put in practice. The Zen concept towards time and existence, I think adds a positive outlook to dealing with one's past. Do not let the past control your life. Treat everyday is a clean slate, with no residue from yesterday, to be filled in with new experiences.


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