“Who do you need to forgive?” – Outreach Media

October 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

It’s October, which can only mean one thing; Outreach Media have a new billboard! They seem to have hit a few nails on the head this time.

Who do you need to forgive?

Who do you need to forgive?

Not everything that religion touts is harmful, in fact there are some valuable lessons that can be learned from the stories and parables of the Bible. The idea of forgiveness, for instance, is a useful tool to allow people to move on from conflicts or incidents, and to not allow small problems to become larger ones. It is useful to us for letting go of people’s trespasses upon our own territories, and allowing us to balk around fighting or killing everyone who does us wrong. This is one of the basics of civilization, and it is one of the things that allows us to form societies and cultures, and to live in such close proximity to each other. It allows for tolerance of other people, and rather than us reacting against everyone violently or aggressively, we can allow others to go on with their lives in relative peace.

So I don’t really have a problem with the idea of forgiveness. It can be more difficult to forgive people than to hold a grudge, but holding a grudge can be harmful to the mental health of a person, and can be extremely harmful to a culture or society, especially when one of the Bible’s other tenets “An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is acted upon. The Gaza Strip is a perfect example of a culture not forgiving the acts of people from their own histories, and continually lashing back and provoking further conflict.

But the idea of forgiveness for the sake of appeasing a God that forgave me for its bringing me into existence in the first place is ridiculous. Having to forgive those around me for their wrongdoings unto me to please a god makes even less sense.

What I’m saying here, yes forgiveness is very important, and worthy of accolades, but not for the sake of going to Heaven. Forgiveness allows us to get along better on Earth. What use can it possibly be to a God? Forgive people because you are a good person, not because you want to appease your God.

On a side note, Steven Pinker speaks at length about the idea of “determinism” in his book “The Blank Slate“, covering off the fear that people have of either being fully at the mercy of our animal instincts to do wrongs to others (this has been used this as a defence against rape, saying that men can’t control their animal urges), as well as the opposite fear (which is scarier) that we are beings of choice and selfishness and do wrong to others because we feel like it or can see some benefit in it for ourselves (mugging and home-invasions etc.).

If either of these cases turned out to be true, in which situation would you find easier to forgive? Why would you forgive someone? Would it be because you can empathise with their situation, and would just like to move on? Or would it be because you were told to forgive so you can reap the reward? Would it make a difference to you if someone stole from you if they had to feed a small baby, or if they stole from you to buy drugs?

Empathising with a situation helps with forgiveness, but even if you can empathise with someone who was stealing to get their next drug fix, would you forgive them? We do use deterrents in society as a way to stop people from causing arbitrary harm to others, such as incarceration and fines, but what we see as acceptable is also up to the societal norms and accepted morality of the culture in which you exist. So when someone goes against what we call societal norms, and mugs, rapes, steals or murders regardless of the outcome, we tend to figure it must be for a reason, whether it is the result of upbringing or genetics or societal pressures.

Having some sort of insight into the reasons behind why someone might cause harm to someone else, regardless of what it might be, makes it easier to forgive. Of course I can see there are some situations where forgiveness is not necessary (someone bumps into int the street on accident), or situations where you don’t want to forgive (murder), and I think this is fine too.

The idea of forgiveness is a good part of human societies, it allows for people to get on with their lives and not dwell on situations they no longer have any control over. As the article from Outreach Media quite correctly says “Letting go of anger and bitterness is a real struggle and you may need to keep working on it all your life,” and counselling may be needed in order to get past certain situations.

Forgiveness was not invented by religion. It was developed by people as a way to get past conflict. It is a useful tool, and it makes for a less stressful society for us all. To be told we have to forgive in order to be forgiven by God is a carrot we don’t need in society today.

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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

Vox Populi 2 – Education is key

October 2, 2010 § 7 Comments

Welcome to the second of what I hope will be a long series of “Vox Populi” articles on my blog, where I ask for your feedback and thoughts on a given topic. I really do depend heavily on your ideas to help formulate my own, so I decided it was time to give you, the reader, a real chance to say what you think. Hope you enjoy these short topical pieces, and please leave your feedback in the comments.

Topic 2: Education

I’ve talked about education as the key to our continued success on Earth before, and I firmly believe that to be the case. With strong education comes an ability to think critically about the present and the future, and to make decisions based on the wisdom and failures of the past.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Vetruvian Man

Leonardo Da Vinci's Vetruvian Man

However I see a trend in education coming from special interest groups, who feel that their “viewpoint” may be under threat in the education system, and they are demanding that children be taught their viewpoint, regardless of how ludicrous it may be. For example, there is a strong push in the USA in some areas of Australia for young-earth creationism and “Intelligent Design” to be taught as a science alternative to a slow universe evolution. While this holds no water as a viable alternative to the scientifically agreed ideas surrounding the origin of the earth and the universe, schools and the curriculum are under increasing pressure to accept this into the teaching curriculum amid the threats and the berating coming from these groups.

There is also a growing trend from people like the Anti-Vaxxers, who are telling us that vaccination is bad for the children, and yet we are seeing an increase in deaths related to pertussis and the like in areas where vaccination levels are low.

That said, my commitment to education is because of this understanding; with bad education comes bad decisions, and we can ill afford bad decisions in this day and age.  Major problems in our world can be avoided by better education such as population and agriculture, energy efficiency and food distribution, disease management and eradication.

We need to be stronger in our teachings. I see the viewpoint of the creationists as valid in only that it highlights that some variance in cultural upbringing and ignorance can cause people to believe the most unusual things. I’m not saying that the education we have now is by any means un-faslifyable or perfect, but that we can’t fall back on the misunderstandings of human past as a viable alternative is ludicrous.

There are those who deny all the teachings of our modern era as “conspiracy”, but don’t you think someone would notice? I mean someone with a large breadth of learning?

I’d like to hear your opinions on education. I know some of you home school your children because you fear the education system is overly influenced by the minority interests. I know some of you live in areas where vaccination is on the decrease. I know some of you live in areas where overpopulation is a problem. I know some of you have chosen alternative teaching methods such as Steiner, or have been part of it yourself growing up. I want to hear your opinions on the topic of education, the good versus the bad.

Atheist Climber Prominent People Project

September 24, 2010 § 7 Comments

Atheist Climber Blog is turning One year old on October 10! Yay! And I remember like yesterday thinking “Do I have anything to write about? Will anyone care? Will anyone read it?” I just wish I had taken more baby photos!

Well you have all spoken to me by visiting and commenting on my blog. My measure of success has been reflected in the blog stats with over 60,000 page hits, over 100 subscribers, and more than 1500 comments for the 100+ articles and videos I have posted. This far surpasses my expectations and for that I thank you all.

To celebrate, I am in the process of interviewing a selection of prominent figures in humanism, atheism, science and critical thinking. Most of these will be in the form of written interviews, but who knows? I might, down the track, do some video or audio interviews too. This will be dependent on how these interviews are received by my readers.

I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but suffice to say, I already have confirmation from a few very prominent and important people who I’m sure you’d recognise. More information to come. So stay tuned!

The first interview will be published on Atheist Climber Blog’s first birthday, October 10, 2010. So come celebrate with me, and feed your brain with the words of some great thinkers.

Thanks again,
Atheist Climber

We’re All Doomed, Time To Get Positive! (part 1)

September 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

The world is in some real strife at the moment. We are approaching a point where experts believe that we will live in an unsustainable way within the next few years, and the population of Earth will reach 9 billion by the middle of this century. While it is true that, for the majority of people living on Earth today, our lives have improved in health and longevity, many of the poorest people are poorer than ever. Some countries like the USA are using on average up to 5 times the amount of resources than is viably sustainable on this planet, and in countries like India, population growth is out of control. The earth is unwell, and we are the cause of this illness.

I recently posted the RSA Animate video “Smile Or Die” on my blog, in which Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the darker side of positive thinking. She talks about “The Secret” and how it is misleading people into thinking that if you think positively enough about something, it will happen. If it doesn’t happen it’s because you weren’t thinking positively enough, or you were never meant to have it.

I totally agree with her in this sense, that positive thinking by itself is useless, except in that it may make you have a better outlook in general. But if you never act on these positive thoughts, all you are doing is effectively throwing your money into a wishing well and hoping for things to get better. I see the idea of The Secret and the idea of prayer in the same light. So many people put their hopes into the “hands of the divine” rather than actively doing something about their situation. Be it Oprah or The Bible, hoping for good things passively is not very helpful for anyone.

I can understand that when people are in times of extreme distress, where a bad situation is out of their hands, like after a natural disaster, in wartime, during times of illness and death, that one might feel less helpless if they at least hope or pray for better times, or to be delivered from a bad situation. This action alone, however, is as useless as masturbation. It might make you feel good for a while, but it won’t achieve much.

What has all this got to do with the state of the world? Well, with  the world being in such a state as it is, and with dire warnings from the likes of Stephen Hawking, telling us we “abandon Earth or face extinction”, it’s easy to fall back into an attitude that everything is hopeless. And I see increasingly an attitude among people who know of the plight of the planet which is “We are all doomed, nothing we do matters, why bother trying?” And this is further exacerbated by the media and its constant portrayal of all the bad things which are happening on and to the Earth. Apart from the aforementioned population and climate problems, we constantly see terrorist warnings, financial warnings, product recall warnings, disease outbreak scares, apparent increases of violence on our streets and the like. These constant warnings compound people’s tendency to fall back on the negativity that we all feel at times. It all seems hopeless.

These two ideas, the hoping helplessly for betterment and negativity toward the future are linked, and sometimes one can lead to the other. If one fails, why not try the other? People in hopeless situations can feel a bit better if they feel like things are out of their hands, and there is nothing easier than just giving up responsibility.

But is it actually hopeless?

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Recently I read an article on Discovery Blogs entitled “Ozone Layer No Longer Thinning” which explains that after 20 years of concerted effort by the world’s populations to stop pouring CFCs into the atmosphere, we have actually halted the depletion of the ozone layer. This is great news! and the implications go far further than just making sure New Zealanders don’t get sunburnt all the time. What this means is twofold; that we can effect change in the atmosphere; and that we have effected change in the atmosphere (take that climate change deniers). What I mean by this is, it is accepted as fact that the emission of CFCs into the atmosphere cause ozone depletion, and that we by our actions as a global community have taken positive steps to rectify this situation.So why is it different these days? Why do people still claim that there is no link between climate change and human activity?

I propose there are a couple of reasons. Part of it to do with the apparently hopelessness of the situation, and partly because people are unwilling to change the way they live, especially in the USA, Europe and Australia (yes we are very bad too). We love our stuff, and we love it so much that it seems we would rather watch the world around us destroy itself and have a flat screen TV than try to employ more environmentally sustainable practices. Sad, really, but this really seems to be the case.

Let me, at this point say this about negativity. Negativity is worse than false positivity, because not only does it not achieve anything, but it also makes the person thinking negatively feel bad too. The likelihood of being antisocial is increased and may lead to a depressed state. At least people who think positively, whether well-founded positivity or not can be seen as positive people.

I’d like to propose something different.

Firstly, rather than being negative about the future, why not find some thing that are positive in the world. Technology is making leaps and bounds toward the betterment of society. People like Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan and even Ray Kurzweil to a certain extent talks of things that are worthwhile us striving for. The idea that we can strive for all people to be fed, to live longer, to reduce human population, save the rainforests, using the planets resources for ourselves instead of squandering them, all of these ideas are real and if not achievable now, will be soon. Space travel, solar and geothermal energy, green cities and the end to fossil fuels are all within our grasp, or just outside it, a few small steps away.

The key here is education. We need to be educated about our current situation, the way it’s headed now, the possible futures and the futures we want. It is not hard to learn, all of the basic information is on the internet, or in books. Learn what must be done, and learn what can be done.Start with the simple things and then make decisions based on ecology, economy and society.

There is one major hurdle here, and it comes in the form of global mega-corporations, who seem from the outset, to be against everything that we need to do as a planet. Remember however that these corporations are at the mercy of every human who uses their products. If we stop buying products from a company, they go broke. Humans are the ones who drive the market, regardless of what people may tell you. I’m not saying we need to boycott products by all corporations, but we do need to choose wisely what we buy, and what we see as necessary in our lives. Pressure on governments and corporations does work, but it is a slow process.

And don’t just hope for it. We need to actively participate in this discussion.

I do not have all the answers here. How could I? I’m not a scientist, philosopher, or an economist, but a person with a layman’s understanding of what’s going on here. And one thing is very clear to me; with a negative or even a passive positive attitude we are treading water and will soon lose steam.

See part 2

Carl Sagan – Consider Again that Pale Blue Dot

September 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

“We seem to crave privilege, merited not by our works, but by our birth; by the mere fact that, say, we’re humans, and born on Earth. We might call it the anthropocentric, the human centred conceit. This conceit is brought close to culmination in the notion that we are created in God’s image. The creator and ruler of the entire universe looks just like me.

My! What a coincidence! How convenient and satisfying!”  – Carl Sagan

Burning Religious Texts

September 11, 2010 § 10 Comments

There has been a lot of stink over Pastor Terry Jones and his proposed 9/11 Qur’an burning party, so I thought I’d throw my opinion into the ring and see what comes of it. I’d be interested to see what you think too.

Pastor Terry Jones is a religious nutjob, part of a cult which is not only openly anti Islam, but also openly homophobic. As he is a Charismatic Christian leader, I hold his opinions as extremist anyhow, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that someone like him would be proposing such a stunt.

I don’t have a problem with burning the Qur’an, just as I have no problem with PZ Myers and his treatment of the Christian sacrament. The book is just a book, and that’s that. It’s a physical object, nothing more. While he’s at it he can throw in all his copies of the Bible also. Makes no difference to the world. The media have brought so much attention to his proposed bonfire, and all over a little book-burning. This is not a Fahrenheit 451 situation. He owns the books, and if he needs something to cook his hamburgers over, so be it. Who am I to say what a whackjob like him can do in his own backyard?

As a symbolic act though it is quite sickening to see this man using the tragedies of September 11 to justify his hatred of other people. The tragedies of 9/11 were perpetrated by people who were Muslim, true. But the broad brush of “they are all terrorists” is just not acceptable in today’s society, just as it would be remiss of me to say that all Christians are waiting for the Rapture to come so they can sit with God in heaven while the heathens like myself burn below.

All  this hype about 9/11 and the Muslim community is a little unsettling. I am by no means defending Islam as a good thing, in fact I’d say it’s more than a little backward in this day and age. However all the Muslims I know, apart from following Islam, are decent and kind folk, and I can forgive them for their faith as they were indoctrinated into it at a young age, as is done in their communities. It’s the “eye-for-an-eye” attitude of this pastor that gets my goat. He thinks that by burning the Muslim holy book (like I said, whatever) he will somehow prove that he and his faith, and America for that matter, is better than the Muslim community? And this is about MUCH more than the Islamic community center proposed for a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero.

Ground Zero is not a holy Christian site. It’s the site of one of the most heinous acts to be perpetrated on humanity in living history. The fact that, so some people, it has become synonymous with their Christian God is a little more than unsettling. Not every one of the people who perished in 9/11 were Christians, in fact there were people from all faiths in the buildings when they came tumbling to the ground. Every life lost on that day was a tragedy. Every one, regardless of their faith.

So the argument that Islam is somehow provoking a backlash by proposing this centre is moot. Sure the hijackers were Muslim, but does that speak for every Muslim? There was an Islamic prayer room on the 17th floor of the Twin Towers, and there is a pre-existing Islamic prayer space much closer to Ground Zero than the proposed Islamic community centre that’s been there for years. It makes no difference in the long run to have a community centre there, in fact it may be helpful in healing some of the bad blood that 9/11 has brought to the surface.

The proposed Qur’an burning is supposedly a reaction against this Islamic community center to try to teach Islam the lesson that “You cannot mess with America!” But the only thing it will achieve is that extremist Muslims will see this act of stupidity as a provocation, and because of all the attention this has received from the media, they may well act upon it in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

This is not about “Freedom of speech”. This is about “Should this idiot be allowed to possibly provoke the people of Islam into a mindset of revenge upon Americans?” He can say anything he likes, because he is an American, but he is throwing stones for the hell of it. And the Islamic faith is much more easy to agitate than that of most Christians.

And one last thing. Religion in this form is dangerous. Hatespeak is dangerous. People who breed this hatespeak are dangerous. This is because these things are not done in their own names, but in the name of their God. No responsibility will be taken, because this is the way they interpret the “wants of God”. Surely it’s not that Pastor Terry Jones is a narrow-minded, bigoted, nationalistic, bible-thumping reactionary himself, is it? Seems all too convenient, don’t you think?

EDIT: See what Olbermann and Obama have to say about this outrage.

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