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!
October 17, 2010 § Leave a comment
This is the second in a series of interviews with people who are prominent in the worlds of atheism, science, skepticism and rational thought.
This interview is with one of YouTube’s most prominent atheists and skeptics, Stephanie (AKA Lovingdoubt). Her videos are powerful, moving and poignant, and leaves the viewer thinking about the personal aspects of religion and faith, and how these affect us as individuals. Her YouTube videos have attracted nearly a quarter of a million hits, and as you watch them you are presented with a gradual unfolding of one person’s journey from the insistence of belief in God, to the rational position of disbelief.
Lovingdoubt is very interested in the human brain, and what it is within us all that makes us want to believe, or feel the need to believe, in the supernatural and a higher being.
This interview was conducted via email in October 2010.
AC: I have found my blogging to be one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. For instance, if I don’t know something but think it would be useful for my blogs, I like to search out information and then transfer my new knowledge into my writings. Has the experience of making your YouTube videos increased your knowledge about your life and position on religion and the universe, or has it remained relatively unchanged since you realised that you don’t believe in God or religion?
LD: There is so much I’ve learned from being involved on YouTube. I love hearing other’s opinions and I learn a lot from watching people’s videos. I also learn a great deal about making my own. When I publish a video, I get so much feedback, good and bad. This has really helped me learn a lot. I feel I’ve had some opinions changed and refined overtime, but it’s been very subtle.
AC: You have over 6000 subscribers on your YouTube channel. What do you think makes your channel so popular? What is the main reason that you make these videos?
LD: What makes me popular? Well, I’m very fortunate that atheism is a popular topic on YouTube. I think that is a major contributing factor. I also think being female makes me stand out from the crowd a bit. Other than that, I simply work hard on the videos I make and hope people find them interesting. Since I have an audience, I must be doing something right.
AC: The United States is one of the most outwardly religious countries in the world, and yet we see a growing trend among people to renounce their faiths in favour of more secular or atheistic ideals. Recent articles have emerged which state that of all the people in the USA, atheists are the most knowledgeable about what religion really means. What do you make of this? Can you see a growing trend, or is it simply that people without religious faith are less afraid to make themselves known?
LD: I can’t say I’m surprised about the survey. Most atheists/non-believers I know came to their position from research, although this certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. I do see a growing trend away from religion in the United States. Most religions are losing numbers and non-belief is on the rise. On the other hand, there are fundamentalist Christian religions that have a lot of power and influence in politics right now, so it’s a very strange time in United States politics.
AC: You have spoken before in your YouTube videos about your brain injury. Can you step us through what happened, and the effect this had on your faith if any? Was this a pivotal moment, or do you see it as just a step toward the person you are now?
LD: I sustained a head injury from a car accident in June 2009. I can’t really tell you the details of the accident because I don’t remember it. The injury did have an effect on my faith, but I do think I would have become an atheist even without the accident.
The injury simply sped up the process since I had time off work to do a lot studying. There is one major impact that my brain injury had on my religious ideas. I spent a lot of time reading about brain injuries when I was trying to understand my own. After reading about and experiencing various symptoms of a brain injury, it really changed my idea of a soul. I think humans want to believe their sense of “self” is consistent, but having my brain injured taught me that this is not the case. There isn’t some stable soul within us. Who we are is dependent on our brain. I will be going through this cohesively on my video blog.
AC: I am a firm believer that everything we perceive about our world and our universe is received and interpreted by the brain. Every day we see advances in the understanding of how the brain works, whether it be from ideas around mirror neurons or the “god-centre” in the brain. You’re very interested in psychology and the workings of the brain, right? What do you find most fascinating about the human brain and the human mind?
LD: It’s tough to pick one thing. There are very few subjects regarding the human brain that don’t fascinate me. I really enjoy studying how people thinking and reason using their brain. I also like studying various problems that can occur in the brain and the effect they have. Perhaps that is why I’ve always have been drawn to the mental health field.
AC: Many people while growing up find themselves searching for a place in society; some find it in sport, some in art and some through religion. Your religious faith was strong earlier in your life, but you have also mentioned that you found yourself “testing the waters” of other religious faiths. Do you think that maybe this dissatisfaction with different religions was a hint that religion wasn’t actually for you?
Many people don’t realize this, but I rejected religion pretty early in life. I always valued learning and skepticism, even though I was young. I was 14 or so when I decided I thought the concept of god, especially one outlined by a religion, was man made. Even though I had decent reasons, they weren’t very well-developed at that age. I went through a period of my life where I went through a lot of hardship and felt unhappy with my life. I had a need to feel loved, appreciated and special. Religion met that emotional need for a period of time. The problem is I was never able to rid myself of that inner skeptic. Perhaps that is the biggest reason I couldn’t hold on to religion permanently, no matter how badly I wanted to at the time.
AC: Sam Harris once said “I see religion as a sort-of failed science” and then goes on to tell how religion was all humans had to make sense of the world at the time of their inception. I tend to agree with him. We can also see, as time goes on, with ideas and discoveries in science the “God-Gap” seems to get smaller and smaller. I believe this has made the religious leaders very nervous. What do you think about this?
LD: I agree with you. There is a trend away from organized religion, and one major factor in this could be the discoveries in science. I think some religious leaders have handled this better than others. I’m certainly not telepathic, so I can’t say much beyond what various leaders have been quoted to say.
AC: You have spoken in your videos about your husband and you speak very highly of him. Does he share your views about religion?
LD: He and I have very similar views, but it hasn’t always been that way. When I became an atheist, he was still a Christian. I was afraid of driving him away once I told him I was an atheist, but he was very open to my views. He wanted to understand why I now believed differently, so I started explaining myself over a period of time. At the same time, he started doing some research of his own. It was only a few months before he wasn’t a Christian. For six months after this, he considered himself a deist. Then, one day, he told me he was an atheist. I honestly didn’t care that much at that point, as long as we were able to accept and love each other for who we were.
AC: I know that when people leave faiths they can be shunned by the immediate religious communities and families. Did you feel this when you announced you no longer believe? Is your family religious? Did you feel a certain amount of distancing by those around you?
LD: This was one area I was very lucky in. I do have extended family that is disappointed in me, but I was not shunned. My parents are very secular. My mother is a theist, but not religious in any way. My dad used to be an atheist, but is now a deist. As you can imagine, things were actually more awkward when I was religious with them. They’ve always accepted me. I don’t talk to people from church anymore. It’s not that I wouldn’t talk to them, it’s just I wasn’t that close to very many people there.
AC: For many people, the discovery that they don’t believe can be extremely difficult. If you had one message for those who are suffering through the throes of doubt about religion and faith, what would it be?
LD: Well, I would say that I know what it’s like to be terrified of doubt, but for me, facing my doubts was the best thing I’ve ever done. Learning to follow truth rather than my own desires is a difficult lesson to learn, but it was worth it for me. It’s frightening to doubt when one has been taught it’s sinful, but I believe that real truth can stand up to scrutiny. Now I’m not afraid to have any of my beliefs and ideas questioned. I am a much stronger, happier, and balanced person for that.
AC: You’re also very theatrical in your videos, sometimes sinister, sometimes just plain fun-loving. What types of videos do you enjoy making the most? Which bring you the most satisfaction? Are you a theatrical person in your daily life?
I think I’m a very expressive person in real life, so I think I represent myself how I am. I enjoy being silly in my videos, but I really enjoy doing the serious videos best. There aren’t very many people in my real life that enjoy discussing a lot of the issues I discuss in my videos, so it’s a wonderful outlet. Also, I started my YouTube channel to help others, and when I do my serious videos, I hope to accomplish that.
AC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for interviewing me for your blog!
Stephanie’s YouTube channel can be found here. Make sure you dig through the older videos, it’s well worth the time. Thank you so much Stephanie for taking the time to answer these questions.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
September 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
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.”