Category: Atheism


This is a post I’ve wanted to do for some time.  I finally decided to do it after seeing a co-worker the other day with a copy of “On the Origin of Species”.  I expressed to her that it is, in my opinion, one of the most important sets of ideas ever put to paper.

There are lots of resources out there for people who want to understand the world from a scientific point of view.  Of course, there aren’t really books on “how to be a better atheist” – because such a subject would be pointless as there are no rules to being a “good atheist”.  Also, if you have faith there is a god, reading a book or watching a video isn’t likely to change that – just as reading a book on religion won’t change my mind.

These books and videos give a good narrative on how the world actually works (from a scientific point of view).  They explain the things that were once chalked up to religion and the supernatural.  They also look at the negative impact religion has on our species and our future.

Of course, these only scratch the surface.  Feel free to post your own suggestions in the comment section…

Videos

Richard Dawkins: Growing Up in the Universe

This series of lectures from 1991 provide a fantastic look at the development of life on earth.  It answers many of the questions we are asked about evolution (Why are there still monkeys? Why does everything seem so well-designed? What about organs of irreducible complexity?).  Dawkins simplifies evolution…and makes it accessible.  As a warning, though – the videos are very “British 1991”.  In fact, in America, it may seem like it was recorded some time in the mid-eighties.  Still, the science is strong…and it’s not nearly as old as some of the stuff other people use to get answers about life on earth.

Phil Plait: Don’t Be a Dick Speech

This one is for anyone who thinks that being brash and confrontational with theists helps the atheist cause.  It doesn’t – it just pisses people off and it makes you seem arrogant.  I will probably catch flack for this, but I believe it’s important to always be the better person.  While some religious people can be very “in your face” about their views…I feel it’s better to take the high road.  Be peaceful with people of opposing viewpoints.  I may think that people who don’t agree with the concept of evolution are stupid and delusional…but telling them that isn’t going to change their mind. This doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate or open or expressive about your views…just don’t be a dick about them!  We’ve dealt with the religious being dicks about their point of view for centuries…it pisses us off.  We must be better than that…

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I consider morality to be somewhat of an illusion.  There are no hard-fast rules…killing someone is wrong, but killing someone who poses an imminent threat to you or your loved ones is not.  Because of this sliding scale, I can’t imagine that we’ll ever fully apply science to questions of morality.  Harris’ argument is not about deciding what’s right and wrong, but more about applying what we know in science to determine what is best for humankind as a whole.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Bullshit is probably the best show out there for skeptics…points are argued passionately, charlatans are called out for ripping people off, and the record is set at least somewhat straight on myths like astrology and religion and exorcisms.  If you haven’t checked it out – you can NetFlix several of the seasons.  Now, I should point out that these videos go against the “don’t be a dick” rule…

Symphony of Science

I nice diversion…it’s music created by putting the greatest scientific voices through an auto-tuner.  You get passionate music that explains the concepts of science.

Books

Probably no surprises here…these books are all well-known – I put them in my order of preference.

Also, full disclosure – I am not much of a reader, so I listened to the audio recordings of these books – when I say ‘read’ – I actually mean ‘listened to’.

Sam Harris: The End of Faith

This is my favorite among the books I’ve read about atheism.  I like his writing style.  This book looks at religion from the standpoint of reason and morality and takes a critical look at the negative impact religion has on the planet.  His followup Letter to a Christian Nation is also a great read and I anxiously await his latest book about the science of morality.

Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species

I remember reading about this book in school and thinking that the entire book was about lizards on the Galapagos Islands.  There is so much to this book.  Not only do you get to see the very beginning of the concept of evolution, you get to see the struggle Charles Darwin had with setting what he was raised to believe aside in favor of what he observed.  There are so many times in this book where Darwin says, if XYZ were not true, this theory simply won’t work…but, here’s what I observed…and why that points directly at XYZ.  He opened the door for explaining the diversity of life on earth using logic and reason.  I see this book and the research that followed it as the beginning of the end for theism…it’s just sad that it has not come to pass as it should.

Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion

While Dawkins does look at morality and reason, The God Delusion is more from a scientific point of view.  He explains the origins of life according to Darwinian evolution and some of the evidence to support it.   He uses science to explain the things that have always been chalked up to the supernatural.  I was an atheist before I read the book, so I don’t know what sort of impact it would have if I was not.  I can say that the book made me feel more comfortable with not believing there’s a god.

Carl Sagan: Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot is a look at the future of space travel for humans.  It’s also a critical look at ourselves as a species.  Sagan’s science is intertwined with his opinions on space travel, the possibility of life elsewhere and how we go about determining our place in the universe.  I love that much of the audio book is read by Sagan himself…his voice carries the gentle passion of a man who truly believes in the human spirit.

Christopher Hitchens: God is Not Great How Religion Poisons Everything

Hitchens is among the greatest writers of our time…and it’s nice to see that he’s on our side.  He’s sharp, blunt and eloquent all at the same time.  This book is probably harshest of the books I’ve read about atheism.   He holds nothing back…and that is admirable.  I put it this far down on the list simply because I feel his writing style may be off-putting to those who are on the fence about atheism.  If you are already an atheist…perhaps this book should be closer to the top.

Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinov: The Grand Design

Hawking does a top-notch job of making the latest theories of the universe easy to understand.  While it does not come right out and say that there is no god, it points out the many reasons that the system that created the universe works better without a conscience.

Michael Shermer: Why People Believe Weird Things

This book opens the door to explaining why people think the way they do. It looks at the reasons behind some of the myths that permeate our lives on a day-to-day basis – but doesn’t touch much on religion as a whole.  Weird Things is more of a manual on skepticism than atheism, but I found it to be worth the time.

The Bible

I’m up in the air on this one…many atheists like to read the bible to “know thy enemy” – but I don’t think that referencing the bible goes very far in arguing our case.  You will not see the bible the way theists see the bible.  The bible is low-hanging (forbidden) fruit…pointing out that the stuff in the bible is just plain silly (it is) is insulting and embarrassing to those who hold the bible dear.  While those who follow science welcome questioning inconsistencies, theists do not.  Besides, there are so many iterations of the bible…are you going to study them all? How about the Qu’ran? There are too many religious texts out there…bogging your mind down with what’s in them uses up valuable brain space that could be used for facts…

In lieu of reading the actual bible…I recommend instead reading:

C.J. Werleman: God Hates You, Hate Him Back (no audio book…gotta do this one the old-fashioned way)

In this book, Werleman takes a humorous, yet scathing look through the bible.  The entire bible isn’t there…but enough of it is.  It’s sort of like reading the bible with the guys from MST3K sitting next to you.  Theists will say that the book just picks and chooses what it wants to portray from the bible without telling the “whole story” – to that I say…tough shit.  Most theists simply pick and choose the parts of the bible they want to follow…so…why can’t we? 🙂  The book isn’t perfect…my copy is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors which hopefully will be fixed in future editions.

————-

Again, this is by no means supposed to be a complete list…just a look at some of my favorite things I’ve read and watched that have made me more comfortable and confident in my beliefs.  Feel free to leave your suggestions below.

//jb//

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When I started this blog, I decided that I wasn’t going to harp on the bible.  I realize that people hold this book very dear, and it is not my style to disparage something that people hold so dearly.  This post will be an exception to that…but there are things that just need to be said. 

I have to admit – I didn’t grow up reading the bible.  I knew many of the stories – Adam & Eve, Noah’s Ark, Jesus – you know, stuff like that.  However, I was well into my teens before I realized that grown-ups actually took it seriously.  I mean, sure, we celebrated Christmas and Easter – but never really as religious holidays.  They were times to get together as a family and enjoy ourselves. 

I read the bible as an adult – and I have to say that it baffles me just how much people take it seriously.  Not only to the stories defy logic, they’re an affront to human nature.  There is no progress in the bible…

Today, I’m going to spend some time writing about the many ways people try to explain the things in the bible…

Allegory:
Many try to say that what’s written in the bible is “allegory” and should not be taken literally – but there is nothing in the bible that would suggest that the contents within should be considered less than the literal word of god. God created the universe and everything in it, then gave a vague set of rules for its residents to abide – and horrible punishment for those who don’t.
 
The problem with the allegory argument is that it gives believers breathing room for their faith. They can use what’s in the bible to justify nearly any point of view. “The bible says that women who are disrespectful to their husbands should be stoned to death, but I see that more as god saying that people should be nice to each other.”  This clearly makes no sense. Of course, most Christians won’t bring this up because they don’t realize just how bluntly the bible says that women who disrespect their husbands should be stoned to death. Why don’t they realize this? Because they haven’t actually read it.
 
Some even use the allegory argument to support evolution as something that god had a hand in. “The bible says the world was created in six days, but we don’t know how long a day is to God…we can’t assume that a day for god is 24 hours like it is for us.”  A day is the time it takes for our earth to make one revolution…24 hours (give or take a fraction of a second here and there). There is no reason to believe that “built the universe in six days” means anything more than six 24-hour periods. Besides, according to the legend – while god created light and coined the terms day and night on the first day…the sun and the moon (the two great lights in the sky) were not created until the fourth day.  For all intents and purposes, the sun is the source of all natural light on earth. So, without the sun – there is no light. I think you see where I’m going with this, so I’ll leave the completion of this idea to you. From a practical and temporal point of view, Genesis makes no sense. Take that one step further, it would make no sense for god to have created days…then use a different, arbitrary time scale and call it a day.
 
Times Have Changed:
Another feeble argument is “times have changed”. I’ve heard from people who say that some of the more stringent portions of the bible no longer apply in the modern world. This implies that there was a time when stoning a woman to death for disobeying her husband was appropriate. Seriously?  Should this even be up for discussion. Trite sarcasm and “every 28 days” jokes aside – name one situation, or series of situations where stoning a woman to death because she disobeyed her husband (or any reason) would be appropriate?  “You shall not murder.”  (Exodus 20:13) – Murder is the taking of a human life by another human…if you stone a woman to death, you shall murder her.
 
Old Testament Argument:
This brings me to another argument, the “old testament” argument.  When I asked a recently divorced Christian friend of mine why his ex-wife (also a devout Christian) was not brought out into the street and stoned to death as commanded by god, his response was…that’s the Old Testament. I will go back to my previous argument of “What kind of world is better off abiding by rules that involve stoning non-subservient women to death!?”
 
Also, if you would read the New Testament, you will find many passages clearly stating that it does not cancel out nor does it replace the Old Testament. There are too many passages where even Jesus subscribes to the Old Testament teachings to mention here…so, I’ll just post one…
 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” ~ (Matthew 5:17 NAB)
 
The Old Testament is a disgusting piece of literature. It is filled with hate, greed, vengeance and death.  Jesus was all for it…and that’s all I have to say about that.
 
Mysterious Ways Argument: 
The last argument I want to touch on is one that is a little more difficult to dispute, not because it makes more sense…but because it needs no explanation at all. I call it the “Mysterious Ways” argument.
 
The basis of the argument is this: Because god is of unimaginable intelligence and complexity, it is futile for us to try to figure out exactly what his intentions and abilities are. God does things because it is part of a plan that we cannot even begin to comprehend. “Mysterious Ways” is the last Bastian of hope for the faithful to cling to. If someone defaults to the “Mysterious Ways” argument, it simply means the only reason a person believes in god is because they want to believe in god. Wanting to believe in god defeats the purpose of faith.
 
Atheists are not without faith…we just put our faith in things we can actually trust. Things like truth and logic.
 
If I am holding onto a ball, and I let go – I have faith that the ball will travel downward with the force of gravity until it reaches the next available solid surface (usually the ground, perhaps a table or my foot) where it will either land or bounce successively until it stops or something else introduces energy to it. This is not something I want to believe, but I do. More importantly, this scenario is not dependent on my faith. It will happen even if I believe the ball will fall halfway to the next surface and stay suspended in mid-air.  I could have total faith that the ball will go upwards against the pull of gravity when I let go of the ball, but it will still fall downward. I could gather my friends, family, co-workers…and every single person on the planet at the same time to have faith that the ball will fall upwards against the force of gravity and it will still fall downward.
 
Again, wanting to believe something defeats the purpose of faith. 
 
//jb//
I got into a discussion a few posts back where a commenter (who operates the “Unworthy, Yet Redeemed” blog here: http://sabepashubbo.wordpress.com/) and I were both using what we referred to as “logic”.  I thought it would be appropriate to define logic, at least as I see it.

Logic and science must minimize subjectivity.  Of course, logic does differ from person to person and can, in a sense, be inherently subjective.  Logic is also open to a certain level of variance depending on circumstances and/or viewpoints. 

Take the Tyrannosaurus Rex, for example.   

When the T. Rex was first discovered, logic (based upon the size of the bones and teeth along with the intentions of the scientist) dictated that T. Rex stood upright and was a hunter whose massive jaws made up for his small arms. 

This is logical and it makes sense – in fact, I would hazard that most people learned about this in grade school.  

However, it is also safe to say that the logic was at least partially influenced by the initial preconception that the dinosaur was enormous with huge teeth and should therefore be considered a predator.  Evidence is then skewed to fit this preconception. In some cases, the result is correct.  In this case, it may not be.

Scientists today now apply a different type of logic, saying that T. Rex’s bone structure points to more of a hunched over stance.  Under the new logic, the T. Rex was likely a scavenger – like a vulture – unable to run the distances needed to tire out or catch up with prey. 

Again, both lines of logic are sound…and both have copious arguments to back them up.  But, which one should the scientific community embrace? 

We will likely never know exactly which of these is absolutely correct because we can never go back and see what they do.  Of course, it’s possible that neither is true…that the T. Rex stood and acted in a manner that was against the scant information we can gain from mere fossils. 

My take on this? We should look at the most objectively logical take on the subject. This would be the second scenario.  The first logical stream is, at least in my opinion, subjected to the discoverer’s “jump to conclusion” (big dinosaur + big teeth = bad-ass dinosaur)…this preconception may have tainted the logic used when constructing the initial hypothesis. (ie: logic was twisted to fit the notion that this dinosaur was a bad-ass).

The second logical stream is not as subjective, because the researchers were not out to disprove the initial conception – they simply thought the evidence warranted review.  In reviewing the evidence for what it was, they were able to formulate the second hypothesis about the way the T. Rex conducted itself. 

The more objective the approach, the more credence the logic should be granted.  The T. Rex idea also conveys another great point about the beauty of science.  The scientific body of knowledge is constantly growing and changing.  Every experiment changes at least something that we know about the world.  Science is critical of itself in a way that religion will never be. Science is the never-ending pursuit of truth, while religion is in constant defiance of it.

The blogger took exception to my concept of logic and the scientific method because I believe science should dismiss outright any possibility of a divine being.  This is not entirely true. I would be open to any objective proof that there is a God or any sort of divine consciousness, but there simply isn’t any.   The only reason to consider the idea of a divine being is because we were taught that one exists (most of us were not taught that one “might” exist).  God is a preconception – and injecting any preconception into a hypothesis goes against scientific method. 

//jb//

There is a good chance that this post will be taken the wrong way.  So, I will begin with an atheist perspective on the different races that make up our planet.   (Note: I said “an” atheist perspective…not “the” atheist perspective) 

When you see people from a physiological perspective, you see every person the same way.  Genetically, our differences are so minute, that judging people based solely on color is counterproductive.

I believe racism is a learned behavior based upon the human brain’s instinct to seek patterns.  Let’s say you have three rooms, in each room – two toddlers and some toys.  One room has one white toddler and one black toddler, one has two black toddlers and one has two white toddlers.  While I have not tested this, I believe you will see similar behavior in all three rooms.  Kids either sharing or not sharing, playing together or not playing together…none of which is impacted by their race.  Of course, the children notice the differences, but they – at least at this age – play no role.

While humans are not inherently racist, we do inherently seek patterns.  Let’s go into the room with the white and black child.  Each child will act differently…that’s where the pattern seeking behavior kicks in.  Each child will likely associate any differences in play with the other child’s skin color.  Here is an example…again, this is just a thought experiment, so please don’t associate any scientific credence to it. The white child picks up a toy block and throws it across the room.  The black child picks up another toy block and puts it in his mouth.  If both children observe this behavior, there is a good chance that the black kid will associate white kids with throwing toys (especially if the thrown toy hits him/her) and the white kid will think that black kids put toys in their mouths. 

This does not mean that ALL black children put toys in their mouths – or ALL white children throw things – it is just a generalization based on observations and patters.  Sure, this stuff is trivial…but I think it shows how our brains can make meaningless associations simply using our desire to find patterns.

Okay – enough of that…and if you’re still with me…thanks! 

So, I take my kids to the pool a few times a week.  While at the pool last week, I struck up a conversation with a woman who is Polish.  I know very little about her…only that she is 60…she shares a birthday with my middle daughter…she now comes to the pool five times per week…and she was born in Poland and moved to the US as an adult.

While we were talking, a group of black kids came into the pool.  They were having a good time chasing each other, splashing around and doing normal ‘kids in the pool’ stuff.  They were also screaming and making a lot of noise – which was a little annoying.  I told the woman that I taught my kids at an early age not to scream in the pool because it makes the lifeguards nervous – but the kids were just having a good time.  What she said surprised me…she said, “I am not prejudiced, but I noticed that they are black and it seems in the US that these children are taught that rules do not apply to them.”  Here is a person who is as close to “the outside looking in” (which I think is a good way to be objective) – and she has come to this conclusion.  A conclusion she had no problem sharing with a stranger.

I have a hard time calling her statement “racist” – because I don’t believe she thinks any less of the children or their potential…in fact, her criticism wsa more toward their parents…and society in general.  I don’t think she would treat those children any differently than she would white children (or hispanic children, etc.). 

While I disagree with her, I can see where she’s coming from. I can see where someone would come to that conclusion, and it concerns me that this is what people see our society.

What do YOU think of her statement?  Is she right? Is she wrong?  How did she come to this conclusion?  How do you feel about someone who is on the “outside looking in” making this sort of association?

And…discuss…

//jb//

An Atheist Among Us…

Part of my goal for this blog is to provide people a look inside the life of an atheist.  After all, it’s not all hedonism and baby-eating. In fact, it’s actually quite lonely sometimes.  We must constantly dodge misconceptions and are often labeled as offensive because we do not subscribe to something that would not exist if we did not believe it. 

Whenever I tell someone I’m an atheist, the response is almost universal – “Surely you believe there’s something out there.” Actually, no. I do not believe in anything I cannot experience with my senses or understand using logic and reasoning. Nothing…I believe in science and the scientific method.  If you cannot objectively prove something is true, then it is almost certainly false.

I’m often asked, “Why are you an atheist?” – to which I immediately reply, “Why are you a Christian?” This catches many people off guard. It catches them off guard because no one has ever asked them that before, more importantly – they’ve never asked THEMSELVES.  What follows is usually a facile, shallow conglomeration of words involving soul-saving, sin, forgiveness, Jesus’ love, morality, etc. These explanations are arrogant and insulting to human intelligence, understanding and compassion.

The answer is never what it should be: “I am a Christian because my parents are Christians.” Nearly every Christian today is a Christian because their parents are. Same goes for almost every faith on the planet.

This is my favorite question because I know why I feel and think and believe the way I do.

I was brought up by Catholic parents, but I wasn’t brought up Catholic.  I did not go to Catholic school, I wasn’t forced to go to church on Sundays, in fact, my parents didn’t force any religion on me at all.  I’m certain sure atheism was not their desired effect, however – I believe NOT forcing religion on me allowed me to expand my ability to think and reason.

I believe it is important to see the world for what it is. A wonderful place to live – not designed for us, but designed through an incredible series of events that have been going on for billions years. Our planet has been the stage for a ballet of chance and selection since shortly after it formed. Organic materials formed and evolved, changing the world and changing right along with it. This ballet of life is the reason everything fits together so nicely.

This world is not made for us…it’s made BY us (all life…not just human beings)…and we are made by it. The universe and life were around for billions of years before human intelligence came around to experience it.

We should do our best in the name of progress to understand and appreciate the world around us and stop wasting time believing in things that simply aren’t there.  Any moment spent preparing for the afterlife is a moment that could be spent enjoying what’s actually here.

//jb//

Welcome to (A)typical Atheist…thanks for stopping by…blah, blah blah…

Here’s what I hope to accomplish with the musings I post here.  It would be nice to say that my number one goal is to piss off those who hold religion close to their heart…because there is a good chance it will do that.  But, my number one goal is actually to just get people to thinkThink about the full impact that religion has had on our planet.

If just one person who believes there is a god reads this and thinks, “what if?” I will consider this a successful endeavor.

Over the past few months, I’ve written down my thoughts…and I feel it’s time to share them with you…and see where it leads.

I went through several different titles before landing on (A)typical Atheist – probably enough for an entire post (okay, probably not).  I feel it is important for people to know that I am just a normal guy.  I have a normal job, I’m married with children, and if you were to meet me – it may take you a while to realize where I stand on religion. I feel this is quite typical of atheists – there are more of us than most people think.

I’ve read my fair share of atheist blogs – they all have their own personality and flair. They also seem to be a magnet for Christians who want to convert everyone to their line of thinking.  I have no intentions of censoring anyone.  But I do have a bit of a warning for Christians who think that posting here will convince me to change my tune about religion…better Christians than you have tried…and better Christians than you have failed.

I look forward to sharing some of my godlessness with you.

Thanks…jb