Thursday, February 20, 2014


An Essay Concerning Human
A brief defense of non-theistic reason

I will begin by offering a succinct disclaimer. This is by no means an exhaustive critique. Everything I discuss will require a deeper look by the reader but I hope to convey some complex ideas with confidence and intrigue so as to compel into action the inquisitive nature of the mind.

My main thesis is as follows:
The individual who claims to base their system of practical ethics on that which has come to us all through the serendipity of the past, through Ecclesiastical or regal force, by lack of viable alternatives or by our cultural vicissitudes and the random location of birth, viz., a dogmatic set of directives laid out in print by divine edict—is not only one that advocates unreason—but has become an unavoidable hindrance and an unacceptable effigy standing firm against those of us that do not. Now I must go to great lengths to justify this prodigious assertion.

Lets spend some time on semantics so that clarity rings through. When I speak of religion, what am I talking about? I take ‘religion’ to be any set of unquestionable declarations made by a group, large or small, that purport to demonstrate, clarify and explain existence. e.g. God created humans. This is what is meant by dogmatic ideology—indubitable claims and concepts that are axiomatically and substantively wholly accurate. If you find yourself saying, of course you can question my religion and my beliefs, thats what interpretation of Scripture is all about. Well then I can say that Jesus was just a carpenter whom may or may not have even existed and was subsequently legendarized and was not raised from the dead and did not have a great ineffable father figure who forsook him. This should be open to discussion if of course you do not adhere to the dogmatic Christian religion. This is the main source of contention the average non-theist has—that there are certain beliefs you hold that are not up for debate—they are ‘true’ by divine fiat. This type of reasoning is generally inculcated when young and is unconscionable in todays social atmosphere—or so I claim. I will return to this with examples later.

Of course religion is more than this. It is also a set of long standing cultural traditions, a source of community, an abstract place to find solace and forgiveness and an emergent way of life that may be the only reason that human beings still exist today. (See Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God) I will not spend much time with this ‘religion’ because it is the superficial structure built upon the insidious myths below it. Many people only see the good parts, choose to overlook the bad, and feel that they must not question such an established long standing institution. How could it be incorrect if so many people believe in it? How could an average person like me ever suss out any misgivings if scholars through the centuries have tried and failed to be convinced? We’ve all gone through this stream of logic but it the product of adolescent anxiety and not the adult cognitive prowess.

A note about atheism or non-theism. Atheism is an intellectual position on the question ‘Is there a God?’ No one, that has any understanding of the subject, can say with a 100% confidence that there is no God like being. We do have to define God as well. The Christian God is the inexorable oppressor played out in the Christian Bible. I believe I can be nearly 100% atheist regarding this God that is almost certainly a product of jewish cultural myth. But the philosophers God, sort of an unexplainable greater something not accessible by humans at the moment (or maybe it is) has to at least be considered. God could be Deistic who started the universe and then went on his way or the Panentheistic God that interpenetrates and is the universe (everything makes up God and then some— not so far removed from the panpsychism doctrine) or even could be the Intercessory God that Christians believe in. All this is possible in principle but not likely given the lack of discernible evidence. Agnosticism is also usually confused here. It is not a stop over point between theism and atheism. It is stance on the ability to know something. We are all agnostics, or should be, in regards to virtually everything—knowing something for certain is impossible at least given our best current understanding of how we come to know. Non-theism, sometimes synonymous with atheism, is the position that not only does a god not exist, but that we should not want one to, due to it’s totalitarian nature. Also atheism is not a religion. There are no dogmatic beliefs. The only thing atheists have in common is that they think due to the evidence most any conception of God is improbable. Secular Humanism is the closest thing to a religion that you could point to but of course this not a religion either, and is always subject to change given more accurate data coming in from the world. Healthy skepticism should rule the day.

Lets talk about faith for a moment. There are two distinct senses of faith. The first one is that defined simply with a direct synonym—trust. e.g. I have faith that the sun will show up tomorrow. I have faith in Avi. I have faith in the theory of gravitation. This ‘faith’ is easily distinguished from it’s distant cousin—religious faith. Hebrews 11:1 is the perhaps the best place to find the Biblical definition of faith “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. That is the faith I wish to contend with, the one that states you don’t need any evidence for what you believe—just take it on faith. This second form is essentially synonymous with the word religious. This is a polysemous word which can be clearly evidenced with the phase ‘I have faith in faith’ and thus due to linguistic anomaly, causes confusion.

I remember first reading that faith was not a virtue in Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion. I was taken aback to say the least. I laughed aloud and thought of course faith is a virtue. It was only some time later before I realized how deeply I had been mislead as a child. This leads to another important word. Evidence. What do I mean by it and why is it vital to apposite reasoning? Any body of accumulated facts that pertain to a certain hypothesis and that maintain it’s validity is what evidence is. The ‘facts’ of course can always be contested. You could say that it is a fact that the moon exists. All ‘evidence’ points to this very ‘fact’. But how do I know? Well, we landed a spacecraft there, I have seen it with my own eyes, we have physical evidence in the form of moon rocks. But could it be that all this ‘evidence’ has lead me to a conclusion that is untenable? Namely, that a giant rock in space, that we call the moon, exists. Yes, it could. Lets think for a moment about how we reason.

Inductive reasoning is defined as laws that can be generalized or inferred from observed sameness. Stated differently it could be said that your using inductive reasoning when you see white swan after white swan and conclude that every swan everywhere is white. This is good as far as it goes but there is a reference problem associated with it. You can never be sure that there are no other shades of swan unless you have been everywhere and seen everything. So if you never leave the States you may conclude a posteriori that all swans are white and based on your limited means it would be somewhat correct to do so. But a trip to Japan spoiled your all white swan hypothesis by the sight of a single black swan. What does this ultimately disrupt in your mind? The explanation. The explanation as to where and how this black swan came to be extant to be precise.

A good way to demonstrate this is to contrast Newtonian Mechanics and Einsteinian Relativity. Newton said that space and time were disparate absolute entities. He ‘discovered’ equations that seemed to bear this out and posited predictive power. He was surpassed by Einstein who claimed that space and time are not absolute but instead described a relative spacetime. The interesting thing is—is that Newtonian mechanics works for the most part and is still utilized by NASA for our near earth space craft and such. But when you begin to accelerate at great speeds and travel long distances Newtonian mechanics breaks down and is supplanted by Relativity. In short, Relativity provides a better ultimate explanation for all the facts that Newtonian mechanics alone can’t work out. One amazing fact about relativity—if we didn’t enter the gravitational equations into our GPS satellites they would never work (they would work but they would be useless). Time is calculated differently in space because of how gravity acts upon mass. So back to induction. The problem of induction is well known but abused by the average person and scientist alike. Observing a million instances of the same something does have predictive power but it is no guarantee of the ultimate ‘truth’. This is all leading somewhere, I promise.

A word on ultimate truths vs. actual human ones. I could digress and talk about different philosophical versions of truth but I will not here. I’ll just say that I adhere to the correspondence theory of truth that basically asserts that humans have the capability to discern objective external reality from their subjective sentient experience with it. Back to ultimate truth. This is a toughy. I think if in fact we can discern ‘reality’ then a number of implications need to be addressed. First I think this distinction should be made—the ultimate truth of something can easily be confused with practical, emergent socially constructed truths that you and I deal with. e.g. We are evolved animals so does that mean I should behave like one? No, as Hume has stated you should not derive oughts from ises (most of the time anyway). That is to say that just because something is the way it is does not mean that it should be or has to be. So the ultimate reality in regards to the above question (there may be an even greater ultimate reality but we do not yet understand it) is that we are evolved primates that have innate instincts and desires—but we now find some of these socially deplorable. So it is our job, at least living in a proposed ethical society, to fight against our basest nature and rise to the occasion of being greater than our forebears. It is not that we were born into sin and need to spend our lives in recompense but that we are evolved animals with an evolved morality that needs to keep evolving.

So how might this be a problem for religious reasoning? Lets look at two examples. I’ll begin with GMO’s. If your opposed to the genetic engineering of plants—why might that be? I would suggest it is because deep down you think things are the way they are and should not be meddled with by humans. This is whats known as essentialism promulgated in The Republic by Plato prior to the Hellenistic Era in the mid 300’s BCE. You may conceive objects as having immutable essences—this is no fault of your own and we all grew up thinking it. It is only when you understand that things evolve and change over time that this idea doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. There is no such thing as an apple. The apple is a conglomeration of matter in a certain form that we label apple. It has not always been around and probably won’t continue indefinitely. The evidence points to their ultimately being no such thing as an universal apple but of course it is real to us in our experience with it. Save nominalism being correct, then some brand of realism is the only logical alternative when discussing the universal existence of things. So two conceptions that we should take seriously—we humans are guilty of essentializing things and we seek patterns everywhere we look. (this can lead to parallelomania) These were and are adaptive traits that helped us survive. These are ultimate truths that need to be tempered into our diurnal reasoning even if they have little bearing on how we live daily. Just being aware of the cognitive deficit is all that is needed to live a more thoughtful existence.

So what does this have to do with religion? If your taught that God created you and everything around you as manifestly distinct objects then rather you realize it or not you are influenced by poor reasoning that goes against everything we have so far discovered. You may not be in this trap but if you are—how might you have gotten there? I say religious reasoning. If you say you are not in this trap then what are you claiming about God? That he got the ball rolling and then left it alone to evolve? Thats all well and good but then you will have to admit the more parsimonious view. You may claim that we both agree on the nature of how things came to be but not how it all began. And all I can say to that is why posit a God at all? Just admit that God is unnecessary.

There certainly may be legitimate concerns for altering the genes of plants like what salubrious or deleterious affect may they have on the human mind and body. Or how might it disrupt the ecology of the ecosystem. But essentialism and—well because I don’t like it because it feels wrong—are very poor excuses indeed. GMO’s may help save millions of lives. Take the introduction of golden rice into destitute asian populations. It contains much needed added vitamins for obvious health reasons due to the lack of them in their surroundings. It has been vehemently contested. Why? Such a great thing could help millions— many will point to some political reason or another but it is more likely due to some unwelcome religious belief about the nature of things, hindering the process. So in our grand society of today being religious has real consequences that can be tragic. Your religion influences the way you think about things and this is not a good thing for anyone. This is my conjecture.

Lets look at existence for a minute. You may believe that a life, once conceived, is worth saving at all costs. But is it? How might your religious beliefs alter your perception of this matter vs a non-theist? I aver that you are not as capable as I of making a well rounded, informed decision about this topic because your thoughts are obscured by primitive dogma, again, rather you realize it or not. I must point out that we may come to agree on the answer of what to do—but it is how we arrived at that answer that matters. Science vs Philosophy occasionally runs into the same wall. (Check out this excellent demonstration from Massimo Pigliucci and Michael Shermer— I do not support a strong from of scientism—it is not the only way to arrive at answers but the methodology may be the most comprehensive. Logical Positivism and Instrumentalism are only apt in limited fields of enquiry and should be assimilated into better methods. The important point here, is to say that with all the isms out there, coming down on one and saying eureka! this the thing I adhere to now, is generally incorrect. Every ism has an opposite, a different perspective, and the arguments should be looked at one by one. Atheism vs theism for example. This almost always leads one to conclude that a combination of isms is the best way to proceed with perhaps one ism being more dominant than the other or sometimes rendering the the other incoherent and so new distinctions must be made. This is progress.

When life begins is really not a question to go seeking for in The Bible, The Koran or The Rig Veda but can only be attained, if ever, by the extreme diligence of those committed to scientific methodologies. The ultimate reality may be that life is meaningless, that there is no purpose and that we are born only to pass on our genes. I trust that this is true so far as we currently know. BUT I don’t operate in that ultimate reality. I live in a society with other people that feel things. So I must try and understand that everything is ultimately pointless but try and create my own purpose and reason for living. Don’t confuse this with me thinking myself god here. That is clearly false. I am only in control of a few of my own faculties. Much of my composition is automatic. I must submit to the environment around me and so on. David Deutsch offers an intriguing view that since life has evolved and since it may have the power to alter the cosmos at some point, and in some ways it is already doing so, it must then be a very important ingredient in the cosmic landscape.

So we may be special after all. But I struggle with getting my head to grapple with the individual vs socialistic approach to thinking. On the one hand Communism looks like a solid political philosophy that helps build equality and trust in some utopian landscape—but we all know that it doesn’t work. However, I’m troubled that if we collectively decide as a species that the species is worth saving and must continue to survive whatever the cost, won’t this compromise the individual ethic? Anyway. Back to truth of propositions.

The most powerful ‘truth’ that we humans may ever be able to adequately reach will be that which provides the best explanation of all perceived and theoretical events. This was put forth by Karl Popper in the early part of the last century. His problem solving process goes as follows Problem-Conjectured Solutions- Criticism, Including Experimental Tests-Replacement of Erroneous Theories-New Problem. This Scientific Methodology is one of the greatest conceptions ever realized by man. It allows us to parse reality. It is not the only way of ‘knowing’ and of course can be contested. Two seminal philosophers of science advanced different epistemologies regarding how we come to know things through science, one by Thomas Kuhn with his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and WVO Quine with his treatises on logical coherency. Yet, both fail to provide better explantations for why we put our faith in scientific explanations and mathematical proofs. If you think the world works differently than to what I’ve stated you must be ready to give an explanation that provides a more reasonable alternative that somehow makes all theories more plausible. God in his various forms may have been a logical choice once upon a time, but no longer is without religious faith.

A few prominent philosophers and scientists still advocate this view like Richard Swinburne, Paul Davies and Alvin Plantinga, but without getting into the specifics their arguments, they are never able to overcome some basic questions and logical problems like how does something more complex exist prior to the simplicity that comes after it. Basically it just comes down to I have faith that a God is behind it all because for them it does provide the best explanation for all facts. To really understand this question one must have an understanding of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. It is the theory that in any closed system entropy increases—or rather—disorder. Entropy is the mathematical measure of heat (the excitation of molecules) dissipation. So this physical law, which has never been found incorrect but in theory could be, states that everything is spreading out and becoming ever more disordered. So how can something more ordered have possibly come before? So again positing a God gets us nowhere and goes against everything the universe is showing us and is not the best possible explanation for what we observe.

Another great example for how exemplary scientific reasoning works is showcased in Neil Shubin’s short book Your Inner Fish (which is about to be a PBS miniseries by the way). Neil and co were keen to find a ‘fish’ fossil that would have been an intermediary between fish and humans. The next question becomes so where the hell do I look? Armed with numerous ‘theories’ about the substantive world they go on the hunt. Theories like the age of the earth, the past location of landmasses, plate tectonics, fossilization, evolution, different climate changes over eons, and so on. And so having a good understanding of these things they set off on a multi-year journey. Now having combined all these theories—our best explanations for thousands and thousands of facts—they discovered their fish! Just think of all ideas that we must have close to correct to find an ancient, small skeleton located in a tiny patch of earth on this colossal planet.

I want to talk about intelligence for a minute. This is obviously a sore spot for many. I find it rather interesting that, often times, the religious person takes greater umbrage if you insult their intelligence over insulting their God or religion. Some may have read my letter to the believer and walked away with this— Dear Believer, Your an idiot. Sincerely Robert. Perhaps a better gist more fair to me would have been Dear Believer, Your an idiot if you’ve taken the time to investigate the myriad issues and still come out a sincere believer. Sincerely Robert. I realize that this makes me seem arrogant but it is simply not true. Arrogance is defined as that which a person thinks of themselves as having a greater self importance. As I have already pointed out, the ultimate cause of life should give one great pause as far as any inflated ego is concerned. This is where an ultimate cause has a large impact on actual human reality or as I surmise, really should. I am a man of argument and intense conviction which some will find off-putting. I want the most accurate form of the truth to be presented at all times and that it should not be subject to the emotions or traditions of anyone. Anyway, I contend that I do not believe for one second that I am much smarter than most people or most religious believers. As it stands, all else being equal, I am above average in IQ but of course having an IQ above average has no bearing on your ability to assess truth. There are all sorts of ways of being smart that are not related to the traditional IQ tests like your social IQ and so on. I do, however, wish to make an unpleasant point. I think that religion exposes you to little of substance and therefore stymies the mind in complacency. If you allow yourself to be continually brainwashed within the confines of religious thinking, especially when reasonably challenged, then you are a victim of senselessness. I don’t know how else to say it and there is no point euphemizing it.

If you choose to continue with religion as your moral framework as an adult then you have not only chosen poorly but will not be treated with respect in coming years or so I hope. I view the religious mind as bad as the KKK mindset. Now think about how you view this person. An obvious benighted fool that isn’t worthy of your respect even though he has the freedom to believe whatever he wants. He was raised in a scenario that told him people of color aren’t even people at all. He now supports this view as an adult. How might his reasoning ability be affected negatively? I think in a nearer future than people expect, much of religious thinking will be viewed similarly. It’s not viable and not the way we should be adjudicating decisions of great import.

A few pop culture references bear this out. If you were to catch orange is the new black you would have seen that the main protagonist female gives a short speech about reason and science to the foolish Jesus freak. In the HBO show True Detective the atheist cop is seen as the smart one while the religious one is seen as the dumber one who gives into his emotions. The show Newsroom has Jeff Daniels play an intelligent atheist. There are many other examples of this that are fairly recent. Religious adherents are usually equated with stupidity—why might this be? As of now, most of the time the outspoken atheist is seen as callous but always the smart most reasonable one while the religious one is typically seen as the foolish, scared one. You could care less you say. All I can do then is point out that popular culture typically mirrors trending attitudes and I hope this trend continues much like how black people started to become human in movies and how the homosexual became accepted. At least as far as American Protestant Christianity goes, I don’t believe it much longer for this world. They ain’t just gonna stand there and be called stupid forever and so some will seek answers and convert to a more reasonable assessment of the grandeur of life and some will die off and some will remain entrenched in oblivion but hopefully marginalized.

So can the theist be truly ethical? I have learned many wonderful things on my existential quest yet, many of them seem to dethrone man’s place as meaningful, special and smart. I don’t find it hard to remain optimistic though. Given the odds against any one person’s existence, your life should be filled with tremendous gratitude. I have learned that humility is of great importance and that mind can only be intuitively trusted in a few domains of a priori reasoning. (See Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow and Leonard’s Mlodinow’s The Drunkards Walk) Much much more needs to be said but I can’t see how the theist can claim to be as ethical as the person who accepts the ultimate realities of life, rises up every morning and conquers the day without recourse to their ‘sinful’ nature knowing full well that there is no ultimate consequences. I choose to to whats right because I’m inclined to play nice with others and so do you—you just don’t know it. We are all products of the society we grew up in and the recent and subsequent secularization of human rights and laws is a testament to the waning of religion.

Lets see what Peter Singer has to say on why religion is not a source of ethical behavior. He is perhaps the worlds leading secular ethicist along with Derek Parfit. “...we should understand that these evolved intuitions do not necessarily give us the right answers to moral questions. What was good for our ancestors may not be good for human beings as a whole today, let alone for our planet and all the other beings living on it. No doubt small human communities on a lightly populated planet were more likely to survive if they had the ethic ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ and consistently with this, favored large families and condemned homosexuality. Today we can and should critically examine any intuitive reactions we have to such practices and take account of the consequences of having large families or of homosexuality, for the world in which we live.

Many people assume anything natural is good. They are likely to think that if our moral intuitions are natural, we ought to follow them, but this would be a mistake. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in his essay On Nature, the word ‘nature’ either means everything that exists in the universe, including human beings and all that they create or it means the world as it would be, apart from human beings and what humans bring about. In the first sense, nothing that humans do can be ‘unnatural.’ In the second sense, the claim that something humans do is ‘unnatural’ is no objection at all to doing it, for everything that we do is an interference with nature, and obviously much of that interference—like treating disease—is highly desirable.

Understanding the origins of morality, therefore, frees us from two putative masters, God and nature. We have inherited a set of moral intuitions from our ancestors. Now we need to work out which of them should be changed.”

Ethics is a fascinating subject. I didn’t care about understanding morality at all as a Christian. I just followed what I thought the Bible was saying and thats it. But there is a massive amount to appreciate concerning this topic, of which the Bible supplies only a modicum of aphoristic interest. There is Utilitarianism for example which states that whatever action ensures the greatest good for the greatest amount of people should be utilized. There is Consequentialism which states that one can only assess the rightness or wrongness of an action after it has been actioned. There is the Deontological method which states that the right and wrong actions are intrinsically right or wrong despite the consequences. There is Emotivism and host of other ways to think about this matter. How can religious thinking help us discern the answers? It cannot any longer. The 21st century is a demanding place with rapid change all the time. Our only hope to survive these trying times with future ethical quandaries like genetically engineered babies and drugs that make super athletes and treating the AI robot with same moral code as that for humans, is to leave supernatural ethics behind us.

There are a great multitude of theories out there. Life is full of paradoxes and though they seem unfathomable to us they may just be an aspect of reality. (See Gödel, Escher and Bach by Douglas Hofstadter) For example, quantum entanglement is not subject to a causal agent like light and that makes no sense to our human brains. We observe and report. The idea that our observation may alter the experimental results is a fact of reality we humans may never be able to overcome. Maybe causality, at bottom, is not how things work. Maybe agents can operate with no prior cause. Maybe Frank Tipler’s Omega Point theory is correct. Maybe we all live in a Simulated Universe or some other statistically intriguing multiverse. Maybe in a Boltzmann Brain. I don’t have the answers to these deep questions but I’m willing to follow the evidence and willing to way the probabilities. Using Bayes Theorem which is an algebraic equation that weighs prior probabilities and evidence to assess how statistically probable some conjecture is, we can say with confidence that the Christian God, the Jewish Yahweh, The Muslim Allah and The Eastern concepts of Brahman are extremely improbable as actual functioning deities. Not impossible, mind you, but about as likely George Bush assuming the reincarnation of Osiris.

I would not wish to claim that logic, reason and scientific methodologies are not without their issues, especially when philosophical enquiry enters the picture. But these debates are welcome, religious reasoning aside—they will help us, hopefully, to render a clearer picture of universe we find ourselves in. Furthermore, you have to be able to offer a more reasonable picture of all naturally explained and unexplained phenomena. The God hypothesis just can’t cut it. You can’t explain the hiddenness problem of God. You can’t explain the answer to various concocted theodicies or the problems of evil. You can’t explain suffering. You can’t explain unanswered prayer. You can’t explain death. You can’t explain life. You can’t explain anything without recourse to faith. But I can.

I will try and address some of the comments now.

Yes I would be willing to speak about anything at virtually anytime.

I’ve thought a lot about the fire and brimstone comment. I don’t think the metaphor is apt apropos to the letter. Certainly lots of fire but of course I don’t think there is a hell and I don’t think you do either. If you didn’t mean it literally then I don’t think it even makes sense. The name calling isn’t directed at any one person but intended more as a flurry of invectives hurled at the ideas the person holds that I maintain are indefensible. You may not see the difference and I must say that if I call your idea stupid it would be hard not to think that I was calling you stupid but nonetheless that is what I meant to do.

I do love science but it is just one area of knowledge that one should embrace. These ideas I advocate above are mostly not mine, they are objective and independent of any beliefs I may hold. My beliefs don’t matter in regards to ultimate truths. You could say that—that in of and of itself is a belief and then we go down the semantic circle. I guess all I mean to point out is that if we accept objective reality can be attained subjectively then my subjective beliefs shouldn’t impinge upon whats objective. I don’t think this to be tautological.

I don’t think respect should be held for religious belief systems and that sometimes mockery and snobbery may have a place but only because those that hold onto their ideologies wouldn’t listen to reason in the first place. Think of those people that still find racism to be a valid form of reasoning about others different from themselves. I wouldn’t be speaking up if I though all this was innocuous. Ideas matter. Religious reasoning harms kids minds. I can’t say this enough. It doesn’t give you equal opportunity in the real world. It doesn’t allow you to give it your best shot. This is abjectly, demonstrably terrible.

I am not saying you suck in every way and in fact many people who claim to be religious are only doing so because it is still something that is regarded with respect and deference but... they live their lives completely distinct from it. That is to say they are atheist in everything but name. So once the lot of these people realize that religious thinking is mostly poison they will, hopefully, dismiss it. The true adult believer, however, has more to answer for, especially if your out proselytizing. I think obviously you and I could hold a rational conversation about many things but I would make no shallow attempt to keep you from my thoughts about your system of rationality.

Carl Sagan is the bomb but his mission was science education not so much to talk about the vagaries of religion. However he does address it occasionally and makes the same points, especially in his
book The Demon Haunted World and The Varieties of Scientific Experience. The compatibility of the two is nonplussed enterprise. The best couple videos Iv’e seen regarding it I’ll supply below.

(Wholly Against) Jerry Coyne -
(Accomodationalist) Richard Rorty -

I don’t want to civilize the simple minded pagan. We are all far above that already. But if you accept Christ as the ultimate answer to existence then my only mission will be to disabuse you of that notion.

Love you back. I’ve addressed the faith part a little bit already. I could be completely wrong about faith going by the wayside anytime soon. Every other person in history that has made this claim has been wrong so why should I be right? All I can say is they lived then and I live now and all I can do is hope for the best and help to make it so.

I’m not claiming that religious faith renders one completely incapable of making moral judgments. That would be ludicrous and is definitely untrue. But I am saying that knowing what we now think we know, faith is an unacceptable tenet of reasoning. And therefore should not be employed going forward. I think it would be unwise to underestimate the ubiquity of information that even the kid in the slums of Mogadishu has access to. The internet is changing everything and the great religious institutions won’t remained unaffected.

It’s a good point about the pragmatics of those with religious beliefs. I don’t think I would be human to say we must deny them doing good works for others and so yes we must somehow work together but my fear is that if we don’t begin to address these differences intellectually now, then they may be addressed in a not so peaceable confrontation in the future. This war of ideas could escalate to real war. This might seem crazy but if enough people say no to religion while enough stay entrenched than were going to come to an impasse sooner or later that diplomacy may not resolve.

Yes my contention is exactly as you guessed that society as a whole would be in a much better position if religious faith was left behind as a lesson from the past. A conversation with you is always welcome!

I’m sad that your sad. Your first statement is known as Pascals Wager. It’s compelling enough but falls flat when you think about it. Why would Christ be the answer? Why not any other character from any other book in history? This wager sets you up to think that there are only two options: accept life with no Christ and die and thats it or accept life with no Christ and die and be severely wrong. So why not be safe and choose Christ just in case. But I could make this same wager for the stuy puft marshmallow man and it would have the same logical consequence. I don’t know for sure that Christ isn’t who he claimed to be but probabilistically speaking it is unlikely in the extreme that a 1st century Jewish man rose from the dead to save us all from our sins. The onus is on you to prove how this could have happened given that every thing everyone has ever experienced on earth since then and before refutes the claim that people come back to life. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

There is not a single ounce of proof of life after death. NDE’s and all the rest of it amount to nothing more than wishful thinking and fanciful stories. Do I long for this to be true? No, I wish there was some reasonable evidence of life after death but that leads to one of the main points I’m making. The universe doesn’t care about what I want. It is the way it is and it would be better to follow the evidence untainted by selfish desires.

I don’t doubt that you’ve had experiences feeling God’s love and so on, I had similar experiences myself to be sure. But I can say with confidence that this is just you and your emotional self conjuring feelings. Think for a moment about all the people who don’t believe and get along in life just fine. Are you willing to say they don’t have ecstatic spiritual feelings of love etc etc? All these people that say they couldn’t have done it without God’s help dismiss all those that do.

I feel sorry for you and our family at large because they have passed on all the ideas that I am now prepared to fight against. It’s really not a matter of right and wrong so much as it is plausibility of correctness. We were are all victims of the God virus.

Right on.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Welcome to the fold all of you that are morally abject and positively dreadful individuals who even dared to question their beliefs! I, like many Americans, was raised in a Christian fundamentalist environment and truly was a sincere and genuine proselytizing believer for no less than 20 years. Yep, I believed in Adam & Eve, Noah's Ark—the whole shebang—a true to life literalist spirit. I will not spend much time forwarding a personal testimony of brain recovery at present, as I intend to do so at a later time. I will only say that based on the 6 hour and 42 minute phone convo with my sister (thats gotta be a record) and the 2 hour phone rant with my dad in the last few months, I have incurred a penchant to share with some people that may be feeling the way I do about their recent introduction to reality. 

Enter Sam Harris. He has, along with the other three horsemen (Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett) et al., changed my view of the universe in a way, to put it mildly, that was exceedingly necessary and profoundly enriching. I have pored over all five of his books and will proceed to give a short summary of each; some personal comments and a few links to the enthralling dialectics, discourses and debates from the most wonderful gift to the thinking man—YouTube.


He says he started writing it on September 12, 2001. It's easy to see why. Sam Harris was born in 1967 and raised in LA to a Jewish mother and Quaker father. It's unclear wether or not this had much impact on his upbringing—I mean to say—I don't think he was raised all that religious. Nevertheless, he was very interested in religion, experimented with psychotropic drugs and spent two years on meditation retreats while traveling to Nepal and the surrounding area. He received a B.A. at Stanford University for Philosophy and a Ph.D in Neuroscience at the University of California. 

The End of Faith is a polemic of sorts intended to raise significant doubts about the value of faith in general across the three great monotheisms and in fact all dogmatic ideologies which contain any element of supernatural belief, which, is by definition nearly all world religions. The fight is against dogma or rather incontrovertibly true beliefs systems that leave no room for criticism. Harris makes a great case as does Hitchens and Dawkins that faith is in no way a virtue, which again, is by definition something that is to be believed without evidence. So essentially you have billions of people around the world that take the word of those in power like bishops, reverends, swamis and imams and do little to challenge their own thoughts on what they intrinsically believe because they trust, on faith, the information passed down from on high with convincing deceptive appeal. And, maybe most importantly, because of childhood parental inculcation and the inescapable surrounding neighborhood holy bubbles. Certainly, one of the most convincing evidences for me when I believed in this nonsensical religion business, was that so many people around the world believed the same thing as I did or close to it—so how could it be wrong?

A few last thoughts—his chapter on belief is mind-blowing and well thought out. Sam has caught some slack for his last chapter which conveys an open mind toward some Buddhist practices but if you read his blog post on this issue and watch him speak on the subject, it's clearly (by far his favorite word) evident that he is genuinely open minded and yearns for scientific discourse on a interesting topic that has data yet to be studied. 

Please read! The difficulty level is medium but well worth the time.

The Buddha Article

A fantastic video describing his thoughts on the word atheism and why he wrote the last chapter. Be sure and watch the Q&A.

A talk he gave in a Jewish synagogue after writing

Sam's exciting and often tendentious blog


A followup to The End of Faith and truly a masterwork. You can read this in 2 - 3 hours and will come out a different person. Anyone, especially a Christain, Protestant or Catholic alike, will find his concise and strident arguments hard to reconcile on even their best days. He will alter your mind with plain ole reason and logic. This is the book I would recommend to anyone doubting their faith because it's quick and easy to read as well as being so flippin sensible and intelligent. Honestly, there is not much more I can say on this one. Just read it.

Sam's great Notre Dame debate with hyper-irritaing, but one of the best they got, Christian apologists, William Lane Craig

A brilliant discussion on the great question—Is there an afterlife?


There is no stopping this man. With The Moral Landscape, he breaches the next ultra sensitive topic, that of morality, with intellectual liberals and religious faiths. Harris postulates that objective ethical values can be derived through conscientious efforts via secular and scientific society to clarify our already innate morality. He calls this ideal, the moral landscape, which contain peaks and valleys and multiple ways of achieving the good life. He graphs this continuum with two points, well-being or the best possible state for everyone and at the other end being the worst possible misery for everyone. I don't think it gets much simpler. We all may subjectively disagree on aspects of what is good for everyone but most people can agree that something like the intent to kill is bad and therefore objectively wrong. He analogizes well-being with words like health. It's actually pretty hard to define this word. We know it better by what is not . If you are not sick, not dying and not writhing in pain all day, this is one step closer to understanding objective health. Same be true for well-being—If you feel love and happiness and are not hungry and not constantly raped every day, there is a pretty good chance you may be closer to an ideal form of well-being than others. I think on this we can all most objectively agree; that is his main point and furthermore he thinks we can use data to determine values using the greatest system of checks and balances known to man—SCIENCE. 

There can be obvious real world problems like invading North Korea, (which may be a good thing) with extreme collateral damage, (a bad thing) and so we may have to sometimes go down a valley before a peak becomes a possibility. But no argument I have yet seen raised in opposition seems to renege this wonderful secular dynamic of candidly humane people getting together to solve morality issues without the time wasting, cloying retardations of ancient religious value preachments. Whats more is that nearly 90 years ago now, Bertrand Russell, the great mathematician and philosopher, was writing and promulgating the same concepts in Why I Am Not A Christian. He called well-being the good life and that we can and should be able to determine values through science. Many still want to keep morality out of the purview of science because it's seems to imply materialism and that we are just reductionistic, deterministic automata. I think, like Sam, it's time to stop over philosophizing and get down to brass tax. Let's not pretend it's going to be easy but lets stop pretending that we can receive any assistance from a celestial dictator.

A phenomenal articulation of morality given at Oxford University about morality

Possibly an even better oration in New York after writting

An in depth view of morality

Supreme intellect—a wonderful debate

LYING - 2011

In 2011 Sam wrote an essay/short treatise on lying. You can only get this on Amazon but even though it's only about 30 pages it's well worth the two dollars. It's because of reading books like this that I am so enthused about being apart of this new movement of reason. Sam gives a terse and clear account of his thoughts about lying. Don't do it! He gives many reasons and clarifications for why he believes this way and how even simple scenarios, like when your girlfriend or wife asks you, "do I look fat in this dress" are more complicated than they may seem and when lying almost always make things worse. This may be very obvious to you but why not take an hour to learn a little more about what you think is so apparent and be rewarded further for expansion of your grey matter.

Sam is rather brilliant and these two links will show you why


We are now up to date with his latest controversy, Freewill. You can read this short book in an hour or two or thereabouts. Sam is a neuroscientist and a philosopher—he thinks alot. These thoughts, he claims, come not from the I inside our heads but arise naturally due to the processes and functions of our enlarged organ—the brain. He gives, once again, clear thoughts as to why he believes, due to the latest findings in neuroimaging, that freewill is an illusion and that in fact the illusion of free will is an illusion. He provides a few simple thought experiments to show why this is so and provides facts from research that clearly indicate this. What does it mean to have no free will? He says compassion and empathy will be more universal and understandable if one comes to terms with this truth. You did not make yourself. You don't control your heartbeat anymore than you control the thoughts that pop into your head from second to second. Anyone who meditates can appreciate this fact. He also talks about Dan Dennett's philosophy of consciousness and how it differs slightly from his own view. It's a non intuitive prospect to accept that you do not control your own mind and raises some really profound questions about what that can mean. I'm happy to say that this is not a problem for me because, honestly, you just have to distinguish understanding how the body functions, and works as best as possible and how you still are going to act and react in the everyday world. This again does not reduce us to mere robots. I am now just able to use this information weighted against other evidence to lead a more profound and well informed life to better help those around me.

His discourse on freewill

Dan Dennett's talk on freewill

In conclusion, I can say that Sam Harris has changed my life for the better. He also has introduced me to numerous other great thinkers. I've only felt comfortable calling myself an atheist or antitheist for about six months now and am finally ready to start sharing my thoughts, primarily, in the advocation of science, logic and reason as arbiters of truth and the firm basis of living a good, worthy life full of purpose and fascination. I have a long way to go to recover from my childhood indoctrination but I feel so much happier that the ironic burden of Jesus Christ has been lifted—I can finally see clearly for the first time. I honestly feel like a new human being soaking up all the great wonders of the world. Sam Harris has helped to facilitate this. I am now a humanist who despises dogma, hates faith, embraces intrinsic morality, detests lying and concedes that I have no free will. Goddamn. I owe alot to this guy.

I also wish to thank Andrew Steadman for being the first apostate to stand up and challenge why I believe what I believe. I am forever in your debt.

I am currently going through all of Richard Dawkins and will produce a similar article, only this time it will mainly focus on how my life has been supremely enriched by his view of life and his strive for clarity of thought.

My Youtube Channel with over 130 videos of great debates and conversations

Books I have completed in the last six months: whew

The Selfish Gene - Dawkins
The Extended Phenotype - Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker - Dawkins
Unweaving The Rainbow - Dawkins
The God Delusion - Dawkins
The Greatest Show On Earth - Dawkins
The Magic Of Reality - Dawkins
Why Evolution Is True - Coyne
On The Origin Of Species - Darwin
Transcend - Kurzweil
The Singularity Is Near - Kurzweil
Freewill - Harris
Lying - Harris
The End Of Faith - Harris
Letter To A Christain Nation - Harris
The Moral Landscape - Harris
Tractatus Logico Philosophicus - Wittgenstein
Breaking The Spell - Dennett
The Portable Atheist - various
God Is Not Great - Hitchens
Why I Am Not A Christian - Russell
God: The Failed Hypothesis- Stenger
Varieties Of Religious Experience - James
The Philosophers Handbook - various
General and Special Relativity - Einstein
The Elegant Universe - Greene
Six Easy Pieces - Fenyman
A Universe From Nothing - Krauss
A Brief History of Time - Hawking
A Briefer History Of Time - Hawking
Cosmos - Sagan
The Demon Haunted World - Sagan
Candide - Voltaire

What Im currently reading: just the tip of the iceberg...

The Fabric Of Reality - Greene
The Prince - Machiavelli
The Myth Of Sisyphus - Camus
A Clockwork Orange - Burgess
Postman - Bukowski
A Brave New World - Huxley
Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Nietzsche
The Ancestor's Tale - Dawkins
The Best Of Science Writing - Dawkins
A Short History Of Nearly Everything - Bryson
How The Mind Works - Pinker
etc etc etc