Professor J. Anderson Thomson on Why We Believe

October 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

This is a great talk by Professor J. Anderson Thomson from the American Atheist convention in Atlanta, Georgia in 2009, which addresses ideas of human evolution, the mind’s coping mechanisms, and the way religion probably evolved with us as a by-product of social mechanisms which emerged within us.

Watch and enjoy!


Science is irreconcilable with religion

October 4, 2010 § 17 Comments

There are people who claim that science and religion can exist side-by-side, one asking the “how” questions (science) and the other asking the “why” questions (religion). I’d like to say I disagree with this stance, and for a few simple reasons.

Atlas supporting Earth on his back

Atlas supporting Earth on his back

Scientific inquiry is based on measuring interactions and outcomes from observable and repeatable phenomena, based on established empirical principles and existing theories. Outcomes are then observed, tested and compared to create a hypothesis. Scientific method also allows for the falsification of any established hypothesis if information or data arises which is counter to the hypothesis being presented. It is constantly evolving and changing, and if the evidence is great enough, then an agreement is struck among the science community.

Theological inquiry, if it happens at all, is based on interpretations of texts written by men during times when little was understood about the world and the universe. Theological discourse about “what the texts really mean” as opposed to what they say makes up a great deal of the discourse between theologians. Those who go beyond the religious texts tend to talk in vague ways around metaphysical ideas, claiming there must be something more, although ideas like soul have never been observed.

Science does ask the “why” questions, because “why” follows “how” in inquiry, but the “why” of science is actually asking for an answer to the reason something occurs, whereas the “why” from theology is asked without any real intention of arriving at an answer.

Francis Collins, in his video interview at Big Think:

“But faith in its perspective is really asking a different set of questions.  And that’s why I don’t think there needs to be a conflict here.  The kinds of questions that faith can help one address are more in the philosophical realm.  Why are we all here?  Why is there something instead of nothing?  Is there a God?  Isn’t it clear that those aren’t scientific questions and that science doesn’t have much to say about them?  But you either have to say, well those are inappropriate questions and we can’t discuss them or you have to say, we need something besides science to pursue some of the things that humans are curious about.”

I would argue that there is a LOT of philosophy in science, but it lies more in the realm of interpretations for what a scientific outcome might mean for humanity, what the implications for society and cultures are, or what possibilities might arise from a scientific discovery. I say there are no questions that can’t be asked of science, but I would say that in lieu of an answer that mysticism is not a real-world solution to these questions.

I think the irreconcilable nature of religion versus science comes from their origins. Sam Harris makes a good point in this video, where he equates the role of religion historically as the one now filled by science.

When we ask questions of our universe using current methods of inquiry we arrive at answers that can then be compared against other observances and outcomes. When we use the method of inquiry of theology, the answer has already been pre-determined from the outset, and the answer is always “God”. This is not a viable way to find answers, especially if we truly desire to know truths.

I feel that Francis Collins is falling victim to his own cognitive dissonance, where he knows that science has the answers for the big questions, and I think he secretly believes that science will eventually  have the ability to answer the philosophical questions we all ask. At the same time he deeply wishes that there is a creator for the universe, whether it be an Abrahamic god, or an alien creator. If there were a creator then we can stop asking questions safe in the knowledge that the ways of the universe are out of our control and beyond our understanding. And some people find it difficult to imagine a universe without a creator because it leaves us alone and isolated in the universe even more so than we already understand ourselves to be.

Why is it such a horrible fate than man is the result of natural processes and not the result of some divine creature’s tinkering with subatomic particles? We do think ourselves so special that there must be some preordained reason for our existences rather than simply existing, and to be special means to be created.

Furthermore, rather than falling into the downwardly spiraling argument “if there is a creator then who created it?” I think it is enough to say this. Just because we don’t understand something fully does not mean we should attribute it to a universal creator. Just because emotions and other non-physical interactions occur between people does not make it magic. One day, as scientific inquiry advances forward we shall see where the “unaccountable” stuff comes from, and we’ll look back at our immaturity and laugh, much as we do about ancient mythologies of a flat earth, elephants and turtles. People once believed that Atlas held the earth aloft on his back, but does anyone believe that now?

Bertrand Russell said this in 1927:

“If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.”

Science remains unafraid to ask the difficult questions, while theology will skirt around the subject matter, posing questions with circular reasoning and asking for disproof of something science has never claimed to exist in the first place. It’s not the job of science to disprove the existence of god, nor is it the desire outcome. Science is here to help us understand the universe, and one day, given enough time, we may discover why we keep asking for there to be a god.

Further Reading:
Science and religion aren’t friends

Richard Dawkins’ Speech at “Protest the Pope” March (via Monicks: Unleashed)

September 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

I stole this from Monica. Dawkins really does tell it like it is here.

This is the full speech by Richard Dawkins at the "Protest The Pope" rally, 18th September 2010. (unedited) … Read More

via Monicks: Unleashed

Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education

September 13, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is great. I feel that one of the greatest ways for us to go further as a species, and to save this planet from a multitude of possible dystopian futures is through education. To see that children are able to do this research on their own is very refreshing. Education is key, because through ignorance the only decisions we can make are ill-informed and ignorant ones.

In this TED talk, Sugata Mitra is very funny and seems to really enjoy the work he does with children, and seems honestly surprised by the children all the time.

“Dont just vote for them… Pray for them” – Politics and Religion

August 4, 2010 § 3 Comments

Outreach Media have done it again. They have chosen a current topic (for which I applaud them) and then used it for their own message (for which I don’t applaud them). As you may know, I have written on the Outreach Media billboards several times, as I drive past them every day on my way to work, and am aware when they change them each month. This month’s theme is the upcoming Australian Federal Election.

Dont just vote for them... Pray for them

Dont just vote for them... Pray for them

Every month, accompanying their billboard, the have a bible verse, and this month’s is this:

1 Timothy 2:1-2 “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

This tract from Timothy speaks, in the context above, of praying for our leaders, because if we do, through the will of God, they will be kind and gentle to us. It also says to basically respect all others and that they might to the same to you. It ls like the Golden Rule, do unto others, except that it includes the act of prayer. That’s all very nice isn’t it?

However if one it to dig deeper into the verses of Timothy, after he declares that Jesus appointed him “a preacher and an apostle (I speak the truth, I lie not)”, and after he says that people should pray everywhere they go, the verse goes on to say in 1 Timothy 2

9 In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly raiment; 10 but (which becometh a woman professing godliness) through good works. 11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. 12 But I permit not a woman to teach, or have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.”

Now that is odd, don’t you think? Because in the context of the story that Outreach have put the verse on their website, they are claiming that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, more importantly that you pray for them, and God will deliver the best candidate to us to look after us. It is very hypocritical, and somewhat misleading of them to use this verse from Timothy given what he says afterward, especially since Julia Gillard is a woman (oh and an atheist, but that’s ok, God will sort her out later). I wonder if Outreach Media took the time to read the rest of Timothy before suggesting that verse to us in the article.

Now I’m not going to pick on the Outreach article completely. It reads:

“God cares that people are looked after by their rulers. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 teaches us that we should pray for our government. They have such a tremendous and difficult duty. We should pray that our rulers will be wise in making decisions. We should pray that they consider the human rights of every Australian citizen.”

If you read this part, and take out the words “God” and “pray” it actually has a nice sentiment to it, for we do hope for the best from our leaders to treat people with the respect and fairness that all humans deserve. I’m sure you’ll agree. But it goes on to say:

“And, most importantly, we should pray that they serve the living God.”

So according to this article, it is more important that our leader be a god-fearing Christian than that they treat the people of their country with respect and a duty of care.

In fewer words, What Outreach Media is saying is this:

“Do not vote for Julia Gillard, because she is a woman and an atheist. Amen.”

Apart from the blatant sexual discrimination within the verses from Timothy, this is a great example of cherry-picking at the Bible to extract the meaning you want from it, rather than the meaning it actually has or implies. Again, I say, either believe and promote ALL of the Bible and its good and bad points, or promote none of it. If it really is the word of God, then don;t leave out the particularly juicy bits, especially Leviticus.

And as a bit of icing on the cake, the Outreach article adds this prayer at the bottom:

Prayer: Dear God, thank you that Australia is a democracy where we can live in safety and freedom. Please help the elected Government to run our nation with wisdom and discernment, and to honour you in all things. Amen.”

So vote early,  vote often, and vote for a Christian male, in the name of democracy, safety, freedom and God.

Stumble This!

And you may ask yourself “Well… how did I get here?”

October 14, 2009 § 18 Comments

You may not know it, but I’m an atheist.

For some it’s a label that has certain negative conotations in society, particularly in areas where religion is prevalient. It’s a label that people bandy about in some spheres the way they used to use the term “communist”, as the word “terrorist” or “traitor” is used today. Some people see the word “atheist” as a threat to their daily lives, using the label as a way to demonise individuals. To some, the simple word “atheist” causes fear, distrust and a sense of mortal danger, like the “boogeyman” of old.

Pretty scary huh? But what does it really mean to be an atheist?

It’s pretty simple really. It means “it is the absence of belief in the existence of deities.” This doesn’t mean just the Christian God, Allah or Yaweh. This means an absence in belief of ALL gods, including Shiva, Thor, Baiame, Venus, and any other name a god may go by. As a general rule it means atheists also will dismiss all organised religious and dogmatic rules and regulations as spelt by  The Bible, The Koran or any other religious text. But not exclusively.

In fact, the only single thing that ties atheists together, is their lack of belief in God or gods. The definition says nothing about what choices individual atheists make. Just like in every walk of life there are good and bad people, no matter what their backgrounds, religious, moral, ethical belief systems, or lack thereof.

I am an atheist, and this means that in order to operate on a daily basis, I make my own decisions about right and wrong, about my duties and rights, about the way i choose to act in any given situation. I am free from the need to be told by others how to operate in a caring, loving, moral and conscientious way. I know in myself what is right and wrong, and I am not swayed by the antiquated beliefs of fictitious characters to make these decisions.

I arrived at atheism through simply looking around me. I was taught by my parents that the world and nature are to be revered, and that natural processes reign in all situations. This applies to everything from the smallest chemical reaction, to the exploding of a far off galaxy, these processes, though not completely understood, are the set of rules that all things exist by. The further I looking onto this, the less room for a god there is. Evolution, entropy, decomposition, particle physics, astronomical happenings, gravity, osmosis. All things obey these rules.

The people I know who are atheist are smart, kind, caring humanists, who know how to live even if it is under the scrutinous eye of and elitist religious community at large. Each of them has arrived at atheism through a different path. In my next blog, I will attempt to expand upon this, as well as introducing you to the stories of those who surround me in my life, and how some of them arrived at the atheist conclusion.

Welcome to the Atheist Climber blog.

October 10, 2009 § 8 Comments

Why “Atheist Climber”

I have another blog which is dedicated to the things I love: my family and friends, rock climbing, food and other good things in life. It has a small but dedicated following, and is updated a few times a month. I started “Atheist Climber” in order to have a vehicle of expression for my views and criticisms of anything which causes me concern, and I don’t wish to alienate readers of my other blog.

The reason for the title “Atheist Climber” is simple: I am an atheist, and I love to climb rocks. Many of my thoughts about the world are informed by what I have learnt about myself while climbing. Lets face it I am obsessed by climbing, and all things climbing related, so I thought it would be weird to separate the two.

What is “Atheist Climber”?

This will be a combination of my considered thoughts about science, nature and religion, as well as politics, atheism and the occasional rant about stuff that pisses me off. This will not be about religion-bashing, although atheism is the main diver of this space. If you are easily offended, you may be offended. If, however, you are a freethinker and would like to read the viewpoint of a person who sees the world using logic, reason and historical fact, then you’re in the right place. I aim to inform, educate and challenge. Hopefully this blog acheives that goal. I don’t wan’t to make this a depressive rant about all that’s wrong in the world, rather I would like to keep it entertaining and informative.

When is “Atheist Climber”?

Well, right now, and hopefully I will update this blog once a week or more if I’m feeling particularly frisky.

So subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog, and please, if you feel love, please comment on my entries. If my writing makes any sort of difference to even one person’s life, then I have done more than I’d hoped. Enjoy and in the immortal words of Bill S Preston “Be excellent to each other.”

Atheist Climber

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