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!

Vox Populi 3 – The Realistic Future

October 13, 2010 § 4 Comments

Welcome to the third in the series of “Vox Populi” articles on my blog, where I ask for your feedback and thoughts on a given topic. Hope you enjoy these short topical pieces, and please leave your feedback in the comments.

Topic 3: The Human Future

I tend to see myself as a slightly pessimistic Extropian, but with my pessimism based in realism. However I still think we need to strive forward.

Michio Kaku has a lot to say on this subject. In one interview by George Noory, the interviewer says something along the lines of “It always seems like a race between self-destruction on the one hand, and Type 1 Status on the other.” I tend to agree. We are racing toward self-destruction, but at the same time are making advances toward the longevity of humanity and the planet at the same time. Which will win? Well it really depends upon a lot of things.

However along with my pessimistic extropian ideals comes a healthy dose of optimism, but only when I see the “ifs” than need to be satisfied. For instance, nuclear fusion, solar power, geothermal and wind-power, if harnessed in the right combination could result in an inexhaustible source of energy for nearly free, and with this would allow us to leap forward on a technological scale without further damaging the atmosphere with carbon based pollutants.

While we make advances in medicine, we also negate common causes of death, which leads to lower mortality rates from given diseases. Humans can now be fertile well into their forties (but not always successfully). If we cure cancer we could stop a certain form of suffering in humans. But by giving people a longer life of  better “standard”, we also allow for more people to be born, thereby increasing the possibility of population growth.

Religion has played a role in the views of the future also, and there are several things I would point at to illustrate this. One of the problems with religion and belief is that the doctrines of religious belief stand in opposition to the very real need humanity has to face about our future. There are even those who believe that The Rapture is a very real thing, that the faithful will be swept up into heaven, and all the heathens and non-believers will be left behind on Earth to fend for themselves, abandoned by God. What sort of incentive does this give one to strive for betterment of humanity? To give up on striving, and to place your future in a god is like having no want for the future at all, except for the false future of the afterlife. “The Rapture is not an exit strategy.”

Catholicism’s ban on abortion and contraception is counter-intuitive to viewing the needs of the future, as well as allowing for the spread among the world’s poorest people of HIV/AIDS. And it is precisely the places where the poorest are denied birth control, that there is a very real need to curb population growth based on very real resource shortages.

Religion is one of the main reasons I tend to err on the side of realism, for religion is irrational and disruptive, and sometimes dangerous, and is not going anywhere any time soon.

The main problem that I see with optimism is this; if we move blindly forward with an optimism that suggests that everything will be ok, we are denying the reality of the situation, and may ignore many of the realistic problem we face.

What do you think about the future? Are you optimistic? Do you think the extropian idea of the exponential betterment of humanity is possible? Is it even feasible?

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.

James Randi speaks about Carl Sagan

September 28, 2010 § 5 Comments

James Randi’s talk about Carl Sagan’s influence is an eloquent and stirring call-to-arms for reason,  rationality and knowledge. It’s great to see one great thinker speak of another great speaker. In it he says:

“Our greatest enemy by far is ignorance. We have the weapons to defeat it, and we a re increasingly able to do so.”

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 2)

September 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

See part 1 here

One thing I didn’t mention in the last article was one of the other negative side-effects of negative thinking. When people think negatively, and believe negatively, they tend to become more insular. The tendency can be to protect ones own family and immediate kin (culture or religious group), and everyone else can fend for themselves. This tendency to fall back into our own ranks doesn’t help anyone except those immediately surrounding us. But this is not the time to be completely selfish. In fact, if anything, selfishness and self interest is going to be our undoing.

It just so happens that today I was sent this TED talk link below. From the page: “Statistician Nic Marks asks why we measure a nation’s success by its productivity — instead of by the happiness and well-being of its people.” In this talk, Nic talks of the psychological dangers of negativity in a time when positivity is sorely needed. From the Video:

“For too long, we have peddled a nightmarish visionof what’s going to happen. We have focused on the worst-case scenario. We have focused on the problems. And we have not thought enough about the solutions. We’ve used fear, if you like, to grab people’s attention. And any psychologist will tell you that fear in the organism is linked to flight mechanism. It’s part of the fight and flight mechanism, that when an animal is frightened –think of a deer. A deer freezes very, very still,poised to run away. And I think that’s what we’re doing when we’re asking people to engage with our agenda around environmental degradation and climate change. People are freezing and running away because we’re using fear. And I think the environmental movement has to grow up and start to think about what progress is.”

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