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!

Advertisements

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?

Greydon Square Interview – Prominent People Project

October 10, 2010 § 3 Comments

To celebrate my blog’s First Birthday, I am today launching the Prominent People Project.

This is the first in a series of interviews I will be posting of people who are prominent in the worlds of atheism, science, skepticism and rational thought.

My first interview is with the American Hip Hop artist Greydon Square. Born Eddie Collins in 1981, Greydon is an atheist musician whose topics cover science, faith and politics. His lyrics are intelligent and succinct, and since listening to his music I have been sent on a journey of discovery about topics like The Kardashev Scale, Extropianism, and Dyson Spheres, and have also been introduced to other prominent people in science such as Michio Kaku. His latest and third album entitled “The Kardashev Scale” includes samples from Michio Kaku and Carl Sagan among others.

This interview was conducted via email in October 2010.

Greydon Square - The Kardashev Scale

Greydon Square - The Kardashev Scale

AC: Greydon Square, I absolutely love your new album “The Kardashev Scale”. Musically it is complex and varied, and the whole album is refreshingly intelligent in a world where music is more about profiteering and selling product than making a true artistic statement. The content and context of your lyrics are intelligent, questioning, enlightening and thought-provoking. How difficult is it to write music and lyrics with substance?

GS: Well thank you first for your comments on the album. I would answer by saying you go through writing periods that are more substance filled than others. What I try to do is keep only the lyrics and songs that convey that substance, and the stuff that doesn’t rarely makes it to album.

AC: You have a very interesting story to tell about your life; orphaned and brought up in a group home, gang life, Iraq war veteran, and physics student. To what degree do each of these elements of your life influence your work? Which is the strongest influence on you?

GS: Nothing influences any more than the other as far as I know. I think it all depends on where I’m at at the time. I know that’s a simplified answer but, its only really as complicated as calling on life experiences to help fortify the meaning of lyrics I wish to convey more vividly. Group Homes, ganglife, deployment, school, it all plays a part in song writing.

AC: I was brought up in a secular household, where both of my parents had studied science in university in the USA. Their parents were strong Protestants, as were their grandparents. What was the religiosity like when you were growing up? Can you tell me if there was a pivotal moment in your life at which time you realized you were in fact atheist? If so, what was it?

GS: Nearly all of the group homes I was in growing up was sponsored or had some direct relationship with a church or religious organization. From 7th Day Adventist to LA church of Christ, Episcopalian group homes, even Catholic sponsored boys homes. I didn’t understand or became an atheist until I was 25. My de-conversion had to do with a devout ex and our disagreement on the nature of god. After a lot of reading, and research, I realized, I didn’t have any secret channel picking up secret messages from god or anyone else. That voice in my head was my own. Then I started thinking about if an all-powerful being is even possible, by that time, I had already declared my position agnostic, and shortly after denounced and rejected all other remaining religions. Since my beliefs do not include the supernatural or any deities, and stem from a humanistic perspective, I recognize that as an atheistic position.

AC: Your work is not all about atheism. You talk philosophically about the future of humanity, politically about problems in society, particularly in the USA, and also about science and technology. What would you say is your favorite topic for your music, and why?

GS: Believe it or not, my favorite subject is about how shady the music industry is. An old topic i know, but i find that a lot of underground and independent artists, still have this idea that some record company is going to ride in and sweep them off their feet. Give them the lifestyle they always wanted and dreamed of. Sadly, that’s never the way it was, and most artists never get the memo. Or research the history of the music business. I may not be a millionaire, but in the words of Immortal Technique “You don’t own me”. I like that.

AC: You talk about being “a black atheist, and there’s more of us than you think,” on more than one occasion. What importance do you give to being “a black atheist”, and is atheism becoming more prominent in black communities, in your experience?

GS: Well its a big deal because as a recent study showed agnostics and atheists tend to be more educated about the religions they reject. So you have to ask yourself, do blacks know enough about the religion they subscribe to so blindly? I think if blacks knew more about said religions, there would be more African American non-believers, but because in OUR communities blind faith is more valuable than “white man’s science”, it’s harder to convince your peers that religion is an empty answer regardless of your race or creed. I’m just trying to convince more blacks to just READ more about religion. I have no problem reading religious text, because i can process such information objectively, why can’t my reading suggestions be received the same way by my black peers?

AC: I have a huge love for Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s work, and take a lot of my worldviews from his words. What do you think was so special about Carl Sagan’s work that makes him such an inspiration for so many, even 14 years after his death? Who else influences your work and why?

GS: He was science’s poet as far as I’m concerned. Sagan’s passion for knowledge and truth is what drives me and what I do. He was always on a quest for knowledge, wherever it led. I think that’s brave. I aspire to be like that. Kaku is great, Robert G Ingersoll, Laurence Krauss, The Four Horsemen, and Fela Kuti.

AC: When we look at the news, climate forecasts, environmental reports and the like, the future for humanity seems quite bleak, and yet your lyrics talk optimistically about the future. Where does this optimism come from?

GS: I don’t know to be honest with you. I don’t know if I’m as optimistic as I once was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no armageddonist or anything, but I do think in the next 5 to 10 years its going to get worse for humanity before it gets better. I’m optimistic about the far future, but i think this society has to see that it has been wrong the whole time about some of its major institutions. Only then can we actually try to take that next step, and THAT’S the part I’m excited about. Right now there isn’t much to be excited about though…Sorry.

AC: Religion is in the news much more commonly than in previous decades. From an outsider’s perspective it would seem that matters of faith are more prominent in people’s minds than ever before. What, in your opinion, would you say is the reason behind this? Is religion getting more powerful, or is it losing its grip on the psyches of humankind?

GS: Well first, a lot of what was done in the dark is starting to come to the light, just ask the vatican. Seriously though, I think its just becoming more polarized. The believers REALLY want you to know they believe, and non-believers really are tired of old fables and books having a say in our development as a species. So the voices are getting louder. I think more and more people are waking up, and the religious people are a bit concerned about it.

AC: Your latest album “The Kardashev Scale” and particularly the opening track “Star View” talks about longevity and immortality. We now have technologies that can change the way humans live, and yet a lot of these technologies are being held back for pseudo-religious and political reasons. Why do you think people are so afraid to step forward into a possible new human future? Do you think what we as a society will get past this fear?

GS: THIS society wont. Those who are interested in such an endeavor, are in the extreme minority, and probably wouldn’t be allowed to pursue something like extreme longevity legally. Our society fears this type of tech because its something we can’t really comprehend. To live for that exceptional amount of time, those would think those who have the ability to do so shouldn’t be able to. How do to you prevent this technology from being only available to the wealthy? This would make us have to challenge what rights we have at a fundamental level. I mean who has the right to live forever?

AC: Do you look to the future with fear and trepidation or with optimism?

GS: The short-term, I’m very pessimistic about the future of America, and the world. In the long-term, humans will be just fine. This is just a stage we are in, and in a couple thousand years, there will be virtual exhibits about the stupidity of today’s human.

AC: Discovering your music was such a refreshing change from the dull corporatized music that is prevalent these days. It has inspired me on more than one occasion. Tell me, what is it that inspires you to make music?

GS: Well thank you. Other non corporatized music. I like emcee’s that make me say “ugh” like the rhyme is just super gross. Check out cats like Canibus, Big Gripp, Johnny Hoax, Span Phly, Prince Ea & MegaRan. These are emcees that make me want to write.

Greydon Square’s latest album “The Kardashev Scale” and his earlier 2 albums “The CPT Theorem” and “The Compton Effect” are available for download at Bandcamp and also through iTunes. Go buy them! You won’t be disappointed!


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.

Vox Populi 1- A problem we have to confront

September 29, 2010 § 11 Comments

Welcome to the first 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 1: Population

For the majority of human history, our population has been kept in check by disease illnesses and wars, many of which we have managed to overcome. But with these massive advances in medicine and longevity has come the flipside of the coin, massive overpopulation and the risk of running out of resources. Predictions say that the human population will reach 9 billion by the year 2050, and 14 billion by the year 2100 if our growth remains unchecked. The growth has been exponential. In 1804 the human population was estimated to be 1 billion by comparison.

Human Population Curve - 10,000BC to Present

Human Population Curve - 10,000BC to Present

So while we have this great upside of longevity and healthier, better lives, we are effectively dooming the world’s population to destruction. The worst, and seemingly most unfair, part of this whole situation is that while western cultures use up the majority of the world’s resources, we also have he most benefit from technology and medical advances. The majority of the world’s population will not see these advantages, at least not for many years.

Yet still, we cannot afford to stop progressing, improving and innovating. It is in our nature to have a better society. Advances are coming thick and fast. We will surely see some amazing advances in the future.

The big question is this.

While we continue to “improve” the lives of people on Earth, and attempt to cure diseases like cancer and malaria, human population will continue to grow. Is it wise to pass these benefits on to everyone? Can we morally afford to? Can we morally afford not to? If we don’t pass these benefits on to the less fortunate and already struggling countries and populations of the world, how is it that we choose who is worthy?

Are we wise enough, or mature enough, to take control of the situation and reign in worldwide populations, and at the same time continue to bring up the quality of life for so many of life’s less fortunate?

What do you see as some possible solutions to these problems? Please leave your ideas below.

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.”

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with history at Atheist Climber.